There are so many things to see and do in São Paulo, so I made a short guide for you about my favourite spots. Everyone will find its interest because the city provides culture, street art, amazing and vivid architecture, parks, sport opportunities, gastro experiences and great nightlife. This list could be endless with so many options considering the size of the city.
São Paulo is huge, it is the home of 12 million people + 9 million in the outer districts. People from the city are known as paulistanos, people from the state are paulistas.
The traffic can be crazy. Mostly we used Uber but also tried public transport, which works totally okay if you avoid the rush hours. The tourist attractions aren’t that close to each other, so you can’t visit everything on foot.
It’s the most expensive city in Brazil. Always take care of your belongings, I will write this down several times because I’ve heard this every day form Brazilians.
Sooooo here is my top 10:
1. Walk on Avenida Paulista
Avenida Paulista is the city’s largest boulevard. It stretches 2,8 km long and it’s bordered with financial headquarters and cultural institutions.
The avenue starts from Praça Marechal Cordeiro de Farias and it ends at Praça Oswaldo Cruz. The construction started in 1891 and it became the 1st paved street in São Paulo in 1909. They imported asphalt from Germany to complete the project.
The avenue is a home of important events and a lot of functions are located on Avenida Paulista: historic and modern buildings, shopping malls, restaurants, coffee shops, excellent schools, parks (Parque Siqueira Campos, Casa das Rosas in Paraíso), cultural centres (Centro Cultural Itaú, Centro Cultural FIESP/CIESP) and the famous art museum, MASP.
MASP (Museu de Arte de São Paulo) is one of the city’s best art museum. It has the finest collection of Western art in Latin America and hosts fantastic temporary exhibitions. The building is the main symbol of modern Brazilian architecture, was designed by Lina Bo Bardi. The glass structure stands 8 meters above ground on 4 concrete pillars connected by two huge concrete beams. The distance between the pillar pairs is 74 meters, which was the largest in the world at that time.
When to visit MASP?
It’s open longer on Tuesday: 10 am – 8 pm, Wednesday – Sunday: 10 am – 6 pm. The museum is closed on Monday.
Ticket: R$ 35.00 for adults, R$ 17.00 for students
2. Enjoy the city view from a skyscraper
There are 3 famous historic skyscrapers in São Paulo.
Edifício Martinelli is Brazil’s first skyscraper. The construction began in 1922 and it finished in 1934. The building was designed by Italian Brazilian entrepreneur, Giuseppe Martinelli. It was the tallest building in South America from 1934 to 1947. It is 106 meters tall and has 30 floors.
When to visit Edifício Martinelli?
We couldn’t go up to the panorama terrace because it was closed permanently (2017 December). Check out the website before visiting.
Edifício Copan was designed by Oscar Niemeyer in the 50s and opened in 1966. It is famous for its characteristic S shape. You cannot check the interior because it’s a residential building with 1160 apartments. It’s possible to visit an evangelical church, a travel agency, a bookstore, and 4 restaurants inside. We went up to the 32nd floor to the terrace. The view is amazing in its own way: buildings, buildings and buildings. Those 12 million people have to live somewhere, so no comment 😉 I wouldn’t want to use this staircase, looks a bit scary from 115 m high.
Currently, the facade is under construction, so it’s covered with a transparent drape to protect pedestrians from the facade’s loose mosaic tiles.
When to visit Edifício Copan?
You can go up only at 10:30 am and 3:30 pm during the day.
Admission is free. The elevator is at the F block.
Edifício Itália (Italy Building) stands next to Copan with its 165 meters and 46 floors. It is the 3rd tallest building in Brazil. It was designed by Brazilian architect Franz Heep in 1960.
It has a rooftop observation deck, which is open for tourists. A restaurant called Terraço Itália is located on the 41st floor and a bar on the 42nd floor. Both of them offer a great panoramic view. We skipped these option after checking the prices on the menu. We didn’t go to the top because we visited Copan and could see Edifício Itália from its terrace.
When to visit Edifício Itália?
Visiting time of the rooftop: 3 pm – 7 pm. The restaurant is open from 12 am to 0 pm between Monday and Thursday. On Friday and Saturday, it’s opened until 1 pm and it closes at 11 pm on Sunday.
Ticket to the rooftop: R$ 30.00
3. Check out some buildings of Oscar Niemeyer
Oscar Niemeyer was a famous Brazilian architect, who was born in the city of Rio de Janeiro in 1907 and passed away in 2012, 10 days before his 105th birthday. He is considered to be one of the key figures of modern architecture. In 1988 Niemeyer was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, architecture’s most prestigious award.
