Travel tips for Eagles fans heading to Brazil from former residents


São Paulo, Brazil’s booming, multicultural metropolis, is home to more than 12 million people, hundreds of museums, theater and music venues, a culinary landscape fueled by its diverse population, and a sprawling skyline’s worth of iconic architecture. And, come September, it will also be home to the Philadelphia Eagles — at least temporarily.

The Birds fly south this year, kicking off the season in São Paulo’s Corinthians Arena on September 6 against the Green Bay Packers. And for those who are lured by the game — what will be the first NFL game ever in South America — there’s so much more to see and do in one of the world’s most populous cities.

For starters, the game happens to fall on the day before the country’s Independence Day.

“It’s a major holiday in Brazil, with parades and celebrations” says Paula Strader. Born in the South American country, Strader came to Philly for vacation a decade ago and stayed after meeting her husband at American Sardine Bar. “You can compare it to the Fourth of July.”

Go for the Eagles game and stay to revel in the holiday festivities and experience the city’s vibrant arts scene, exciting restaurants, and warm culture. Read on for how to make the most of a visit to São Paulo, with insider tips from Brazilian Philadelphians who know it well. (Note that while Philadelphia Airport does not offer direct flights to São Paulo, Newark does.)

Where to sleep and stay in São Paulo

Set in the Bela Vista neighborhood, Rosewood São Paulo (rooms from $800) is steps from the bustling Avenida Paulista and dynamic cultural institutions like the Museum of Art of São Paulo (MASP), but inside the historical landmark building feels like a sanctuary. Contributing to the serene vibe are the plush rooms infused with local art, a rooftop pool, and the brand new Asaya Spa by Guerlain.

To be surrounded by a bit more green space, make for Palacio Tangara (rooms from $587), located in Burle Marx park, one of the city’s urban oases. The palatial property includes indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts, and — for those traveling with children — an inviting kids club.

Where to eat and drink in São Paulo

Splurge on (affordable) fine dining

“The exchange rate [for Americans] is so favorable, we can basically go to whatever restaurant we want and splurge a little,” says Claudia Setubal, a data analytics manager who was born in Brazil and goes back to visit her parents in São Paulo. Her pick: Nagayama, in the trendy and walkable Itaim Bibi neighborhood. The post-WWI influx of Japanese immigrants has made Brazil home to the largest Japanese population outside Japan, and the local cuisine reflects that. “I’ve never been to Japan, but Brazilian sushi is far and away the best sushi I’ve ever had,” she says.

Paula Strader planned her first wedding anniversary around a dinner at the two-star Michelin starred D.O.M., situated in the tony Jardins neighborhood. Chef Alex Atala has been spotlighting Brazilian cuisine with exquisite, multi-course tasting menus since opening in 1999.

Mardhory Santos-Cepeda, owner of Brazilian bakery Kouklet on East Passyunk, suggests a few restaurants from her favorite chefs, including A Baianeira, best known for its pão de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread). Then there’s Mocotó, a restaurant that’s been winning hearts for years with its iconic cow’s foot soup. And let’s not forget Cuzcuz da Irina, where chef Irina Cordeiro brings the flavors of Brazil’s northeastern region to life with her cornmeal-based couscous.

Experience Brazilian pizza culture

First-time visitors to Brazil might be surprised to know that São Paulo’s pizza is top-notch, a legacy born from its long history of Italian immigration. (By some accounts, the city now has more people of Italian descent than any region in Italy.)

“Pizza — it’s considered a fancy meal in Brazil,” explains Setubal. “Everyone eats it with a fork, you have a thinner crust and a lot more toppings.” Those toppings can include calabresa (Brazilian pork sausage), chicken with catupiry (Brazilian cream cheese), corn, and hard-boiled eggs. And for dessert, “They put flan on top of the pizza, or banana with cheese,” says Santos-Cepeda.

