30 Things to Do in São Paulo, Brazil

Sao Paulo
Houses of Sao Paulo

…a.k.a. “reasons to get inspired to visit São Paulo” because this is one cool city! If you are looking for things to do in São Paulo, this list is a great place to start. And a good guidebook of Brazil, this guide to cheap eats in Brazil, and this Pinterest board of places in São Paulo will also help.

I started to travel to São Paulo in 2000, to visit my then-boyfriend, a São Paulo native who had returned to Brazil after living in the U.S. for one year. That guy later became my husband, and the last 13 years have included annual visits to Brazil to spend time with his family. With locals showing me around, I have an “insider’s view” of sorts, but this post has been updated with the help of my friend Rodrigo of Checklist Tours.

30 Things to Do in Sao Paulo

Click the map for a Google Map. Each place on the map matches the item number given in the list below.

Despite all these visits, I haven’t even scratched the surface of things to do in São Paulo, especially when it comes to the city’s amazing nightlife (hey, I have two kids!). Besides some serious nightlife, the city is also known for food, markets, architecture, and museums, all of which you will find in the tips below. However, one tip I want to mention but didn’t add since I haven’t done it is the Ciclofaixas de Lazer, or “leisure cycle lanes,” that open on Sundays from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and include places to rent bikes. These 141 km of car-free biking paths are on some of the city’s best streets and connect to city parks.

sao paulo houses

The view from my sister-in-law’s apartment

For the average visitor, it can be hard to know what to do in São Paulo. It’s not the most tourist-friendly city because it’s spread out, parts of it are unsafe, and it doesn’t have one central location where all the action can be found (unlike the beaches of Rio, for example). However, the following list will give you some great ideas of what to do in São Paulo, especially if you want what the locals might enjoy and what is not going to break the bank.

Culture, Architecture, Museums, and More

1.  Samba Saturday

This is a must! Live Samba music is played in many of the city’s bars on Saturdays. Eating lunch, having drinks, and dancing to live Samba is a way for Paulistanos to relax after a busy workweek. The best place to experience live Samba and traditional Saturday food (feijoada) is Bar Samba in Vila Madalena. It opens around 1:00-1:30 p.m. and stays open until late at night, but get there early to get a table and eat their excellent feijoada (the traditional Brazilian feast of beans, rice, dried meat, kale, farofa, and oranges). The interior is an old house that was converted and decorated with colorful painting on the walls. The crowd is fun, but remember–don’t bring your inhibitions. Instead, talk to people, try the various caipirinhas, and dance!

Two other options in Vila Madalena for an evening night out are Pau Brasil and Ó do Borogodó.

2. MASP (Museu de Arte de São Paulo)

MASP

São Paulo has many great museums, but MASP is the city’s best art museum. It holds the finest collection of Western art in Latin America and hosts fantastic temporary exhibitions.  Tuesdays and Thursday evenings after 5 p.m. are free to the public, but coming here on a Sunday is fun, as you can see in #3 below:

3. Antiques + Handicrafts + Street food

antiques market Sao Paulo

On Sundays, the area around MASP on Avenida Paulista hosts two great outdoor markets. The space under the museum becomes a huge antiques market, and the space across the street is a handicrafts market where great street food is sold. If you’re in the Bixiga neighborhood, try the antiques market at Praça Don Orione on Sundays.

street food brazil

Cashew juice and an esfiha: hot bread stuffed with escarole and cheese

4.  Experience the city’s nicest architecture

niemeyer sao paulo

One of Niemeyer’s many gravity-defying designs, this space is used mostly by young people in Ibirapuera park. Photo credit: Wallyg on Flickr

One of the 20th century’s greatest architects, Oscar Niemeyer, was Brazilian, and there are several places where you can see his work in São Paulo. The most striking features of his work are curving lines (which he likened to a woman’s body) and creating the effect of defying gravity. These interesting buildings are a nice break from the seemingly endless white apartment towers so typical of São Paulo. Specific places to see his work follow (see #5, 6, 7, 16), but besides modern architecture, the city has some nice, if run down, examples of colonial and historic architecture.

5.  Parque Ibirapuera

things to do in São paulo

Ibirapuera Auditorium, designed by Niemeyer; photo credit Ndecam on Flickr.

Parque Ibirapuera is the city’s largest green space and one of the largest city parks in Latin America. There is plenty to do here…paths to walk or bike or people watch, museums, Niemeyer architecture, a lake, and more.

6.  Museu Afro-Brasil

Museu Afro Brasil

This is one of the nicest museums in the city, which is saying a lot because São Paulo has several excellent museums. It is housed in another Niemeyer designed building. When I was there, the information was only in Portuguese, but even if that’s still the case, the exhibits of the history of African culture in Brazil are fascinating.

7. Latin America Memorial

Latin America Memorial

The blood of Latin America, honoring the sacrifices and struggles of its people

The Memorial da América Latina is a complex of buildings designed by Niemeyer to honor the struggles of the Latin American people and provide a place where celebrations or public events can take place. The buildings include a library, research center, displays of art including Latin American folk art, and the Brazilian Center for Latin American Studies. It makes a nice place to walk around and notice the interesting features of the architecture, but be sure to go inside the buildings if possible.

8.  Pinacoteca do Estado

museum sao paulo pinacoteca

Another lovely museum in São Paulo, the Pinacoteca houses a huge collection of Brazilian art that serves as a visual story of the country’s history and cultural evolution, as well as a nice collection of 19th century French sculpture. The museum has a beautiful café downstairs and is connected to Parque da Luz, a public park that includes outdoor sculptures and a European-style garden area (that are shared with some unusual characters).

9. Soccer Museum

 soccer sao paulo

 The Museu de Futebol is located in Estadio Pacaembu, one of the city’s largest soccer stadiums. If you love soccer, you will enjoy the vintage soccer displays, interactive exhibits, and celebrations of World Cup history and Brazilian soccer stars. As you exit, there is a nice gift shop and a café with live music on most weekends. Admission is about $3 and the museum is open Tues.-Sun.

