São Paulo, a.k.a the world's fourth-largest city, will become more accessible next year, and a buzzing, sprawling metropolis, visiting it should be on your list of things to do in Brazil. This is all well and good until it comes to finding a hotel. Luckily, we've come to the rescue with our guide on where to stay in São Paulo, whether you're keen to seek out the city's hippest 'hoods or its lesser-known gems.
The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Brazil, your essential guide for visiting Brazil.
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).
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.
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Welcome to a lavish journey that marries adventure with style, featuring stays in carefully chosen four-star hotels. This reinvigorating tailor-made trip to Blissful Brazil will have you sightseeing in São Paulo, gazing at the spectacular Foz do Iguaçu falls and relaxing on Rio's finest beaches before you know it.
If you're wondering where to stay in São Paulo, consider Vila Madalena, one of the city's trendiest neighbourhoods located just to the north of the immediate city centre.
This up-and-coming area is known for its independent boutiques, bars, and street art-splattered walls, making it a great choice for travellers seeking a lively and vibrant atmosphere. 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.
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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 where to stay in São Paulo 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 InterContinentaa l São Paulo, with its beautiful lobby bar (the barmen here do an amazing caipirinha) and suite-style rooms.
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Looking for a place where to stay in São Paulo? You'll likely find yourself in Centro at some point or another, as it's a bustling and colourful neighbourhood known for its beautiful churches, historic marketplaces, and hordes of selfie stick-wielding 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.
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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. The immediate city centre is a 20-minute drive away, 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.
Avenida Paulista marks the southwestern boundary of downtown São Paulo, and beyond that are Jardim Paulista, Jardim America and Jardim Europa – the Jardins – which were laid out in 1915 and styled after the British idea of the garden suburb. \
These exclusive residential neighbourhoods have long since taken over from the city centre as the site of most of São Paulo’s best restaurants and shopping streets. Many residents never stray from their luxurious ghettos – protected from Third World realities by complex alarm systems, guards and fierce dogs.
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Downtown Augusta is a well-known São Paulo neighbourhood known for its vibrant nightlife, cultural events and street art. The area is named after Avenida Augusta, a major arterial road that winds through the neighbourhood and links the Jardins and Consolasão neighbourhoods. The street is packed with restaurants, bars and shops, making it one of the best places where to stay in Sao Paulo.
If you're deciding on where to stay in São Paulo, Vila Mariana is a great option. This diverse neighbourhood is located in the southern area of the city and borders other popular areas. It offers a blend of traditional and contemporary architecture, as well as plenty of shops, restaurants, and cafes to explore.
The most popular attractions in the area include the São Paulo Art Museum (MASP), Ibirapuera Park and the São Paulo Cultural Centre.
Since the early twentieth century, the Bairro of Bela Vista, lying just southwest of downtown, has been known as “Little Italy”. It’s also commonly called Bixiga, and indeed “Bela Vista” has nowadays come to refer to a wider area stretching all the way from Avenida Paulista to the city centre.
This normally quiet neighbourhood springs to life in the evening when people throng the central Rua 13 de Maio, and the streets running off it, which are lined with cantinas, pizzerias, bars and small theatres. During the day on Sunday, there’s a lively flea market, Mercado de Antiguidades e Artesanato do Bixiga, at Praça Dom Orione.
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A kilometre west of Praça da Sé, the area around Praça da República is now dominated by office buildings, hotels and shops, but was once full of lavish mansions belonging to coffee-plantation owners, who began to take up residence in the city from about 1870.
Built out of British iron, Italian marble, Latvian pine, Portuguese tiles and Belgian stained glass, these mansions were soon abandoned as the city centre took on the brash and commercial character of its present-day form. The Praça da República itself – once home to a bullring – has a green area with a small lake where turtles sunbathe and rows of fortune tellers throw shells and cards to part the gullible from their reaís.
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Brazil, among other things, is great as a beach holiday destination. Read our guide to the best beaches in Brazil or maybe you will be interested in our guide to the best beaches in Costa Rica where you will find useful information if you are planning a trip there.
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Top image: Estaiada Bridge in São Paulo © Thiago Leite/Shutterstock
Tamara is a former snowboard instructor who's been a freelance travel writer for 12 years. She loves snowboarding, hiking, mountain biking and scuba diving, and the regions she knows best are Asia, America and Africa. Europe-wise she knows Germany and France very well. In normal times she does two or three trips a month. Follow her on Twitter