Soak up the local scene at a corner bar

To raise a glass like (or with) the locals, Setubal recommends finding a table at one of the corner bars in the student-populated Vila Mariana neighborhood. Order a Brahma beer or a Caipirinha, “get a bunch of appetizers, like sausage and french fries, what they call petiscos,” she says. “And you just hang out and spend an afternoon.”

Don’t worry about picking the “right” bar; any corner spot will give you a taste of local life. Veloso is a local favorite with its 14 tables and a caipirinha menu featuring around 20 variations made with seasonal tropical fruits. Another must-visit is Academia da Gula, known for its Portuguese specialties like cod fritters.

Weigh your plate at a Por Quilo Restaurant

São Paulo is home to a host of Por Quilo restaurants, i.e. the kind where you fill your plate with grilled meats, salads, and side dishes and pay per kilo. (You may be familiar with the concept if you’ve been to Picanha Brazilian Steakhouse in the Northeast or Center City.)

“They’re really nice restaurants where they have giant buffets with an amazing variety of foods,” Setubal says, adding that they’re a pretty good deal, too.

What to do in São Paulo

Shop for edible souvenirs at Mercadão

A visit to Mercado Municipal de São Paulo is “a must,” Mardhory Santos-Cepeda says. “If you can only pick one place to visit, pick this one.”

The sprawling public market, located in the city center and easily accessible via the metro, has “Reading Terminal Market vibes,” says Setubal. She shops the stalls for things she can’t easily get in Philly, like bottles of good Cachaça (Brazil’s national spirit, distilled from sugarcane juice), goiabada, a solid guava paste traditionally eaten with cheese, and “a million different tropical fruits,” she says. “There’s like eight different kinds of bananas in Brazil.” Santos-Cepeda also recommends seeking out the market’s famous mortadella sandwich, made with a hefty tower of Italian-style Ceratti mortadella piled into a Portuguese roll.

See São Paulo’s green side at Ibirapuera Park

Located in the Vila Mariana neighborhood, the nearly 400-acre Ibirapuera Park is home to three lakes, bike and running trails, museums, a zoo, and wide stretches of tree-shaded green space. Plus, plenty of street vendors are selling local snacks. “They sell whole coconuts that they’ll chop open for you so you can drink the coconut water with a straw,” says Setubal. “So we like to do that, and then go to the playgrounds with my kid.”

Admire art and history at some of the city’s best museums

“The best museums in Brazil are in São Paulo,” says Melody Evelyn Goncalves Vasconcellos Santos, Santos-Cepeda’s sister, who studies art history at Temple University. “The state of São Paulo alone has over 500 museums to visit.” Choosing only a few is tough, but her top picks are the São Paulo Museum of Art, the Football Museum, The New Museum of the Portuguese Language, and The Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo — all located in the city center.

Stroll the historic Avenues

To get a sense of the city’s dynamic energy, Santos recommends exploring Avenida Paulista, the 1.7-mile thoroughfare cutting across the city from northwest to southeast, and lined with historic mansions, landmarks, shops, and restaurants. If you’re craving more exploration, Strader points you toward Rua Augusta. This street forms a bridge between the upscale Jardins area and the vibrant downtown, offering a fascinating contrast in one stretch. “To compare it to Philly, one side is like Fishtown or Kensington, and the other is Rittenhouse Square,” she says. “It’s the same street and two worlds.”

Explore São Paulo’s robust Japanese diaspora in Japantown

The city’s Japantown, Liberdade, “is a must-go destination in São Paulo,” says Santos-Cepeda. “It’s basically an open market, very lively and with shops, sushi bars, and ramen shops everywhere.”

How to get around São Paulo

With São Paulo’s size and population, it’s no surprise the roads can be a traffic-clogged nightmare. The Metro is a good alternative, says Strader, as you can find a station virtually anywhere. Buses are a great option, too. “They have traffic mitigation strategies for buses,” says Setubal. “I would take a bus over an Uber, because they get to use the preferential lanes.”

Regan Stephens is a Philadelphia–based freelance journalist with 10 years of experience writing about food, drinks, travel, and culture.


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