10.  Benedito Calixto all-day market on Saturdays

art market sao paulo

Besides Samba Saturday (see #1 above), this is my favorite thing to do on Saturdays in São Paulo. The Calixto outdoor market goes all day on Saturdays, with antiques and handicrafts vendors starting in the morning and live music and dancing starting around noon in the market’s central food court. The live music is chorinho, a very Brazilian style of music that is samba-influenced, and many people go to the market just for this.

street food brazil

The food court sells dried fruits, nuts, coconut water, acarajé and other traditional food from Northeastern Brazil, traditional Brazilian sweets, and healthier versions of esfihas and other traditional Brazilian snacks, including a whole-wheat esfiha stuffed with escarole and tofu.

Brazil SP 2012 038

The area around the Calixto market is fun to explore. The streets that immediately surround the market have quirky shops and small restaurants, and the nearby street Teodoro Sampaio is full of shops selling traditional Brazilian instruments (fantastic!).

11.  Street art

Street Art in Sao Paulo: Beco do Batman

São Paulo is considered one of the best cities in the world for the development of creativity in street art. The city’s streets are filled with wonderful examples of street art, especially in the city center, but for some of the best, visit the area of Vila Madalena (see #19), especially Beco do Batman (Batman’s Alley, above), off Rua Harmonia just before Rua Luis Murat.

12. Museu Paulista

what to do Sao Paulo Ipiranga

Museu Paulista, also known as Museu do Ipiranga, was built in 1895 to preserve 400 years of Brazilian history and houses old maps, photographs, paintings, and furniture. It is located inside an impressive Neo-Classical palace with European-style gardens. Unfortunately, the museum is located far away from the city center, in the Ipiranga neighborhood, and is closed for renovations.

13. Butantan

Butantan

One of the largest biomedical research facilities in the world, Instituto Butantan was founded in 1901. It is open to the public and provides a nice place to walk, see snakes in the serpentarium, and learn about the development of vaccines and anti-venom.

(Downtown)

14. Municipal Market

municipal market sao paulo

Caju fruit for sale at the Municipal Market. Photo credit: Wallyg on Flickr

The huge municipal market in downtown São Paulo is not to be missed, partly because it is housed inside a lovely neo-classical building with stained glass windows, but also because of the array of food sold there. In the area around the market, be safe–don’t bring valuables with you, and keep a close eye on your belongings. It is not far from #15 and #16 below, and the nearby streets are run down but include many of the city’s grand old buildings. For more, see this Sao Paulo market video.

15. Praça da Republica Market on Sundays

live music in Brazil

One of the largest outdoor markets in São Paulo, this one is full of artisans and a nice selection of food vendors selling freshly made treats from Northeastern Brazil. There are small tables where you can sit with your snack and drink and enjoy live music. The market takes place in the square surrounding one of the city’s beautiful old buildings. If you come by subway, get off at the Republica station.

16.  Copan

sao paulo architecture

Another of Niemeyer’s famous designs, Copan is a well-known image of São Paulo because of the tall building’s characteristic curve. It is actually an apartment building that was originally built to house people of all social classes–it contains both small studio apartments and large 25,000 square foot apartments. It’s worth a look from the outside, but an even better option is to visit the nearby Italy Building (Edifício Itália) and go to the top floor Terraço Itália restaurant for a panoramic view of the city, including Copan, especially at sunset. Access is free Monday-Friday 4:00-5:00 p.m., but you may have to pay a cover charge and buy a drink if you go at other times. My husband’s father was the manager of this restaurant, so I have heard many stories about it.

Cool Neighborhoods & Streets

17. Avenida Paulista

Avenida Paulista

Avenida Paulista is the city’s grandest boulevard, filled with a fun mix of historic and modern buildings and plenty of shopping, nightlife, museums, and a native forest in Parque Trianon (across from MASP, #2 above). The world’s largest gay pride parade takes place here in May/June. It’s also supposedly the most expensive real estate in Latin America. The whole avenue runs along a subway line and is therefore easily reached by public transport.

18.  Stay on Alameda Santos

Next to Avenida Paulista is Alameda Santos, a bit less busy but a central location for renting an apartment through Homeaway or a similar site.

19. Vila Madalena

vila madalena

A block party in Vila Madalena. Photo credit: Fora do Eixo on Flickr.

Vila Madalena is an artsy neighborhood with nice art galleries, arts & crafts shops, and bookstores and with great nightlife in its restaurants, corner bars, and botecos (small bar/restaurants). Come here for samba, as mentioned in #1 above, or just mingle with locals enjoying live music and petiscos (tapas) at the botecos.

20. Bixiga

Preparing food with Italian traditions in Bixiga. Photo credit: Andrea Matarazzo on Flickr.

Preparing food with Italian traditions in Bixiga. Photo credit: Andrea Matarazzo on Flickr.

Brazil is home to the largest population of Italians outside of Italy, many of whom are centered in São Paulo because their ancestors came to work the coffee plantations of the interior of São Paulo state. If you are into food, don’t miss the restaurants in this neighborhood.

21. Liberdade

liberdade Sao Paulo

Brazil has the largest number of Japanese living outside Japan of any country in the world, and many of these Japanese Brazilians live in São Paulo. The Japanese neighborhood, called Liberdade, is a fun place to explore and see how the influence of Japan has influenced Brazilian life here and, of course, try some great food. On Sundays, an enormous market takes place in the public square of Liberdade, and thousands of people from around the city attend.

Food

22.  Vegetarian restaurants

Vegetarian restaurant in Sao Paulo

Brazil is more known for its beef and pork, but there are many good vegetarian restaurants in São Paulo. Many of them are buffet style and offer vegetarian and vegan dishes and natural juices. A small one that I like is Alcaparra, at Av. Pompéia, 2544, but Apfel in downtown, Banana Verde in Vila Madalena, and Asparagus off Avenida Paulista are also good.

23. Churrascaria

churrascaria sao paulo

No visit to Brazil would be complete without eating at a good churrascaria. Expect lots and lots of food! The price of the meal includes all the food you can eat but not the drinks or desserts. The meal usually begins with various appetizers arriving at the table and continues with the salad/sushi/hot dish bar; soon after, Gaucho-dressed waiters, known as passadores, visit the table with various cuts of beef on huge skewers. You can point to the place where you want them to cut the meat or let them know that you do not want any. Chicken hearts, sausages, grilled pineapple, and grilled fish are usually served as well.

