Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Sao Paulo
Designed by landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, Ibirapuera Park is Sao Paulo’s answer to New York’s Central Park. As the largest park in the city center, Ibirapuera encompasses 13 playing courts, jogging and cycle paths, a lake, several modernist buildings, and two of Sao Paulo’s most significant art galleries.
As one of the most expensive strips of real estate in Latin America, Avenida Paulista is Sao Paulo’s most famous thoroughfare. What started out as a residential street lined with neoclassical mansions is today a modern hub of business, culture, and entertainment.
In Sao Paulo’s downtown, the Monastery of Sao Bento (Mosteiro de Sao Bento) is known for its Gregorian chanting, exceptional bakery, and beautiful frescoes.
To catch the medieval chants of the monks, head to the 10am Sunday mass — get there early for a good seat. If you come for Sunday service, you’ll also get to hear the 6,000 pipe organ being played. For cake, jams, cookies, and breads prepared and blessed by the monks, look for the bakery to the left of the main hall. It’s a little more expensive than regular bakeries, but the quality is excellent and there’s a wide range of baked goods to choose from. Try the pão de mel — honey bread filled with jam and dipped in chocolate.
Surrounded by skyscrapers today, the Monastery of Sao Bento was built from 1910-1922, and it stands in the place of the original 17th-century chapel. Home to 40 cloistered monks, the monastery was chosen by Pope Benedict XVI for his stay during his first official visit to Brazil in 2007. Inside, see the famous murals painted by the Benedictine German monk, Dom Dutch Gresnicht Adelbert, who came to Brazil in 1913 especially to paint these Biblical scenes.
Situated grandly atop downtown São Paulo’s Vale do Anhangabaú like a concrete wedding cake, the century-old Theatro Municipal still shines as an example of the city’s place at the vanguard of art in Latin America. Opened in 1911, the ornate showplace—styled in the tradition of the great European opera houses—has welcomed Maria Callas, Isadora Duncan, Duke Ellington, and Mikhail Baryshnikov to its stage.
Reigning supreme over the center of Sao Paulo, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption (Sé Cathedral) is one of the largest neo-Gothic structures in the world. The 12,000-pipe organ is among the biggest in South America and the church houses a vast number of religious artworks.
Home to the world’s largest Japanese population outside of Japan, the district of Liberdade was settled in the early to mid-twentieth century by Japanese immigrants brought to Brazil to work in the coffee plantations around Sao Paulo. Today, it attracts foodies and Paulistano manga and anime enthusiasts, who can be seen dressed up in cosplay.
This historic church is built on the exact spot where the famed city of Sao Paulo was founded. Constructed in 1554, Pateo do Collegio Chuch once served as a home, school and church for Jesuit priests. Today, the original structure includes a museum, café, library in addition to an operational church.
Visitors can explore the church’s seven halls that showcase sacred artifacts, indigenous art and a model of the city in its earliest state. Travelers should be sure to check out the famed Peace Bell—known by locals as Sino da Paz—which serves as a reminder of the need for peace, justice and empathy in Sao Paulo and across the world.
Standing 130 meters tall in the heart of São Paulo, the Martinelli Building (Edifício Martinelli) was the city’s first skyscraper. Built in 1929 with 12 floors to begin with, the remaining 18 floors you see today were completed by 1935.
A beautiful building that would look right at home in Chicago, the Martinelli Building was built by Italian immigrant-turned-business tycoon Giuseppe Martinelli, who arrived in Brazil in 1889. To prove to a skeptical public that the skyscraper was actually safe, he and his family actually lived in the top four floors until the Great Depression forced Martinelli to part with the building and let it come under control of the Italian government, who then sold it to the state of Brazil.
Today the Martinelli Building is home to the Departments of Municipal House and Planning and various company offices, with shops on the ground floor. To visit the top, head to the side door—visits are 30 minutes. You’ll go in a small group, taking the elevator up to the rooftop terrace. At the top, enjoy 360-degree views of the city that extends all the way to the horizon. You'll be given plenty of time at the top (around 30 minutes), though there’s no rush to make your way back down.
São Paulo's most exclusive destination, the Jardins District, is really a combination of the neighborhoods Jardim Paulista, Jardim América, Jardim Europa, Jardim Paulistano, as well as parts of Cerqueira César that extend southwest of Avenida Paulista — the city's main avenue of skyscraper offices.
Aptly for a district where the name translates to “gardens,” Jardins is famous for its green space, with many of its huge stucco villas and modern glass mansions surrounded by lawns and pools.
Jardins is home to hundreds of ritzy bars and restaurants, including D.O.M — named the world’s 7th best restaurant by Michelin. Rua Augusta, in particular, is lined with luxury hotels and restaurants, and where Augusta meets Rua Oscar Freire you'll find the flagship stores of designers including Dior, Cavalli, and Marc Jacobs. In Jardins, you’ll also find a number of important São Paulo's museums including the São Paulo Museum of Image and Sound, the Ema Gordon Klabin Cultural Foundation, the Museum of the Brazilian House, and the Brazilian Museum of Sculpture.
