São Paulo Travel Guide

São Paulo Travel Guide

When it comes to planning a gay getaway to Brazil, most travellers make a beeline for the golden sand beaches, sultry samba rhythms and playful conviviality of Rio de Janeiro. We won’t deny it: gay Rio is undeniably enchanting. But don’t forget about its big brother—the largest city in the Western Hemisphere—São Paulo. A sprawling metropolis that is (at times) smog-filled and traffic-clogged, São Paulo is also the country’s epicentre of industry, innovation and the arts. Stay a while, and you’ll encounter a whopping 70% of Brazil’s Michelin-starred restaurants, countless design-forward art galleries, mesmerizing mid-century architectural wonders, and a stunningly diverse population hailing from all corners of the globe. Even better, gay São Paulo is warm and welcoming, home to one of the largest gay Pride parades in the world. Year-round you’ll find much of the LGBT action on Frei Caneca Street, also dubbed Gay Caneca, while the rough-around-the-edges Largo do Arouche gayborhood remains a fixture in any gay São Paulo guide. While it might never be as sexy as Rio, São Paulo’s drab facade belies its many cosmopolitan charms. Uncover the best of them with this São Paulo gay scene guide. 

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Where to stay in São Paulo

Fasano São Paulo exudes classic luxury from its unrivalled location in ultra-exclusive Jardines—just steps away from the flagship boutiques and international design shops of famed Rua Oscar Freire. The neo-Art Deco building immediately impresses with its elegant English brick and clock tower exterior. Inside, contemporary amenities meet mid-century European design to create a sophisticated, old-world aesthetic. The vision of renowned interior designer Isay Weinfeld, expect retro furnishings, brown leather armchairs, gleaming white marble bathrooms, and dark wood detailing. It’s all very sophisticated without ever feeling self-indulgent. Restaurateur Rogerio Fasano boasts an esteemed global reputation; you’d be remiss if you didn’t dine at the hotel’s Michelin-star restaurant which serves exquisite spins on modern Italian cuisine. Another posh option on Rua Oscar Freire is the stylish boutique Hotel Emiliano. From its striking Cocoon sculpture, created by revered Brazilian artist Siron Franco, that hangs in the lobby to the decidedly minimalist decor to the ultra-exclusive rooftop helipad, Hotel Emiliano oozes with refined grandeur. Rooms are sleek, with Carrara marble bathrooms and silky Egyptian cotton sheets. A Champagne & Caviar Bar offers over 80 brands of bubbles that are best enjoyed in one of the bespoke, beige rope armchairs.

Palácio Tangará

Palácio Tangará

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For a hotel representative of São Paulo’s playful and creative side, the Pullman São Paulo Vila Olimpia is edgy in all the right ways

Once the decadent mansion of millionaire Baby Pignatari, Palácio Tangará is quiet seclusion in the heart of lush and leafy Burle Marx Park. The Neoclassical building features spacious, light-filled rooms, many of which provide private, park-view terraces. The Tangará restaurant is overseen by the highly talented, multi-Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Make a reservation at the chef’s table for Asian-Brazilian fusion with an emphasis on local, tropical ingredients. Pousada Zilah is a charming six-room bed and breakfast that dishes out Brazilian hospitality and home-away-from-home vibes. Rooms are comfy but straightforward, with beautifully tiled, well-appointed bathrooms. Idyllic, fountain-dotted gardens provide a shaded spot for recharging after a day exploring the thrumming downtown. For a hotel representative of São Paulo’s playful and creative side, the Pullman São Paulo Vila Olimpia is edgy in all the right ways. There’s a distinct nod to the arts, with black and white graffiti, colourful murals, and exhibits by local photographers and sculptors filling the space. Most of the activity centres around the grand glass lobby, complete with bar, cafe and HUB restaurant. The Pullman’s signature live “art battles” attract both guests and locals alike. Rooms are pleasant, with bright pops of colour and all the necessary amenities.

