In the shadow of Rio de Janeiro and its stunning natural beauty, São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, is often harshly overlooked by tourists. However, this never-ending metropolis has so much to offer, from its fascinating mix of cultures and enchanting authenticity to its incredible restaurants and world-famous nightlife. Here are 10 reasons why you should consider visiting São Paulo over Rio de Janeiro.
While other cities around Brazil have their own distinct local identity and culture, São Paulo is a city which belongs to the world. With first-, second- and third-generation immigrants from all over the globe, São Paulo is incredibly diverse, boasting large communities from Portugal, Italy, Bolivia and Japan (São Paulo has the world’s largest Japanese population outside of Japan), among many others. This makes São Paulo feel like dozens of cities rolled into one, meaning there is always something to suit everyone’s tastes.
As it is such a cosmopolitan city, São Paulo has an enviable variety of restaurants. Having immigrant communities from around the globe means there are always countless options for dining out in São Paulo. From Chinese to Congolese, Portuguese to Palestinian, the list is endless. Of course, being the largest city in the country, São Paulo also attracts Brazil’s best chefs, who have all opened restaurants in the metropolis, serving the finest food the nation has to offer. Leading examples are Alex Atala’s D.O.M. – the only restaurant in Brazil with two Michelin stars – and the charming Esquina Mocotó, of nationally-renowned chef Rodrigo Oliveira.
One of São Paulo’s unique characteristics is its unflinching authenticity. What you see is what you get, and you’d be hard pressed to find anything in the city designed with tourists in mind. While this may sound daunting, it’s actually one of São Paulo’s most redeeming qualities. People from anywhere in the world can visit the city and enjoy the genuine São Paulo experience, something which cannot be said for the majority of tourist destinations around the globe. In a short space of time, visitors can fit right in and become a part of this enormous and vibrant city, which is a rewarding feeling in itself.
Due to being on the coast, the weather in Rio de Janeiro is consistently warmer than in São Paulo. While this may sound appealing, during the summer months Rio can become unbearably hot, especially for unaccustomed visitors and business tourists. São Paulo’s temperate climate is ideal, with its warm summers and cool winters it strikes the perfect balance between tropical and liveable.
Unlike Rio, São Paulo has never been known for attracting regular tourism (as opposed to business tourism), so the idea of a tourist trap is one which has never caught on. Though the city is not cheap, and there are trendy bars which may overcharge the wealthy clientele they attract, you’ll be paying the same as the locals. Visitors to São Paulo can enjoy the famous Brazilian hospitality without the added charge.
This is a city which works hard but plays even harder. Once the sun goes down, São Paulo truly comes to life. With bars on every street corner, ranging from traditional hole-in-the-wall botecos to the trendiest spots in South America, there is no shortage of options for a seat and a cold beer. If dancing is your thing, São Paulo is your city, with one of the most vibrant and spontaneous club scenes around today. Underground electronic club D-Edge attracts D.J.s from around the world, while independent groups such as Vampire Haus, Mamba Negra and Carlos Capslock hold unforgettable parties in the city’s old center.
With more high-rise buildings than New York, you’d be perfectly justified in calling São Paulo a concrete jungle. However, the stereotype that São Paulo is a gray, ugly city just doesn’t hold up. There is plenty of attractive architecture to be seen, and even areas which are grittier and more run-down are brought to life by colorful, thought-provoking street art. Thanks to the Clean City law of 2007, billboards and other forms of public advertising are illegal within the city limits, with vast street art murals taking their place. For an introduction to São Paulo’s graffiti scene, visit Beco do Batman (Batman’s Alley), one of the city’s most photogenic spots.
While soccer is Brazil’s national sport, played and followed all over the country, São Paulo is the place to visit for any true soccer fan. The city is big enough to host three massive clubs – Corinthians, Palmeiras and São Paulo – and the locals take the game far more seriously than their cousins in Rio de Janeiro. The city has four main soccer stadiums, including the state-of-the-art Allianz Parque and Arena Corinthians, the massive Morumbi Stadium and the beautiful municipal Pacaembu Stadium.
Lovers of art and culture will feel right at home with São Paulo’s excellent selection of museums. The eye-catching centerpiece of Avenida Paulista, the city’s most famous street, is the São Paulo Museum of Art (known as M.A.S.P.), which hosts an impressive permanent collection of works by Brazilian and international artists, as well as attracting some of the country’s best temporary exhibitions. In the traditional center of the city, there is the Pinacoteca, the oldest art museum in São Paulo with one of the country’s largest collections of Brazilian art.
While people from Rio de Janeiro may not take kindly to this statement, the city is home to an accent that many Brazilians find grating. Heavily influenced by Rio’s Portuguese community, the Carioca way of speaking is a slower and more exaggerated drawl, closer to the Portuguese spoken in Europe. São Paulo’s accent, on the other hand, is derived from the large number of Italian immigrants who settled in the city and is largely well received around the country and regarded as easier to understand for foreigners. This, of course, is a matter of personal preference.