What to do Sao Paulo - City sights & activities
Although Sao Paulo has been worried more about making its fortune than preserving its past, the
historic city centre of Sao Paulois still a pleasant area to while away an afternoon.
Central Sao Paulo is also conveniently compact to explore on foot.
Especially in recent years, the city has put more effort in restoring the old Sao Paulo edifices that were left in the city centre.
Some landmarks in central Sao Paulo to look out for (Note:
museumsin the area are mentioned later):
Catedral Metropolitana - Sao Paulo
- The Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana) – Praça da Sé
Right in the heart of the Sao Paulo's historic city centre at the palm fringed central square you find this huge religious construction, with space for 8,000 worshippers. The Cathedral of Sao Paulo was consecrated in 1954, but entirely finished only in 2002.
- Church of San Franciso de Assis (Igreja de São Francisco de Assis) – Largo de São Francisco 133
This neighbour west of the cathedral is one of the oldest churches of Sao Paulo. San Francisco church has a lavishly decorated altar.
- The Theater (Teatro Municipal) – Praça Ramos de Azevedo
Since its inauguration in 1911, this majestic baroque building in the city centre has been seeing many big international names of opera and theatre visiting Sao Paulo.
- São Bento Monastery (Mosteiro São Bento) – Largo de São Bento
One of the most important Benedict churches and monasteries of Sao Paulo, although the exterior from 1920 is rather bland. Inside you will find among others lovely stained glass windows.
- Cultural Centre Banco do Brasil (Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil) – Rua Álvares Penteado 112
One of the few other cultural centres throughout Brazil which are sponsored by Banco do Brasil. Here in the city centre of Sao Paulo it offers several outings of contemporary art, like photography, painting, performing arts and film. The cultural centre is accommodated in a former bank building and some exhibitions are actually in the former safes.
'Snake building' Copan, Central Sao Paulo
- Itália Building (Edifício Itália) – Av Ipiranga 344
Honouring and commemorating the immigration of Italians, this is one of the tallest skyscrapers in Sao Paulo, towering 168 meters/ 551 ft above ground level.
It has a decent restaurant with good views and a viewing platform at the 45th floor.
Look down at the ‘snake building’ Copan, a city landmark of Sao Paulo. The Copan building is just another remarkable design by zealous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer.
- Banespa Building (Edifício Banespa) – Rua João Bricola 24
This ‘mini’ Empire State building is shorter than the Italiá building but at the 36st floor it has the best vista in the Sao Paulo city centre. Great views of Sao Paulo in day time, spectacular views after dusk.
Not particularly pretty, but for sure impressive: Avenida Paulista is the economic heart of Sao Paulo.
During two centuries, the city has been dispersed from
Avenida Paulistainto the far corners of the plateau Sao Paulo is sitting on.
Avenida Paulista, a wide avenue of 2.5 km / 1.5 miles of length, is the symbol of power and prosperity not only for Sao Paulo but for entire Brasil.
The majesty of Avenida Paulista is proving the country of Brazil is a sleeping economic giant and rightly deserves its BRIC-status (BRIC: Brazil, Russia, India, China, the predicted economic superpowers of the 21st century).
Avenida Paulista is also the scene of many large protests as well as celebrations and the annually
Gay Pride Sao Paulo, the largest in the world, start also from Avenida Paulista.
GPS: Avenida Paulista - São Paulo - Brasil
Around the start of the 20th century, huge mansions were built by the coffee elite along the most prestigious avenue of Sao Paulo. Today only one mansion left reminds of those glory years of coffee: Casa das Rosas (Av Paulista 37), which now accommodates a cultural centre and also has a lovely rose garden.
Another escape from concrete and steel offers the tiny Parque Trianon, right in front of MASP and the most centrally located green space in Sao Paulo.
Sao Paulo has the largest Japanese community outside Japan. Many of them live in the central neighbourhood of Liberdade, which appears to be a 'Little Tokyo'. Many shops are orientated distinctly oriental and the main road, Rua Galvão Bueno, is decorated by Japanese arches. Naturally, you will also find here the best Japanese eateries and sushi restaurants in Sao Paulo.
At Sundays, there is a lively open-air market at Praça da Liberdade, the heart of this Sao Paulo area. In order to immerse yourself in the Japanese heritage of Sao Paulo, you can either visit the Japanese Immigration museum (Museu da Imigração Japonesa, Rua São Joaquim 381) and/ or the Busshinji Temple (Templo Busshinji, Rua São Joaquim 285).
- MASP – Art Museum of Sao Paulo (Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo) - Av Paulista 1578
MASP Sao Paulo is arguably the best art museum in South America. It has a large collection of European masterpieces by Van Gogh, Titian, Rembrandt, Cézanne, Bosch, Picasso and Velázquez among many others. The 5,000 pieces of art are alternately on display.