Palácio Tangará

Palácio Tangará

Palácio Tangará

Palácio Tangará

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Recommended hotels in São Paulo
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What to do in São Paulo

We would be remiss if this São Paulo travel guide didn’t highlight the São Paulo Art Museum (MASP), presenting dazzling masterpieces by both International and Latin American artists like Renoir, Diego Riviera, and Anita Malfatti. Rotating temporary exhibits are equally fascinating and cement the MASP as one of the continent’s premier cultural centres. The Museu Afro Brasil is the largest of its kind in the world, a showcase of over five centuries of Afro-Brazilian customs and art. Carnival costumes, samba recordings, and contemporary pieces by black Brazilian artists reveal how African roots have shaped much of Brazil’s culture and heritage. One of Brazil’s oldest, most cherished museums, the Pinacoteca emphasizes Brazilian art since the 19th century with a melange of both contemporary and classic pieces. The gorgeous 1905 building is arguably a worthwhile attraction in its own right. That said, the award for São Paulo’s most beautiful building could very well go to the Opera House—inspired by Paris’ Palais Garnier. Free English tours take place Tuesday-Friday at 11 am or Saturday at 12 pm. Or, opt to soak in the theatre’s Renaissance and Baroque architectural details while attending any of the world-class performances and concerts.

Av. Paulista | Photo: Sergio Souza

Av. Paulista | Photo: Sergio Souza

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Carnival costumes, samba recordings, and contemporary pieces by black Brazilian artists reveal how African roots have shaped much of Brazil’s culture and heritage

Explore the flavours of São Paulo like a local on a São Paulo Food Tour, which takes visitors through the city’s colourful, bohemian neighbourhoods of Madalena and Pinheiros. Not only will you get to taste uniquely Brazilian snacks and drinks, but you’ll also leave with a deeper appreciation for the history and culture of Brazil through the lens of cuisine. A small group walking tour keeps things intimate; schedule it early on in your gay São Paulo getaway so you can return to your favourite foodie finds later on. Paulistanos work hard and play harder, as is evident in the many festivals and celebrations. The week-long celebration that is Carnival lives up to the global hype. And while most choose to celebrate in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo boasts a Carnival that is equally as entertaining (if somewhat less chaotic). Come for a non-stop street party complete with themed dance competitions, elaborate costumes, and hip-swaying music. Oh, and the extraordinary feathers and shimmering glitter. There’s a lot of that, too. Always a boisterous good time, one of the world’s largest gay Pride parades happens every June.

Batman’s Alley | Photo: Ckturistando

Batman’s Alley | Photo: Ckturistando

Photo: Joao Tzanno

Photo: Joao Tzanno

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Recommended experiences in São Paulo
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Photo: Joao Tzanno

Photo: Joao Tzanno

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What to see in São Paulo

Don’t miss a leisurely amble through Ibirapuera Park, designed by brilliant Brazilian architects Oscar Niemeyer and Otávio Augusto Teixeira Mendes. Not only is this green area a welcome respite from the urban jungle, but it’s also an important cultural centre with museums (including the Museu Afro Brasil), pavilions and events. Keep an eye out for colourful, geometric murals created by Eduardo Kobra to celebrate the park’s 60th anniversary. Ibirapuera Park isn’t the only place you’ll find fantastic street art. São Paulo is a mecca for graffiti artists—and home to one of the highest concentrations of street art in the world. Batman Alley is perhaps São Paulo’s most popular spot for big, bold photo shoots; exceptional artists have transformed the high walls and drab concrete into poignant works of art.

Ibirapuera Park | Photo: Debora Rousse

Ibirapuera Park | Photo: Debora Rousse

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São Paulo is a mecca for graffiti artists—and home to one of the highest concentrations of street art in the world

The São Paulo Cathedral is a Neo-Gothic treasure, only restored in 2000 after the original designs were discovered deep from within the abandoned building. Today it is the 4th largest gothic cathedral in the world and an architectural marvel. Also designed by Oscar Niemeyer is Copan, now one of São Paulo’s most iconic buildings. Head to the rooftop of the curved, whimsical building on weekdays at 10:30 am or 3:30 pm for sweeping views. Better yet, get a panoramic view of São Paulo and Copan from the top floor of nearby Edificio Italia.

While everyone knows about trendy Vila Madalena, don’t forgo its undeniably cool cousin, Pinheiros. Once a grungy and grey area of town, today this gay-popular neighbourhood is booming with hip cafes and bars, second-hand bookshops, independent boutiques, and thought-provoking art galleries. On Saturdays, check out the Benedito Calixto Market for everything from traditional Brazilian snacks to vintage antiques. A good day trip for arts and crafts lovers is Embu das Artes, a vast complex of art studios, street musicians and craft booths. Search for a hand-made souvenir, or simply enjoy the quaint, free-spirited ambience.

