The Best of São Paulo in 72 Hours
"You have been to Sampa before?" the man asks, turning to stare straight into my eyes. "Ah no, first time," I answer. "But very excited." The man turns away again, and I take a quick deep breath. "Oh, my friend, you will absolutely love this city," he says, swerving to look directly at me again. "She is like no other in the world. She is alive."
Part of me is thrilled that the first guy I meet in São Paulo is such a passionate fan of his hometown. A bigger part of me wishes that he wasn’t my cab driver, who’s paying far more attention to me in the back seat than he is to the busy city highway that we’re speeding down. Great that São Paulo’s alive; not so sure how long I’ll be anymore.
I survive, and my white-knuckled ride into town from the airport proves to be a great introduction to thrilling São Paulo, so full of passion and excitement, with just a hint of danger thrown in to keep things interesting. Sampa - as the 11.5 million locals call their vast hometown - is the biggest city in Brazil and all of South America.
This isn’t the Brazil of Rio, with lazy sunny beaches and endless samba music. This is the Brazil of fashion, culture, commerce and a fast-paced global flair. It’s a wildly diverse and cosmopolitan mega-city that you couldn’t possibly get to know fully in three days - but you can sure have a lot of fun trying.
Day 1: Spectacular Views
Check into the Pergamon Hotelon Rua Frei Caneca, right on what’s known to Paulistanos as "Gay Caneca," thanks to its many LGBT venues. The Pergamon offers a nice boutique style at reasonable rates, and it’s also well situated for touring the city - not only close to the gay stuff, but also some of Sampa’s most important mainstream attractions.
In a sprawling city like São Paulo, it’s crucial to get your bearings. Head downtown to the absolute middle of the city at Sé Square (Praça da Sé), the site of some of its most important historical events.
At one end is São Paulo Cathedral - the current structure dates only from 1954, but it’s on the site of the 16th century church that served what was then a small village. Nearby is the interesting Solar da Marquesa de Santos, the well-preserved mansion of a rather notorious 19th century noblewoman, who also happened to be the lover of the Brazilian emperor. A few blocks to the west is the striking neo-classical Theatro Municipal (Municipal Theatre), a hub of the São Paulo’s cultural life for more than a century, and where such global greats as Rudolph Nureyev, Enrique Caruso and Vivien Leigh have performed.
For lunch, head to the Mercado Municipal (Municipal Market), the city’s best-known and most important traditional market. Known just as Mercadão to locals, the market dates from 1926, and sells a staggering 450 tons of food every single day. Grab one of Mortadela Brasil’s signature massive sandwiches then work it off by wandering the market’s nearly 300 stalls spanning more than 135,000-square-feet. Don’t miss Casa da Moça, offering some of the freshest and most delicious exotic Brazilian fruits you’ll ever taste, short of picking them yourself.
Now that you’ve seen the city’s heart, you’re ready for a breathtaking glimpse of its whole body. On República Square you’ll find the city’s second tallest building, Edifício Itália. Elevate yourself up to the 44th floor, where you’ll find the incredible Terraço Itália, a gentleman’s club-like lounge that’s home to some of the most incredible views you’re likely to experience anywhere in the world - a mind-boggling expansion in all directions. It’s simultaneously magical and humbling, a feeling best savored over one of the Terraço’s yummy (if not cheap) cocktails.
After a disco nap back at the hotel, head down Frei Caneca a few blocks to Tirreno’s to get skewered right in the middle of the gay quarter. Serving a cute young crowd, Tirreno’s specializes in stick-bound foodstuffs of all sorts, from fruits and vegetables to grilled meat.
Afterward, head back to hip gay hotspot The Society, conveniently located just around the corner from the hotel. Owned by the same folks that run the crazily successful The Week (where you’ll go tomorrow night), The Society is located in a luxurious former mansion and draws one of the city’s coolest and sexiest clienteles.
Next page for days two and three!