24.  Drink coffee

coffee in Brazil

Though Starbucks has become trendy among the rich in São Paulo, Brazilian coffee is the real deal here. In fact, Brazil is the world’s largest producer of coffee, and if you watch the locals, you will see that they drink plenty of it, too. Stop at a café or padaria and order a cafezinho (espresso), cafe com leite, or cafe pingado (hot milk with a shot of espresso added to it, slightly stronger than cafe com leite). I don’t recommend ordering cappuccino because chocolate is added, unless you like coffee that tastes like chocolate.

25. Neighborhood markets

Sao Paulo markets

No matter where you are staying, ask where the nearest feira (outdoor market) is. Small neighborhood markets make a perfect place to not just buy fresh produce but also get an up-close view of the beautiful displays of fruits, veggies, eggs, and other products, usually arranged perfectly on tables covered in colorful striped tarps. I love the care that goes into these local pop-up markets.

26. CEASA

ceasa

Photo credit: LilliDiver on Flickr

CEASA (pronounced say-ah-zah) is the food market to visit in Brazil. It covers 7.5 million square feet and is one of the largest food markets in all of Latin America. You will see beautiful displays of every variety of fruit imaginable from Brazil and beyond. This is where my husband spent his Sunday mornings shopping with his mom. Open Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. CEASA is a bit out of the city center and is probably most easily reached by taxi.

CEASA also hosts the largest flower and plant market in Brazil on Tuesday and Friday mornings (it’s finished by 10:30, so get here early) in the MLP Pavilion of CEASA.

27.  The best Brazilian snack: pastel

pastel

Pastel (plural = pasteis) is a deep-fried dough stuffed with your choice of filling, from “pizza” (tomato, basil, and cheese) to ground beef or palm hearts. Look for pastel sellers at outdoor markets or at pastelerias, common on the streets of São Paulo.

28. Eat at a padaria

Sao Paulo cafe

Padarias, or bakeries, are like the daily cafés of Brazil. Brazilians flock here in the morning for excellent coffee, a quick breakfast, and juice. They may also stop in at lunch or in the evening for pizza, fresh pao de queijo (hot cheese bread), or a meal (some padarias offer buffet food por kilo, or by the kilo).

29.  Drink coconut water & visit juice bars

coconut water brazil

Drinking coconut water is a normal part of most Brazilians’ routine, and it’s available all over the streets of São Paulo. Look for guys selling it on street corners, from vans like the one below, or at outdoor markets. It’s a great way to hydrate on a hot day. Also worth trying (a few times) are the enormous variety of juices available at juice bars. Don’t be surprised if they ask you if you want sugar in your juice; many juices are made from frozen pulp of fruits from the Amazon, and they are sour without the addition of sugar.

30. Pizza

sao paulo pizza

Paulistanos love to eat pizza, and their pizza is good! You can order it from the neighborhood pizzeria to pick up or for delivery. Though it’s not exactly cheap (almost nothing in São Paulo is!), it makes an easy and reliable meal. My favorite is “rucola” (above): arugula with sun-dried tomatoes and kalamata olives.

I hope these ways to experience the culture, markets, and food in São Paulo help you if you’re visiting the city or inspire you to learn more about the largest city in South America (and one of the largest cities in the world). São Paulo definitely has its problems, but it is a vibrant city that is on its way to becoming a real tourist destination.

Have you been to São Paulo? Which of these suggestions appeal to you?

Resources for more information:

GoBrazil.About.com for tons of resources about travel in Brazil

Veja São Paulo: a magazine sold at the newsstands and includes a guide to city restaurants and events

Total SP Guide: a very cool website for what’s happening in São Paulo

The New New São Paulo” from NYTimes Magazine

A Guide to São Paulo from the NYTimes

Lunching in São Paulo from NYTimes Travel

“You Will Love São Paulo. Please?” a fun article written two friends, one an expat (NYT Travel writer Seth Kugel) and the other a visitor to São Paulo

“14 things to know before you go” on Roads & Kingdoms

156 Comments

  • What a fantastic post Jenna! I just watched Anthony Bourdain visiting Sao Paolo and he made me really want to go… you ever more so!

    • Jenna says:

      I saw that episode–it was a good one. If you haven’t been to Brazil, I think you and your family would love it. Too bad it’s so expensive, though!

  • Erik says:

    I’ll admit, Brazil isn’t high on my list of places I want to go, but I think I could live with some time in Sao Paulo.

    • Jenna says:

      Since you love Europe (as I do), you would enjoy Brazil. Plenty of culture and history, but also a really fun, vibrant culture that you can see in the people, places, markets, etc.

  • Salika Jay says:

    Great guide to Sao Paulo, Jenna! Looks like there are quite a variety of food choices. Did you try the cashew apples? I’ve tried it once and liked it quite a bit.

  • Kate says:

    Great resource for people visiting Sao Paulo Jenna. Thanks for mentioning a restaurant that has vegan food!

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks, Kate! I am not vegan but definitely support that style of eating. There are many good vegan restaurants in SP!

  • lola says:

    i really would like to get to Brazil. i think i’d like it a lot. i need to go on a diet first though. those swimsuits they wear down there are tiny 😉

    • Jenna says:

      Ha! I know what you mean about those swimsuits. When I am on the beach in Brazil, I feel so American, but I can’t do the Brazilian style bikini.

    • Riane says:

      You don’t need to go on a diet first. Not every woman down here wears those tiny pieces of fabric. You will be just fine. Check Brazil on your list and come visit us. Just do Like Jenna and feel so American.. 😉

  • Tricia says:

    Jenna, love your opening shot’s composition and its golden hour light!

    We haven’t made it to South America yet, but it’s definitely calling (especially the cuisine you describe here). 🙂 We’ll have to keep this post filed away for a future visit.

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks, Tricia! That photo was taken just before sunset.
      If you love Europe (and I know you do!), you will find that there’s a lot to like about Brazil!

  • Sheldon says:

    I love these ideas. I’ve got a brother in Rio right now and he is getting ready to hit up SP. I’ve emailed this to him and told him he needs to do some of these things.

  • Tom Reaoch says:

    Hi Jenna,
    Just came across this today, great post, well done. I would like to interview you about this on my Talk 2 Brazil internet radio program which is broadcast on LA Talk Radio. If interested answer to my e mail.
    Best from Brazil,
    Tom

  • Anelise says:

    Hi Jenna,

    I’m a brazilian and I’m surprised!
    What a great selection of everything!
    I came across to your post, searching for SP good tips in English for my foreign friends.

