The Olympic spotlight may be shining brightest on Rio, but São Paulo is also preparing to host soccer competitions for the 2016 Summer Games and welcome an influx of visitors. The dynamic city, which also was the site of several 2014 World Cup matches, is an international center for sports. But it also offers visitors art, glamour, vibrant nightlife and innovative restaurants—all with plenty of South American flair.
Brazil’s largest city—home to more than 11 million people—began its modern commercial history as a center of the coffee trade. Today it is the commercial heart of Brazil and one of the biggest financial centers in the world. São Paulo hosts more than 90,000 conventions, conferences and trade shows a year. Locals speak Portuguese, but in this business-oriented and multicultural city, many people also speak English, Spanish, Italian, French, Japanese and more.
Getting to and from the airport
The main international airport is Guarulhos, more commonly referred to as Cumbica Airport after the district in which it’s located. The airport is approximately 30 kilometers (nearly 19 miles) north of downtown. The easiest way to get to the city center is via taxi. The blue-and-white Guarucoop taxis are reliable and provide a flat rate from the airport. The trip takes about 45 minutes without traffic, but at peak travel times it can take up to two hours. The airport runs a bus service with routes to the central Tiete Interstate bus terminal, Congonhas (the main domestic airport) and major hotels.
Getting around São Paulo
São Paulo’s Metro system is efficient, but routes are limited. The central business district is well served, however, with four lines running from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Metro tickets cost 2.55 Brazilian reais—plural of real. (US$0.81 using the exchange rate US$1 to R$3.14). Buses cover more of the city but can be difficult to navigate. Drivers usually won’t stop unless you wave your hand to flag them down.
You’ll find taxis at main intersections, malls, hotels, squares and parks. Or opt to call for a taxi at a specific time. Fares increase 25% after 8 p.m. and on weekends. Avoid driving yourself around town; traffic is chaotic, and parking is scarce and expensive.
Where to stay
For luxury accommodation, try Intercontinental São Paulo (Alameda Santos 1123, São Paulo 01419-001; Ph: +55-11-31792600), Radisson Alphaville (Alameda Rio Negro 1030, São Paulo 06454-000; Ph: +55-11-21374150),Radisson São Paulo Faria Lima (Avenida Cidade Jardim 625, São Paulo 01453-000; Ph: +55-11-21335960,Sheraton São Paulo WTC Hotel (Avenida Nacoes Unidas 12559, São Paulo 04578-905; Ph: +55-11-30558888),Staybridge Suites São Paulo (Rua Bandeira Paulista 555, São Paulo 04534-002; Ph: +55-11-37066600) or Melia Paulista (Avenida Paulista 2181, São Paulo 01311300; Ph: +55-11-21841600).
For midscale options, try Marriott Executive Apartments São Paulo (Rua Professor Filadelfo Azeyedo 717, São Paulo 04508-011; Ph: +55-11-30583000), Caesar Business São Paulo Faria Lima Mercure (Rua Das Olimpiadas 205, São Paulo 04551-000; Ph: +55-11-21614900), Mercure São Paulo Central Towers Hotel (Rua Maestro Cardim 407, São Paulo 01323000; Ph: +55-11-268-0819) or Comfort Hotel Downtown (Rua Araujo 141, São Paulo 01220-020; Ph: +55-11-21374600).
Things to see and do
Get swept up in Olympic fever by catching a soccer (football) match at Corinthians Arena. The venue will host ten matches in the Olympic football tournament. Tickets can be purchased on the Rio 2016 website.
When you’re not at the stadium, Immerse yourself in Brazil’s love for the “beautiful game” with a journey through the Museu do Futebol. The museum includes vintage soccer displays and interactive exhibits on World Cup history and Brazilian soccer stars. It’s open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on Monday. Tickets are R$9, and admission is free on Saturday.
The centrally located Ibirapuera Park is a welcome retreat from the chaos of the city. The park features beautiful lakes, fountains, jogging and bicycle paths and a full calendar of concerts and other events. The nearby Bienal, dedicated to contemporary art, the Museu de Arte Moderne and the spaceship-like Pãvilhao da Oca host many of the art exhibitions that come to São Paulo.
The Pinacoteca do Estado is a beautifully restored museum displaying works of some of the best Brazilian artists from the 19th and 20th centuries. During the museum’s 1997 renovation, the roof and much of the interior were replaced with glass latticework and open spaces connected by catwalks. It’s open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and closed on Monday. Admission is R$6 (US$1.91) and free on Saturday.
The Theatro Municipal is located in the Old City Center and is an important cultural landmarks. It reopened in 2010 after a $35 million renovation. Made from sandstone and sculpted red marble, with lavishly decorated interiors, the theater plays host to numerous operas, concerts and ballets.
Experience São Paulo’s energetic nightlife with a visit to the Vila Madalena neighborhood, where the main streets are offer bustling clubs with live music. If you’re into samba (or simply curious about it), pop into Salve Simpatia, an energetic Rio-style club, and watch the crowd from the balcony.
With more than 50 shopping malls and plazas, numerous artisan fairs and art galleries, São Paulo is a shopper’s paradise. Boutiques in Centro Atacadista, Rua Oscar Freire and Bela Cintra sell haute couture. If you’re looking for something less pricy, a Sunday arts and crafts fair offers everything from vintage records to hand-beaded flip-flops.
Where to eat
The city’s diversity of people and culture has spawned restaurants spanning a wide range of cuisine. Be sure to try the traditional feijoada, a dish made of black beans, pork and dry steak. Wash this down with a caipirinha—a cocktail of sugar, lime and cachaça (distilled sugar liquor).
Since opening in 1999, D.O.M. has won multiple cuisine awards. Renowned chef Alex Atala creates gastronomical wonders such as the robalo fish, served with tapioca and cassava, and scallops marinated in coconut milk with crispy mango chips. Find it at Rua Barao de Capanema 549, Jardins, Ph: 55-11-30880761.
The trendy Spot Restaurant offers casual dining at its best. By day it’s packed with business people, while the evening gives way to a crowd of musicians, models and other celebrities. On the menu are original pasta dishes like penne with melon; gourmet salads; spicy seafood; and exotic vegetarian dishes. It’s at Alameda Ministro Rocha Azevedo 72, Ph: 55-11-32830946.
To snack like a local, head to Galeria dos Pães, a 24-hour food market where you can pick up a chicken croquette at the snack bar or sample the buffet breakfast in the mezzanine, with fresh orange juice, strong espresso, pastries, cheeses and cold cuts. Find it at Rua Estados Unidos 1645, Ph: +55-11-30645900.