The Areas and Neighborhoods of Central São Paulo

From the historic city center to funky areas for alternative shopping and nightlife, a guide to São Paulo's central city and its neighborhoods

São Paulo is the commercial capital of Brazil and the focus for this continent-sized country’s culture. If you have the time (and the money) and get to know the locals, you won’t be disappointed. Nowhere in Brazil is better for concerts, clubs, theatre, ballet, classical music, restaurants and beautifully designed hotels. And nowhere in Brazil has so much of the country within it. Brazilians from all over the country make São Paulo their home and have left their cultural mark on the city, together with immigrants from the world over, mainly Italy and Japan.

When visiting Sao Paulo, one way to approach your visit to the city is to explore it area, by area. Start with the historic city center, of course, and then branch out into neighborhoods depending on your flavor, whether you're looking for the business district, areas popular for art and galleries, or where to go for nightlife in Sao Paulo. While you're exploring, don't miss these essential experiences and things to do in Sao Pauolo.

The Centro Histórico lies at the heart of the city and a must for a visit. Although most of the historical buildings and former beauty are long gone, its pedestrianized streets are fascinating and gritty, with lively markets and a cluster of interesting sights lost in the concrete and cobbles.

For a birds’ eye view of the city, head to the lookout platform at the top of the Edifício Itália, preferably at dusk. The old commercial district or Triângulo, bounded by Ruas Direita, 15 de Novembro, São Bento and Praça Antônio Prado (and nowadays spreading right to the Praça da República), lies sprawling in front of you in ranks of skyscraper banks, offices, shops and remnant historical buildings. This is one of São Paulo’s three commercial centres.

Viewpoint from Edificio Italia, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Ascend Edificio Italia for sweeping city views at night (©Embratur)

Another lies immediately southwest of Centro Histórico along the city’s grandest street, Avenida Paulista. The Museo de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), the best art gallery in the southern hemisphere, is here. Just to the north of Avenida Paulista is the neighbourhood of Consolação; centred on tawdry Rua Augusta but undergoing a renaissance, it is at the cutting edge of the city’s underground nightlife scene.

Contemporary tower blocks on Avenida Paulista, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Contemporary edge to Avenida Paulista, Sao Paulo's busy hub (©Lauren Fochett/iStock/Thinkstock)

South of Avenida Paulista are the Jardins, São Paulo’s most affluent inner-city neighbourhoods, with elegant little streets hiding Latin America’s best restaurants and designer clothing boutiques, together with swish hotels and serviced apartments (with a handful of budget options nearby). A short taxi ride away, Pinheiros and Vila Madalena offer an equally cool but more alternative shopping and nightlife scene, with lively clubs and a florescence of young designer boutiques and art galleries.

Leafy suburb of Vila Madalena, Sao Paulo, Brazil
See a different side to the city at Vila Madalena (©Embratur)

Next to Jardins, 5 kilometers south of the centre, Parque do Ibirapuera is the inner city’s largest green space, with running tracks, a lake and live concerts. Like Pampulha in Belo Horizonte, the park is a repository of historically important Oscar Niemeyer buildings, many of which are home to interesting museums. The adjoining neighbourhoods of Vila Mariana and Paraíso have a few hotel options and great live music at SESC Vila Mariana.

Parque do Ibirapuera, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Lush Parque do Ibirapuera, with sculptures and museums (©Embratur)

Situated between Ibirapuera and the river, Itaim, Moema and Vila Olímpia are among the nightlife centres of São Paulo with a wealth of street-side bars, ultra-chic designer restaurants and European-style dance clubs. Hotels tend to be expensive as these areas border São Paulo’s third and newest commercial centre, lying on and around Avenida Brigadeiro Faria Lima and Avenida Luís Carlos Berrini, which stretches into the suburb of Brooklin. Many of the better business hotels are in this area.