    Thanks a lot, will be very useful.

  • Walter Juca says:

    I have to agree with Anelise. Being born and raised in Sao Paulo, I have to say you are a great ambassador to the city. Congrats.

    Please consider a sequel 🙂

  • Lydian says:

    Hi Jenna,
    This is a great and very useful post, thanks. I have been to São Paolo several times and always feel a bit lost where to go, what to do, etc. Next time I can use your list.
    The pizza of the Sampas is definitely my number 1 in the world, it can easily beat the Italian.
    There is this one thing that we did last time which I did not see on your list but could certainly recommend: going to the rooftop terrace of the hotel Unique for a cocktail or dinner. It has amazing views over the city, especially by night.
    Chau, Lydian

    • Leandro says:

      Hi Lydian and Jenna,
      I’m from São Paulo born and raised. Right now I’m hosting an american friend for a week. Your list is very handy and I had to congratulate you through this post, we managed to do 9 of the cool things you listed in 2 days =) I hope we can complete all 30 by the end of the week. As pointed out by Lydian, Unique rooftop terrace is one of the coolest places I’ve ever been in Brazil, and is definitely a place that should be included in your future list, I’m prolly gonna take him there this week.

  • Andrea says:

    I’m dying to get to Brazil!! Hopefully for the World Cup…

    • Jenna says:

      We are debating the World Cup. It would be fun but also full of a lot of hassles (traffic, crowds), which wouldn’t be the easiest with kids. I know you will love Brazil, though. Such a fun country.

  • Christy says:

    This must have taken you a while to put this together. Great list!

  • Dan says:

    What a great, in depth review. Dying to make it to Brazil!

  • Wonderful post! I love Sao Paulo and you reminded me of the MASP (I love that building!) and the fact that Ave Paulista mixes commercial structures with some of the former homes that must have graced the avenue decades ago. That was definitely one of my favorite things about that awesome avenue. If and I when I return to SP, this will be my guide!

  • Such a great article, Jenna! You’ve covered some of the greatest things one can do and appreciated in São Paulo. I can see you love the food in our city, your post made me feel hungry. I’ll have to beat the record breaking cold (8C or 45F) and rush to a padaria for a nice hot espresso and some pão de queijo! 🙂

    • Jenna says:

      It’s a huge compliment when a local has such kind words. Thank you so much! And yes, I heard it is very cold there now. Kinda glad I stayed in California this July even though we had a terrible heat wave earlier this month.

  • Great article!!! I think some of São Paulo´s most delicious pizza is in Mooca, the italian neighborhood.

  • Marian says:

    Jenna,

    Thank you for the tour of Sao Paulo. I will be going there at the end of Dec. 2013. Can you tell me where is the best place to stay.

    • Jenna says:

      I always stay with family, so I don’t have specific recommendations, but my husband recommends finding a place on Airbnb, VRBO, or a similar site near Avenida Paulista, such as on Alameda Santos street.

  • Rui Fernando says:

    Great post. Just like to add that there is a train station at Ceasa, so it’s a very convinient way to go there. Definitely worth a visit!

  • Mina says:

    Great article. Thanks for the suggestions. Will be there in July 2014. Can’t wait.

    • Jenna says:

      Glad you found it helpful. Have a great trip next year!

    • Riane says:

      Mina.. If you need some assistance while in Sao Paulo let me know.. I can show you things around if you want. I was living in US for the past two years, just got back.

  • Hi! I have just moved to Brazil 3 weeks ago (Brasilia actually) and hubby and I are off to Sao Paulo tomorrow for a long weekend, which I’m really excited about! Although we are visiting family, I loved this post, as it has given me some good starting off points as to what I want to do while I’m there (I am sure it will be the first of many trips!)

    • Jenna says:

      Wow, what an experience that will be living in Brazil! I hope you enjoy Sao Paulo and the rest of your travels in that beautiful country! 🙂

  • Diana in SP says:

    Thank you for this great article! My husband and I moved to São Paulo two months ago, and I’m still trying to get to know the city. Based on its size, this may take me some time! We lived in temporary housing in Jardins for the first month, and I took weekly trips to Av. Paulista and Trianon Park. We just moved into our permanent place in Moema about a month ago, and took our first trip to Ibirapuera Park this past weekend. I can’t wait to keep exploring this amazing city!!

    • Riane says:

      Diana, how are you doing so far?! Did you get to check Jenna’s list?! I live in Vila Mariana, not so far from you and 10min away from Ibirapuera Park by bus, let me know if you would be willing to hang out with me and a friend who just got back from US.

  • Simon says:

    Now i cant wait for my 2 month brazil adventure

    • Paul says:

      Hey Simon is that you? Did we meet in Rio during the world cup? Dido , you and me (Paul)? Remember? We had quite a time painting at the AirBNB event? I am sorry if this is not you. But if it is you, YEAH!

      Cheers
      Paul

  • Lora says:

    Just found your post and am hoping you will see my question, as it is “ferias” in Brazil and I think everyone is at the beach. I am going to the consulate in SP next week, with my two kids. I want to spend a few days and see some of SP. But, I am intimidated by the distances and traffic. I have visions of spending all our time
    crisscrossing the city and seeing very little. Could you possibly “group” these sights by area and what could be easily seen in a days outing? I would appreciate your insiders view.
    Obrigada, Lora

    • Jenna says:

      Hi Lora,
      Good question. #1-10 are pretty central and are basically in the same general area. For me, it really depends on the day. The feira + visiting MASP on Avenida Paulista on Sundays is a good day. Plan to go to Samba Bar for Samba Saturdays as soon after 1:00 as you can. It is so worth it! I also love the flea market at Praca Benedito Calixto on Saturdays. You could do that first and then go to Samba Saturday.

      Any day of the week, I would spend one day in Ibirapuera Park, too. There are plenty of museums and other activities in the park to keep you guys busy. It is not far from Avenida Paulista, so you could group those together with a visit to MASP.

      Ipiranga and CEASA are a ways out, so you might want to rule those out.

      Butantan is worth visiting if you’re with kids.

  • Rachel says:

    Thank you Jenna, will be in Sao Paulo in 10 days for business … now am excited!

