6 reasons why São Paulo is Brazil’s most exciting city

Jan 29, 2020

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Rio de Janeiro is probably the first place on your visit list when planning a trip to Brazil — and with good reason. But, São Paulo is fast becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, as well as where many Cariocas (people from Rio) are moving to instead.

If you’re not sure of where to go, here are some reasons that should help you make up your mind.

1. Food

If you’re a foodie, then São Paulo is definitely the city for you. In terms of typical Brazilian food, coxinha, pastel and lanche de mortadela are probably the most famed in the region.

Mortadela — a type of luncheon meat — can be found in most supermarkets in the U.K. and probably isn’t on most peoples’ shopping lists. But in São Paulo, they go mad for what is basically just a mortadela sarnie. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

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Traditional mortadela sandwich of Sao Paulo, Sanduiche de mortadela tradicional paulista
Though it doesn’t look like much, this traditional mortadela sandwich from São Paulo is definitely worth a try. (Photo by Phaelnogueira/Getty Images)

Another favourite is coxinha — a fried delight that is famous throughout the whole of Brazil and filled with a variety of different ingredients, the most popular being chicken and Brazilian catupiry cheese (similar to variations of cream cheese you’d find at home). Some food blogs have dedicated entire articles advising fans where to eat the best coxinha in the city.

Pastel is quintessentially Paulistano. A deep-fried, pasty-like treat filled with anything from cod to chicken. You’re probably noticing a slight “fried food” theme.

Pastel de bacalhau do MErcado Municipal de São Paulo Comida fast-food guloseima codfish.
Pastel de bacalhau or codfish. (Photo by Eli K Hayasaka/Getty Images)

The city boasts a rich food culture from all over the world thanks to its diverse population. One of the biggest influencing nations on the city’s cuisine has been Japan. São Paulo has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan so it’s easy to find yourself some good sushi or sashimi. The neighbourhood of Liberdade (Liberty) is where you should head — it’s almost like being in Japan.

Despite being several thousand miles away from Italy, Paulistanos are very proud of their pizza. There are several authentic, Italian-style pizza restaurants with proper ovens like Pizzaria Monte Vera in the Itaim Bibi neighbourhood. You can find all the usual delights as well as pizzas with a Brazilian twist. Nutella pizza is a thing.

Traditional, Italian-style pizza ovens at Pizzaria Monte Vero, Itaim. (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

2. Culture

If you’re into culture, then you’ll absolutely love São Paulo. The vibe is very different from Rio — so much so you’d almost mistake them as being in two different countries despite being less than an hour’s flight apart.

The São Paulo See Metropolitan Cathedral --"See" and "cathedral" mean "seat" and therefore the ecclesiastical authority of a bishop or archbishop (Portuguese: Catedral Metropolitana, or Catedral da Sé de São Paulo) is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of São Paulo, Brazil. Its construction, in Neo-Gothic style, began in 1913 and ended four decades later. Despite having a Renaissance-styled dome, the São Paulo Metropolitan Cathedral is considered by some to be the 4th largest neo-gothic cathedral in the world.
Sé Cathedral, São Paulo. (Photo by Fabio Canhim/Getty Images)

It’s clearly the place to be, as this year, São Paulo has been named the most desired place to spend Carnaval 2020 in Brazil, beating popular spots like Rio and Salvador in the northeastern state of Bahia.

If museums are your thing, then you’re in for a treat. There’s everything from museums of art to a museum about football.

Related reading: The 20 new hotels we can’t wait to book in 2020

The MASP, Art Museum of São Paulo, modern architectural Brazilian landmark
MASP Museum — a true São Paulo landmark on the main street, Avenida Paulista. (Photo by J.Castro/Getty Images)

3. Night life

São Paulo has a buzzing night life scene. From super clubs to quirky breweries, there is certainly something to suit everyone’s taste.

Vila Madalena in the east of the city is famed for its chilled, bohemian vibe and streets lined with bars playing all kinds of live music long into the night.

JACARE'S GRILL. at Vila Madalena district, Sao Paulo, Brazil (Photo by Paulo Fridman/Corbis via Getty Images)
A snapshot of the vibe in Vila Madalena. (Photo by Paulo Fridman/Corbis/Getty Images)

4. Outdoor space

As the biggest city in the Southern Hemisphere and one of the largest in the world, São Paulo could certainly be deemed a “concrete jungle”. Despite the vast sprawling urbanisation that seems to be never ending, there are some stunning outdoor spaces. One of those happens to be one of my all-time favourite parks in the world — Ibirapuera.

Aerial view of Ibirapuera park and Sao Paulo Skyline, sunny day, Brazil
What a place — Ibirapuera Park in all its glory. (Photo by Phaelnogueira/Getty Images)

5. Shopping

The weather in São Paulo — and in Brazil in general — can be very temperamental. What better place to take a break from the heat or escape the tropical downpours than in one of the city’s many shopping centres?

They’re popular hangout places for locals, as there are often cinemas and restaurants within them, much like in the U.K.

One of the most upscale ones is Shopping Iguatemi on Faria Lima — one of the main business streets in the city. They’re not all expensive and fancy, though. Frei Caneca is a more relaxed, high-street priced mall in the city’s gay district.

6. Virgin will begin flying there from March

Virgin Atlantic is the latest airline to connect London and the Brazilian super-city of São Paulo. The inaugural flight departs Sunday 29 March and will operate daily flights from then on. The route will be flown by Virgin’s Dreamliner aircraft.

Related reading: Virgin Atlantic in Upper Class on the Boeing 787-9 from London to New York

The schedule for the route is as follows:

  • VS197 London (LHR) 10:30 p.m. Departure ⇒ São Paulo (GRU) 6:05 a.m. Arrival (+1)
  • VS198 São Paulo (GRU) 3:55 p.m. Departure ⇒ London (LHR) 7:50 a.m. Arrival (+1)

Flights are available to book now. One-way flights using Flying Club miles start at 25,000 miles + £233 in economy, stretching to 85,000 miles + £399 in Upper Class.

(Image courtesy of Virgin)


Head over to the Virgin Atlantic website to check out fares and redemptions to São Paulo as well as the rest of their global network.

Bottom line

When planning a trip to Brazil, visiting Rio is a must. Brazil has so much to offer and including a visit to São Paulo will give you an insight into a whole other part of Brazilian culture that will leave you wanting to come back again and again.

Featured image by Luís Henrique Boucault/Getty Images 

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