The sprawling city of Sao Paulo is brimming with world-class museums and cultural centers, theatres covering every genre and enough restaurants to eat out at a different place every night for 34 years! And it certainly pays to organise your visit by district as with over 20 million residents this is one of the biggest cities on earth! These are just a few of the amazing things to do in Sao Paulo.
Downtown Sao Paulo, aka Centro
Whilst Rio de Janeiro has the cosmopolitan beachlife, Sao Paulo undoubtedly has the history and heritage side covered. The Centro, aka downtown area, was founded in 1554 and today displays its heritage via its stunning architecture, spanning baroque, colonial and neoclassical styles. In fact many are likened to those found in Paris and even Vienna. Centro is itself split into seven further districts which each has its own characteristics. Bela Vista, aka Bixiga is full of Italian culture; Bom Retiro has colonial heritage aplenty; Consolação; Liberdade is home to the Chinese district; República is undergoing a renovation renaissance; Santa Cecília and Sé is perhaps the most historical district. Centro is also home to the greatest concentration of museums and cultural centers which is no mean feat for a city that has more than 150!
- Get your bearings in the main square of downtown Sao Paulo, Praça da Sé, which is buzzing night and day and is enriched with fountains and culture.
- Jardim da Luz is a gorgeous serene garden, popularised in the early 20th century and a great place to grab a few moments of peace and quiet.
- Catch a magical classical music performance at the Theatro Municipal which is most famous for hosting the Modern Art Week of 1922, which took the city by storm.
- Admire the Edificio Banespa skyscraper which was the tallest in Sao Paulo on its completion in 1947
Historical Buildings and Churches
- Don’t miss the absolutely stunning Catedral da Sé, which boasts no less than 14 towers representing both the renaissance and gothic style.
- Palácio da Justiça de São Paulo has housed the law courts for the last 80 years although it’s a fine example of architecture in its own right in neoclassical and baroque splendour.
- The 1920’s eclectic Palácio das Indústrias served as the city hall for years and is today a fascinating cultural center.
Museums and Cultural Centers
- The Pinacoteca do Estado has a superb permanent collection of paintings and sculptures although the temporary exhibitions are genuinely engaging.
- If you ever fancied learning more about the intricacies of the Portuguese language, then the Museu da Língua Portuguesa is the place to do it!
- With around 4 million titles, the huge Biblioteca Mário de Andrade is the place to look up that obscure reference that's been bugging you for years.
North Sao Paulo
For the biggest and liveliest events and festivals you need to be in the northeast district which comes alive at New Year, Carnival season, in fact any time of year is a party! This district is dominated by the huge Atlantic Parque Estadual da Cantareira.
- Explore the tiny Palacete Baruel castle which dates back to 1879.
- Visit the Sítio Morrinhos, which is half museum and half landmark; dating back to 1702 it tells the story of the Portuguese colonisation of Brazil.
- The Biblioteca Narbal Fontes is a public library although the building itself belonged to a local wealthy family.
- The place to be come São Paulo Carnival Parade time is the vast Parque Anhembi which hosts the biggest parades and expositions in the city.
- Each august the city hosts the International Book Biennial of São Paulo.
- Don’t miss Brazil’s biggest summer music event; Skol Sensation which attracts more than 40,000 partygoers each June.
- Each July the Anime Friends festival is held where manga and anime related matter is bought and sold.
- Enjoy the walking trails within Núcleo da Pedra Grande Park which range from easy to moderate.
- Go mountain biking in the Núcleo Engordador Park which also has a couple of easy and moderate walking trails too.
- Head to the Atlantic Parque Estadual da Cantareira which is the largest urban rainforest on earth – pack your hiking boots for a spot of walking on the marked trails and enjoy a picnic.
West Sao Paulo
The vibrant western district is home to the best nightlife spots in Sao Paulo and is also known for its vast array of restaurants (with more than 12,000 in the city that’s no mean feat), science centers and cultural gems.
- As the business heart of the city, this district is home to the greatest concentration of modern skyscraper buildings including the Brooklin Novo and Vila Olímpia.
- Take in the impressive Palácio dos Bandeirantes which houses the state government. Don’t miss the vast carefully manicured gardens which includes portions of rainforest.
- Check out the Casa do Butantã which dates back to the 18th century – one of the many heritage-themed things to do in Sao Paulo.
- Admire the Santuário de Fátima church in Perdizes district which is dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima who hailed from Portugal.
Museums and Cultural Centers
- To achieve a mega hit of museums all in one go head to Butanta and the University of São Paulo which is home to no less than seven museums including the Contemporary Art Museum, Museum of Police and the Estação Ciência which focusses on science and astronomy subjects.
- Established in 1901, the Instituto Butantan Museum is spread across five wings and covers a multitude of subjects across captivating exhibits.
- Learn about Brail’s unique architecture over the years at the Museu da Casa Brasileira.
- Catch the engaging expositions and cultural events at the Memorial da América Latina.
- Join the other skaters, cyclists and walkers in the Parque Villa-Lobos.
- Explore the Praça do Relógio parkland which features the 6 local eco systems which provides the habitat for 180 different species of plants.
East Sao Paulo
The most culturally diverse area which is home to a superb Oceanarium, vast parks and the Sao Paulo Football Association – which is a great place to catch a football match. If you’re lucky you may catch the Brazil national team playing here!
- Explore the heritage within the Cemitério da Vila Formosa, which is a vast necropolis – the largest within Latin America.
- Explore the handsome Santuário Santa Isabel Rainha Church which is built in Neoclassical-Roman style and features a 90 meter tall tower.
- Visit the Aquário de São Paulo – the biggest Oceanarium in South America and home to over 300 different marine species.
- Don’t miss the quaint Teatro Sílvio Romero.
- Join in with the lively Festa Junina da Portuguesa festival each June/July time.
- Enjoy the largest swimming pool in Latin America at the Parque Anália Franco – one of the most refreshing things to do in Sao Paulo.
- Witness more than 3,000 animals in the Sao Paulo Zoo which also has a special safari trail.
- Explore the history of Brazil and her Independence at the intriguing Museu do Ipiranga.
- Learn about the history of immigration to the country at the Museu de Imigração do Estado.
- Check out the cultural activities on offer at the Casa do Sítio Tatuapé, which is actually one of the oldest houses in Sao Paulo still standing.
South Sao Paulo
The cosmopolitan southern districts of Sao Paulo are home to countless shopping malls, recreational centers and cultural sights. The southern district is dominated by the Parque do Ibirapuera which covers 1.5 million square meters.
- Catedral Metropolitana Ortodoxa is a stunning example of Byzantine architecture.
- Pay your respects at the Obelisco de São Paulo which is a 72 meter high mausoleum contains in memory of those that lost their lives in the 1932 uprising.
- Admire the Catedral de Santo Amaro which dates back to 1907.
- Discover the Borba Gato statue which honours the most famous explorer from the city Manuel de Borba Gato
- If you like to hike, cycle, jog or just hang out then the mighty Parque do Ibirapuera is for you.
- The superb Museu de Arte Moderna has excellent exhibits in addition to screening independent movies.
- Trace the connection between the Africans and Brazil at the Museu Afro-Brasileiro.
- Admire the curious Oca museum which has a curious flying saucer shaped roof.
- Explore the relationship between the Japanese and the Brazilians at the Pavilhão Japonês.
- Check out the Brazilian cinema at the Cinemateca Brasileira which is part museum/part cinema.
Map Credit: Wikitravel