Sao Paulo cityscape, Brazil, South America

How to see São Paulo like a local

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By Juan Cifrian
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When in Rome, do as the Romans do. That’s the traveller’s rule of thumb, but in a metropolis of 11 million like São Paulo, Brazilit’s hard to know where to start. Luckily Paulistanos take their food, drink and partying seriously, so if you want to immerse yourself like a local, follow our lead: 

Join the queue at Bar Veloso

Set in a quiet residential square in the Vila Mariana neighbourhood, this buzzy corner boteco is perennially packed – and for good reason. Its award-winning caipirinhas feature exotic fruits such as jabuticaba and pitaya (dragon fruit) or weird combos like tangerine with chilli peppers, and its bar grub is a notch above the rest. The coxinha in particular – a creamy, chicken-and-cheese-croquette – is the city’s best, and worth the inevitable wait alone. If you’re keen on sitting, veer towards Veloso’s adjacent space next door or try snagging a stool at either side’s bar. But if the (strong) possibility of standing all night doesn’t kill your buzz, just squeeze in with the chatty locals along the sidewalk and let your worries pass you by.

Have a Paulistano breakfast at Café Floresta

Gone are the days when Centro was the focal point of São Paulo, but a step inside the old-school, standing room-only Café Floresta, on the ground floor of the city’s iconic Copan building, inspires visions of downtown’s glory days. Order an espresso shot of their eponymous brew with a pão na chapa (toasted, buttered bread) and a glass of freshly-squeezed OJ, and watch as some of the Copan’s 5000 or so eclectic residents trickle out to start their day.

Feira Liberdade, Sao Paulo, BrazilThe fiera at Liberdade, by Juan Cifrian

Sample the local goods at a feira

Once the sugar and caffeine starts oozing out of your pores, lose yourself in one of the city’s abundant open-air feiras (street markets). Few countries can lay claim to the diversity of Brazil’s produce, and with feiras taking place all over the city, 7 days a week, these street stalls are the best place to try before you buy. Those hungry and pressed for time can make a beeline for the crazy-sweet caldo de cana (sugar cane juice) and the saturating pastels (thin-crust fried pies), but street food fans in no rush should sample the variety of typical treats at the popular weekend feiras at Praça República, Liberdade and Benedito Calixto.

Pig Out at Genuíno

Saturday afternoons in São Paulo mean live music and feijoada – a slow-cooked, pork and bean stew – and you won’t find a better pairing of the two than at Genuíno’s. Head straight to the garden out back, where the live MPB (Música popular brasileira) and chorinho is played from the house’s second-story balcony. The feijoada is served in an all-you-can-eat spread alongside three different flavours of batida, a whipped, cachaça cocktail infused with condensed milk. Locals never get tired of their sugary treats, so don’t forget to pre-empt your pig-out fatigue with a caipirinha – there’s plenty more partying to come.

Genuino, Sao Paulo, BrazilThe feast at Genuíno, by Juan Cifrian

Dance all day with Sambistas

Now that you’re properly fuelled up, start your Saturday samba crawl at Traço de União, an expansive samba hall where the restless party crowd starts filing in for the infectious live music around 3pm and stays until well into the evening.

Once you’ve had your fill of Traço’s meat market, take a cab to Vila Madalena for a more intimate vibe at Pau Brasil, named after the same tree as the country (Brazilwood). This steamy, hole-in-the-wall bar packs in tight around the roda de samba (informal style of samba where the musicians share the floor with the crowd), but you’ll be too caught up in the moment to care.

If you prefer having more room to operate, go around the corner and give Grazie a Dio a twirl. Samba rock – an offshoot of the samba genre – is usually in heavy rotation, so the dancing is paired, in a style similar to the turn-happy salsa.

Traço Da União, Sao Paulo, BrazilTraço Da União, by Juan Cifrian

People-watch at Lanchonete Charme da Paulista

São Paulo’s tourist trail pales in comparison to the spectacular sights of Rio de Janeiro, but you could find worse than the cityscape that accompanies a stroll down postcard-perfect Avenida Paulista. For full effect, hunker down for a bucket of beers at Charme da Paulista, a humming sidewalk boteco with an unobstructed view of the city’s looming flagship museum, MASP, and the throng of Paulistanos pounding the pavement both day and night.

Get Low-Down and Dirty in Baixo Augusta

A sharp right off the heights of Avenida Paulista onto the lower end of Rua Augusta takes you into the edgier, grittier side of the city’s nightlife known as Baixo Augusta. Paulistanos from all walks of life duck in and out of jam-packed dives and live music venues, or simply hang out on the sidewalk with beer in hand. The remnants of the city’s former red light district are increasingly evident as you journey downhill, and it can get downright dodgy in the wee hours of the night, but the cast of characters and diversity of this unpretentious party scene ensures it’s never a dull night.

Pizza from Speranza, Sao Paulo, BrazilPizza from Speranza

Try a Paulistano Pie

No Sunday is complete without the peculiar Paulistano tradition of having pizza with knife and fork, white tablecloths, and waiters serving your every slice tableside. Whether it’s a famous margherita at Speranza or the frango com catupiry (chicken with soft cheese) at one of the city’s renowned Bráz branches, indulge in the city’s pride and joy and decide for yourself whether São Paulo pies really are the world’s best.

Pedal on Sunday’s Ciclofaixa

The perfect way to balance all this indulgence is to join the droves of Paulistanos on the city’s extensive bike path, known as the Ciclofaixa. Walking around a new city will always be the best way to soak it all up, especially when cycling is as treacherous as it is through as São Paulo, but on Sundays and holidays from 7am to 4pm, these coned-off bike lanes on some of the main roads invite everyone from families to serious cyclists to go for a spin. Rent your set of wheels at the scenic Parque Ibirapuera for R$5/hour and follow the flow of traffic.

Explore more of Brazil here with the Rough Guides website. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.