The southern hemisphere’s largest city, and one of the world’s 10 largest, the massive sprawling Brazilian city of São Paulo often gets overlooked by visitors in favor of the flashier Rio de Janeiro. That can be a mistake. The diverse city of almost 20 million inhabitants is a global trendsetter in terms of art, architecture, food, fashion, music, sports and technology.
Founded in 1554 by Jesuit priests, São Paulo quickly grew into a jumping-off point for explorations in Brazil’s interior. When coffee arrived in the early 17th century, large-scale agriculture ballooned, and the city’s growth has not slowed down. When slavery was abolished in 1888, migrants from Italy, Japan, Germany, Portugal and Spain stepped in to fill the hole and have since played an integral role in the city’s cultural makeup.
Today, São Paulo’s cosmopolitan comforts are earning it a spot as one of the world’s elite cities. Paulistanos are ferociously fashion-forward, and the city’s rich cultural scene extends to every corner of its 3,000 square miles. The problem for many is just choosing where to go and how to get past the horrendous commute. Most tourists are lucky, however, since most of the city’s attractions sit within a short subway ride of the Jardins, Higienópolis or Centro neighborhoods, where most hotels and major business offices are found.
Here you’ll find world-class museums and shopping, some of the best restaurants on the continent, vibrant nightlife, rambling green spaces and lush public parks, as well as ethnic neighborhoods and vast marketplaces offering the country’s full range of flavors. The center of Brazil isn’t Rio, but São Paulo—and that will become increasingly clear as the city plays host to numerous matches of the 2014 World Cup.