With its long workdays and velvet-rope lifestyle, São Paulo is much more than soccer and samba. Still, the city proves an optimal staging ground for these Brazilian staples:
1. Samba. A scion of Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival industry, São Paulo’s samba scene grows more grandiose and competitive each year. In the months leading up to the pre-Lent parades, samba schools open their doors to the public for ensaios, or exhibitions, complete with elaborately dressed dance troupes, percussion bands and parties that extend to daybreak. Samba bars, such as Traço de União, Bar Mangueira and Canto da Ema in Pinheiros, offer slices of the music and accompanying festivities during low season.
2. Soccer. São Paulo houses three of Brazil’s strongest soccer clubs — Corinthians, Palmeiras and São Paulo. By the opening of the 2014 World Cup here, the city’s big three all will have new or recently reformed stadiums. Until then, you can catch a clássico, as games between these rivals are called, at the municipality’s public Pacaembu stadium. Games occur almost year-round between the various tournaments, and you’re better off paying a little extra for seats on the sidelines where the fans tend to behave better.
3. Ibirapuera Park. Accentuated by designs from Brazil’s most famous architect, Oscar Niemeyer, Ibirapuera Park is the counterpart to Rio’s beaches, a place where members from the city’s different socioeconomic classes join together for (relatively) fresh air and leisure. The campus closely resembles New York City’s Central Park, with its ponds, playing and picnic fields, running trails, sculptures, museums, exhibition spaces and cafés. During the holiday season, locals flock to see the towering lit tree and fountain and laser show.
4. Luz. The Westminster Abbey-inspired train station, with a clock tower modeled after Big Ben, is just one of the reasons to visit Luz. The terminal opens into a park, where reflecting ponds, gazebos and 60-plus bird species can be found. Linguistics and history intertwine at the Portuguese language museum, while the adjacent Pinacoteca displays works from the country’s leading artists.
5. Museu de Ipiranga. You can experience national history and get to know the city’s past here. The main building contains artifacts, documents and photographs charting São Paulo’s rise. Gardens and fountains then slope down across the grounds to the monument of independence. There, Emperor Pedro I of Brazil first declared the country’s independence from Portugal in 1822.