Things I like to See and Do in São Paulo: a Personal Guide
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If you are coming to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio, don’t pass up on the opportunity to visit São Paulo, located only 400 km away. I’ve already written my suggested agenda for tourists in Rio in a previous post. Now let’s talk a little about the wonders of São Paulo, the city I chose to live in.
Sampa, as we affectionately call it, is the largest city in Brazil, with a population of more than 11m. Founded on January 25th, 1554, by the Portuguese, it’s the capital of the state of the same name in the southeast of Brazil.
São Paulo and Rio are very different from each other, with rather distinct cultures. Of course, these differences and friendly rivalry between the two biggest cities in the country have helped generate positive and negative stereotypes, created locally and furiously promoted. Cariocas – this is how Brazilians typically call the inhabitants of Rio - think of Paulista's as stiff, pompous and picky. Paulistanos, on the other hand, claim that cariocas are not as hard-working; that they cannot be trusted 100% to say the truth or to get things done; and are always trying to take advantage of naïve people. However, paulistanos find it hard to hide their envy of cariocas’ toned and tanned bodies and their more relaxed and laid-back lifestyle.
Of course, these are only stereotypes, but there is some truth to them, especially regarding the positive ones. São Paulo, like New York, is a more work-oriented and cultural kind of place, whereas Rio, being a beach city like Los Angeles, favors a lifestyle more conducive to leisure and the practice of outdoor sports. Geography dictates many cultural traits of a people, we all know, and this is the case here. However, what you see in practice is a lot of transit between the two cities: paulistanos will not miss an opportunity to enjoy Rio and its beauties; as for cariocas, they can’t have enough of the refined gastronomy, busy nightlife and cultural options São Paulo offers on a daily basis.
If the beach, and Ipanema in particular, is my favorite place in Rio, Paulista Avenue is the cherry on the cake of Sampa. During weekdays, Paulista Avenue, with its tall buildings, corporate offices and banks, is our financial center, whereas, on weekends, it turns into one of the most entertaining areas of the city.
This is when thousands of people flock to the 2,700m long avenue to walk down the broad sidewalks, enjoy its street markets, cycle along the permanent bike path running along the middle of the avenue, listen to buskers, eat lunch at any of a great variety of restaurants and cafés in the area, go to movie theaters, museums or stroll along the peaceful tree-lined lanes of Trianon Park, located right off the avenue, across from the famous Museum of Art of São Paulo (MASP). Last year, the city mayor decided to ban the use of cars on Paulista Avenue on Sundays, which made it even more popular and festive.
If you sit at one of the tables of Charme da Paulista, a very popular barzinho - a Portuguese word for informal places that serve alcoholic drinks – located on a corner opposite the park, you will see the world pass by in front of your eyes. São Paulo is, after all, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, and if you wish to verify its human diversity, just spend some time people-watching, while enjoying a coffee, a caipirinha (local lime and vodka cocktail) or a cold beer.
If you like reading, go to Conjunto Nacional, the building that houses, among offices, shops and a gym, my second favorite place of the city: Livraria Cultura – a huge bookstore boasting an incredible variety of books not only in Portuguese, but also in English, Spanish, French, German and Italian. I was once told by a well-travelled foreign friend that he had never seen a brick-and-mortar bookstore carrying such a multilingual selection of titles. This needs to be confirmed, though.
International Gastronomy is one of the strongest points of the city. You can find all kinds of restaurants and typical foods from around the world in Sampa. Prices vary hugely as well, so whatever your budget, you will not have much difficulty finding the right place to eat. Italian food is the most popular cuisine, followed by barbecue places. Japanese restaurants are also hugely popular, given the fact that São Paulo has the biggest community of Japanese immigrants in the world.
On the other hand, I particularly miss the great offer of Indian and Thai food you get in cities like London and New York, for example: paulistanos are not huge fans of super spicy food, so, although you will find a couple of good Indian and Thai restaurants in the city, they are not among the most popular, and the food will taste too mild if you are a pepper lover like me.
Bohemian tourists must not miss walking (and bar hopping) around the hilly streets of Vila Madalena, the artsy and boozy neighborhood I’m lucky to live in. I don’t care so much for the innumerable bars that dot the neighborhood, but I love the upmarket shops and boutiques, bistros, cafés, and 24-hour bakeries which also function as delis and snack bars, located within walking distance from my apartment building. Not to be missed.
This blog post doesn’t even begin to cover what the city has to offer. But my space is limited. To know more about the pleasures of Sampa, get your favorite travel guide and read it. If you have any other suggestions on what to see and do in Sampa, please leave your comments below.