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Holiday Guides for South America - Brazil

Sao Paolo Holiday

Lively and intense, Sao Paolo is everything you might imagine it to be - with culture and a vibrant lifestyle there to be appreciated on tap at every turn.

The city of Sao Paolo in Brazil is a heady mix of modern architecture, bustling crowds and Latino spirit.

The sprawling metropolis on the banks of the Rio Tiete is the largest city in South America, covering almost 8,000 sq km and home to around 17 million inhabitants. It has attracted immigrants from across the globe since the 19th century.

Founded as a mission station in 1554 by two priests, Sao Paulo dos Campos de Piratininga was initially an attempt to convert the Tupi-Guarani Indians to Christianity.

By the late 1600s, Sao Paolo was the seat of regional government, though still a relatively small Jesuit mission post.

Perched in the Serra do Mar, the settlement became a base for travellers between the port of Sao Vicente, the plateau and the Parana and Plata rivers. At the end of the 1800s, local coffee barons started to invest in the town and it grew rapidly during the 20th century.

Sao Paolo was a city of 2.2 million people by 1950, with buildings being hastily erected in a bid to house the growing number of immigrants. As a result of its lightening growth, Sao Paolo is not the most aesthetic of cities, though it does have some impressive buildings, both new and old.

Some of the best architecture can be found on the Avenida Paulista, the haunt of the 19th and 20th century coffee barons, while modern structures to gaze at include the Oscar Niemeyer-designed Pavilhao de Bienal and Edificio Copan, the 36-floor BANESPA Building, built in 1947, the Gothic Martinelli Building and the Itália Building.

Sao Paolo is Brazil's cultural capital, with a lively music and arts scene and some stunning entertainment venues, such as the Teatro Municipal, which was inspired by the Paris Opera.

The city also has an array of good museums, with the Casa de Rosas gallery, Centro Cultural Banco Do Brazil, the Latin American Memorial, the Museu de Arte Sao Paolo (MASP), the Museu Lasar Segall and the Pinacoteca do Estado, which houses the State Art Gallery, some of the best in the country.

For a break from the bustle of the city centre it is worth heading to Parque Trianon, with its selection of local vegetation and comfortable benches, or the Parque da Luz, which dates from 1800.

Families should head for the city's zoo and aquarium or the planetarium, whilst shoppers will delight in the array of opportunities on offer. The stalls in Republic Square (Praca da Republica), Praca Liberdade and the Mercado Municipal are well worth a visit.

Foodies can sample excellent dishes from around the world in Sao Paolo's many restaurants, which range from small, local eateries to glamorous city centre affairs. Nightlife in the city comes in all varieties, with some good bars, nightclubs and cafes on offer.

Most visitors arrive at Sao Paulo's Guarulhos international airport, though rail and bus routes are available. Once there, the city has plenty of metro services, buses and taxis and accommodation is generally reasonably priced and plentiful, with several areas featuring clusters of good hotels.

The best time to visit Sao Paolo is in the cooler spring and autumn months when the city is less stifling and the many parks are at their best.