São Paulo, a.k.a the world's fourth-largest city, will become more accessible next year, when Virgin Atlantic launches its first Latin American flights to the buzzing, sprawling metropolis in Brazil. Which is all well and good, until it comes to finding a hotel - hardly a breeze when there are thousands to choose from. Luckily, we've come to the rescue with our guide where to stay in São Paulo, whether you're keen to seek out the city's hippest 'hoods or its lesser-known gems.
Best for foodies: Higienópolis
Higienópolis is an affluent city centre neighbourhood known for its diverse culinary offerings, ranging from eclectic restaurants such as Taquería La Sabrosa, (famous for its Day of the Dead-themed décor and delicious Mexican cuisine) to its churrascarias (barbecue restaurants) and sweet shops (we’ve got a particular soft spot for Doceria Angelica, with its pic n’ mix displays of Brazilian delicacies). This leafy neighbourhood has some of the city’s most stylish hotels, including Rua Frei Caneca’s achingly hip Hotel Belas Artes, with its funky, sculpture-dotted lobby, and, on Rua Maranhao, the pet-friendly, garden-fringed Tryp Hotel. You’ll find Higienópolis a few kilometres north of Avenue Paulista, São Paulo’s main avenue. It’s within easy walking distance of the city centre and has had its own metro station (Higienópolis-Mackenzie) since 2018.
"Mother" sculpture by Caetano Fraccaroli in the Higienopolis neighbourhood in São Paulo © Alf Ribeiro/Shutterstock
Where to stay in Higienópolis
For an art fix: Hotel Belas Artes
For budget luxury: Hotel Ca'd'Oro
Best for culture vultures: Vila Madalena
A street art-splattered, up-and-coming neighbourhood known for its independent boutiques and bars, Vila Madalena, just to the north of the immediate city centre, is one of São Paulo’s trendiest neighbourhoods. One of its biggest draws is the Beco do Batman (Batman Alley), a short street with high walls covered in some of São Paulo’s best street art. We’re also fans of the weekend market, where you can pick up everything from antiques to art. Although Vila Madalena is a great base for explorations of São Paulo – you’ll have some of its best restaurants and shops on your doorstep – it’s got fewer hotels than other neighbourhoods (Airbnb is a popular option for many staying here), but its popularity has seen several hotels open in recent years.
Beco do Batman (Batman Alley) is known for its street art © Will Rodrigues/Shutterstock
Where to stay in Vila Madalena
For wallet-friendly digs (with a pool): Mercure São Paulo Pinheiros
For boutique luxury: George V Residence - Alto de Pinheiros
Best for first-timers: Paulista Avenue
São Paulo’s main artery stretches for three kilometres through the city centre. It’s lined with some of Brazil’s best shopping centres, hotels and cultural centres, including the famous Museu de Arte de São Paulo, otherwise known as MASP - a spectacular glass building on bright red stilts (fun fact: the area beneath it is the largest undercover space in Brazil). It’s a great base for first-timers – the avenue has several metro stations, and some of the city’s most colourful neighbourhoods, including Liberdade, where you’ll find the world’s biggest Japantown (outside of Japan), are within easy walking distance. You’ll find hotels for all budgets on Paulista Avenue’s side streets, ranging from the wallet-friendly Hotel Ibis São Paulo to the luxurious InterContinental São Paulo, with its beautiful lobby bar (the barmen here do an amazing caipirinha) and suite-style rooms.
Paulista Avenue with Museum of Art (MASP) is financial centre of the city © Fred S. Pinheiro/Shutterstock
Where to stay in Paulista Avenue
For extra space: InterContinental São Paulo
For the trendsetters: Meliá Paulista
Best for the buzz: Centro
Centro is the São Paulo neighbourhood you’ll inevitably end up in at some point or another – a maddening, colourful crush known for its beautiful churches, historic marketplaces and selfie stick-wielding tangle of tourists. This is where the city was founded in 1554, and Centro’s Praça da Sé is considered São Paulo’s central point. Sadly this square, dominated by the neo-gothic São Paulo cathedral, has become somewhat of a magnet for pick-pockets, so keep a close eye on your belongings. Centro’s other big draw is the huge Mercado Municipal de São Paulo, crammed with restaurants, bars and market stalls selling every type of food and drink under the sun. Must-try foods are mortadella sandwiches (meat-stuffed, deli-style affairs loved by Brazilians), washed down with a “chope (pint) of local beer.
Sé Cathedral in São Paulo, Brazil © Elo Kyrmse/Shutterstock
Where to stay in Centro
For backpackers: Hotel Calstar
For wallet-friendly luxury: Nikkey Palace Hotel
Nacoes Unidas is the city’s most affluent area, and it’s popular with travellers who prefer the finer things in life – it’s got some of the city’s best shopping malls, and one of its newest (and possibly the city’s best) hotels is the Four Seasons São Paulo, which opened in late 2018. The immediate city centre is a 20-minute drive away (more during rush hour), but bear in mind São Paulo is the world’s fourth-largest city, so you’ll hardly be in the back of beyond if you choose to base yourself here. It’s popular with travellers keen to retreat to luxurious digs after a frenetic day pounding São Paulo’s streets, and many of its hotels, including the Four Seasons, have the added advantage of stunning views over the Pinheiros River.
Estaiada Bridge in São Paulo © Thiago Leite/Shutterstock
Where to stay in Nacoes Unidas
For all-out luxury: The Four Seasons São Paulo
For high rise affordability: TRYP by Wyndham São Paulo Nacoes Unidas Hotel
Top image: Estaiada Bridge in São Paulo © Thiago Leite/Shutterstock