  • Timothy says:

    Thank you, I found your information extremely interesting, but I’m afraid rather sad, it confirms what I expected, there is nothing to see worth seeing except the Museum of Ipiranga.
    I’ve loved exploring the country, but culturally it is a desert. Most people seem to live on junk as they do in the US. I love pizza, once a year and I prefer it in Naples. I’m bored by South American Museums with nothing in them but stuffed monkeys or pop art. I prefer the great painters, even by this stage an Impressionist! I haven’t come to this country to watch people buy food or shop for tacky clothes, mostly made in China.
    I was fascinated by Brasilia, I remember reading about the new city as a child and thinking what a waste of space. Of course at that age I hadn’t thought, what a waste of money and resources! Thousands of acres of mowing and watering, millions of air miles for commuting politicians who can’t live somewhere so boring, and buildings, an architecture so unsuitable to its climate that you could cook an Elephant on its windows and can never open your heatproof curtains or switch off the air-conditioning.
    Of course Brasilia has killed Rio, that now has no raisin d’être apart from wedging yourself onto a beach or mounting a Sugar Loaf. It is still a Port I admit, but imagine it if it was still a City, a great city as it once was, not degenerating into a tourist dump with the worst food in South America, it’s like Venice! Revolting food, people only go there these days to shop for Chinese exports and get robbed!
    Anyway, after seeing Brasilia, I am never going to pick up a towel in an hotel, to ‘save the planet’ again, but I shall risk being mugged and try and find your Museum today,
    Thank you, Timothy

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks for stopping by. You have some valid points, although I disagree that the only thing worth seeing is the Museum of Ipiranga. I think Sao Paulo has a good array of museums, actually, in addition to other fun or interesting activities. Maybe going to a market is not interesting to you, but I enjoy it, and I am sure not to buy anything made in China at a Brazilian market. Brasilia is indeed an unusual city, but I need to go there and learn more about it before I can voice an opinion about it.

  • Riane says:

    Jenna, just read your post. Well done. Sometimes when you are a local you can’t seem to see how many cool things there are to enjoy around you. The crazy life with no time to do anything but work absorbs all your energy and when the weekend comes all you can do is stay inside or worse, in bed all day. Anyway, just stopping by to say that your list is fantastic and I gotta confess that I had no idea about a couple things that you’ve said. And I am visiting one of these places today. Hope you come back soon and not that I think you need a guide, you are already one, but we can go grab a drink if you’d like.

  • brenda says:

    I spent last week in Sao Paulo, and used this blog as my guide. I had a fabulous time – we visited about 75% of the places recommended on this site. All were well worth the visit. Thanks for sharing your experiences and making being a tourist in Sao Paulo less intimidating.
    I would also recommend the FREE English speaking walking tour [Meeting Point: República Square, next to the Tourist Information Center (subway station: República) on Wednesdays and Saturdays] Great tour guide Fe showed us around and I learned a lot. There is also one available for Paulista Avenue on Thursdays and Sundays at 3.30pm.
    On the recommendation of a local I also took 2 buses to the Foundacao Maria Luisa e Oscar Americano museum in Av. Morumbi, 4077 where they have impressive artwork from Brazil and also a lovely tea room.

    • Jenna says:

      Hi Brenda, Thank you so much for taking the time to leave this comment. It is so important for me to hear this kind of feedback. I also find Sao Paulo intimidating, so I am glad that these suggestions helped you, and I’m glad you recommended the tour guides. I will try those! I hope to be back in SP this year and may update this list with some new ideas.

  • Philip says:

    Thanks so much for this list Jenna. I’ll be traveling to Brazil in April and will be spending a day in Sao Paolo before traveling on to the south of the country. Because it’s so sprawling, I am worried that Sao Paolo is the sort of place that a person can only enjoy if he knows someone who lives there. And honestly, touristy Rio and megalopolis Sao Paolo have never been on my list of Brazilian places to visit. I’m not much of a city person and am much more interested in the Afro-Brazilian northeast, the Euro-Brazilian south or natural wonders like Iguacu, the Pantanal or the Amazon. But I might decide to spend an extra day in Sao Paolo, just to get a feel for the place and to check out some of the cool things you’ve described. The largest city in the country should definitely be more than just a layover !!

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks for your comment. 🙂 I also am more interested in the places you’ve mentioned, but I haven’t had a chance to travel to many places outside SP because we go there to spend time with family. I think Avenida Paulista (e.g. MASP) and Ibirapuera are close enough that you could combine them into a good day, and then at night you can take a cab to enjoy the live music and/or theater. I should make a map for this list. Will add that as soon as I can.

    • Riane says:

      Philip.. I live in Brazil.. Reach me if you want/need a guide.. I will be more than happy to help you around the city. Safe travels!! 🙂

      • Jenna says:

        Thanks for reaching out, Riane. Sao Paulo is intimidating, so having a local guide is a great help!

        • Riane says:

          My pleasure, Jenna!! Currently I am lending a hand to a French friend who I met while in Seatlle. And has been great because I haven’t visited most of these places. So I can get to know my city too. 🙂

    • Hi Philip, you should definitely check-out the Afro Brazilian Museum at Ibirapuera Park, then!

      • Jenna says:

        Good suggestion! I wonder if they’ve added English translations yet. It’s a fantastic museum but a little hard for non-Portuguese-speaking people to navigate since they can’t read the descriptions of the exhibits.

        • I know, it’s a major problem at the Football (Soccer) Museum, too, very little signage in English. It’s been a while I haven’t been to the Afro-Brazilian Museum, so I’m not sure they have made any improvements in that respect.

          • Jenna says:

            True. If a country wants to attract international tourism, English signage is important. Museums everywhere can be slow to change (or lacking in funds), but I was surprised about the lack of translations at the Museo Afro-Brasil because it’s a fairly new, modern, and very nice museum.

  • Suraj says:

    Jenna,

    Really appreciate this blog. I would be travelling to Sao Paulo in the last week of this month (March) and honestly was clueless on how & where to go about. Although am on a business visit, but would not have liked to miss the opportunity to take a small tour of the place (at least some of them depending on the availability of time). Would also like to mention that I was a bit apprehensive of the locals understanding English, which might have compounded my problems. But am finding this information of yours very useful. Will definitely try to visit some of the landmarks mentioned.

