São Paulo Travel Guide

Brazil  
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Courtesy of (c) Conrado Tramontini/Getty Images

Best Things To Do in São Paulo

São Paulo has no shortage of amazing cultural sites, city vistas and green outdoor spaces. Art lovers may find themselves pulled in many different directions (there are multiple art museums throughout the city); culture hounds should definitely plan to stop in the Museu de Arte de São PauloPinacoteca do Estado and Museu Afro Brasil to get a true feel for Brazil's art scene. Walking will likely be a big part of anyone's visit to Sampa (São Paulo's nickname) and visitors should take a leisurely stroll along Avenida Paulista, browse the goods and food at Mercado Municipal and enjoy Ibirapuera Park's walking paths. Don't forget to save some time to marvel at the city from a bird's-eye view (at Edifício Italia) and to immerse yourself in Brazil's favorite pastime at the Museu do Futebol.

How we rank Things to Do

Updated September 5, 2018

  • #1
    Things to do in São Paulo
    View all Photos
    #1 in São Paulo
    Parks and Gardens, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Parks and Gardens, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    If you get tired of the concrete jungle, make your way to the Parque do Ibirapuera, which offers a spacious, green respite from São Paulo's towering skyscrapers. The land was selected to be a public park in the 1950s to celebrate the city's 400th anniversary and spans around 400 acres; many people liken it to New York's Central Park and London's Hyde Park because of its size and the amount of visitors it sees. Walking and biking paths snake through the lawns, and you can rent a bicycle from a number of vendors nearby. Music fills the air on Sunday mornings, when visitors can enjoy free concerts in the park's Praça da Paz. Many cultural institutions can be found in the park as well, including the Museu Afro Brasil, Museu de Arte Contemporânea and Museu de Arte Moderna.

    Travelers frequently describe Ibirapuera Park as an "oasis" and say it is a relaxing place to spend the day walking through the park, utilizing the running trails or going for a bike ride. Some warn it can get particularly crowded on weekends and when it's sunny.

  • #2
    Pinacoteca do Estado
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    #2 in São Paulo
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    This art museum is the oldest in São Paulo and houses an extensive collection of Brazilian art from the 19th century through today. Established in 1905, Pinacoteca do Estado (the Art Gallery of the State of São Paulo) showcases nearly 10,000 pieces of art ranging from paintings and sketches to the on-site sculpture garden (adjacent to Jardim da Luz). Made up of apricot-tinted bricks, the historic building is a picturesque work of art in its own right.

    Locals and visitors alike love this museum, noting the facility offers an impressive roster of permanent exhibits and the rotating exhibits are always diverse and interesting. They also say it's worth taking time to admire the building's architecture. Many called it the best museum in the city. A few travelers suggest stopping by the on-site cafe, which overlooks the garden, to enjoy a cappuccino, snack or lunch.

  • #3
    Theatro Municipal de São Paulo
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    #3 in São Paulo
    Entertainment and Nightlife, Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Entertainment and Nightlife, Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Modeled after the elegant Palais Garnier in Paris, São Paulo's Theatro Municipal is a work of art. This grand theater was built between 1903 and 1911, and the design of its detailed facade incorporates Renaissance, Baroque, neoclassical and art nouveau styles. Inside, visitors are greeted with gilded balconies and rich red seats and curtains. The theater is a cultural icon, thought to have sparked the city's vivid interest in the arts (and specifically modern art) after it hosted the Week of Modern Art in 1922. Today, the Theatro Municipal hosts a variety of performances, including operas, plays, symphony orchestras and ballets. If you're unable to make a performance, free guided tours of the venue (in English) are also available.

    Recent visitors raved about the building's beautiful architecture, with many recommending you try to get tickets to a show or go on the guided tour to see the theater's interior. Some do warn that the area surrounding the venue is a bit dicey, with homeless people sleeping on the street.

  • #4
    Mercado Municipal de São Paulo
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    #4 in São Paulo
    Shopping, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Shopping, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Most major cities have impressive markets filled with fresh produce, meats and fish, unique crafts and local treats. In São Paulo, that vibrant, aromatic market is the Mercado Municipal, known simply as Mercadão by locals (the "big market"). Originally the city's very first grocery market, Mercadão first opened in 1933 and hosts around 300 stalls selling everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to spices, cheeses and sweets to meat and seafood. More than 1,500 people work at this market and handle more than 450 tons of food on a daily basis. The building is also decorated with stunning stained-glass windows (72 windows that make up 32 panels) that depict different aspects of food production in the region.

    Visitors and locals alike say you must stop by this market when you're in São Paulo. They suggest taking advantage of the free samples available (vendors generously hand them out) and shopping around for the best price. Travelers warn that the market gets exceptionally busy on the weekends, so come prepared for long lines; even better, try to visit on a weekday. A handful of restaurants and bars operate inside the Mercadão as well – visitors say you should try the famous massive (and tasty) mortadella sandwiches at Bar do Mané or Hocca Bar.

  • #5
    Catedral da Sé de São Paulo (São Paulo Cathedral)
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    #5 in São Paulo
    Churches/Religious Sites, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Churches/Religious Sites, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    This neo-Gothic cathedral may catch your eye with its enormous spires and you'll hear it referred to by many (similar) names, including Catedral da Sé, Catedral Metropolitana and Catedral da Sé de São Paulo. The church is smack dab in the center of the city, near the main square of Praça da Sé. Inside, the venue can hold up to 8,000 people, which means it's the largest church in the city, and visitors can enjoy the intricate details that represent Brazil – from coffee beans to flora to animals – carved into the structure. The church also boasts a beautiful marble interior and colorful stained-glass windows (be sure to snap some photos). As the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of São Paulo's cathedral, it holds Mass daily; visitors can also tour the tombs within the church (for a fee).

