Last Updated on

← Back to ‘Discover the Best Things to Do, Everywhere’

Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo jostle for the upper hand as Brazil’s most important and exciting destination. And to be completely fair — it’s neck and neck. One ekes out a win in the nightlife category while the other takes food. While much depends on personal tastes, we’re comparing the two cities from a completely neutral standpoint. If you’re considering heading to Brazil but are unsure where to start, scroll down for a rundown of Sao Paulo vs Rio de Janeiro.

By Shutterstock | lazyllama

The Culture

It goes without saying that Rio de Janeiro has one of the most thriving and colorful cultures in the world. From samba and bossa nova music straight through to the famous Carnival festival, it’s a bucket list destination for anyone keen on dancing, music, and rich traditions that date back to pre-colonial times. Rio is also known for its collection of art galleries, open-air exhibits and street art. Museums like the Museu de Arte Contemporaneathe Museu de Arte Modernaand the Museu de Artes Belas make Rio a powerhouse when it comes to both fine art and more rugged street art.

The popular cliché says São Paulo is Brazil’s New York and Rio de Janeiro is its Los Angeles. São Paulo is the larger business epicenter that runs at a more frenetic pace, and the residents (known as Paulistas) are slightly colder and more hardworking than Rio’s Cariocas. That being said, São Paulo has its fair share of world-class museums, shopping districts, antique fairs, and mouth-watering food markets like Mercado Municipal. This one is a real toss-up, but it’s hard to pass up the cultural heritage of Rio.

Point: Rio de Janeiro

By The Telegraph

The Cityscape

When it comes to the natural beauty of the city and its surrounding areas, Rio de Janeiro is truly untouchable. If you’ve ever seen images of the Cristo Redentor statue perched above the city, the beaches, and the granite monoliths that peak offshore, you know Rio is a gem. Some of the best natural attractions in the city include the famous beaches like Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon, as well as the Tijuca rainforest and Sugarloaf mountain.

São Paulo, on the other hand, is a sprawling concrete jungle. Aerial views are a bit less inspiring, and the city’s 11 million inhabitants reside in a sea of grey architecture. Heading up to the top of Edificio Italia will give you some great perspective on the size of the city. São Paulo is a much more cosmopolitan city where life revolves around hip restaurants and nightlife on Avenida Paulista (the main strip downtown), as opposed to the natural landscapes and stunning beaches of Rio.

Point: Rio de Janeiro

By ThoughtCo

New inspirations, destinations, adventures.

Discover more with our weekly newsletter.

The Food Scene

Much of the world has reached a consensus on the gastronomical powerhouse that is São Paulo. The country’s largest city also has the highest population of immigrants, which has brought an incredibly diverse food scene to the city. São Paulo offers everything from Japanese cuisines to Italian, Thai, Mexican, and contemporary Amazonian food. Its reputation as a business district has attracted people for years and now has begun to manifest the effects on the dinner table. The scene itself stretches from high-end, fine dining options downtown to casual food trucks and creative pop-up spots around the city.

Rio’s food scene, like the culture itself, is a bit more laid back. It largely revolves around the beach, and many of the restaurants are of the grab-and-go variety with portable snacks while clients stay on the move. There’s lots of fried bar food, snack bars, acai bowls and salads. Rio definitely has the edge for tropical foods and the diverse array of fresh fruit but São Paulo dominates when it comes to tastebud tourism.

Point: São Paulo

By That Food Cray


While Rio is more of a daytime city with hikes, beaches, and amazing views, São Paulo is a big city with an even bigger nightlife scene. It’s as if the residents have embraced the hard-working business stereotype and flipped it on its head. Now, the city works hard and plays harder. Much of the scene doesn’t get going until after midnight, and after parties have been known to start at 8:00 am. Go to an EDM show, see some live music, check out a clothing-optional sauna party (yep), or grab some tickets to any of the world-renowned festivals like Lollapalooza, Tomorrowland, or Sonar. While Rio is definitely your best bet around the time of Carnival, that shouldn’t overshadow your idea of São Paulo for the other times of the year.

Point: São Paulo

By Brazil


Although only by a smidge, it turns out that Rio is slightly less expensive than São Paulo. Everything from everyday items like eggs and vegetables to costs of transportation and accommodations is slightly cheaper in Rio. The only things that are significantly pricier in Rio are the costs of utilities like water and electricity, but travelers most likely won’t be factoring those into their budget.

Point: Rio de Janeiro

By Catarina Belova


Based on these categories, it looks like Rio is the better option for travelers exploring Brazil. However, if you’re looking to experience the real Brazil — where there are no tourist traps, where locals accents are easier to understand, where the city is country’s soccer capital, where the crime is lower — definitely keep São Paulo on your radar.

Share this post now:


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.