Located inside Estádio Municipal Paulo Machado de Carvalho (a soccer stadium located in the Pacaembu neighborhood of Sao Paulo), the Sao Paulo Football Museum (Museu do Futebol) is a 6,900-square-meter museum dedicated to the history and importance of soccer in Brazilian culture.
The museum is located underneath the bleachers, and was constructed over 13 months and inaugurated in 2009. Valued at USD $12 million, the Museum du Futebol has 16 rooms of permanent exhibits, as well as several temporary exhibitions. Permanent exhibitions give visitors an opportunity to see the history and importance of soccer in Brazilian culture, download their own “goal” moments, and view the soccer pitch. Much of the Museum’s content is multimedia, and written content is provided in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. Audio guides are also available in these languages.
More Things to Do in Sao Paulo
Hailed as one of the most important collections of European art in the Southern Hemisphere, the privately-owned Sao Paulo Museum of Art (MASP boasts more than 11,000 works that encompass paintings, photographs, objects, and sculptures. Stars of the collection include paintings by Picasso, Van Gogh, and Gaugin, and sculptures by Degas.
A symbol of São Paulo’s race to modernity, this skyscraper, formerly known as Edifício Altino Arantes (as well as the Banespa Tower or Banespão), remains one of the most notable landmarks on the city’s evolving skyline, and recently underwent a renovation and rebranding—now known as the Farol Santander. It was originally built as the headquarters of the State Bank of São Paulo and named for one of the bank’s first presidents.
Nicknamed "The Pearl of the Atlantic," the Brazilian city of Guarujá hosts the closest stretch of beach to São Paulo, making it a wildly popular weekend destination among Paulistanos. A total of 23 beaches stretch across the city front. And being right in the heart of downtown, Pitangueiras is the most popular beach — it’s near Avenue Puglisi where there's a shopping mall, and local artisans sell their handicrafts at the nearby plaza on weekends and holidays.
Guarujá Enseada is another lively beach with tons of kiosks selling coconuts, beer, and snacks. Pernambuco is where the locals sun themselves, and every self-respecting surfer heads to Praia do Tombo. Another unique beach along the Guarujá oceanfront is Iporanga, which has its own waterfall and freshwater swimming pool.
Guarujá is famous for its buzzing nightlife. And for outdoorsy types, there's Guarujá Golf Club with its acclaimed golf course. For cyclists, a bike path stretches along the length of Enseada beach. Also by Enseada is Acqua Mundo Theme Park — home to the biggest aquarium in South America with over 700 species of fish. You can also visit the 16th-century Barra Grande Fortress, built to protect the local village against pirate attacks.
Three kilometers east of downtown São Paulo, the Estádio Municipal Paulo Machado de Carvalho (Pacaembu Stadium) is a traditional Brazilian soccer stadium that opened in 1940. With a capacity of almost 40,000, Pacaembu was long home to one of the country's top clubs — The Corinthians, who have now moved to a new stadium 25 km east of Pacaembu, which was built for the 2014 World Cup.
Since 1961, the stadium’s official name has been Estádio Municipal Paulo Machado de Carvalho, after the founder of Brazilian TV network Rede Record, but the name never got caught and it'll always be known as Pacaembu. All of Sao Paulo’s big teams have played here, and it's now famous for being home of the national soccer museum, Museu do Futebol. Covering 6,900 square meters below the bleachers, at the Football Museum you'll learn the history of Brazilian football through videos, interactive exhibits, and over 1,400 photos.
Almost as popular as the museum are the food markets in front of the stadium. The stands selling pastels — a crispy, rectangular pie filled with different fillings like chicken and mozzarella — are especially busy.
Founded in 1905, the Art Gallery of the State of Sao Paulo (Pinacoteca do Estado) is one of Brazil’s most important art museums. Dedicated to 19th and 20th century Brazilian art, the Pinacoteca collection features more than 8,000 pieces, including works by Almeida Júnior, Pedro Alexandrino, and Oscar Pereira da Silva.
Hailed by many as the best stadium in São Paulo, Allianz Parque is a multipurpose arena in the West Zone of the city. Inaugurated in November 2014, the stadium holds up to 48,000 spectators and has been recognized with awards from some of Latin America's most prestigious architectural reviews. The modern, sleek design, paired with impeccable upkeep, make it a São Paulo landmark and many locals' preferred venue for concerts, soccer and other sports competitions.
The home stadium of São Paulo's Palmeiras Football Club, the world-class venue welcomes visitors who can usually catch a Palmeiras match on Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons. To experience Brazil's legendary soccer fans at their most animated, try to get tickets behind the goal, or, to observe from a calmer perspective, opt for somewhere in the center. Allianz Parque also holds large concerts, having hosted the likes of Paul McCartney, Coldplay and Katy Perry.
Standing 168 meters tall, São Paulo’s Italian Building (Edifício Itália) is the second-tallest structure in the city after Mirante do Vale. Built between 1956 and 1965, it’s famous for its 360-degree-views which you can see for yourself on a trip up to the Terraço Itália restaurant and piano bar, or even further to the 41st floor rooftop viewing terrace. With the city spread out 500 feet below, and soft jazz playing in the Noble Room piano bar, this is most definitely the spot for celebrating a special occasion.
