With its verdant, tropical greenery amid a bustling metropolis, there’s no city in the world quite like São Paulo, Brazil. While it grew as an outpost for the booming coffee trade, it’s now home to some 12 million paulistanos, including residents of Arab, Italian, and Japanese descent—making the city a multicultural melting pot for dining and culture alike. São Paulo is also known for its iffy weather and traffic jams, so you’ll want to plan your trip carefully (and maybe learn a few phrases in Portuguese to help you get around, too). Without further ado, here are the best places to see, eat, drink, and stay in the sprawling financial center—at least on your first visit.
What to See
Looking to recharge away from luxury shopping malls and museums? Take a trip to São Paulo’s massive urban park, Ibirapuera, located not far from the city center. Residents take their R&R seriously, and the people-watching is top-notch. While it’s been compared to New York City’s Central Park or Hyde Park in London, Ibirapuera is surrounded by a number of museums and cultural institutions that are well worth your time. If you need a snack, there are food trucks and venders selling fresh coconut water right out of the coconut and other South American snacks around the park.
Pinacoteca de São Paulo
Louvre who? The Pinacoteca is a one-of-a-kind museum with a focus on Brazilian art, and the building, founded as an art school at the turn of the century before being repurposed, makes the experience really special. In addition to more classic gallery-style exhibits, the space boasts wide open, sun-drenched rooms that almost feel like open-air sculpture gardens. It’s a sight to behold on a sunny day.
One of the forces of the Vila Madalena neighborhood’s reinvigoration has been the arrival of street art on the high walls of the area’s homes—along with the tourists that come to put the graffiti on the ‘gram. Nicknamed “Beco de Batman” for a massive mural of the famous bat-themed crime fighter that started it all, Batman Alley’s art, which covers the walls where three alleys meet, is constantly changing as new artists arrive on the scene, so there’s always something new to see. Spend an afternoon exploring the adjacent area’s art galleries and cafés.
Where to Eat
Vista Restaurante Ibirapuera
After exploring Ibirapuera Park, see the city from a new vantage point at Vista Restaurante. This eatery, on the top floor of the Museu de Arte Contemporânea, features 360 degrees of walk-around terrace to give you an idea of how big São Paulo really is, complete with an outdoor bar. Order the arroz de cogumelo, a paella-like seafood and fish dish, or the carne de sol for a perfectly cooked steak. I’m reliably told the line gets long at night—and is also something of a nightlife hotspot—so choose your own daytime (or nighttime) adventure wisely.
Pintar Materiais Artísticos
Paulistanos love to talk up the city’s love of gastronomy—with good reason—and Petí Gastronomia is an excellent example of some of the best dining the city has to offer. Located in the back of an art supply store, the 42-seat upscale restaurant boasts an ever-changing pre-fixe, three-course lunch menu for around 110 reais, or around $20, making it no surprise that Michelin named it a Bib Gourmand pick.
A Casa do Porco
Casa do Porco’s name translates to “House of the Pig,” and boy does this spot deliver. With a focus on providing elevated cuisine at affordable prices, the downtown restaurant from the husband and wife team of Jefferson and Janaina Rueda spotlights local producers to serve up every part of the pig, “from nose to tail,” so nothing goes to waste. Choose from smaller plates like crispy pancetta with guava and pork jowl or, if you’re with a group, opt for the restaurant’s most famous dish: Porco San Zé, which is slow roasted for six to nine hours and comes with traditional Brazilian side dishes. It’s ranked among the world’s best restaurants for a reason, after all.
Where to Drink
You can’t leave São Paulo without trying a caipirinha, the country’s ubiquitous cocktail made with Brazilian cachaça, a sugarcane-based spirit similar to rum. Reserve a table and sip one (or several) of the mojito-esque drinks and order some delectable small plates for good measure. The city’s population swells with business people during the work week, and Caju is known as an elevated locale for post-work drinks that stretch into the late evening. The bar also boasts fantastic live music from Tuesday to Thursday nights.
If you’re fiending hard for a well-crafted cocktail, Banqueta is worth seeking out. Grab a Negroni or one of the bar’s signature drinks made with Brazilian ingredients. Sit at the bar and order a traditional appetizer like dadinhos de tapioca, which are perfectly-sized, light, and airy bites of fried cheese. Trust me on this.
First named one of the best bars in the world in 2019, Guilhotina Bar has still got it. This bustling spot gets lively with the younger, after-work crowd. Its menu is made up of elevated classic cocktails, remixed with inventive touches like marshmallow, house-made green juice, and edible flowers.
Where to Stay
JW Marriott Hotel Sao Paulo
If JW Marriott makes you think “business traveler,” think again. Marriott’s luxury offering, which opened in 2022, is sexy. Black marble, modern Brazilian art, and a stunning red-and-gold gilded staircase anchor the lobby. The hotel also features a sumptuous restaurant, Neto, in which Chef Ícaro Rizzo fuses Italian and Brazilian cooking; a well-appointed spa; and an indoor/outdoor infinity pool. Be sure to book a corner suite for views of the Pinheiros River and the rest of the city—it’s a sight you won’t want to miss at night.
Rosewood São Paulo
Located in a historic building in the Bela Vista neighborhood, which is home to the shopping and the world-class São Paulo Museum of Art, Rosewood’s first hotel in South America includes a Brazilian-French fusion restaurant, where the setting is the most luxurious rustic log cabin you’ve ever seen, and a lobby bar perfect for Brazilian celeb spotting. Luxe touches like dessert delivered to your door and an ultra-helpful concierge—who will also take requests via WhatsApp—make the place feel even more special.
Renaissance Sao Paulo Hotel
If you want to stay steps from Paulista Avenue in the vibrant Jardins neighborhood, you can’t go wrong with the Renaissance. If you’re a first-time visitor, tap into the concierge’s wealth of knowledge about the neighborhood’s best off-the-beaten-trail spots to shop, dine, or see world renowned art in one of the area’s many galleries.