With a population of over eleven million people, the dynamic, thriving Brazilian metropolis of Sao Paulo can sometimes feel like the world’s busiest flea market: simultaneously fascinating and terrifying, so filled with colorful and original things to see and do – and people seeing and doing them – that it can feel impossible to whittle down all the options into a manageable itinerary. One of the world’s most diverse cities, Sao Paulo offers travelers a comparable wealth of choices: visitors here can dance the night away in one of the city’s after-hours clubs, recline on one of the numerous nearby beach resorts, scream out support at a soccer match, or lose themselves in the winding alleyways of the old historical city. For dining, too, Sao Paulo has an overwhelming smorgasboard of options: Sao Paulo’s cultural diversity makes itself felt in the diversity of its cafe s and restaurants, from the Arab-Brazilian fusion cuisine made popular by fast-food chain Habibi’s to the internationally renowned churrascarias, where a wide variety of skewered meats are brought round to diners’ tables for a single all-you-can-eat flat fee. But with all this choice – how to narrow down Sao Paulo’s wealth of options to the very best? We here at Never Fly Coach Again have put together a list of our favorite off-the-beaten track haunts in Sao Paulo – places to sit back with an ice-cold capirinha or wile away the hours on a hidden beach. From the city center to the leafy seaside outskirts, here are our top choices for a weekend – or more! – away in Brazil’s most fascinating city.
Sky Bar at the Unique Hotel
The Unique Hotel, located on Avenue Brigadeiro Luis Antonio, more than lives up to its name. Shaped like an enormous boat, the Unique Hotel – located in Sao Paulo’s elegant Jardins neighborhood, a stone’s throw (or an oar’s swipe) away from Ibirapuera Park, this enormous galley – designed by local architect Ruy Ohtake – melds modernism minimalism with a degree of decadence unparalleled elsewhere in Sao Paulo. Even if the overnight stay proves inconvenient, a visit to the Unique Hotel’s Sky Bar – a rooftop restaurant that also incorporates a 24-metre swimming pool – is an unmissable part of the Sao Paulo experience. Sit by the pool with a capirinha. Try it the original way, with cachaca, a potent spirit distilled from sugar cane, or enjoy an Asiatic twist with a version made from sake.
Dalva e Dito
Only a few years old, the upscale Dalva e Dito has nevertheless swiftly become a mainstay on Sao Paulo’s already dynamic dining scene. The progeny of Alex Atala, whose prior oproject, DOM, was listed as one of Restaurant magazine’s 50 Best Restaurants in the World, and the chef Alain Poleto, Dalva e Dito seeks to transform simple Brazilian home cooking into an elaborate high-end experience. Dishes like moqueca, a traditional casserole of fresh fish, coconut milk, shellfish, and palm oil combining African and Brazilian aromas may very well appear in this new gourmet guise. A particular specialty is the dessert menu, which includes a chocolate mousse shot through with priprioca, an earthy Amazonian root. While Dalva e Dito is hardly cheap, it’s one of the best places in Sao Paulo to combine traditionalism with extraordinary luxury.
Go to the Train Station – But Not for a Train
Berlin has its Kreuzberg. London has its Shoreditch. But for contemporary art in a thoroughly contemporary setting in Sao Paulo, head to the city’s main train station, Estacao de Luz. The neighborhood around here – though dangerously close to the dangerious region of Cracolandia doubles as the hipster capital of Sao Paulo: with plenty of bars, cafes, exhibition spaces, and bookstores to keep even the most gadfly-minded gallery hopper rapt with attention for hours. Be sure to hit up the Pinacoteca – or picture gallery – which blends a robust permanent collection with frequent temporary exhibitions of both local and international artists. Don’t leave without a visit to the sculpture garden.
Face Your Fears at the Snake Museum
“Why did it have to be snakes?” asked Indiana Jones in terror. But if slithering serpents fascinate more than scare you, head to the Instituto Butantan, a medical research facility devoted to studying the effects of various space venoms since 1901. Located on an attractively leafy campus dotted with historical buildings, the institute’s Serpentarium offers visitors the chance to touch and hold various less-venomous varieties, while the institute’s more poisonous offerings – among them pythons, rattlesnakes, and vipers – remain reassuringly behind reasonably thick glass.
Learn to Samba
Less a school proper than a series of rehearsals for the annual Carnival, the Tucuruvi Samba school, located in an otherwise unpreposessing residential part of the Tucuruvi neighborhood, allows visitors to drop in on their regular samba rehearsal session several nights a week. A hit with locals as much as – if not far more than – tourists, the Tucuruvi school may challenge those new to the swaying of the hips, but offers dedicated dancers an opportunity to let loose and experience one of the most vital parts of Brazilian culture.