Top 8 Things to See & Do in São Paulo
São Paulo is the largest city not only in Brazil but, reaching nearly 12 million inhabitants in the city centre, it is largest city in South America. Indisputably the most rock & roll city in the country, São Paulo is very different from Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Recife.
São Paulo is known for its business and hectic urban life. The city boasts a vast number of restaurants, night outs, theatres, and entertainment spots.
View my top recommendations on the best things to add to your São Paulo travel itinerary below.
1. Edifício Banespa (Banespa Skyscraper)
It’s free to visit and at the top of the building you have a spectacular 360 degree panoramic view of the city. Built in 1939, it was projected to be a replica of the Empire State in New York. Besides the fascinating view of São Paulo you can also check the massive 1.5-ton chandelier at the entrance hall, which was made out of more than 10 thousand crystal pieces. Note that you’ll be required some sort of ID to be allowed in the building.
2. Parque do Ibirapuera (Ibirapuera Park)
It’s the most popular park in the city of São Paulo. This green area oasis-like is a place for you to rest, go for a jogging, skating, cycling or simple stroll in a sunny afternoon. The park also offers cultural alternatives like art shows and exhibitions, concerts, gigs and plays. All the events are held at impressive buildings designed by the famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemyer.
3. Mercado Municipal / Mercadão
The Paulistas call it ‘Mercadão’ (Big Market) and they are right about it. The most traditional food market in São Paulo is held at a beautiful and massive building with skylights and stained-glass windows. It was constructed between 1928-1932 to replace an old food market. There are around 300 stalls in the market and the variety of foods offered is staggering.
There are fruits, vegetables, cheese, cereals and so on, from all over the country. The food court is on the mezzanine floor and you’ll have plenty to choose from if you decide to grab a bite. We recommend you trying the mortadela sandwich, which is so famous you might have to queue for, pastel de bacalhau (sort of deep fried pastry filled with cod) and the cod croquette.
4. Pateo do Collegio
The historical square and the Jesuit church is the landmark where São Paulo was founded in 1554. Pateo do Collegio means ‘School Yard’ and is the place where the Portuguese jesuits settled in mission to evangelise the indigenous people who lived locally. You can visit the chapel where the first mass of the city was held, the chapel-museum and there’s also a cafè where you can relax in the garden over a cup of coffee or tea.
5. Liberdade Neighbourhood
São Paulo’s coffee boom between the 19th and 20th century attracted so many Japanese people that nowadays São Paulo is still home to the largest Japanese community outside Japan. Liberdade means ‘Freedom’ and it’s in this central neighbourhood in São Paulo where the biggest Japanese community live.
You’ll see that at the Japan-Town, Japanese culture and lifestyle echoes through the streets decorated with oriental lamps, shops with all sorts of Japanese products and foods and restaurants that serve excellent Japanese food. It’s worth visiting the food market on Sunday mornings and trying the melona icy lolly (it’s quite a big one), some tempurá (sort of crunchy deep fried sea food and vegetable snack) and yaksoba (sort of chow mei dish).
If you are really fan of Japanese cuisine there are restaurants that do ‘sushi rodizio’ which means that you’ll be seating at the table and get served as many rounds of sushi as you want.
6. Avenida Paulista (Paulista Avenue)
Paulista is the financial and business heart of São Paulo. Certainly one of the busiest places you can visit. Among swanky hotels and restaurants in the surrounding areas you can also find a small but charming native forest park called Parque do Trianon (Trianon Park), excellent cinemas and the São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP), which is one of the most important art museums in South America.
7. Rua Augusta (Augusta Street)
Crossing Avenida Paulista and with a handful of options for entertainment and eats out, Rua Augusta is the hip street in the city where the cool kids hang out. It’s unlikely you’ll find samba there but instead of that you can go to indie night outs, gigs, or simply find yourself a place to have a seat, a beer, some pizza and watch people come and go on this popular street.
The cinemas on Rua Augusta are top-notch. It’s a good opportunity if you’d like to watch no-mainstream films and if your Portuguese skills allow you to do so, of course. In case you’re still improving your language skills you can always pick a film spoken in English. The selection of screens is usually well varied at the cinemas over there. Rua Augusta is quite big street and the trendy bit is the one towards the city centre.
8. Praça da Sé (Sé Square)
It’s where the landmark central point of São Paulo is. At Praça da Sé you can visit the domed Catedral da Sé (Sé Cathedral) back dated from the 18th century and renewed in 1920. There is also an art deco building which homes a great museum called Museu da Caixa Econômica. Different exhibitions are held all year round at this museum. The buzzy old heart of the city draws big crowds and we advise you to watch out for your belongings as there is a fair share of pickpockets in this area.
You might also want to visit include the Botanical Gardens which is a relaxing green space or travel a little further and watch some skating at the skate park in San Bernardo do Campo.
By Gabriela Dias