Rio might grab the limelight, but São Paulo is the economic and cultural capital of Brazil. It’s the 7th largest global city, has a population of 12 million and is one of the most diverse places in the world. São Paulo embraces you one day, then throws you for a loop the next. The city pulses with personality and boasts talent in the arts, design, architecture and gastronomy. Helicopters weave through the sky. São Paulo gives you the impression that anything could happen. Here’s our guide.
For most of Paulistanos, Sunday evenings are consecrated to pizza. Since most people flee to the coast for the weekend to escape the city, pizza naturally becomes the easiest option when you come back home to an empty fridge. If you go anywhere, make it Divina Encrenca in the neighbourhood of Santa Cecília. It’s only 10m2 and is totally unpretentious, reflecting owner Molina’s personality. Deck chairs, small wooden tables and a hanging football jersey are about all that make the place. The pizzas are individual-sized with naturally fermented bases, making them light and tasty. Come here to meet friends from the neighbourhood or forge new relationships: it’s São Paulo’s social magnet.
This artisanal bar does a great selection of local craft beers that are carefully picked out by Gustavo, the charismatic owner. Tell him how you’re feeling, and he’ll find you the perfect beer. Then pair it with one of their very tasty cheeses from small local producers. Slightly bigger than Divina Encrenca, this place is dressed with Rodrigo Kurhi’s furnishings. It’s cosy and welcoming.
To understand São Paulo, you need to take into account the role of coffee in the history of the city. São Paulo was built on the coffee trade during the XVIII century and was the first export product in the 1850s. With the end of slavery in 1888, the coffee barons brought in waves of immigrants from all over the world, from Italy to Japan, leading to the great ethnic diversity of São Paulo. In the past few years, there’s a renewed interest in Brazilian coffee. Takko is a little coffee shop in the Santa Cecilia region and is the perfect place to start the day. The minimalist interior makes it a quiet place to work or simply read. The coffees are sophisticated and the cakes are delicious. Special mention goes to the iced-coco cake.
From Takko, head to the Minhocão, the suspended 3.5 km road that snakes in between buildings (and literally means “big worm”). Local groups have succeeded in closing the road down to cars every weekend and bank holiday. Due to the lack of public spaces and parks, the Minhocão has become a great alternative for locals to enjoy the outdoors. You can find pop-up second-hand shops, theatre, music shows and improvised barbecues.
The iconic Copan building conceived by master architect Oscar Niemeyer looks like a huge wave. The building was commissioned to celebrate the 400-year anniversary of the city and opened in 1966. This wonder of architecture features Niemeyer’s very own fluid and curved lines (there are no stairs but access ramps in between the floors), and shows off his great understanding of concrete. Since Niemeyer was also a pupil of Le Corbusier, it’s easy to find references from his French master, like the colours and the idea to use the ground floor to offer services to the residents.
The ground floor stores have managed to remain intact over time, but their purpose has changed throughout the decade. One of them, however, is almost as old as the building: Café Floresta. For 45 years, Adelino, who came from Portugal in 1972, has managed his charming coffee shop with passion. The place is almost the same as it was in the ‘70s, and the large bar is convivial. The café crème is the best-seller.
Centro Cultural do Banco do Brasil, or the CCBB, is a beautiful building that dates back to 1901. The former bank’s architecture (you still can see the original vault on the basement) is a mix of Neoclassic and Art Nouveau. The building became a cultural space in 2001, so now great contemporary and interactive exhibitions are hosted there.
Centro Cultural Ouvidor 63
Three years ago, a group of people kicked open the door of an abandoned building and invited musicians to play in the space. Today, every floor supports a different activity, starting with a theatre company in the ground floor, then going up to arts, music, photography and a rooftop garden. Despite its appearance, Ouvidor 63 is open to the public and you’ll always meet a resident happy to show you around.
