Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Sao Paulo
Sao Paulo’s version of NYC’s Central Park, leafy Ibirapuera Park was opened on the 400th anniversary of the city, in 1954, and it’s known as much for its museums and music hall as it is for its jogging and cycling paths by the lake.
The park buildings were designed by the modernist Oscar Niemeyer, known for designing Brasília’s public buildings. Covering 2 square km, Ibirapuera is the largest park in central Sao Paulo and the second largest in the city. Designed by landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, there are 13 playing courts and playgrounds on the lawn. Come on a Sunday morning to enjoy a free outdoor concert in the Praça da Paz. Another nice Sunday touch is the Bosque de Leitura — a free outdoor lending library where you can borrow books and magazines (many of which are in English) to read in the park for the day.
Near Gate 3, it’s worth visiting the Museum of Modern Art (MAM). Here you can see Miros, Picassos, and important contemporary Brazilian works. Nearby, there’s the excellent Afro-Brazil Museum at the spacious Manoel da Nóbrega Pavilion — opened in 2004, it’s dedicated to showcasing the cultural achievements of Africans in Brazil. In January and July each year, the Biennial Pavilion hosts São Paulo Fashion Week and trade shows and biennials throughout the year. Sao Paulo has the world’s largest Japanese population outside Japan, so it’s also worth visiting the Japanese Pavilion — an exhibition hall in Ibirapuera Park that shows Japanese art and has its own tea room and Japanese garden where you can feed the carp.
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.
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.
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.
Home to the world’s largest Japanese population outside Japan, the Sao Paulo district of Liberdade (Bairro da Liberdade) is a densely-populated neighborhood that’s a popular spot for locals and tourists looking to get a taste of Japanese culture and cuisine in Brazil.
Liberdade was settled in the early to mid-20th century by Japanese immigrants brought to Brazil to work in the coffee plantations around Sao Paulo. Since 1970, many people of other Asian ethnicities, especially Chinese and Koreans, have also moved into the area.
Marked by the nine-meter tall red Torii (Japanese Shinto arch) on Rua Galvão Bueno, and lined with Japanese-style street lamps, Liberdade offers a similar feel to other little Tokyo’s around the globe. It’s a particular draw to young Paulistano manga and anime enthusiasts, who are often seen dressed up as cosplay characters almost any day of the week, but especially on weekends.
The streets of Liberdade are filled with vendors and shops selling all varieties of Japanese and Asian goods including food, clothes, bags, shoes, and anime. On weekends, the Liberdade Street Market is an especially good place to find oriental handicrafts, as well as other street market goodies.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More Things to Do in Sao Paulo
Said to host one of the finest art collections in the Southern Hemisphere, Sao Paulo Museum of Art (MASP) is where to go in Brazil if you want to get your fill of Boschs and Bellinis, Van Goghs and Gauguins. There are over 8,000 works in total, and, unusually, the rooms housing the permanent collection are arranged by theme rather than in chronological order.
As you make your way round the large museum, you'll see dozens of Degas sculptures and works by some of Spain’s most famous painters including Picasso and Velazquez. Representing the Latin American front, familiar names donning the walls include Diego Rivera, Candido Portinari, Torres Garcia, and Anita Malfatti.
Built in 1968 and designed by the modernist architect Lina Bo, MASP is a flash of red and grey in the heart of Paulista Avenue — Sao Paulo's main boulevard of gleaming skyscrapers and banking headquarters, and the museum is almost as famous for the iconic concrete and glass building it sits in as it is its art.
MASP is mainly dedicated to international art rather than Brazilian offerings, but there is a permanent collection showing the best of the country's modern artworks, prints, and drawings. Housing a collection of over 40,000 publications in all, the museum is also home to one of Brazil’s largest art libraries. There's also a museum restaurant, Prêt no MAM, just to the left of the museum entrance.
The Atlantic Forest, or Mata Atlantica Biosphere Reserve, covers 14 states and spreads over more than 20,000 acres in Brazil. It’s formed of the remnants of a larger terrestrial ecosystem that once ran down the country's eastern coast, extending 3,000 km from Rio Grande do Norte to the Argentine border and as far inland as Paraguay. Located within the biosphere reserve are the urban parks of Tijuca National Park in Rio de Janeiro and Cantareira State Park in Sao Paulo.
The Atlantic Forest is known for its expanses of tropical rainforest and is home to extraordinary biodiversity and an especially high number of endemic species; roughly half of all the species of plant and animal life in the Atlantic Forest exist only within its boundaries.
At one time, Brazil’s Atlantic Rainforest was twice the size of Texas. But today, nearly 85 percent of this natural habitat has been clear-cut in response to the growing demand for local business, industry and trade. In light of these human impacts, the Atlantic Forest has become an important location for organizations working toward environmental conservation. In particular, there are numerous protected areas in the Atlantic Forest that offer visitors the opportunity for hiking, birding, rafting, and many other forms of environmentally sustainable tourism.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Developed in the late 1970s as an off-price alternative to the sky-high rents along Avenida Paulista, Avenida Berrini (pronounced be-HEE-nee) houses a growing number of shopping and entertainment areas, including American-style malls Shopping Morumbi and Shopping Market Place, as well as the D&D Decoration and Design Center.
Known simply as Embu to most, the town of Embu das Artes, just outside São Paulo, was founded in 1554, and by the 1930s Embu was already making a name for itself as an artists' hub.
Come at the weekends to enjoy the Arts and Handicrafts Market. Launched in the late ‘60s, it's been popular ever since. This open-air fair extends along Embu's cobbled streets in the historic town center, and there are 940 exhibitors all in all, with thousands coming each weekend to pick-up arts and crafts, food and clothes.
On weekdays, it’s worth visiting the Capela São Lázaro chapel, built in 1934 by Embuense community, where you can see the famous picture of St. Lazare by local artist Cássio M’Boy. You can also visit the cultural center Centro Cultural Mestre Assis de Embu, which exhibits local artists and hosts small concerts, plays, and lectures.
The Memorial Sakai museum houses the works of famous terracotta sculptor Tadakiyo Sakai, and the Museu do Índio hosts native Brazilian art and exhibits on indigenous culture, beliefs, and customs. The Nossa Senhora do Rosário Church is also worth visiting.
Located in downtown São Paulo, the Estação Pinacoteca (Pina_Estação) is one of Latin America’s most important museums. It is in an early-20th century brick building, with large, arching windows, located in front of a lovely park. Today, the exposed brick structure has modern walkways that take visitors to different galleries. The permanent collection is mostly Brazilian artists, featuring different styles and mediums, from paintings, to statues, to graphic art. Rotating exhibitions range in theme, from Afro-Brazilian art, to modernism, sculpture and more. The space is also home to shows and concerts.
The buildings hold a lot of history; it was once used by the military dictatorship as the offices of the Political and Social Order Department, which suppressed political and social movements. Many of Brazil’s political activists of the 60s, 70s, and 80s were detained there. There’s a permanent exhibition at the Pinacoteca called the Resistance Memorial, which uses personal testimonies, photographs, preserved jail cells of political prisoners, and other pieces of history to remember this difficult time in Brazilian history.
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