Brazil has always been one of those destinations which people only dream of visiting.  The iconic images of Rio de Janeiro, Florianopolis and São Paulo are those of legend.  On my recent journey to São Paulo, I had the opportunity to experience adventures I never thought I would be able to, in a city full of love, life and culture.

São Paulo is vastly different from Rio, far from the sun-soaked beaches.  In fact, São Paulo reminded me more of New York and Toronto, a bustling metropolis of more than 18 million people with hills and winding roads running through the city.  Needless to say, one can easily get lost, so having a guide or at least a map is a must.

When in São Paulo, be sure to check-in at the Pergamon Hotel, which is located in the heart of the city and within walking distance to many LGBT bars and restaurants.  The 120-room Pergamon boasts beautiful views of the city, comfortable guest rooms, a fitness center as well as a restaurant offering full Brazilian breakfasts.

Culture seekers should head to one of São Paulo’s numerous museums, which range from their unique, interactive Soccer Museum to the Brazilian Museum of Art, which at the time I visited was featuring an exhibition of Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco.  The exhibit, spearheaded by the royal family of Monaco, shares her glamorous life with visitors.

Another wonderful place to visit is Ibirapuera’s Park, designed by Oscar Niemeyer in 1954 and is one of the most famous symbols of the city.  The park features an outdoor amphitheatre, museum, and fabulous restaurant. This is only one of 30 green spaces in São Paulo city limits. The city is also home to numerous festivals including São Paulo Fashion Week.

São Paulo is home to the largest Pride parade in the world. This year, despite a bit of inclement weather, the parade drew close to three million spectators and featured dozens of floats.

The parade, which runs along Avenida Paulista, begins at the beautiful Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo and stretches a few miles in length.  While parade floats are blaring with music and revelers atop them, proud Brazilians can been seen dancing and singing in the streets leading the floats down the avenue, creating a spectacle that cannot be described in words.

Being that São Paulo’s LGBT population is one of the largest in the Western Hemisphere, there are dozens of options to choose from when it comes to nightlife.  Huge venues like Megga, Bubu and the Week are not only a great place to dance the night away, but a sight to be seen.  Brazilian’s sure do know how to through a party.  These venues are enormous, feature state of the art sound and lighting and the Week even boasts a 30-foot LCD screen, something straight out of a U2 concert.

If clubbing is not your forte, head to Society, a fairly new establishment, with a more relaxed environment.  Located in the center of São Paulo, Society features a dance floor on the lower level and cozy lounge upstairs if patrons are looking for a more intimate setting.

Brazilians take pride in their cuisine, and every meal in Brazil is an experience.  From the fresh fruit enjoyed at breakfast to the delicious Caipirinha, a traditional Brazilian cocktail, made with cachaça, sugar and lime.  Variations on the drink include crushed kiwi, passion fruit, pineapple and mango, my personal favorite.

As in any major city, there are numerous dining options.  Some recommendations include Skye, Bovinu’s and Spot.  While Bovinu’s provides diners with a traditional self-serve selection of churrascaria-style meat, fish, pasta and sides, Skye and Spot are contemporary and vibrant, complete with full bars, wonderful service and beautiful scenery.

There are several key shopping areas to visit in São Paulo, the first being the neighborhood of Jardins, full of high-end fashion boutiques including Versace, H. Stern and Alexandre Herchcovitch. The streets of Rua Augusta or Alameda Lorena are the two places to find high-end luxury fashions, jewelry and gifts.

If you’re hoping to purchase some souvenirs, or just want a completely different shopping experience, take a visit to one of the weekend street markets, including Benedito Calixto Square, where over 320 exhibitors come to sell crafts, antiques and art.  Although it is not common to haggle with shop owners, it’s alright to do so at these markets. They are a great place to find unique gifts and most vendors accept credit cards.

Whenever visiting a city for the first time, it’s always a good idea to pick up a copy of one of the local magazines or newspapers.  The three that I highly recommend in São Paulo are Junior, Via G and Time Out.  These will give you a taste of what the city is like and are always a good reference guide throughout your stay.

São Paulo is definitely a city I will never forget and hope to visit again.  The friendliness of the people made the adventure truly magical.