With its vibrant arts scene, lush urban parks, and creative culinary offerings, there are so many unique things to do in São Paulo, Brazil and the best part is most of them don’t cost a cent.
I have to admit I had some misconceptions about São Paulo before visiting, based on the photos I’d seen of a seemingly never-ending sea of skyscrapers. It’s alarmingly huge, and home to a staggering 21 million people.
But instead of a concrete jungle, I was surprised to find an impressive bike system that winds through the city and plenty of green spaces. The city centre is lined with palm trees, street art livens up the concrete facades, and it’s even home to the largest urban park in the entire world.
Brazil’s largest city is a melting pot of cultures, best seen in neighborhoods like Liberdade and Bela Vista which offer a glimpse into the city’s Japanese and Italian communities, respectively.
The only time I ever felt unsafe was due to Mother Nature’s wrath; locals joke that the weather is so unpredictable here that you need to pack a sunscreen, hat, coat and umbrella with you before leaving the house!
Whether you’re interested in art, architecture, food or simply soaking up the city’s energy, here are the best things to do in São Paulo, Brazil.
Admire the Brazilian street art
Street art has become an integral part of the cultural landscape in São Paulo, giving a voice to marginalized communities and providing a platform for artists to address social and political issues.
Vila Madalena, a bohemian neighborhood known for its art studios, galleries, and cafes, has emerged as one of the hotspots for street art in the city. The area is filled with colourful murals, graffiti, and street installations that reflect the vibrant culture of the city.
One of the most popular spots in Vila Madalena is Beco do Batman (Batman Alley). The lively, bustling laneway is covered with an ever-changing display of street art, with the most famous one being a mural of the caped superhero that was painted back in the ‘80s.
Since then, Beco do Batman has become one of the top attractions in Sao Paulo and also has bars, boutiques and stalls selling clothing and handicrafts.
Book a street art tour of Sao Paulo with Viator:
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Relax in Parque Ibirapuera
With bragging rights as the largest urban park in the world, visiting Parque Ibirapuera is one of the best free things to do in Sao Paulo.
Despite its location in the heart of the city, the sprawling park feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of commuter life thanks to the fountains, lake, pathways and gardens spread throughout its 400 acres.
There’s also a market during the weekend, several museums including the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art (MAM) which houses an impressive collection of Brazilian and international art, and if you’re lucky you just might stumble across a samba practice!
Learn how to samba
Speaking of samba, trying to master these energetic steps (or at least watching a high-spirited performance) is a must-do during any trip to Brazil.
The dance involves complex footwork and hip movements, and is best known for its part in the annual Carnival celebration where dancers and musicians take to the streets in elaborate costumes and colourful floats.
There are several samba schools in Sao Paulo offering classes and workshops for all skill levels, as well as regular performances and events. If you don’t have time to commit to that, then drop into one of the city’s bars or clubs with live music and chances are you’ll soon find yourself surrounded by the infectious energy of samba dancing.
See the sights along Paulista Avenue
Paulista Avenue is one of the top things to see in Sao Paulo, as both the financial and cultural heart of the city.
Originally created at the end of the 19th century and once home to wealthy coffee farmers, it’s since transformed into a busy financial district lined with shopping, entertainment and business headquarters.
Some must-see spots are:
- Parque Trianon, a beautiful forest park with walking trails, lush greenery, and a range of native flora and fauna.
- Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand (MASP), a stunning example of modernist architecture which is home to a vast collection including works by Rembrandt, Botticelli, and Van Gogh, as well as a range of contemporary Brazilian art.
Try to time your visit on a Sunday when the entire road closes to traffic making it easy to explore on foot or bike, and the avenue is lined with local vendors.
Bike around São Paulo
Cycling around São Paulo is one of the best ways to explore the city (and work off that Brazilian barbecue), thanks in part to its nearly 500 kilometre-long system of dedicated bike lanes which makes it one of the most extensive path networks in South America.
A popular route includes riding through Parque do Ibirapuera, then over to the Ciclovia Rio Pinheiros. The 21-kilometer bike path follows the Pinheiros River while passing through several neighborhoods, and has incredible views of the city skyline.
The Ciclovia Paulista is another must-ride path which runs along Avenida Paulista, and is especially busy on Sundays when the road is closed to vehicles.
Some hotels lend out bikes for free to guests; otherwise, rent one through BikeGo or book a guided cycling tour through São Paulo city with Viator:
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Eat traditional Brazilian specialities during a Sao Paulo food tour
Thanks to its mix of diverse cultures, Sao Paulo’s food scene is a mix of traditional Brazilian dishes and international cuisines.
