This is without a doubt the most important tip for anyone coming to São Paulo. Over the years, Brazil’s biggest city has garnered a poor reputation precisely because business tourists rarely leave the corporate bubble of São Paulo’s south and west zones. Often they are dissuaded from doing so from hysterical hosts, afraid that upon leaving the world of valet parking, armed security guards and room service, tourists will automatically get lost, mugged and kidnapped – which, just like in all big cities, are not common occurrences.
Consequently, if your only impressions of São Paulo come from inside a hotel room, the backseat of a taxi, a shopping mall and an expensive south zone restaurant, chances are you won’t have many good things to say.
When visiting São Paulo on business, make some extra time to explore the city, go out of your way to visit its attractions and take any horror stories you hear from locals with a considerable pinch of salt.
Granted, on many occasions business travelers do not have much of a say in exactly which hotel they will stay in, but if given the option, avoid southern and western neighborhoods such as Brooklin, Itaim and Vila Olimpia. While many businesses are based in this region, there are just as many excellent business hotels in more central regions such as Jardins and Bela Vista. From these locations, you’ll have much more access to the real São Paulo, without having to give up any of the luxury and comfort you would get in the financial and corporate centers.
As Brazil’s biggest and richest city, São Paulo has the country’s best collections of art, both national and international. The São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP), located on Paulista Avenue, the city’s main thoroughfare, is a joy to visit. Housed inside one of São Paulo’s most striking buildings, designed by modernist icon Lina Bo Bardi, the museum appears to float above the avenue below, suspended by four large red concrete pillars.
Over in the city’s historic center, the Pinacoteca do Estado is the place to see the best collection of Brazilian art in the world.
Alongside Mexico City and Lima, São Paulo is one of Latin America’s top three cities for eating. With an amazing variety of cuisines from all over the world, there is no shortage of options, from Chinese to Congolese, Peruvian to Palestinian. A safe bet is always to go for Japanese food in the neighborhood of Liberdade – São Paulo is home to the world’s largest Japanese population outside of Japan, and it has the excellent traditional food to prove it. Izakaya Issa is among the best, a sake bar which serves excellent hot dishes.
For something more local, check out the Michelin-starred A Casa do Porco in the historic center. Chef Jefferson Rueda seeks to recreate traditional food from the São Paulo countryside with incredibly creative dishes (pork tartare, anyone?), with all ingredients made onsite or brought from his home city of São José do Rio Pardo.
Football (by which we mean soccer) is Brazil’s national sport and São Paulo is a particularly good city in which to properly feel the country’s passion for the game. With three huge clubs based in São Paulo, each with their own stadiums, there is always a game on at the weekend or during the week. Football is of such cultural importance to Brazil (no sport comes anywhere close to it in terms of popularity) and going along to see a match is a great way to really experience the city. Tickets can be frustratingly difficult to buy for tourists, so ask your hosts if they can organize it for you, or there are independent tours available.
Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising can be the most difficult things for people who are on the road often. There is plenty of great food on offer to take care of the former, but exercising on business trips can be tricky. While you are likely to have some sort of gym facilities at your hotel, why not head down to Ibirapuera Park, voted one of the world’s best urban parks by The Guardian newspaper, and get to know one of São Paulo’s greatest attractions while burning off the churrasco and beer from the night before?
There is endless fun to be had in São Paulo once the sun sets, but one of the best nights out in the city is found at Choperia Liberdade, SP’s top karaoke bar in the city’s very own Japantown of Liberdade. With a (sometimes terrifyingly) huge selection of music, drinks, tacky decorations and decent sushi, chances are you’ll never want to leave.
Though it’s often said in disparaging terms, there’s no denying that São Paulo is a concrete jungle. SP has more high-rise buildings than New York City, and it is the city with the third-highest concentration of any buildings in the world. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is ugly. São Paulo’s imposing urban landscape is staggering when seen from above. Flying into or out of Congonhas Airport is quite the experience, while the scale of the city can also be seen from the top of one of its many skyscrapers, such as the Edifício Itália in the historic center. The Terraço Itália restaurant and cocktail bar on the building’s top floor is an excellent place to grab a drink and marvel at the jaw-droppingly huge city around you.