Words by Catherine Balston

It’s only from the giddy heights of the tallest São Paulo rooftops that you can begin to comprehend what a metropolis of 20 million people looks like. The concrete sprawl goes high and wide all the way to the horizon. Down at street level, like a dense urban jungle, modernist architectural icons rub shoulders with historic buildings. Blink and another new tower block goes up. People, cars, buses and motorbikes hustle for space. It’s busy and lively, and the longer you spend here, the more you’ll understand why it’s earned the title of Brazil’s cultural and culinary capital.



Hotel Unique

HOTEL FASANO Exposed brick, huge rooms, and leather furnishings all come together in timeless style at the Fasano, designed by the heavyweight architects Márcio Kogan and Isay Weinfeld. The bar at the hotel’s award-winning Italian restaurant has the best whiskey collection in town. ADDRESS Rua Vittorio Fasano, 88 – Jardins São Paulo +55 11 3896-4000 Rooms from £486 per night

HOTEL UNIQUE Function is sacrificed just a touch for the sake of form at this design hotel – the giant watermelon shape causes some rooms to lose floor space to the hotel’s curves. But who cares? You’ll be spending most of your time lounging by the rooftop pool, looking out over the city, or sipping apple martinis at the rooftop bar, Skye. ADDRESS Avenida Brigadeiro Luís Antônio 4700 – Jardim Paulista São Paulo +55 11 3055-4700 Rooms from £345 per night

HOTEL EMILIANO Going big on design details and customer service, the Hotel Emiliano is an elegant option and perhaps the best business hotel in the upmarket Jardins neighborhood. For the five-star treatment, arrive by helicopter and check in to the Suíte Cubo – a penthouse apartment complete with indoor pool, office, dining area and bedroom all encased within a glass cube. The newly refurbished spa is one of São Paulo’s best. ADDRESS Rua Oscar Freire 384 – Jardim Paulista São Paulo +55 11 3068-4399 Rooms from £296 per night

WE HOSTEL DESIGN This, the city’s first design hostel, is set in a whitewashed mansion just a ten minute walk from São Paulo’s answer to Central Park – Parque do Ibirapuera. The accommodations, which come in dorms as well as private rooms, are simple and sparse, while communal spaces combine vintage with sleek and contemporary, all pulled together masterfully by the architect-owner. ADDRESS Rua Morgado de Mateus 567 – Vila Mariana São Paulo +55 11 2615-2262 From £12 per night



Mani Restaurant

DALVA E DITO For a taste of the very best and bizarre Brazilian food, look no further than Alex Atala’s restaurants. D.O.M. needs to be booked weeks in advance, but Dalva e Dito is a more laid-back and affordable affair that lets you loose in the kitchen on Saturday nights between midnight and 3am, where you can pile your plate with galinhada (chicken and rice) to the sounds of live samba. ADDRESS Rua Padre João Manuel 1115 – Cerqueira César São Paulo +55 11 3068-4444

ENOTECA SAINT VIN SAINT Candlelit and cosy, this ultra-charming bistro has just 12 tables and an impressive menu of South American organic and biodynamic wines. Live jazz on Thursdays and Fridays adds to the ambience. ADDRESS R. Prof. Atílio Innocenti 811 – Vila Nova Conceicao São Paulo +55 11 3846-0384

MUSEO VERONICA Simplicity and sophistication will be found here in spades at this newly opened restaurant. Scarlet walls and young Spanish waiters with husky voices give a good first impression, but it’s the affordable Spanish wines and the food – crunchy croquetas, soft tortilla slices – that you’ll remember. ADDRESS Rua Tuim 370 Moema, Sao Paulo +55 11 50512654

NAGAYAMA Sublime sashimi and sushi are always a given at this long-standing Itaim favourite. Popularity has influenced the restaurant to expand – to Nagayama’s left is the younger, noisier Nagayama Café, while to the right, Naga is a more hushed, low-lit setting. There are also Nagayamas in Jardins and in Rio de Janeiro. ADDRESS R. Bandeira Paulista, 355 Itaim Bibi, São Paulo +55 11 3079-4675