One of the must-try foods in São Paulo is the “pastel”, a fried pastry filled with things like cheese, meat, and vegetables. “Feijoada” is a hearty stew made with black beans and various cuts of meat, and usually served with rice, toasted cassava flour and orange slices.
For those with a sweet tooth, São Paulo has a variety of traditional desserts to try, such as “brigadeiro”, a chocolate truffle made with condensed milk, butter, and cocoa powder, and “pudim de leite”, a creamy caramel flan.
Book a guided food tour with Viator:
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Enjoy the city views
With so many sky-high buildings, it’s no surprise there are plenty of fabulous viewpoints in Sao Paulo. Some of the best places to to take it all in are:
- Sampa Sky: A 42 metre-long glass skywalk is located on the rooftop of the Mirante do Vale building, the tallest building in São Paulo at 51 storeys high. Visitors who aren’t afraid of heights can walk on the glass floor and see the city beneath their feet, as well as enjoy the incredible views of São Paulo’s skyline. There’s also a bar, which is the perfect place to watch the sunset.
- Farol Santander: This historic building used to be a bank, and now has an observation deck on the top floor.
- Edifício Italia Observation Deck: This skyscraper is located in the heart of São Paulo and has a 360-degree observation deck on the top floor. From there, you can see the entire city skyline
- Pico do Jaraguá: This is the highest peak in São Paulo so it’s a bit of a hike to the top, and the effort pays off with breathtaking views of the city and surrounding mountains.
You can also book a helicopter tour for a birds-eye view from above, or a tandem skydive for the ultimate thrill–it’s actually one of the most popular tours in Sao Paulo!
Get your culture fix in Liberdade
One of the most fascinating areas for Sao Paulo sightseeing is in Liberdade, a neighbourhood that’s home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan thanks to the wave of immigrants who settled in the area at the beginning of the 20th century.
One of the most striking features of Liberdade is the architecture, which blends traditional Japanese style with Brazilian elements. The streets are lined with shops selling everything from traditional foods and crafts to the latest Japanese fashion and electronics. The area also has a number of impressive temples, including the iconic São Paulo Japanese Buddhist Temple which is the largest Buddhist temple in Latin America.
Liberdade is also known for its vibrant festivals and events, including the annual Obon Festival which celebrates the spirits of ancestors.
Book a guided walking or food tour of Liberdade to learn more about the area:
Get your kicks at Museo du Futebol
It’s no secret that Brazilians love soccer, so it’s no surprise there’s an entire museum in Sao Paulo that’s dedicated to the ‘beautiful game.’
Located inside the historic Pacaembu Stadium, visitors get an immersive and interactive experience that explores the rich history and culture of Brazilian football through a range of exhibits and memorabilia including jerseys and medals.
There are also interactive exhibits at Museo du Futebol that allow visitors to test their skills on a simulated pitch, and experience the roar of the crowd.
Take a day trip from Sao Paulo
With the Atlantic Rainforest and sun-soaked beaches on its doorstep, it’s easy to escape the concrete jungle and explore a different, more natural side of Brazil.
Some of the best day trips from São Paulo are:
Campos do Jordão
Nicknamed ‘Brazilian Switzerland’, this small town in the Serra da Mantiqueira mountains is known for its charming European-style architecture and scenery, with the top attractions being Amantikir Park, the Horto Florestal state park and the Baden Baden brewery. Visitors can also enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking.
Santos, São Vicente, and Guarujá
These three coastal cities are perfect for sun-seekers: Santos is known for its historic center, the coffee museum, and the largest beachfront garden in the world, São Vicente is the oldest city in Brazil, and Guarujá is a popular beach getaway with more than 20 stretches of sand to choose from.
The Ribeira Valley is the ultimate off-grid escape in Sao Paulo state, with rustic guest houses surrounded by canopies of leafy trees, the staccato of chirping birds, and unpaved roads where a surprise sighting of the normally elusive tapir causes everyone to pull over.
Wander through the Brazilian Atlantic rainforest with a naturalist guide, learning about endemic plants and flowers as you weave through the dense thickets of tropical vegetation. Parque Estadual Cantareira has plenty of waterfalls, and during these hikes there will be an opportunity to jump in and cool off!
Book a day trip with Viator:
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Where to stay in São Paulo
Hotel Unique: This incredible, five-star hotel in Sao Paulo was built to look like a boat, and some of the luxurious, spacious rooms have incredible views out of portholes. The property’s owner is blind, so parts of the interior are dark so that guests can have a similar sensory experience. Amenities include a fabulous rooftop pool, Skye Restaurant & Bar overlooking the skyline of Avenida Paulista, and spa that uses products from French brand Caudalie. Click here to book
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