São Paulo is the cultural and business epicentre of Brazil, and is the largest city in the country. São Paulo is home to the São Paulo Stock Exchange, and is a Metropolitan melting pot, filled with a variety of Japanese, Italian and Arabic communities.
São Paulo is easy to get around, with a metro system that serves the entire city. A single ride will cost you R$4.40 (£0.80 – 2020). The trains are frequent, clean and well air conditioned. Ubers and taxis are also an affordable way to to get around the city.
A great place to start is Ibirapuera Park. Built in 1954, it was built as a metropolitan park and designed like an English landscape garden. It is one of the largest parks in South America.
Monumento às Bandeiras (Monument of the Flags) sits at the front of the park and represents the settlers of the city from the 17th century.
The park has several walking tracks, varying from 1.5km to 6km long, and multiple lakes.
There are water fountains and sculptures all around the park, making it a great walk. Unfortunately for me it was raining quite heavily when I was there, but the park also has several museums and galleries throughout it to avoid that bad weather.
The museum of Afro Brazil was my favourite museum in São Paulo.
A ticket costs R$6.00 (£1.05 – 2020) and the museum holds over 6,000 works of art, showcasing the importance of African people’s contribution to the culture, identity and heritage of the Brazil we known today.
As one of the largest Afro-American museums in the Americas, this museum celebrates the accomplishments of Afro-Brazilians throughout history.
A lot of information isn’t in English, but the visuals alone are still stunning.
In Ibirapuera Park you will also come across Auditório Ibirapuera, a modern style theatre with a unique design that hosts shows and concerts. You cannot go inside unless you have a ticket to a show.
São Paulo Museum of Modern Art – also refereed to as MAM – will cost you R$10.00 (£1.80 – 2020).
Founded in 1948, it contains some outdoor installations that are free to see (located near the main building in Ibirapuera Park) and some rotating exhibitions throughout the year.
It is modelled on the MAM in New York. During my visit there was an exhibition on the Brazilian painter Antonio Bandeira (2020).
The Fundação Bienal de São Paulo hosts large events and exhibitions, and while I was there they had a special Netflix event. At the front is Café Bienal, which serves some delicious options for lunch.
Depending on the time of the year the Oca and the Pavilhão das Culturas Brasileiras also have exhibits, but sadly none were on when I was there.
Each building in this park truly tries to be a work of art itself.
Just outside the park is the Obelisk of São Paulo, which is a monument to the constitutionalist Revolution in 1932, and was finished in 1970. This moment in Brazilian history was also known as the Paulista War and was the last one fought on Brazilian soil. It started when the state of São Paulo rebelled against the Brazilian government after a coup.
Underneath the Obelisk is a Mausoleum dedicated to the memory of students and others who lost their lives in the rebellion against the Military Government.
Paulista Avenue is one of the most important avenues in São Paulo and runs for 2.8km.
It is home to majority of the major financial institutions in São Paulo, and what I found most enjoyable about the Avenue was how its architecture differed from building to building, giving you different modern styles.
Some people even say it reminds them a lot of New York. It is one of the safest parts of São Paulo, as well as being the host for São Paulo pride, which is the largest in the world with roughly four million participants each year.
On Paulista Avenue you will also find the Museum of Art. A floating glass structure built in 1968, it is a symbol of modern Brazilian architecture (I read that online…). Costing R$15.00 (£2.65 – 2020) it contains thousands of post WWII artworks for you to enjoy.
Another iconic art form in São Paulo is its street art. In the Pinheiros suburb you will find multiple streets that have amazing pieces of art on the sides of buildings and fences.
They truly are works of art and not just regular graffiti tags. This suburb has a real bohemian vibe to it, with art stores and cute little bars and cafes.
Beco do Batman (or Batman Alley) is the famous hub for street art. This area has large, fantastic artwork all over it. It is also where you can see the famous painting of Batman and Pele.
This area is also very chilled and has some great spots to relax and have a Caipirinha (the national drink of Brazil).
Normally I’m not one to walk through cemeteries when travelling. However, Araca Cemetery is a huge graveyard that Brazilians visit to see the burial sites of famous Brazilians. I personally knew none of them (or just didn’t understand the map in Portuguese), but the graves themselves are some of the most impressive and extravagant I’ve seen.
In São Paulo I took the time to see two religious landmarks. There are several more, but I found these two the most impressive. I started with the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral, which is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox churches in the world, and has impressive Byzantine architecture that stands out among the other buildings in the city.
The main place of worship is São Paulo Cathedral. Built in the Neo Gothic style in 1967, it sits in the centre of the city.
The interior is in the Renaissance style and is truly beautiful. However, as a word of warning when visiting the Cathedral, this part of town is one of the most dangerous to visit in São Paulo. Unlike the areas in the west and the business area of Paulista Avenue, this area is rougher around the edges. I would recommend being vigilant with your belongings and do not visit at night.
Nearby is the Municipal Theatre, built in 1911, which is in the Renaissance and Baroque styles, and is where locals go to see opera or concerts.
The Municipal Market is packed full of locals buying meats, fruits and vegetables. Weaving between the stalls it is loud and vibrant with people living their day-to-day lives, and has been going since it was built in 1933.
There is a balcony that has cafes and restaurants for you to enjoy. If you do plan on buying food in the market and you don’t look like you are from Brazil, the prices may be higher, so don’t be afraid to haggle!
One final stop in the centre is the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo.
Established in 1905, it is seen as one of the most important art museums in Brazil, containing a wide range of paintings and sculptures. It has some more historic works, and others that are more modernist.
Entry is free on Saturdays and you can also walk around in the gardens. It is easy to find, as it is next to the main train station.
As mentioned earlier, São Paulo has a notable Japanese community – the largest outside of Japan. The Instituto Tomie Ohtake is a cultural centre where you can see Japanese art exhibits.
The building itself has a unique shape, and is a piece of art itself. The exhibition I saw was… unique.
It is a great way to spend an afternoon if you are an art lover, and a perfect place to cool off from the heat outside.
Finally, a few ideas for where to eat during your stay. Normally I don’t consider myself a foodie, but some of the meals I had were delicious.
For Japanese food I would recommend Jōjō Ramen. The staff greet you in Japanese (which I actually understand better than Portuguese as I learnt it at school), and they have some delicious Ramen options. I suggest getting there before 7pm – which is early – as the wait time can be over two hours because it’s that popular!
For Italian I recommend Villa Roma. This cute restaurant’s staff really went all out to help us overcome the language barrier. They also serve pizza desserts, which you should certainly try.
My final recommendation, although at the pricier end, is Spot. This modern restaurant is packed with locals and visitors and serves some great meat options.
São Paulo really did feel like the cultural, business and food capital of Brazil. It is a surprisingly relaxed city, with less to see than Rio but a safer, calmer atmosphere to encourage you to see the cultural sites more slowly.