São Paulo is a beast of a city. A vast, complex and sometimes daunting metropolis whose urban sprawl might be too much for casual visitors. But dig deeper and you’ll discover one of the world’s great cities, a place bursting with culture and multiculturalism, museums and theaters, friendly bars and pulsating nightclubs.
While Rio de Janeiro boasts about its beautiful people and white sand beaches, São Paulo sits self-assured in its role as Brazil’s cultural capital. It’s not a perfect city, far from it. Smog, incessant traffic, an obvious gulf between rich and poor are just some of the city’s faults. But in the midst of all this lies a strong core of creativity and culture.
São Paulo’s vibrancy is in part due to its multiculturalism, a boiling pot of people from far flung locations who have long called the city home. Within this metropolis of 20 million souls live 1.8 million people of Japanese descent, the largest such community outside Japan. Sizeable communities of Italians, Syrians, Lebanese, Germans and others also exist, creating a colorful mix across the city.
The city’s reputation as a sophisticated cultural powerhouse can be seen in its internationally-acclaimed events. São Paulo Fashion Week is one of the most important fashion events in the world. The São Paulo Art Biennial is the second oldest in existence. And in terms of size and influence, the São Paulo Gay Pride Parade is matched only by the pride march in New York City.
As for the day-to-day ebb and flow of the city, there’s always something to do. For theater and film — art-house or otherwise — you won’t find a better place on the continent. For café culture, bistros and bars, few cities can match it. The shopping is world-class, as are the museums. And, of course, there’s nightlife, a Brazilian specialty that in São Paulo runs from sundown to sun-up every night of the week, in nightclubs of every shape, size and level of sophistication.
It might not be an easy place to explore, but find the right guide — ideally one of São Paulo’s enthusiastic locals — and you might just fall in love with this city.
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