Photo: Ckturistando

Photo: Ckturistando

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Paulistanos passionately believe their city to be one of South America’s top gastronomic hubs

Where to eat in São Paulo

Paulistanos passionately believe their city to be one of South America’s top gastronomic hubs. With its diverse range of cuisines representing all corners of the globe, including both hearty street food and high-end experimental dining, we would have to agree—São Paulo is a bona fide dreamland for foodies. Be sure to snag a reservation at D.O.M., which serves elevated takes on native ingredients, many hailing from the Amazon basin (and most of which you’re unlikely to have encountered before.) Jambú, priprioca, and tucupi are just a few of the innovative herbs and roots to make an appearance. The tasting menu is the clear choice to best experience chef Alex Atala’s boldly authentic Brazilian cuisine. Then there’s Tuju, where dining is akin to taking in a show; the large, open kitchen features sweeping glass windows to provide diners a ‘behind-the-scenes’ look at Chef Ralston and staff as they transform local, often unconventional ingredients into works of art. Sustainability is a hallmark of Tuju, made evident by the in-house organic urban garden and real effort to work with local fishermen and producers.

Consistently ranked as one of the best restaurants in the world, head to Mani for contemporary Brazilian-European fusion dishes served in a rustic yet elegant space. Once again, you’re going to want to splurge on the tasting menu to best appreciate the creativity of award-winning chef Helena Rizzo. Attentive and knowledgeable sommeliers make the wine pairing a smart upgrade. It’s hard to enter Figueira Rubaiyat and not be impressed by the gorgeous 160ft-tall fig tree that dramatically towers above the dining area. Dishes largely spotlight beef from the owner’s own ranch, along with seafood and traditional rice dishes. With some 1.5 million people of Japanese origin, it hardly comes as a surprise that São Paulo is overflowing with Japanese eateries and sushi bars. Perhaps the most refined option is Kinoshita, an elegant take on traditional Kappo cuisine. Also by chef Alex Atala of D.O.M. is Dalva e Dito, a relative newbie to São Paulo’s dining scene that’s all about polished takes on the classic, home-style cooking. The moqueca is an Afro-Brazilian casserole that’s ultra-decadent and creamy—and a drool-worthy fan favourite.

Photo: Ricardo D'Angelo

Photo: Ricardo D'Angelo

Celebrity chef Rodrigo Oliveira made waves with his restaurant Mocoto, which serves Northeastern “sertaneja” cuisine in Vila Medeiros—a bit of a trek from the bustling downtown. If your gay São Paulo vacation doesn’t afford the time to visit Oliveira’s signature spot, head instead to Mercado Municipal de Pinheiros. The recently refurbished food hall offers a myriad of excellent restaurants, including Mocoto Cafe. Snag a table for lunch to enjoy some of Oliveira’s famed dishes, all conveniently located near to the best things to do in São Paulo.

Fito is a bright and airy restaurant that’s finally giving the little-known cuisine of Piaui the acclaim it’s long deserved. We recommend the baião de dois, a creamy mixture of roasted pumpkin and white cheese. Just save room for the coconut flan, which is reason enough to give Fito a visit. You don’t have to be vegan to appreciate Futuro Refeitório, once a Pinheiros parking lot that’s now a post-industrial style bistro. The menu mostly features small plates and sandwiches, while the plant-based lunch menu is a steal at R$34. Breakfast is also a solid choice, with strong coffee and homemade pastries providing the perfect fuel for ticking off what to do in São Paulo. You might not equate São Paulo with pizza, but the locals surely do, and they believe some of the best in the world is found at Bráz Quintal. Alongside all the traditional ingredients you’ll find exciting concoctions like the Carbonera, essentially pasta Carbonara deconstructed and reimagined in pizza form, which is just as fabulous as it sounds. There are a few Bráz pizzeria locations dotted around town, but we love Bráz Quintal for its cosy decor and open-air dining space. Brunch isn’t yet a São Paulo staple, but there are a few locales where you can chow down on all the classics. The best is Café Habitual, a lovely bistro with homemade pastries, fresh green juices and a particularly delicious Eggs Benedict with a Turkish twist.