Centro Cultural São Paulo, or the CCSP, was opened at the end of the Brazilian dictatorship, in 1982. The idea was to create a library to provide access to local culture and information – a great necessity after years of repression and censorship. The space is cut by walkways that allow easy circulation of visitors, keeping a constant flow. The CCSP still boasts a great library as well as some exhibition rooms, and a cute communal garden on its roof.
Near CCSP, there’s the Japanese neighbourhood, Liberdade. The Japanese were one of the first immigrant communities to arrive in the São Paolo region, along with the Italians. Today, the city has the biggest Japanese community outside of Japan. Hinode is an authentic restaurant and one of the oldest still open. The interior is simple and traditional, with tatami floored rooms in the back. Grab a traditional Brazilian beer and a Kare Lomen. Delicious.
Also known as CZO, Cartel 011 is a multidisciplinary space comprising an art gallery, a restaurant, a barbershop and a multi-brand store. Opened eight years ago, it’s earned its place in the local fashion scene by launching and supporting Brazilian brands and talent. To this day, it’s the only South American retailer to sell exclusive products from local designers, as well as international brands, especially sneakers. This year, CZO launched its own label.
Four blocks away from CZO there’s another fashion label, João Pimenta. João is an original designer and a very sweet person who, in spite of his growing success, maintains his natural modesty. He surprises the audience every season, reinventing the masculine way of dressing, by including delicate finishes and feminine references with tailoring precision.
Literally meaning “the priest’s ass” in Portuguese, “Cu do Padre” (real name Bar do Batidas) is a little boteco (bar) that earned its controversial nickname due to being located right behind a church. Featuring simple wooden chairs and tables, it has an easy-going atmosphere, and is so popular that on weekends people spill out of the entrance and onto the sidewalk, sometimes shutting the whole street down. Ordinary beers and strong caipirinhas are the most ordered but the house most famous drink is still the batida Zé Trovão, a nut-based drink.
SESC Pompeia is one of the most beautiful and surprising constructions in São Paulo. Lina Bo Bardi, a Brazilian-Italian architect, restored the former drum factory, preserving the original structure, but giving it a fresh look by installing red-coloured structures, wooden doors and dressing the rooms with the beautiful Barauna furnishings. Today, SESC offers a democratic public place with a great cultural offering of exhibitions, library, music shows and arts and crafts workshops.
Balsa is one more example of the Centro’s revival. It’s occupied by journalists and artist collectives, and by the bar Balsa. The bar is split over two floors and very cosy, with music played on vinyl. The cherry on top here is the rooftop, with its plants, fairy lights and views onto the old town.
Above a wig shop is Buraco (or “the hole” in Portuguese). This tiny cocktail bar was designed by architect Rodrigo Ohtake, grandson of Tomie Ohtake, a Japanese- born Brazilian, and one of the most prominent artists in the country. At first glance, the iron furnishings and huge curved wire fence may lend its interior a cold touch, but the pink neon lighting gives it warmth. The major attraction though is the range of excellent cocktails.
Centro is the historical centre of the city, and one of the most lively areas. Historically, it was the business centre of São Paulo, but in the ’60s, the area was abandoned by companies looking for something more modern. Centro became an empty and dangerous area where drug trafficking was rife and there was widespread poverty. Since the 2010s, it’s become popular again, as young couples, artists and collectives – pushed out of other areas by high rents – came back and revitalised it.
One of the projects that contributed the most was Casa Juisi, which was founded by Simone and Junior four years ago. It’s an impressive second-hand archive of clothes, boasting more than 3,500 pieces. Designers such as Nicolas Ghesquière and Jeremy Scott often come to visit Simone and Junior looking for references and inspiration.
- Bar do Batidas
- Café Floresta
- Cartel 011
- Casa Juisi
- Centro Cultural do Banco do Brasil
- Centro Cultural Ouvidor 63
- Centro Cultural São Paulo
- Cu do Padre
- Divina Encrenca
- João Pimenta
- Latin America
- São Paulo
- Sao Paulo Guide
- SESC Pompéia
- South America