São Paulo, South America’s largest city, sits on the plateau of Piratininga and is surrounded by rivers that fan into the interior. São Paulo became the gateway to the sertão (Brazil’s backcountry) almost from its foundation in 1554, and explorers known as Bandeirantes made expeditions from the city into this area.
Today’s key highways to inner cities proceed along the Bandeirantes’ roads. Immigrants from all over the world have always been a part of São Paulo and you can always see the influence of people from Portuguese, Spanish, German, African, Jewish, Arab, and Japanese on their lives and culture.
São Paulo is the largest city in Latin America and the financial center of Brazil, the city’s sheer scale and numbers of attractions in São Paulo are enough to render any tourist dizzy. We present a list of things to do in São Paulo and get acquainted with the city in the most fun way possible!
Arts and History
Sao Paulo, the megalopolis of Brazil may not be conventionally beautiful but it is a paradise for art-lovers. Home to the annual SP Arte and the biannual São Paulo Biennial, the city is packed with year-round artistic shows and celebrations.
There are plenty of art spaces embracing all genres and mediums from the Museu de Arte de São Paulo, said to rival the Tate Modern with its outstanding exhibits, to the street-art haven Galeria Choque Cultural.
1. São Paulo Museum of Art
The São Paulo Museum of Art holds one of the country’s best collections of Brazilian and international art. Its magnificent building came from Lina Bo Bardi’s mind. The entire structure of glass and concrete, built in the Brutalist style, is raised above the road by four wide pillars, giving the museum the impression of floating.
One large, open-plan room is the main gallery, and the permanent collection pieces are housed in glass display cases designed by Bo Bardi herself. The room below the museum is regularly used for cultural activities, including the Sunday Antiques Fair.
2. Baro Galeria
The Baró Galeria presents the creative creations of some of Brazil’s finest artists both old and modern, presenting the works of long-standing contemporary artists alongside pieces from emerging new talents. David Medalla, Daniel Arsham, Elena Damiani and Norbert Bisky are only a few of the prominent artists whose works are often seen here.
The Baro Galeria has become a place since it opened four years ago where artistic debate and discussion are encouraged and celebrated alongside the rotating exhibitions and curatorial projects of contemporary artworks.
3. Pinacoteca de São Paulo
The Pinacoteca de São Paulo, opened in 1905, is the town’s oldest museum. Built initially by the Brazilian architect Ramos de Azevedo to be used as an art school, the building is pretty stunning and has a large atrium in the middle that lets the museum spaces in sunlight.
The Pinacoteca has arguably the country’s best collection of Brazilian art, spanning the period of Realism all the way up to today.
When you’re in the building adjacent to the Pinacoteca, check out the São Paulo Resistance Museum. Originally the headquarters of the dreaded Political and Social Order department during the military dictatorship, the building now hosts an exhibition devoted to battling the authoritarian regime.
The city has something for everyone, from traditional farmers ‘ markets with an incredible variety of products to charming antique fairs where you can find the perfect souvenir. If something is going well for Sao Paulo, it’s a good old-fashioned market.
In this sprawling metropolis, every neighborhood has at least one weekly street fair to call its own, where locals can buy fresh fruits, vegetables, fish and spices. There’s no typical souvenir from São Paulo that every visitor brings back.
There are very few tourist shops offering the equivalent of the keyrings of Paris’ Eiffel Tower or double-decker model buses in London, making souvenir-hunting a little harder but ultimately more enriching.
1. Feira da Praça Benedito Calixto
A short walk from the Mercado Municipal de Pinheiros is the charming Benedito Calixto Square, which hosts one of São Paulo’s most popular arts and crafts fairs every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. The stalls sell a little bit of everything, from vinyl records and clothing to antique furniture and toys for children.
2. Vila Madalena
Once São Paulo’s largest hippie neighborhood, today people from all tribes are invited. The streets named after cute names such as flowers and beautiful feelings make us visit their history, but the variety of shops showcasing new artists mixed with well-known designers links us to contemporary times.
Vila Madalena is a massive open-air shopping mall, where you can find fashion to household appliances, trendy furniture, buy organic food and even relax with a cold chop (the popular Brazilian draft beer) at the end of the day. Try it from one pub to another; it is one of the best places in town.
3. Mercado Municipal de São Paulo
The Municipal Market in São Paulo, or Mercadão (Big Market) as it is locally known, is a must-see for any tourist. The countless stalls of beautiful fruits and vegetables (many of which you’d never seen before in your life) and the tasty bar snacks on the upper floor of the market make for a perfect day out. But it’s also a great place to buy something to take home.
Avoid fruits and vegetables that are obviously not going to move well and are especially costly to buy in the Mercadão (try one or two if you’re too hungry), and go to the stalls that sell cured meats and other long-life items.
You’re likely going to want to buy everything in the shop, but look out for some typical Sâo Paulo ingredients, like Ceratti mortadella – the meat of choice in the famous Mercadão mortadella sandwich.
Eat and Dine
São Paulo is a cultural melting pot and there are lots of good places to eat where there are many cultures. The food scene in the city is influenced by immigrants from Italy, Lebanon, Portugal, and Japan, all of whom call São Paulo home. From fine dining to street food, to the magnificent Mercado Municipal there is everything.
