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While flashy Rio de Janeiro gets all the attention when it comes to beautiful bodies and football on the beach, many business travelers end up staying in São Paulo, which is not necessarily a bad thing! São Paulo, with a population of about 11.3 million, is the largest city proper in the Western and Southern hemispheres, and though it may not have the bikini volleyball thing going on, it has a nearly 30% higher per capita GDP and is Brazil’s hub for business, finance, gastronomy and the arts, as well as home to its top university, the University of São Paulo. It’s extremely diverse, with large numbers of Japanese- and Lebanese- Brazilians, and while locals in Rio say that Paulistanos work too hard, it can be argued that they party equally hard (which is partly a requirement of any Brazilian city). Think of this city as the energetic up-and-comer. It may be an hour from the coastline, but it’s culturally rich and endlessly interesting!
If you’ve got a few hours free, take a stroll up Avenida Paulista, which is packed full of stores, restaurants and cafes. For a quick hit of culture, call into the Museu de Arte de São Paulo, or “MASP” for short, and for a panoramic view of the city, get to the top of the Banco Nacional do Estado São Paulo (or “BANESPA”) building, Brazil’s answer to New York’s Empire State Building (except it’s free!)
Feeling peckish? Well, there are a myriad ethnic restaurants in the city, but for something traditional sit down to a big portion of feijoada, a sumptuous meal of pork, rice, soup and more pork. Try to also get your hands on a Bauru sandwich – a hot sandwich filled with tomato, cucumber, and four different kinds of cheese over roast beef. As a snack, you can’t beat Torresmo, (fried pig skins) for meaty, salty goodness, or grab an empanada, which you can find at street carts around the city. For liquid refreshment, enjoy a blended açaí berry concoction, or the fiery local liquor, cachaca.
And it’s not all skyscrapers in São Paulo. The historical district is right next to the business district: take the train to Luz, a dingy, non-descript transit hub that’s just a stone’s throw from a breathtaking, old train station of the same name, which now houses the Museu da Lingua Portuguesa, as well as a node of the São Paulo commuter rail line. Old São Paulo is also home to the city’s Mercado Municipal, whose 19th-century exterior encloses a huge variety of fruit and meat sellers, fine restaurants and pastel (pastry) shops within its grand walls and stained-glass windows. Indulge in a Pastel de Bacalhau, a delectable fried cod pastry unique to São Paulo.