    Thanks
    Suraj

    • Jenna says:

      Hi Suraj, It is an overwhelming city, but with some plans, I think you will enjoy it! Have a nice trip!

      • Suraj says:

        Thanks a lot. Would like your advice on the local transportation. Is taxi a good option since I would be hopping between meetings. Do the taxi drivers understand English? Also is it preferable to hire a taxi for an entire day or hire a new taxi each time I leave a meeting & go for the next meeting.

        I apologize for bombarding you with so much questions, but since it’s my first time to Brazil, am a bit apprehensive.

        Thanks,
        Suraj

        • Tom Reaoch says:

          Hello Suraj,
          Most (almost all) taxi drivers do not understand English. You will be better served to hire an English speaking professional for the day principally for multi meetings in the same day.
          Check out http://www.spintours.com.br for assistance.
          Best
          Tom

        • Jenna says:

          Honestly I have not taken more than a couple of taxis there, so I wouldn’t really know. In general, the people you encounter in the service industry don’t speak English well, but there are many people there who speak excellent English. When I travel to another country, I try to rely on writing things down…for example, when I’m in a taxi, I write down my destination and show it to the driver.

  • Juliano Araujo says:

    Great suggestions! I live in São Paulo and I agree with all of them!!! Thanks!!

  • howard says:

    what a good list,i live in são paulo,I was born in São Paulo ,I am in são paulo now,You focused on the São Paulo´s good places you filtered the beautiful parts of the city ,.

  • araya gessese says:

    hey Jenna,

    u really helped me to plan my 2days stay in sao on z first week april, hopefully i will try to reach most of z landmarks zat u suggest.
    i am planning for these below …but i’m just wondering zat any of these are out of z city or some how far from z city or accessible by taxi or may be metro?? kindly advice
    MASP ,Bar Samba,Parque Ibirapuera ,Museu Afro-Brasil,Museu de Futebol and Liberdade

    • Jenna says:

      Hi Araya,
      All the places are inside the city and can be reached by taxi and metro. Ibirapuera and Museu Afro-Brasil are in the same place and are not far from MASP, which is next to the Trianon metro station.

  • Ann says:

    Hi Jenna.
    Great Post to help me plan my up coming trip. Was just wondering, I will be looking for accommodation through AirBnB but not sure what location to focus on. SP seems sooo huge it is getting overwhelming looking for an ideal location. Is central really not as safe as I have been told?

    • Jenna says:

      Hi Ann,
      My husband recommends Alameda Santos, a street that’s next to the central Avenida Paulista, so it’s near attractions and public transport. The very downtown of SP, which is a different area, is less safe and therefore should be avoided for accommodations. I know SP is overwhelming. 🙂

  • Austin says:

    Jenna,

    Do you know about the Butnata district of Sao Paulo? I am planning on staying at the NAHU hostel in this district and it seems to be in a more residential area and on the outskirts of the downtown area. Any suggestions or advice about staying on this side of town? Thanks!

    Austin

    • Hi Austin,
      I live rather close to this area – in SP terms, that means about 3 miles. But I live in Pinheiros, on the other side of Pinheiros river, that means closer to downtown. This area you’ll stay in residential and rather uninteresting for foreigner, apart from a brief visit to Butantan Snake Farm (a leading research center developing venons etc where you can see snakes and spiders in terrariums). The University of Sao Paulo (USP) campus is also nice for a stroll in an sunny afternoon, lots of green and pleasant spaces.

      Otherwise, you’ll probably be commuting all the time from the central areas to the hostel to sleep. Most probably the fastest way would be taking the subway at Butantã metro station (end of the yellow line) which takes you in less than 15 min to central areas like Paulista Ave. and downtown SP. The hostel should be able to indicate the right buses to get you there, probably some 15 min. bus trip. Keep in mind that transit operates only until midnight, so you’d have to plan your nights out accordingly or spare some money for taxis.

  • Sharon says:

    Hey!! Thank you so much…i’m going with my Boyfriend to meet his family in December… BIG HUGE Brazilian family and i am asian.. thanks for the tips ..i love flea markets and food! can’t wait to go now…!! yay!!

    • Jenna says:

      I remember that first trip to meet my boyfriend’s family in Brazil (he’s my husband now). Be sure to have him take you around. Being with a local there is the best. 🙂

  • kaenhu says:

    Thank you for this information, it is most helpful! We have one day in SP and 4 kids ages 8-15. You mentioned you have children, which of your suggestions do you find your kids enjoy most? We travel a lot and sometimes I feel like we are dragging the kids around a lot, especially in Europe and NYC with all the museums. So while the hubby and I like museums, we have 6 hours with one private driver–what do you suggest we do to maximize our time? Our hotel is near Avenida Paulista and Alameda Santos–all walking distance. I’d like our driver to maybe start at locations near that and branch out.

    We love markets, dance, interesting architecture, and of course, great food. We can do museums, botanical gardens/parks on our own.

    Any suggestions on things we can tell our driver to take us to would be wonderful.

    • Riane Ferrari says:

      Hello..

      I am Riane Ferrari and I live in São Paulo, close to where you are staying at Av Paulista. I would gladly help you out offering my services as a Personal Concierge. Have lived in US for two years as an Au Pair so I have some experience with kids as well. I don’t know the rules about writing down my contact info, but please reply here and I can manage to exchange emails with you. Let me know if I can be of any help to you. Thank you and regardless of anything I wish you a very nice stay in Brazil.

      • Rodrigo Pinto says:

        Riane, please send me your contact info.

        Kaenhu, as exploring central SP can be intimidating on your own, it’s nice for you to take a ride around the old city center and explore Liberdade Japanese neighborhood, climb to the top of Banespa tower or Edifício Itália to get an overview of this massive city and stop at the Municipal Market to check out the nice architecture, great variety of fruits and grab a snack.

        Other places that are nice for youths is Catavento – sort of a playfull interactive science museum close to the market and Sesc Pompeia in the western part of town that usually hosts great exhibits and concerts. If you’re into soccer / sports, in addition to the soccer museum you can ask the driver to take you to Morumbi Stadium – the largest in the city – for a tour (needs to be booked in advance). It’s a neighborhood with very poor public transport, so the car will come in handy.

        If on a weekend, you can also go to Cantareira Park, the largest urban forest in the world in the northern outskirts of the city – also hard to reach without a car.

