As one of the largest cities in the world by population, São Paulo is a destination that requires a game plan.
Two days in town would never be enough time to explore all this bustling megalopolis of more than 21 million people has to offer, but you can certainly hit many of its highlights. With world-class museums and parks, an exploding culinary scene and the largest Japanese neighborhood outside of Japan, this cosmopolitan city has something to entice you.
Start your day by discovering the city’s architectural gems. Some of the most popular sites include neo-Gothic Catedral da Sé de São Paulo (the largest Catholic church in town) and the gorgeous Theatro Municipal de São Paulo, both of which are in the city center. If you’re visiting on a weekend, step inside these historic marvels — a service at the cathedral is breathtaking to see, as is a live performance at the theater. (Tip: Do yourself a favor and take the easy-to-navigate subway when you can to these sights and other landmarks. São Paulo’s traffic can be a nightmare and can eat up too much of your valuable time.)
For lunch, peruse the offerings at Mercado Municipal de São Paulo. Originally opened in 1933, this massive market sports nearly 300 stalls selling everything from fresh fruits to seafood. You’ll also find several cafés where you can sit and sample — be sure to order a mortadella sandwich from Bar do Mané, the alleged creator of the Italian-sausage-stuffed bite. While you’re nibbling, don’t miss the 72 stained-glass windows that depict different aspects of food production in the region.
Another lunch option is A Casa do Porco, a wildly popular spot specializing in all things pork. Head to the back of the restaurant to see the cooks in action roasting whole pigs.
Walk off your midday meal with a stroll down Avenida Paulista, one of the city’s premier streets, packed with shops, cafés and must-visit attractions. Museu de Arte de São Paulo is here. You’ll encounter works by artists like Vincent Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Picasso and Degas at the attraction.
For something a little more lively, check out the Museu do Futebol, which celebrates the history of soccer throughout Brazil.
As the afternoon stretches into evening, head for Edifício Itália (one of the tallest buildings in São Paulo) to savor a sundowner at Terraço Italia. Enjoy a staggering panoramic view of the city between sips from one of the 200 wine labels.
Head to dinner at Tuju, where highly acclaimed chef Ivan Ralston delivers an elegant spin on classic Brazilian dishes. Opt for plates like rack of lamb with sheep’s yogurt seasoned with fresh horseradish and grilled cucumber, or the heart of palm ravioli stuffed with artichoke, sheep’s milk cheese and dill.
When it’s time to turn in for the night, rest your head at Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Hotel Fasano São Paulo. Well-situated in the Jardins neighborhood (where many of the city’s best restaurants and designer boutiques are also located), this chic stay exudes a private-club-like ambiance with an understated entrance, antique leather armchairs in the Lobby Bar and a mid-century modern flair throughout.
Spend the morning strolling through Parque do Ibirapuera. This popular green space not only offers a break from the bustle of the city, it’s also home to several excellent museums, including Museu Afro Brasil (showcasing more than 6,000 works from African-Brazilian artists), Museu de Arte Contemporânea (the University of Sao Paulo’s contemporary art showcase) and Museu de Arte Moderna (a modern art museum that’s also home to a thought-provoking sculpture garden).
Should you feel inspired to create your own work of art, go to Museu de Arte Contemporânea’s rooftop. The incredible views of the city make it a scenic setting for a memorable selfie.
For a change of pace, head to Liberdade, home to the largest Japanese community outside of Japan. Take your pick of sushi and ramen restaurants before wandering through the neighborhood. Check out the lantern-style streetlights, the lush Oriental Garden and any number of shops, bakeries and cafés specializing in Japanese products that make for fun souvenirs.
Continue your shopping spree back in the Jardin district, where some of the city’s most fashionable outposts (Cavalera, Forum) sit along Rua Oscar Freire. Once you’ve finished browsing the boutiques, return to your hotel room to freshen up for your last night out.
Dinner at Mani (a 20-minute stroll from the hotel) is an ideal way to end your busy two days. Chef Helena Rizzo (whom you might recognize as a guest judge on Netflix cooking competition The Final Table) puts out dishes as delicious as they are beautiful.
Start with her famous bread basket, accompanied by cheese curd with sweet smoked paprika, goat cheese with pink peppercorns and butter. Next, savor entrées such as beetroot risotto with peach palm hearts and white truffle oil, or chargrilled octopus with black rice.
Don’t miss dessert here, either. For a photogenic finale, order The Egg: eggnog ice cream, coconut foam and crunchy coconut chips served in a large, egg-shaped bowl. It’s a stunning ending to a gorgeous meal in a city that never fails to impress.