His features are curving lines (which are inspired by the woman’s body), catwalk ramp, white and red colours.
His works can be seen mainly in Brazil such as in Brasília city, Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro, Niterói and of course in São Paulo, but he has buildings in the USA, France, Italy, Venezuela and Algeria too.
His first building in São Paulo was the Montreal Building (Condomínio Edifício Montreal) in Centro district. The construction of the rounded building began in 1951.
As you could read a few lines before (at point 2), Edifício Copan was also designed by Niemeyer. So at the same time, you can be in a Niemeyer building and admire the skyline of São Paulo.
He was asked to design Ibirapuera Park for the city’s 400th-anniversary celebration. The Ibirapuera Auditorium with its red “tongue” is magnificent, just like the sphere form of the Lucas Nogueira Garcez Pavilion (Oca do Ibirapuera).
He developed V-shaped pilotis for Palácio da Agricultura, which is currently the Museum of Contemporary Art (Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo). From the park, it can be reached through a bridge above the street.
The Califórnia Building (Condomínio Edifício Galeria Califórnia) in the República district is also supported by his V-shaped pilotis.
Memorial da América Latina is complex of building at Barra Funda district. The buildings (library, research centre, displays of art including Latin American folk art, Brazilian Center for Latin American Studies) are arranged around two squares. The memorial sculpture is a concrete opened hand with the map of Latin America painted in red, which is a reminder of the blood from the sacrifices that were made.
When to visit Memorial da América Latina?
It’s open between 9 am – 6 pm from Tuesday to Sunday. Closed on Monday. The area is surrounded by a fence, which has openings from Rua Tagipuru and Av. Auro Soares de Moura Andrade.
4. Street art
São Paulo is a global hotspot for graffiti artists and many painted walls can be found in the city.
My must-see mural was the Eduardo Kobra painting about Oscar Niemeyer at the end of Avenida Paulista at Praça Oswaldo Cruz. First I didn’t know how we are going to find it, but it’s hard not to notice it, it’s visible from the avenue with its vivid colours. Kobra, the Brazilian street artist made this painting in the memory of the famous Brazilian architect, who passed away in 2012 at the age of 104.
After you see a few paintings by Kobra, you will recognise the others. He painted Einstein as well at Rua Oscar Freire.
We found another one at Ibirapuera Park (spoiler alert: Ibirapuera Park will be the next point) and one at Escadaria Do Patapio close to Beco do Batman.
Beco do Batman
One of the best place for graffitis is at Beco do Batman (a.k.a. Batman Alley) in the Vila Madalena neighbourhood. The alley is located between Rua Harmonia and Rua Medeiros de Albuquerque, but the whole area is full of street art. It got its nickname in the 80s when the DC Comics character Batman was painted on one wall. Later local art students began to fill the walls with psychedelic and cubist influenced designs. I loved it, every wall is covered with a colourful mural. It became a tourist attraction, so the graffitis are continually renovated and new pieces appear on top of the previous ones.
5. Picnic at Parque Ibirapuera
Ibirapuera Park is a large green area. It’s one of the largest city parks in Latin America.
It was designed by architect Oscar Niemeyer and landscape architect Otávio Augusto Teixeira Mendes for the 400th anniversary of São Paulo in 1954.
In the 1,5 sq km park, you can walk, jog, cycle, skate, do exercise alone or in a group, have fun on the playgrounds, visit museums or just sit at the lake and enjoy the nature.
Ibirapuera Park offers several cultural attraction in museums and concert hall. Biennial Pavilion (Pavilhão da Bienal) is a venue for some of the most important events such as São Paulo Fashion Week and Biennial of Architecture. The spherical form of Oca do Ibirapuera a.k.a Palácio das Artes (Palace of Arts) is famous for holding large exhibitions. Japanese Pavilion has an exhibition hall with Japanese art, samurai clothes, pottery, sculptures and a tea room. Museum of Modern Art (MAM) houses more than 4000 Brazilian contemporary sculptures and paintings. Museum of Contemporary Art is home to one of the biggest art collections of 20th-century Western art in Latin America. Afro-Brazil Museum is a space dedicated to showing the cultural achievements of Africans in Brazil.
You can find kiosks with coconut water and little bars with more food and drink. There are plenty of public toilets for free. We went there around Christmas time, so the trees were decorated with lights and we found a Christmas tree as well.
When to visit Ibirapuera Park?
Opening time: 5 am-midnight
Admission is free.