        • Riane Ferrari says:

          Gladly, Rodrigo!

          You can reach me through my email and cell phone, both mentioned below:

          talktoferrari@mail.com
          +55 11 97531-7718

          I am still working on my website, which will soon be up and running.

          Thank you for your contact.

    • Jenna says:

      My kids are little, so it’s easy to take them around and let them just absorb little things that might bore older kids. Parque Ibirapuera is worth a long stop, especially if you enjoy architecture, and the Museu Afro-Brasil there is very nice with lots of interesting stuff to look at. If your kids like soccer, you might consider the Soccer Museum.

      The Italian Building has an amazing view of the city from the top floor, and you can take a quick peek at Copao, one of Niemeyer’s buildings a few doors down (it’s run down, but still interesting). There’s a great market on Sundays at the nearby Praca Republica.

      If it’s a Saturday, go to Bar Samba for dance, music, and food (described above in the post). If they like snakes, take them to Butantan. I would also look into Time OUt Sao Paulo to find out what special events are going on while you’re there–there may be exhibitions, fairs, or other events that your kids would enjoy. If I think of anything else, I’ll let you know.

  • Kiki says:

    You have no idea how helpful this is for thousands maybe millions of world cup visitors. Thank you for sharing. Stay blessed!

    • Jenna says:

      You have no idea how happy your comment made me when I saw it this morning! I am in the process of adding a Google map to this post since I know it will also be helpful. I hope you’re enjoying Brazil during this exciting time 🙂

  • Elizabeth budaky says:

    Very interested to read about sao Paulo my son is marrying a lovely girl from sao paulo they me in Italy where my son worked for 13 years he is a mancunion by birth ,so we will be visiting sao Paulo for the wedding and of course see Brazil .so this was great and all the other comments they are marrying on island Bella so if anyone has any input on there will be appreciated .I’m hoping to visit many more times as the two of them have now decided to make their home there .many thanks .

    • Jenna says:

      I don’t know anything about Bella, but I think it’s great that you will get to know the country and people through your son’s marriage. Sao Paulo is not exactly easy to travel in, but with a local helping you, you can have a very nice time. And the rest of the country is beautiful!

  • Sergio Victorino says:

    I’m from Sao Paulo and I love to travel the world… and the thing that makes all the difference in Brazil… When I leave the plane on Guarulhos Airport… If you start a conversation with any person working there, you can talk with this person like if you knew him/her for a long time.. they will smile, laugh, help and then I remember why I love this place. The beauty in Brazil are the brazilians… the rest is just something else.

  • Thanks for this. Great Advice and really helpful for first time visitors to Sao Paulo!

  • Awesome guide. Am travelling to Brazil this week with my family for a vaction and this guide has been very very helpful. I will stay in Sao P. for a day or two and this is a brilliant guide.

  • Alex says:

    Hello Jenna,

    Great guide, I love it! I am planning to visit Sao Paolo, but I am a little worried about the safety of the city. I did hear a lot of scary stories and they kind of hold me back. Do you have anything to share about this? 🙂

    • Jenna says:

      Good question, and I know there are scary stories, but I’ve traveled there many times and have never encountered anything dangerous. However, I am always with a local. I would recommend being careful with your belongings and not carrying around a large, expensive camera and avoiding going out at night in areas where you are not sure about safety. Connect with locals and ask them where they would go–for example, the areas of Vila Madalena and Parque Ibirapuera are places I feel totally safe.

  • Shay says:

    This post was amazing! I really liked it cuz i’ve lived in Sao Paulo for 2 years and this made me miss it ):Jenna do you know talk portuguese?

  • Natália says:

    Hey Jenna! I really loved your blog. I am preparing an ESL lesson about nighborhoods and cities for a student and luckly this was the first result in my seach!

    I am a Brazilian girl, from São Paulo and it made me really happy to see a great and big post about my city on an American’s perspective. Full of details and nice tips! Thank you!

    Just a quick update: #17 The building in the picture had been announced recently to turn into a Diversity and LGBT museum, how cool is that?!

  • Jacob says:

    I love the blog! This helped me with my trip to Sao Paulo

  • Thanks a lot Jenna. Your list was my reference and guide to go around sao Paulo. You have done and doing a great work. Keep going

  • Maggie says:

    Hi Jenna, I am Brazilian living in Ireland and one of my workmates is going to Sao Paulo in few weeks. I was looking for a ‘non-Brazilian’ perspective of Sao Paulo to help her to choose where to go, what to do etc, since I am from there and 100% bias! Your article hits the spot. Thanks a million!

  • Albert says:

    This is an excellent list! I’ve been in São Paulo for about a month and have done about 1/3 of this so far. I’m definitely gonna try to complete everything listed here. Great suggestions.

    Obrigado!

  • Helo says:

    Hi Jenna,
    I am brazilian and my husband american. I am from Campinas and we are planing to go to Sao Paulo for a day or two. Thanks for the tips, very helpful.
    Cheers!

  • Ana Beatriz says:

    Hi Jenna! I’m from Brazil (I live in South Brazil, in an island called Florianópolis) and i’ve been in São Paulo a few times, and your guide it’s wonderful! I’d like to say that, as you might know, Brazil it’s a big country and you can found plenty of different things to do around Brazil. Cities like Gramado (in Rio Grande do Sul state), Florianópolis Island, Rio, Manaus, Ouro Preto (a very historical city) and the Northeastern Brazil are very cool places to go, i’m sure your kids will love it too!
    Abraços from Brazil

    • Jenna says:

      Hi Ana! Thank you for stopping by. I have been to Brazil but have seen just a bit of the country because, as you say, it’s a big country. I have been to some of the places you mentioned but not Rio Grande do Sul or Florianopolis. One day 🙂
      Abraços from California!

  • Kyla says:

    Hello! Great article! Any tips on where to stay in São Paulo?

    • Hi Kyla,

      Jardins neighborhood is always a safe bet, but depending on your profile you’d be better off in other parts of town like Pinheiros and Vila Madalena. Also, if you’re coming to SP on business, it’s always better to stay closer to your appointments in the city to avoid traffic.