LOLA PARILLA Fogo de Chão, Barbacoa, Rubaiyat and Rodeio are just a few of the city’s top white-tablecloth spots that extol the pleasures of Brazilian beef. Mixing things up a bit, the new Lola Parilla is more friendly, less formal and lets you decide which country does the best steak; more than twenty cuts are sourced from seven countries, and all grilled to perfection. ADDRESS Rua Purpurina, 38 São Paulo +55 11 3034-3773

RAMONA Juicy burgers and the best bloody marys in town (done six different ways, including with crispy bacon slices) are a big hit at this hipster hangout. Once you’ve tried all six, you may feel inclined to hammer out some Herbie Hancock on the restaurant’s piano. And then beat a hasty retreat downstairs to the retro basement bar, eStônia. ADDRESS Avenida São Luís, 282 Consolação, São Paulo +55 11 3258-6385

MIMO Slinky, white and minimalist, Mimo is only a little more than one year old, but already brimming with confidence. The menu is a gamble, containing precious little description of the dishes. But the surprise is always a good one, with molecular techniques adding playful touches to well-balanced, seasonal flavors. ADDRESS R. Caconde, 118 Jardim Paulista, São Paulo +55 11 3052-2517

MANÍ You’ll need to plan ahead if you want to experience the artful Brazilian food in a laid-back setting that has made Maní such a hit. Chef Helena Rizzo won the 2014 title of ‘Best Female Chef in the World’ at the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards, so you can bet the waiting list just got a lot longer. ADDRESS Rua Joaquim Antunes, 210 São Paulo +55 11 3085-4148CAFÉS


Home-cured bacon, freshly made pancakes, eggs with gravlax, homemade yoghurt – set aside enough time to try it all for brunch at this industrial-looking newcomer. Work it off afterwards with a walk through the dense and delightfully shady Parque Trianon, just one block away. ADDRESS Alameda Jaú, 1191 Jardim Paulista, São Paulo +55 11 3063-4988


Tin-mug lampshades and staff in overalls are the first sign that they take an obsessive approach to coffee at this Vila Madalena café. Not only do they roast their own beans, but they also let you choose where your beans come from (sourced from the best Brazilian growers) and which technique to prepare it with. Like what you tried? Take a bag of coffee home with you to recreate the experience. ADDRESS R. Fradique Coutinho, 1340 Pinheiros, São Paulo +55 11 3375-7400



Chez Oscar


Popular with a slightly older, boho crowd, this hidden bar is kitted out in a style they call ‘contemporary baroque’ and I call kooky chaos with added cats (and watch you don’t sit on one). Head straight through to the delightful back garden and order a tangerine caipirinha with red peppercorns. ADDRESS Rua Pedro Taques, 80 São Paulo +55 11 3120-5535


Join the fashion and media crowd at this secret nightspot, from the same well-connected couple that run the eclectic and ultra-modern B.Luxo vintage store just two blocks away. Look for the ‘Rivas Cabeleireira’ sign, and head up to the second floor for classic cocktails, vegetarian food and live jazz and folk. ADDRESS Al. Jaú (R. Augusta) São Paulo


The latest nightspot by the Franco-Brazilian team behind fashion label Surface to Air and chic nightclub Bar Secreto, Chez Oscar is set in a modular building made out of glass and steel that’s as striking as its clientele. Have dinner out in the alfresco eating area on the first floor or head on up to the bars on the fourth and fifth floors for pure liquid gratification. ADDRESS Rua Oscar Freire, 1128 Jardins, São Paulo +55 11 3081.2966


You’re as likely to hear French, Spanish and English as you are Portuguese at this quirky, flirty nightclub in a converted house. With DJs in the living room, the yard, the outhouse and in the VIP house next door, keep cruising until you find your favourite tunes. ADDRESS R. Cristóvão Gonçalves, 92 São Paulo +55 11 3032-0371


Team Brazil’s best chef with São Paulo’s most prolific club owner, as well as a veteran bar dating back to the 40s and you get Riviera, which was resurrected earlier this year after a major revamp by star architect Marcio Kogan. Arrive early if you want to bag a spot at the winding, downstairs bar or go upstairs, where jazz bands take to the stage Wednesday through Saturday. ADDRESS Av. Paulista, 2584 São Paulo +55 11 3258 1268