Bráz Quintal | Photo: Ricardo D'Angelo

Bráz Quintal | Photo: Ricardo D'Angelo

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Brazilian designers take center stage at Cartel 011, and fashion lines skew towards funky fresh interpretations of classic daywear

Shopping in São Paulo

Start your São Paulo shopping at Cartel 011, a creative multidisciplinary hub of menswear, dining, and culture. Brazilian designers take centre stage here, and fashion lines skew towards funky fresh interpretations of classic daywear. The leafy terrace makes for a great spot to sip a coffee before continuing on with your São Paulo sightseeing. For a pair of kicks that double as a conversation starter, Insecta is the place to go. This minimalist workshop is all about eco-conscious labels, using upcycled vintage clothing to create vegan, unisex footwear. You can’t go wrong with a pair of whimsical Oxfords with patterns that range from brilliant florals to cosmos-inspired prints. From handsome backpacks to sleek belts, some of Brazil’s most exquisite leather goods are found at Cutterman Co. The revered label only uses leather developed just for the brand—which comes from some of the country’s oldest, most sought-after tanneries. Each piece is handcrafted with durability and quality in mind, and as such, prices match the calibre of the work.

The gorgeous Casa Diaria is the brainchild of Raffaele di Guida Asselta and Raphael Dias, where stylish men can peruse a passionate curation of independent brands and explorers. The boutique offers a wide range of products, with each item on display meant to bring light into the lives of those who purchase it. The owners are often in-house and always a delightful fountain of knowledge on the artists and the stories behind their work. Beach-chic clothing that emanates the casual sophistication of São Paulo is the essence of The Cotton Project. The menswear line is inspired by the beach but created for the urban jungle, with elevated skate clothing that’s refreshingly cosmopolitan. The small boutique is bright and edgy; grab a coffee served in a ‘kind dude’ cup to enjoy while perusing the displays. Then there’s Retro 63, an undeniably quirky vintage shop boasting a hodgepodge of curious knick-knacks and furniture from the 1950s-60s. Think a smattering of original Coca Cola signs, mustard yellow filing cabinets, and even a retro Vespa. You never know what uniquity you’ll find here, but snatch up anything that catches your eye—you won’t find any of these original, one-of-a-kind pieces elsewhere.

Photo: Julia Alexander

Photo: Julia Alexander

Photo: Vanessa Bumbeers

Photo: Vanessa Bumbeers

São Paulo nightlife

São Paulo gay nightlife is riveting, with multiple LGBTQ clubs setting the backdrop for hedonistic nights that stretch into breakfast at first light. Bubu Lounge Disco is one of the best, a gay club conveniently situated in the heart of bustling Pinheiro. Saturday nights are our favourite when hip-swaying Brazilian Popular Music blasts through the speakers. Continuing this São Paulo gay nightlife guide, The Week International (better known only as The Week), is one of Latin America’s largest LGBTQ nightclubs. You’d be forgiven for getting lost amongst the 6000-square meter area, which includes two dance floors, a pool and garden, and multiple lounges and bars. Check the calendar to see when famous international DJs are hitting the stage, or to find out when the next legendary Babylon mega-party takes place. For a drag show unlike anything you’ve seen before, Blue Space is home to the incredible ‘transformitas,’ a style of drag unique to Brazil. The dancers are gorgeous and the swanky performances superb.

Photo: Magda Ehlers

Photo: Magda Ehlers

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For a drag show unlike anything you’ve seen before, Blue Space is home to the incredible ‘transformitas,’ a style of drag unique to Brazil

Apothek might very well be one of São Paulo’s smallest cocktail bars, but don’t let its size dissuade you from venturing inside on a Thursday or Friday evening (the only days it’s open.) Created by famed mixologist Alê D’Agostino, Apothek is a place to test out new recipes by Apothek Cocktails & Co in an intimate, highly personalized space. Ask the bartender what innovative libations he’s exploring at the moment. Astor has long been a favourite São Paulo drinking den, but it’s the building’s basement locale—SubAstor—that has us totally bewitched. Expect speakeasy vibes and nostalgic cocktails reminiscent of the 1920s. The Hidden cocktail is a tribute to SubAstor’s secret vault location, a mix of scotch, rooibos tea, red vermouth, and Campari, perfectly befitting of the moody ambience. Hidden inside the romantic Maksoud Plaza Hotel, Frank Bar pays homage to Frank Sinatra with its live jazz, classy vintage decor and exquisite takes on traditional cocktails. Syrups, juices, and bitters are all made in-house, further elevating the sipping experience. The award for São Paulo’s best rooftop bar goes to the Skye Bar, which promises glittering São Paulo skyline views from the bar’s alfresco seating alongside a scarlet red pool. Get the caipirinha; it’s one of the best in the city.

Photo: Francesco Paggiaro

Photo: Francesco Paggiaro

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