Ultimate hotel guide: where to stay in São Paulo

Brazil’s biggest city has accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets, from arty work-live lodgings to architecturally impressive design dens with rooftop pools overlooking the city’s expanses of green. Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Known affectionately by locals as Sampa, Brazil’s biggest city is home to fashion and food scenes to rival those of any glitzy, global metropolis. There are also some of the world’s most luxurious and architecturally impressive hotels, mostly around upmarket Jardins and the Oscar Freire shopping street. But the city caters for budget travellers, too: a host of comfy digs and quiet co-working spaces invites digital nomads and creative types to linger. Though a little a rough around the edges, downtown São Paulo offers some of the country’s best museums and markets. Don’t miss strolling through the street art along the elevated highway of Parque Minhocão, the city’s answer to New York’s High Line. 

For an urban escape: Palácio Tangará 

While most of São Paulo’s super-luxe hotels are located around the upmarket Jardins neighbourhood, Palácio Tangará is further south, in the middle of Burle Marx Park. This makes it a great destination for those keen to escape the city and spend time relaxing in the hotel itself, surrounded by tropical greenery. It’s suitably palatial, with spacious guest rooms and suites, all with park views. There are two swimming pools — a serene indoor one for fitness fans and an outdoor one surrounded by trees. Oh, and there’s a Michelin-starred restaurant led by world-renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. 

ROOMS: From R$1,350 (£250), B&B.

For shopaholics: Hotel Emiliano

Want to beat the airport traffic? Book a helicopter transfer and arrive on Hotel Emiliano’s helipad within 20 minutes. Of course, an entry like that demands a seriously stylish stay, and Emiliano has the goods — every room has a butler for a start. Sandwiched between high-end clothes stores and upmarket cafes on the exclusive Rua Oscar Freire, it’s one of the best locations for luxury travellers. Just one block away, D.O.M. is considered one of Brazil’s best restaurants, so it’s ideal for gastronomes too.

ROOMS: From $435 (£338), room only.

For design gurus: Fasano

Synonymous with style throughout Brazil, the Fasano family has been associated with luxury since the opening of its first Italian restaurant in 1902. Guests enter this hotel from the street straight into the 1930s-style lobby bar with leather club chairs handpicked by owner Rogério Fasano. Each room has polished wood floors, Venetian-framed paintings and all the amenities required for either business or pleasure. But the real highlight is the 21st-floor swimming pool.

ROOMS: From R$2,398 (£436), room only.

For art aficionados: Pullman São Paulo Vila Olimpia 

The Pullman Vila Olimpia is as much a business hotel as a home for art-lovers, with a focus on quirky design and colourful prints from the lobby to the bar, restaurant and rooms. Bathrooms are well-stocked with C.O. Bigelow Apothecaries products, while coffee table books on art and culture can be found in each room. All rooms are modern and spacious, but those planning a longer stay can opt for a suite with wraparound views of the city skyline, in-room fitness equipment and a series of living spaces.

ROOMS: From £71, room only.

For wannabe locals: Guest Urban São Paulo

Industrial chic is the vibe at Guest Urban, a boutique hotel in the hipster Pinheiros neighbourhood. The converted 1960s townhouse is now part art gallery, part hotel. There’s a slant towards making guests feel like locals — bikes and cycle guides are available, as are public transport passes. Rooms are cosy and well-stocked while breakfast is a veritable Brazilian bounty of bread, ham, cheese and tropical fruit.

ROOMS: From R$239 (£44), B&B.

For culture vultures: L’Hotel PortoBay 

Right at the heart of São Paulo’s arterial Avenida Paulista and just moments from the must-visit Museum of Art (MASP), L’Hotel PortoBay feels calm in contrast to the noise and bustle of the area. There’s an indoor heated swimming pool and tranquil spa. Rooms are on the small side but with all the amenities, including Malin + Goetz products and Egyptian cotton linen. Be sure to make the most of the Japanese breakfast.

ROOMS: From R$810 (£150), B&B.

For lovers of live music: Maksoud Plaza 

With a history that includes a show from Frank Sinatra in 1981, Maksoud Plaza is a well-established landmark just off Avenida Paulista. The hotel caters to music lovers with live ‘choro’ music (instrumental Afro-Brazilian jazz) in the 150 Maksoud restaurant. Meanwhile, Frank Bar feels like a trip back in time with its classic jacaranda wood surfaces and red leather banquettes.

ROOMS: From R$376 (£70), room only.

For urban camping: Aki Hostel 

Ever wondered what it’d be like to bed down al fresco, in the middle of the concrete jungle? Try Aki, which has a rooftop campsite with skyscraper views — a unique way to see the city. But if camping isn’t your bag, there are plenty of rooms, both private and shared, with basic facilities including lockers under bunk beds.

ROOMS: Camping from R$30 (£5), dorm beds from R$34 (£6) a night; doubles from R$140 (£26), room only.

For architecture buffs: Hotel Unique

Resembling a giant slice of watermelon or the hull of a ship, designer Ruy Ohtake’s Hotel Unique is considered one of São Paulo’s key architectural attractions. The rooms have curved walls and huge circular windows overlooking Ibirapuera Park and the streets of Jardins, the city’s fanciest postcode. But the key attraction is the rooftop Skye Bar & Restaurant, which draws trendsetting locals for its 360-degree views and food by renowned French chef Emmanuel Bassoleil. 

ROOMS: From R$1,188 (£220), room only.

For creative minds: WE Hostel

Set in a repurposed early 20th-century mansion, this feels more luxury homestay than hostel. Far from the noise levels of the average youth hostel, the living area is a haven for creatives with its polished wood floors, stylish sofas and chairs. White walls, cast-iron railings and a curved staircase afford a homey feel throughout, and rooms (whether private or shared, mixed or unisex) are cosy and well-equipped. Breakfast is just £3 and the homemade cakes are unmissable.

ROOMS: Dormitory beds from R$50 (£9); doubles from R$190 (£35), room only.

Published in the March 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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