  • Victoria Smith says:

    Love the article! Your story is so crazy-I am currently going through the same relationship that you had with your now husband. We met during his year in the U.S. and now he’s back in São Paulo for a year. I wanted to know how your long distance experience went, and how it went after the long distance time was up? Sorry this isn’t too related to your article. I’m visiting São Paulo for Christmas this year to visit him. Thanks.

    • Jenna says:

      Funny to hear of someone going through the same sequence of events! My husband went back to Sao Paulo in the summer, I visited in December, and then he came to visit me the following spring. At that point, we’d been together for almost two years and decided to get married. That was 14 years ago. The months that we were apart were hard, but we were both busy with new jobs, which provided a helpful distraction. One of the hard things about our situation, with him living here in the U.S., is being far away from his family. We go to Brazil every year. It’s our main trip of the year, so even though there are many other places I’d like to travel, I usually can’t because we need to visit his family. I love visiting them, and they are wonderful people, so it all works out great. 🙂 Best of luck! Check out my tips on gobrazil.about.com for more ideas!

  • Cláudio says:

    Include the script a visit to “Rua 25 de Março” (March 25 street), and also region of Brás, which are commerce sites of popular and cheap items.

  • Greg says:

    I was in São Paulo for Carnaval and happened to do several of the things suggested. Recommend them all. Traveling back in a couple of weeks and was looking for some new suggestions, thank you for the post.

  • Nina Carolina says:

    Hey there! I’ll be travelling to SP on saturday 13th sept 2015, any tips? Looking for some great place to chill. Thanks!

  • Mehri says:

    Amazing and useful itinerary ! Thank you Jenna 🙂

  • Charlie says:

    Some forums say that if you go out at night, you should take some caring: kevlar, m1a1, frag granades, rc, ammo, boots, knifes, helmet, tactical gloves, night vision, flares, suicide pill for kidnapp, more granades…

  • Leon says:

    Muito bom! já da para atualizar que o Museu Paulista já esta aberto, e trocar o nome para Museu do Ipiranga, por que o nome Museu Paulista não é usado e pode prejudicar algumas pessoas para encontrar
    =)

  • Ania says:

    Finally a resource i was looking for, and in time as going to SP on Friday. Thanks for putting the list together. Anyone – can you suggest how we should get from the airport to a hotel on Paulista? There is two of us, and we are only coming for two days, so while cost is a consideration, so it time. How much is a taxi? I know the airport bus is R42, but i am getting mixed info on the time it takes. Or do you just suggest combo of public bus/subway? Many thanks!!

    • Jenna says:

      Hi Ania,
      I would suggest a taxi based on convenience, although I have no idea how much it would cost.

        • Jenna says:

          Rodrigo, Would you agree that taking a taxi is the best way to get to the city from the airport? (And I was happy to see that a train line is being built!)

          • Apart from booking a transfer with my company, a superior service with meet & greet included, I agree taxi is the best way to go, Jenna! LOL

            Yes, the train line is being built, but was promised for the 2014 World Cup…latest news is that it’s promised for the end of 2017…until it’s postponed again. 🙁

            The Airport bus service runs an hourly service to Paulista Avenue area, so if you’re unlucky you can wait for almost an hour for the next bus. Other issues would be a longer trip, as it stops in downtown before heading to Paulista, and the very few hotels it drives by (only along São Carlos do Pinhal and Frei Caneca streets), so you might end up having to pay for a taxi ride to get to the final destination.

            If you riding alone, it’s a suitable and cheaper option, but riding as a couple, I’d most definitely pay for a direct service by car.

          • Jenna says:

            This is great information! I didn’t know your company did transfers, but I can imagine that that would really be the best way to do it. It looks like this page has the information: http://checklisttur.com.br/aeroporto.php?lang=eng
            Thanks for your helpful insights!

  • Yes Jenna, we do operate airport and all kind of different transfers in São Paulo!

    To put an end to the self promotion on your website, we’re a full fledged travel agency that offers hotel bookings and flights, too – in São Paulo, all over Brazil and worldwide!

  • Raphael says:

    Hi Jenna! I’m from São Paulo and I have to say that I loved your article! I didn’t know some of the things. My husband is Canadian and we’re moving back to São Paulo in June. He visited the city a few times and loved it! I’ll share your article, it’s awesome!

  • Bethany says:

    Hi, my husband and I are thinking about taking a quick trip into the city on our way flying through to Vitoria. He is Brazilian, but has never been to SP. This will be our 4th trip to Brazil, with our now 4 kids. We always end up with a 6+ hour layover in SP (which I loathe). So, do you think it’s possible to take a taxi out to the ibirapuera park for a couple hours to break up that layover? I loved your article, and your responses to all the comments. Thanks!

    • Jenna says:

      Hi Bethany,

      Those long layovers are painful! Fortunately, the GRU airport has been remodeled and has some nice restaurants and shops to help pass the time. I am afraid it wouldn’t be enough time to go into the city because the traffic can be so bad and the check-in process at GRU can be very slow. It often takes us a long time to check in and go through security (although I guess you wouldn’t have to actually check in since you would already have boarding passes?). However, if you have small kids (I think it’s 2 and under), you can go to the front of the line. Try contacting Rodrigo’s tour company mentioned in the other comments to see if they could do an airport transfer and if they think it would be enough time.

  • Hi Jenna, thanks for referring us again!

    Dear Bethany, it would be a pleasure to show you a bit more of São Paulo and relief the boredom of a long layover at GRU. However, it can be a bit tricky to organize a tour like this, mainly because of traffic, so it would really depend on your flight timings and what you want to do during this time. Ibirapuera Park, for instance, it’s on the opposite side of the city compared to GRU and would make you stand too long in traffic.

    Please drop me a line with more details and we’ll discuss the possibilities for you to have a nice experience in the short period of time available.

    Cheers!

  • Lara Roth says:

    Fabulous post about Sao Paulo, with great local suggestions! Inspired to visit in December 🙂

  • Nindie says:

    Hi thank you for the great article. I’m going to have a 4 hour layover in Sao Paulo, will that give me anytime to see at least one thing near the airport? If so what do you recommend?

    • Jenna says:

      It looks like you found the previous comments about a layover in SP, so I hope you found the info you were looking for!

  • Nindie says:

    Sorry just read the other comments and your response 🙂

  • Claudio Guirao says:

    Hi Jenna, I live in São Paulo and I was very happy with this list of cool places that you wrote, congratulations.

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