RIO has the booty-shakin' pizazz of Copacabana and Carnivale but for more cerebral cultural attractions, Sao Paulo is Brazil's finest. Locals say a walk along Avenida Paulista — all three kilometres of it — is the best way to get a feel for the city and its famous landmarks. So good, in fact, almost 1 million people promenade along the nine-metre-wide footpaths every day.
ART MUSEUM OF SAO PAULO
NICKNAMED MASP, the Museo de Arte de Sao Paulo is consistently rated one of Latin America's best art museums, with an impressive collection that includes works by Rembrandt, Rubens, Renoir and Raphael. The building itself — a giant glass box suspended above the footpath by four bright-red pillars — is still worth a look even if your idea of purgatory is gazing at 19th-century masterpieces. Combine the arts with the art of shopping every Sunday, when an antiques fair is held in the empty space underneath MASP. Family silver, antique photographs and pretty baubles can all be found.
Avenida Paulista, 1578; +55 11 3251 5644; www.masp.art.br
TEATRO DO SESI SAO PAULO
EVERYBODY'S free ... to support the arts! Mandatory contributions from Brazilian industry are funnelled into this independent non-profit institution promoting social and cultural welfare. The SESI building on Avenida Paulista presents cutting-edge theatre, dance, cinema and music, including some free productions (not surprisingly, these tickets are snapped up quickly). Call ahead for schedules and prices.
Avenida Paulista 1313; +55 11 3146 7000; www.sesisp.org.br.
DE LA CREME PATISSERIE
ALL cultural quests must, eventually, come to an end. After a day of gallery-hopping and bookstore-browsing, hit a sweet note with some special treats from De La Creme Patisserie. Specialising in local cakes, biscuits and handmade chocolates, the aroma in this store is a little preview of heaven. Try Portuguese passion cakes, or some Beijinho — coconut truffles laced with cloves. The pao de mel (honey cake doused with melted chocolate) is so very, very good because it's so naughty. Mix it up and order the Brazilian way: a little bit of this, a little bit of that, a lot of what you fancy.
Avenida Paulista 1499; +55 11 3251 2064; delacreme.com.br.
FOR many travellers, books are the best souvenirs. In Sao Paulo, the vast three-level Livraria Cultura bookstore is an Aladdin's Cave. Founded in 1947, the chain has nine stores in Brazil, with the Avenida Paulista location (pictured) the largest bookstore in the country. It stocks more than 2.5 million titles in Spanish, English, French and Portuguese. Famous-author-spotting is all but guaranteed here, with readings and signings held weekly. Writer Jose Saramago called it "a cathedral of books, modern, effective and beautiful".
Avenida Paulista 2073; +55 11 3170 4033; www.livrariacultura.com.br
CASA DAS ROSAS
ONE of the few remaining original houses on Avenida Paulista, Casa das Rosas - Rose House (pictured) is a glamorous mansion that has been declared public heritage. Built in 1937 as a private home, it will appeal to architecture buffs, given its original Art Nouveau features of stained-glass windows and elaborate cornices. Check the website for details of art exhibitions, concerts and plays held regularly at the mansion, or pop in anyway for the elegant rose gardens and acclaimed library. It's culture by osmosis.
Avenida Paulista, 37; +55 11 3285 6986; www.casadasrosas.sp.gov.br