In Barra Funda, where Korean restaurants mix with hipster shops, eaters will find thrilling new restaurants, and the nostalgic Tatuapé culture, which until recently had barely registered as a blip on gourmand radar. In a vast, traffic-clotted metropolis, you’ll need some help finding the best places to eat.
Here are the unavoidable food experiences you need in São Paulo right now.
An emigrant from the Northeast region, José Almeida, opened Mocotó in 1973. Now the restaurant is run by his friend, Chef Rodrigo Oliveira, revising traditional nordestinas recipes with new, imaginative touches. Mocotó is situated in Vila Medeiros, a working-class district far from São Paulo city center, but it’s near to the airport, so consider visiting the city on or off the road.
Order the popular dadinhos de tapioca (cheese curds with tapioca), and one of the 350 cachaças served at the bar, to make the wait more manageable (there is always a line).
2. Bráz Pizzaria
The city is filled with pizzerias partly due to the Italian immigrant population of São Paulo, partly due to the fact that pizza is almost everybody’s favorite food category. Bráz is one you wouldn’t want to go through without trying. This particular branch of the small chain, by Empório Alto dos Pinheiros, is located on Rua Vupabussu.
Chef Mara Salles may as well be Brazilian cuisine’s first lady. At Tordesilhas, she serves regional, home-style cuisine with vibrant touches, highlighting the cultural diversity of the country, from bobó de camarão (shrimp in cassava puree and red palm oil called dendê) to Northern tacacá soup made from dried shrimp, manioc root and jambu (a native fruit).
The restaurant is recognized by world-renowned chef Alex Atala for its high-quality cuisine, with an outstanding menu of creative ingredients. For any real connoisseur of delicacies, D.O.M is worth the experience.
The restaurant uses Brazilian ingredients, which are perfectly cooked and arranged, providing many guests comfort. Lovely wines go with every meal. D.O.M offers fine and unique dining experiences. It was ranked as the best restaurant in South America and was ranked 6th worldwide.
4. Banana Verde
Banana Verde is a vegetarian and vegan sanctuary. The restaurant focuses on organic produce for a fully meat-free menu utilizing typical Minas Gerais flavors. But the fiercer carnivores will consider something that they love.
Other Places You Can’t Miss!
It might not be possible for you to explore everything we listed here considering you take a short trip. So we decided to make a list of things that should be on the top of anyone’s itinerary when they step foot in Sao Paolo.
1. Parque do Ibirapuera
Elected by the UK daily newspaper The Guardian as one of the best urban parks in the world, Ibirapuera Park is a green and tranquil island in the middle of this very noisy area. In addition to the 13 playgrounds, parks, picnic areas and bike paths, the park also has the OCA gallery, the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Afro-Brazilian Museum within its borders.
It’s here too that the art scene comes alive with the São Paulo Biennale every two years.
2. Teatro Municipal
After the Paris Opéra, the architect Ramos de Azevedo modeled São Paulo’s Municipal Theatre, drawing on an eclectic mix of Art Nouveau and Italian Renaissance themes. It became a major attraction in town almost immediately after its completion in 1911. This status was reinforced in 1922 when the venue for a landmark event revolutionized Brazil’s arts.
The theater is a major performing arts hub in South America and has hosted performances by globally known artists, dancers, musicians and performers. The building was completely restored to its original magnificence and reopened in 1991. It is home to the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, São Paulo Coral Lírico (Lyric Choir), and São Paulo City Ballet.
3. Catedral da Sé
The first version of the church was founded in 1591, when Tibiriçá, an indigenous chief, chose the spot where the first temple of the city would be built. The ‘church’ was a taipa-shaped building with clay and straw walls, kept together by logs. It was consecrated in 1954, the 400th anniversary of São Paulo’s formation.
Some of the world’s five largest Neo-Gothic temples, there are supervised historical tours inside the church and its crypt below the altar where the Capricorn Tropic’s fictional line passes and the indigenous chief Tibiriçá is buried. The Cathedral front is considered the very heart of the São Paulo region.
4. Sala São Paulo
The Sala São Paulo is considered the largest concert hall in Latin America, with 1,509 seats in its 1,000 square meter space. The hall has a movable ‘lining’ which allows the output of the acoustics to be adjusted depending on the music. Also, the hall is the only one on the continent that runs inside a functioning train station.
5. Beco do Batman
The name was established in the 1980s when a group of art students noticed the graffiti of the famous comic book hero Batman on one of the walls, in a narrow alleyway in Vila Madalena.
They wanted to expand the concept and the entire alleyway was soon paved with multicolored street art that draws thousands of visitors every year passing through this artsy neighborhood of São Paulo to this day. The Beco do Batman (or Batman Alleyway) was one of Latin America’s largest city’s first open-air museums devoted to graffiti springing up.
São Paulo is notable for its vastness, dynamism, and energy. Sampa, as its inhabitants call it, blends the best and worst of western overgrown urban conglomerates. It has historically been predominantly a place to work, secondly a place to stay and lastly a community to enjoy with tons of fun things to do in São Paulo.