- Pinacoteca do Estado – Praça da Luz 2, Jardim da Luz
Important museum in Sao Paulo, housed in a restored neoclassical mansion. The Pinoteca contains a treasure of about 5,000 pieces of Brazilian paintings and sculptures. The collection is marvellously displayed along a timeline so you can study the development of Brazilian artwork. It also has a subsidiary at the other side of the park; Estação Pinacoteca (Largo General Osório 66) has an interesting collection of mainly Brazilian contemporary art.
- Sacred Art Museum (Museu de Arte Sacra) – Av Tiradentes 676
Small but significant museum with stunning exhibits of religious artefacts. The serenity of the building, a former Sao Paulo monastery, is an attraction in itself. On display are among other things religious jewellery, ceremonial vases, altar pieces and sculptures.
- Museum Ipiranga (Museu Paulista do Ipiranga) – Parque da Independência, Ipiranga
Versailles in the tropics, this palace built in 1890 and one of the first monuments commemorating the Brazilian independence. This Sao Paulo museum is about the national history of Brazil. On display are old maps, documents of significance, coins, clothing, furniture and paintings. The lovely garden has got a big touch of Renaissance in its design as well.
- MAC – Contemporary Art Museum (Museu de Arte Contemporânea) – Rua da Reitora 109ª, Cidade Universitária
If you still have not seen enough art in Sao Paulo, you can also check out this university museum with some hidden treasures among the 8,000 pieces. There is obscure work by Matisse, Picasso and Ernst among others.
- Football Museum Sao Paulo (Museu do Futebol) – Praça Charles Miller (Pacaembu Stadium), Pacaembu
Colourful multimedia museum on Brazil’s binding religion: football/ soccer. In 15 halls the history of the national team and the major Brazilian club teams are on display, as well as the biggest stars. Football is also reviewed in a social, historical and cultural context.
Sao Paulo offers the best shopping options of the continent. Sao Paulo is also Latin America’s fashion capital and fashionistas eat their heart out in the many exclusive boutiques, especially in Jardins with its main fashion drag Rua Oscar Freire. Other good areas are Pacaembu and Vila Madalena and in the many shopping malls throughout the Sao Paulo metropolis.
These Sao Paulo malls are North American style: they are large, air-conditioned and very well facilitated. The oldest and most famous one is upscale Shopping Iguatemi.
Less glamorous but huge is Shopping Ibirapuera. Another one, smaller but more centrally located in Sao Paulo, is Shopping Frei Caneca. Currently the fanciest mall of all in Sao Paulo is Shopping Cidade Jardim.
Sao Paulo's shopping temple Daslu
Speaking of fancy: A very interesting destination for shopaholics – and the ones interested in culture shocks – is Daslu. This world-famous over-the-top posh department store in Sao Paulo is attended by a high profile clientele from all over the continent. All major brands are present as well as its popular house brand.
In Sao Paulo, hours of business are usually 8 am until 6 pm for shops in the street. Malls are open from 10 am until 10 pm and in the weekends usually until 8 pm. They are also open on holidays.
Sao Paulo from Ibirapuera Park
- Ibirapuera Park (Parque do Ibirapuera) – Jardins
Ibirapuera Park is the best known city park of Sao Paulo and even Brazil.
The park is a pleasant green escape from Sao Paulo's megapolis décor.
Ibirapuera Park is like Sao Paulo’s very own Central Park, including the many jogging and cycling people and a contemporary art museum (although MAM is not a Guggenheim...).
MAM (Museu de Arte Moderna) has work of Brazilian and international modernists on display and often temporary exhibitions. The Afro-Brazilian Museum (Museu Afro-Brasil) is another museum in the Ibirapuera Park, this one on the fascinating African heritage of Brasil.
- Botanical Gardens (Jardim Botânico) – Av Miguel Estefano 3031, Jabaquara
One of the largest green areas in the metropolitan area of Sao Paulo, about 15 km/ 9 miles southeast from downtown. These Sao Paulo gardens are large enough to accommodate many animals, among them troops of howler monkeys. One garden was designed in honour of the Swedish botanist Linnaeus.
- Burle Marx Park (Parque Burle Marx) – Av Dona Helena Pereira de Morais 200, Vila Andrade
This is a signature park of the most famous Brazilian landscape architect: Roberto Burle Marx. He was also one of the three masterminds who designed Brazil's capital Brasilia (the others Niemeyer and Costa). Burle Marx used painting and sculpting techniques in his landscape designs. Oscar Niemeyer also contributed to this quiet but interesting ‘abstract’ park, 12.5 km/ 8 miles southwest from downtown Sao Paulo.
The next-door neighbour of the Botanical Gardens is the lovely Sao Paulo Zoo, which is the largest zoo in Brazil. It has plenty of different species on display and it has a lush setting.
The main attraction is the Zoo Safari though: driving 4 km/ 2.5 miles through a wilderness park with your own car (or a car of the Sao Paulo Zoo) and having close encounters of the third kind with giraffes, monkeys, zebras and other safari animals...