    Recent travelers said they enjoyed their visit to this cathedral, which garnered superlatives like "beautiful," "lovely" and "impressive" from patrons. Many said you should plan to visit on a Sunday morning for Mass, as it's an incredible celebration. Several visitors warn, however, that the area surrounding the cathedral is a little dicey, noting you'll likely encounter homeless people and aggressive panhandlers; keep your eyes on your belongings and walk with purpose toward the cathedral.

  • #6
    Museu de Arte de São Paulo
    View all Photos
    #6 in São Paulo
    Museums, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Set on Avenida Paulista in a bold red building with dozens of long, rectangular windows, the Museu de Arte de São Paulo is impossible to miss. The museum houses exceptional collections from many world-renowned artists, including Vincent van Gogh, Rembrandt, Picasso, Renoir and Degas, and is touted as offering the most comprehensive collection of Western art in Latin America. MASP has more than 10,000 pieces of art ranging from paintings and sculptures to photographs and period clothing. The museum also hosts talks, temporary exhibits, art classes and music and dance performances.

    The majority of visitors said that while this art museum can't compare to MOMA or the Louvre, it is impressive in its own right, thanks to its variety of thought-provoking pieces. Travelers loved the mix of works from well-known and Brazilian artists. Museumgoers also advised visiting on Tuesdays or Wednesday, when it's free to enter.

  • #7
    Avenida Paulista
    View all Photos
    #7 in São Paulo
    Shopping, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Shopping, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Filled with shops, hotels, businesses, cultural institutions and restaurants, Avenida Paulista is one of the city's main thoroughfares. Towering skyscrapers populate this street – many of which boast some interesting architecture. Strolling down this avenue is a great way to take in the sights and sounds of São Paulo, and it makes for a convenient jumping off point to see some of the city's other top sights, including the Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Shopping Cidade São Paulo and Parque Trianon.

    Past travelers said walking this wide avenue allows you to get a feel for what life is like in the city. Many suggested planning your visit for a Sunday, when the street is closed to vehicular traffic and features vendors, live music and plenty of people-watching. Recent visitors also said you should spend some time in the adjacent Parque Trianon, which offers walking paths and impressed travelers with its density of trees and foliage in the city center.

  • #8
    Edifício Itália
    View all Photos
    #8 in São Paulo
    Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Towering 46 stories above central São Paulo, Edifício Itália is one of the tallest buildings in the city. The building itself is a sight to behold – it's narrow and covered with office windows. But the real reason travelers come here is for the spectacular panoramic city views afforded by Edifício Itália's observation deck. You can access the rooftop deck for free between 4 and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. If you'd rather spend some time savoring the view, you may want to visit the rooftop restaurant Terraço Italia, or its piano bar. Past visitors suggested ordering cocktails and drinking in the views (and beverages); many warned the food was subpar and on the pricey side.

    You'll find Edifício Itália in the city center, about a mile northeast of the Catedral da Sé. The nearest metro stop is República. If your visit occurs outside the daily free hour, you'll have to pay an entrance fee. The fee, which will run you 35 reals (approximately $8.50), includes one drink. (You can get a table at the restaurant and order drinks or food without having to pay an additional fee. Visitors suggest donning nice clothes if you're planning to eat or drink here.) Check out the building's website for more information.

  • #9
    Museu do Futebol (Football Museum)
    View all Photos
    #9 in São Paulo
    Museums, Sports, Tours
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Sports, Tours
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Opened in 2008, the Football Museum celebrates the history of football (soccer) throughout Brazil. The museum is composed of several rooms that showcase different aspects of the game, including framed objects like pennants, buttons and posters; photographs of "heroes" of the game and videos of impressive goals in big games and World Cup competitions, among other highlights.

    Avid soccer fans said it's a must-see when in São Paulo and even those who didn't know too much about the game said visiting this museum helped them gain a greater understanding and appreciation of Brazil's love of the sport. Visitors also noted the museum was well organized and said they liked the interactive nature of the exhibits, though some cautioned that some of the information is not in English. Families added this is a museum that kids absolutely enjoy.

  • #10
    Museu Afro Brasil
    View all Photos
    #10 in São Paulo
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    This museum gets mixed reviews from visitors. Some say only Portuguese-speakers will be able to get much out of it (few displays are in English). Others say the art speaks for itself – providing an in-depth look into Afro Brazilian culture – and the collection is large. Visitors note there is a free self-guided audio tour app (in English) that offers insight, so bring headphones.

    The Museu Afro Brasil features more than 6,000 works of art that highlight "the African perspective in the formation of heritage, identity and Brazilian culture," according to its website. Sculptures, prints, documents, paintings and more are on display within the museum. The third-floor collection specifically showcases several centuries of African immigration to South America.

  • Museu de Arte Contemporanea da USP (Museum of Contemporary Art, University of São Paulo)
    View all Photos
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Read More »

  • Jardim Botanico de Sao Paulo (Botanical Garden of São Paulo)
    View all Photos
    Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Read More »

  • Liberdade
    View all Photos
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Read More »

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