6. Visit Pinacoteca do Estado for Brazilian art (and for the architecture)
The Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo is one of the most important art museums in Brazil and the oldest art museum in São Paulo. It provides a huge selection of paintings, drawings and sculptures by Brazilian and foreign artists from the 19th century until today.
It opened in 1905, the building was designed by Ramos de Azevedo in 1897 and underwent an award-winning renovation between 1994 and 1998 by Paulo Mendes da Rocha, who stripped the interior of the neoclassical building and exposed the brick surface.
The park, Parque Jardim da Luz next to the museum is worth a visit as well.
Be careful at the area (sorry for saying this again…), in front of the museum we called an Uber with our phone and a security guy from the museum entrance came and warned us to be careful because he saw many people got robbed there.
When to visit Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo?
It’s closed on Tuesday, not like the normal museums. It’s open from Wednesday to Monday: 10:00 am – 5:30 pm.
Ticket: Adult ticket costs: R$ 6.00, student price: R$ 3.00. Admission is free on Saturdays.
7. Eat mortadella sandwiches at Mercadão Municipal de São Paulo
São Paulo’s most famous market is not far from the Pinacoteca. Mercadão Municipal is housed in a neo-classical building with vaults and stained glass windows. It is huge and very busy. Keep an eye on your belongings (I could say this all the time), just be careful. The fruits, fishes, spices and cheeses are beautiful.
The spices and oils are hung like a decorating element. Those cinnamon pieces on the photo were around 30 cms long, amazing!
Try the famous mortadella sandwiches at Bar do Mané, which is close to the main entrance on Rua Cantareira. The sandwiches are amazing and super tasty. They offer different variations: cold, hot, with cheese, with salad etc. We asked for the traditional warm version with cheese for R$ 22.00. The bread is cut in half, so we ate half-half, totally enough (for me).
When to visit Mercadão Municipal de São Paulo?
The market is open from 6 am to 6 pm, but a lot of places close before 5 pm.
Bar do Mané doesn’t serve food after 4:30 pm, be there in time to grab your sandwiches.
The area around the building is an open-air market, which opens at 6 pm when the market is closing.
8. Have a Brazilian breakfast in a padaria
Padaria (Brazilian bakery) is a typical place to have breakfast and drink coffee. A lot of Brazilians don’t eat breakfast at home, they go to a padaria to grab some salgados, juice and coffee. The must-try breakfast is salgados: pão de queijo (cheese bread), coxinha (croquette), pastel and empada were my favourites. Read more about Brazilian breakfast and other must-try food in my previous post.
Opposite MASP in Charme da Paulista, we had these amazing salgados and papaya juice for breakfast.
9. Try the Brazilian barbecue in a Churrascaria
When I visit a foreign country I just have to try their traditional food and drink. If you choose only one, that must be the Churrasco, the Brazilian barbecue.
Churrascaria is the most traditional restaurant in Brazil. It works like an all you can eat restaurant, which contains the meat and the side dishes, but not the drinks and desserts. You grab your salad, rice, farofa and whatever you want, then wait for the meat. The waiters go around with the different kind of meats on huge skewers. You have tongs to grab the slice of the meat and put it on the plate. Use the green “sim, por favor” sign, when you are satisfied change to the red “não obrigado” sign, so they will know not to bring more meat.
They also serve grilled cheese, chicken heart, sausage and grilled pineapple.
We visited Tendall grill Bela Vista, which was the closest to our accommodation. The meal for 1 person costs 40 reais.
Read my other post for more traditional Brazilian food and drink.
Go out and enjoy the various faces of São Paulo. Talk with Brazilians, they are super cool and friendly. The way they dance is amazing.
Visit bars, which offer Live Samba music (usually on Saturdays). The best area is Vila Madalena for that. We weren’t on Saturday in São Paulo, so I can’t tell my experiences about samba music, but my Brazilian friends said Pau Brasil and Ó do Borogodó are famous for samba.
Nightlife is also about drinking. Caipirinha, the original Brazilian cocktail is a must-try drink in Brazil, because it’s made of cachaça, which is the most famous alcoholic beverage of the country. It is mixed with sugar, ice and lime.
This was my São Paulo Top 10 things to do! I told you, this city offers so much like culture, architecture, foodie experiences, parks and vivid nightlife.
Here are more Brazilian guides for you:
- Ilhabela travel guide – what to do and where to go
- Best beaches in Rio de Janeiro
- What to eat and drink in Brazil?
- Specialty coffee shop guide to São Paulo, Brazil
Which was your favourite thing to do in São Paulo? Or do you have more suggestions for my next visit? Leave a comment below.