The rest of the floors are given over to offices, and there's a theater and gallery on the ground floor. Another interesting spot in the building is the Circolo Italiano — a nonprofit that preserves the traditions of Sao Paulo’s Italians. The surrounding downtown area isn’t all that safe at night, so if you’re having dinner here it's a good idea to ask the staff to call you a cab to take you back to your accommodation.
With its striking crescent shape, Sao Paulo’s iconic Hotel Unique has been said to look like many things — a copper half-moon, the hull of a ship...but locals just call it “the watermelon.” Designed by the Brazilian-Japanese architect Ruy Ohtake and renovated in late 2012, the luxury 95-room hotel has won numerous design awards. Critic Paul Goldberger even hailed the building as one of the seven wonders of the modern world.
Based in Jardim Paulista near Sao Paulo’s version of Central Park, Ibirapuera, inside Hotel Unique it’s all high ceilings and quirky touches like the huge blue cushion that is the lobby’s sitting area.
The hotel even has a water slide for grown-ups, and there's a crimson rooftop pool next to the Skye rooftop bar and restaurant: here you can sip a caipirinha or a wasabi martini, dine on French-Brazilian fusion food, and look out across Sao Paulo from one of the most fashionable spots in the city.
Based in the São Paulo neighborhood Vila Madalena, Sunset Square (Praça Por do Sol) is known for its stunning view of the city’s downtown core. Called Praça Por do Sol in Portuguese, the official name of is actually Praça Cel. Custódio Fernandes Pinheiros, though you won’t catch the locals saying that.
Surrounded by streets filled with nightclubs, restaurants, and street art, Vila Madalena is known for its nightlife and as a center for Sao Paulo bohemian art and culture, and Sunset Square is the epicenter of that counter culture. Come on weekends to join the locals who sit, picnic, read, walk, and play music here.
It’s possible to visit any time of night or day, but it’s best to visit Sunset Square just before sunset. With a name like Sunset Square, it’s no surprise that at sundown, up to 2,000 people congregate on the lawn to watch the sun sink behind Sao Paolo’s towering skyscrapers. The park tends to empty out quite quickly, so visitors are cautioned not to linger too long after dark, in spite of security measures.
Boasting the title of Latin America’s largest aquarium, Sao Paulo Aquarium is home to more than 3,000 creatures. Immerse yourself in different sections of the aquarium—which include fresh water, Antarctica, and the ocean—to discover exhibits that span 300 species of marine life and other mammals.
A rectangular eye at the center of the urban hurricane that is São Paulo, Republic Square (Praça da República) might have seen better days, but the plaza still holds on to its importance as a focal point for cultural life in the city. Built in 1889 to commemorate a new era in the city’s expansion and development, the square served as the primary location for concerts, political protests, and other gatherings.
With five zones and more than 35 rides and attractions suitable for all ages, Hopi Hari is one of Brazil’s most popular amusement parks. At the recently renovated park, visitors are welcomed into the fictional world of Hopi Hari, where each brightly colored “village” has its own theme, including a Wild West zone and a Looney Tunes area.
Based in the grand 18th-century Luz Monastery, the São Paulo Museum of Sacred Art (Museu de Arte Sacra) is dedicated to ecclesiastical Brazilian works from the 17th to 20th centuries.
The collection was started by the first archbishop of São Paulo, Dom Duarte Leopoldo e Silva, who gathered important sacred art from the chapels that were being demolished after the introduction of the Republic, though the museum itself didn't open until 1970.
On a visit, look out for works by the renowned 18th-century sculptor Antônio Aleijadinho ,and visit the jewel room to see solid gold and silver artifacts. A newer addition to the exhibits on show is the section dedicated to nativity art — head to the annex to see the impressive Neapolitan manger scene.
Standing 1,418 meters high, the mountain of Pedra Grande is famous for its views across São Paulo. It also forms the centerpiece of the world’s largest native urban forest—Cantareira State Park (Parque Estadual da Cantareira).
In the north of the city, Pedra Grande (which translates to “Big Rock”) is a playground for hang gliding, paragliding, climbing, camping, hiking, motocross, BMX, and ATVing. Due to high quartz levels, it’s also a hotspot for dowsers and crystal healing enthusiasts.
Visitors can walk to the top of the Pedra Grande via one of several short trails between 1.5 and 3 kilometers. This is a popular way to spot some of Brazil’s exotic wildlife including harpy eagles, red-tailed Amazon, black-fronted piping guan, and the ubiquitous howler monkey. And the longest trail runs 9.5 km, which is an old paved road with benches to rest at along the way.
At the Big Rock entrance to the park there’s visitor center with a kiosk, toilets, theater, museum, picnic areas, and nature interpretation trails, where visitors can find more information about hiking and camping on Pedra Grande. Big Rock is a particularly popular attraction on Brazilian holidays, especially the first of May, so visitors seeking tranquility should go early or pick another date to visit.
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