7 Ways to Experience the Best of São Paulo

There's a lot to see and do in Brazil's largest city. Find out how to experience it like a local with these tips.


Photo © Photo by ckturistando on Unsplash

São Paulo is an enormous multicultural, fast paced city, with modern and gothic architecture, museums, and incredible displays of street art to be explored. The city is a melting pot of ethnicities with the largest populations of Japanese, Italian and Arabic people living outside their home countries. Many more European, African and Asian nationalities call the city home, too.

From traditional Brazilian bites to dishes from far away places, the cultural diversity is reflected in São Paulo's diverse food offerings.

São Paulo also has Latin America's biggest openly gay community, who host the world's biggest gay pride parade each year.

Explore Downtown São Paulo

See the historic buildings and bustling streets of downtown São Paulo, where the city was founded in 1554.

Head to the top of the 30-storey high Martinelli building for a 360 degree view of the city. To get upstairs, enter through the metallic door at the side of the building, where an employee will take you to the observatory – if you're lucky, you might be the only person there.

All located in downtown, admire the incredible architecture at Cathedral da Sé, Teatro Municipal and Mosteiro de São Bento. See the wave shaped Copan building, one of São Paulo's iconic buildings, and the largest residential building in the city. At the top there's a restaurant, and the meanu features Brazilian local dishes.

The view from atop Edifício Copan, Brazil. Photo by ckturistando on Unsplash

Go shopping and people watching at Rock Gallery shopping center. This temple of alternative culture was constructed in the 60s, where it became the meeting point for many locals. Inside find music shops, tattoo and piercing studios, plus plenty of clothing stores where you might be able to find old band t-shirts and albums from years past.

See the art exhibitions at Praça das Artes, and while you're nearby, walk down Viaduto do Chá to see Vale do Anhangabau. Beware of your belongings as you walk here – this area is known to be a bit dodgy.

Japanese Culture and Food

Among São Paulo's 14 million residents lives the largest number of Japanese people living outside of Japan. More than 1.5 million Japanese people live in Brazil, and most of them are in São Paulo. Their culture is evident throughout the city in food, architecture and art.

Even though the name of the Japanese neighborhood Liberdade translates to "freedom" in Portuguese, this suburb once had had a dark past. It was here that many years ago, runaway slaves were hanged.

Today, red Japanese torii gates mark the entrance to streets, which are lined with lanterns, Japanese shops, bars and restaurants offering everything from ramen to sushi.

A torii gate marks the entrance to a street in São Paulo's neighborhood of Liberdade. Photo credit: Getty Images/wsfurlan

Street Art in São Paulo

There are a number of areas in São Paulo where you can find colorful street art displays, one of the best known is Vila Madalena for Beco do Batman, a narrow alleyway lined with artworks.

Right beside Vila Madalena is the suburb of Pinheiros, where you can also see numerous artworks. If you're there on a Saturday, head to Benedito Calixto Square to shop the pop-up markets for handmade trinkets and antiques.

Walk the streets of Cambuci neighborhood, where you can see the famous artists Otávio and Gustavo Pandolfo's early artworks.

In the northern area of the city, Avenida Cruzeiro do Sul is considered the first Open Museum of Urban Art in São Paulo. Giant, impressive artworks have been painted onto concrete pillars that support overpasses, and make for another great spot to see the work of local artists.

Beco do Batman, Batman Alley in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo by ckturistando on Unsplash

Vila Madalena

Once you're done strolling the neighborhood streets to see street art, get to Praça do Por do Sol in time to watch the sunset over the city. The square is close to Tomie Othake, a Japanese-Brazilian artist's museum with abstract art on show. If you're feeling hungry, beside the museum there is a burger place called Vinil, where the burgers are cheap and delicious.

Serra da Cantareira State Park

Get out of the city and into Serra da Cantareira State Park. Take a 30 minute drive north of the city center to Pico do Jaraguá and watch the sunset over the entire city from Pedra Grande.

The state park is huge, and still holds a trace of the Atlantic rainforest. Take a hike in the park to see natural rock caverns and local wildlife. Ask your accommodation staff for their favourite hiking trails, and recommendations for unbeatable views over São Paulo.

The road to Pico Jaragua, the high point of Sao Paulo that overlooks the city. Photo credit: Getty Images/Luciano_Marques

Jardins Neighborhood

Another neighborhood worth exploring in São Paulo is Jardins. Walk down Oscar Freire Street to try gourmet food and stop for a coffee. Walk a few extra blocks to Paulista Avenue. On Sundays, this street is closed to traffic and it becomes the Paulistano's beach, where everyone goes to walk, ride bikes, meet people and get a tan. While you're on Paulista Avenue, stop by Conjunto Nacional to see Livraria Cultura, an enormous bookstore with a great coffee shop inside.

São Paulo Art Museum (MASP) is a must see on Paulista Avenue. The museum holds many exhibitions by famous artists. The building's architecture is considerably modern compared to other buildings in São Paulo. It also gives you an opportunity to see 9 de Julho Avenue, a road that connects downtown to the south part of São Paulo.

Right in front of the museum, check out Trianon Park, which is a great place to chill out or go for a walk.

Nightlife in São Paulo

A well-known local rapper, Don L, once said "In São Paulo, every day is a Monday, But every night is a Friday."

Paulistanos (São Paulo locals) have three favorite spots for nightlife. Vila Olimpia for fancy bars, Augusta Street for alternative bars and LGBTQ clubs, and in Vila Madalena there are bars on every corner. For movie theaters, head to Augusta Street. In downtown São Paulo, Café Piu Piu is a famous bar to go for live music.

On Sundays in Villa Madalena you can enjoy free jazz, grab a bite to eat from one of the food trucks and shop around the pop-up street markets.

For travelers looking to kick on until early hours of the morning, Lions and D-edge are two of the most famous clubs in the city. On Thursday nights at Lions, they play rock music.

Stay safe in Sao Paulo with these tips.

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