The world-class DJs, state-of-the-art sound system and beatsynced lighting pack out the dance floors at D-Edge from the small hours of the morning until well beyond sunrise. You don’t need to be up for dancing to electronica for seven hours straight; the rooftop terrace is a great space to chill out, chat and admire the view. ADDRESS Alameda Olga, 170 Perdizes, São Paulo +55 11 3665-9500


A bohemian hangout in the leafy Dom José Gaspar square in Centro, Paribar gets packed on Sunday afternoons. It has live jazz (11am-2pm) and a somewhat dubious brunch, as well as monthly Sunday Selvagem parties, when DJs set up on the bar’s balcony and partygoers take over the square. ADDRESS Praça Dom José Gaspar, 42 São Paulo, Brazil +55 11 3237 0771



Batman’s Alley


One of downtown’s most iconic buildings, the Copan was designed by Oscar Niemeyer and is a mini-city of apartments shops, salons, restaurants and bars. Get in underneath its curved façade for a nose around the ground floor and a sneak peek at the comings and goings of the Copan residents. Stop for an espresso at Café Floresta, lunch at Bar da Dona Onça or a poke around the exciting art space, Pivô, that gets right inside the bowels of the building. ADDRESS Edifício Copan, loja 54 Avenida Ipiranga, 200 São Paulo +55 11 3255 8703


Despite being firmly on the tourist trail, the open-air art gallery that is the ‘Beco do Batman’ (‘Batman’s Alley’) in Vila Madalena is a must. A changing roster of artists spray and paint the walls in this narrow network of roads, making no two visits the same. Start at Rua Medeiros de Albuquerque and drop in at urban art gallery Choque Cultural. ADDRESS Rua Goncalo Afonso Vila Madalena, Sao Paulo


If there’s any institution in São Paulo shaking off the stuffy connotations that come with the word ‘museum’, it’s the Museum of Image and Sound. Revamped in 2008, it just gets cooler, hosting film and video art festivals, photography workshops, major exhibitions (Stanley Kubrick and David Bowie were the most recent subjects) and gigs, not to mention the monthly Saturday afternoon Green Sunset parties, with DJs and dancing outside the museum. ADDRESS v. Europa, 158 – Pinheiros, São Paulo +55 11 2117-4777


Join skaters, joggers, cyclists and the occasional roving revellers for a walk along the Minhoção (big worm) – a viaduct that connects Barra Funda and Centro, and is closed to traffic from 9PM and all day Sunday. You’ll pass grand old art deco buildings and run-down housing, as well as getting a rare glimpse inside people’s front rooms.



– Paulistanos will dive straight in for a kiss and a little hug when you first meet them. – São Paulo must be the only place in the world where taxi drivers round the fare down, rather than up. – It’s not rude to answer your mobile phone. In any situation. Really.


Getting around is hard work, one of the city’s major issues is the traffic, which is like something out of your worst nightmares. You need to be careful where you are going as it is not a city for ‘wandering’. When you can opt for the metro – which is clean and efficient but only covers a third of the city. Taxis are also a good option if taken outside of rush hour (between 8am-10am and 5pm-8pm.) You can often hail one or else order them from the handy app 99taxis.


Radio station 101.7 is pretty damn good. Do not walk around at night.

Words by Catherine Balston, a freelance journalist and editor living in São Paulo.  Follow her @CPBalston Feature image by Tona Stell

View Comments

Leave a Reply

City Guides

You know how you have that one incredible friend who knows their city inside out? Yeah, that’s us. We take the world’s most dynamic destinations, hand-pick the best parts and give them to you in one place. This is the kind of guide that you don’t need to run by a local. Eat your heart out, shop ‘til you drop, drink like a fish, dance your socks off, sleep – then repeat.


While travelling evokes feelings of daring and adventure, it is also conversely tied to self-discovery and rejuvenation. Our new bundle - Restore - will feed those escapist yearnings for a quieter life.

Download Suitcase App
Learn More