Unmissable Experiences in São Paulo, Brazil

The 11 things to do to experience the best of São Paulo, from historic sites to nightlife at a rooftop bar, one of the city's classic Japanese neighborhoods, local markets, and more

Even in a massive city like São Pauolo (it's the largest in Brazil and the largest in all of the Americas), you can see and experience a lot in two or three days. Plan ahead to make the most of Brazil’s buzzing cultural city and don’t miss these 11 highlights of things to do in São Pauolo:

Daily Mass at São Bento Monastery

Immerse yourself in a sacred experience at this 17th-century Benedictine monastery, with mass performed by Gregorian choir and powerful organ music. It’s very crowded on Sundays, but you can avoid the crowd by heading there another morning; it takes place daily at 10am.

Chill out at Ibirapuera Park

Parque do Ibirapuera, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Join locals and relax in the city’s largest green space, Ibirapuera Park. You can get your cultural kicks here from its numerous museums and landmark buildings, many of which were designed by Oscar Niemeyer, but it’s also an important space for jogging and walking. Around Christmas, look out for the festive lights and fountains.

Museu de Arte Sacra

Baroque and rococo art is in abundance at this magical museum, the greatest of its kind in the country, housed in an 18th-century monastery. On display in the Museu de Arte Sacra (the Sacred Art Museums) are around 4,000 wooden and terracotta masks, liturgical items and jewellery will dazzle, dating from the 17th century to the present day.

Shop at Mercado Municipal

São Paulo may be famous for its designer goodies and the shopping capital of Brazil, but it’s the earthy wares at this famous market that make it a much-loved institution. It’s a belle époque beauty filled with edible treats. Or, to experience the other extreme...

Shop for style on Rua Oscar Freire

...Since its facelift in 2006, this tree-lined street is considered America’s second most luxurious, after New York’s 5th Avenue. All the top designers are here, from Dior to Versace to Bulgari, and some stores have a butler proffering well-heeled shoppers a glass of champagne. It’s also a hub for top-notch Brazilian fashions, best experienced on Saturdays with local fashionistas sashaying down the catwalk-type street to admire the latest, gorgeous window displays.

Feast on Asian cuisine in Liberdade

The first Asian immigrant wave occurred in 1908, and São Paulo is now home to the largest Japanese population outside Japan. It’s concentrated mainly in the neighbourhood of Liberdade, marked by a nine-meter tall red Japanese arch (torii), with a fabulous selection of Asian restaurants and shops.

Celebrate football fever at Museo de Futbal

 Museo do Futbal, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Hosting the 2014 World Cup brought the footballing spotlight firmly back on Brazil, even though they were famously thrashed in the semi-final match against Germany. Attending a football match (soccer, for our U.S. readers) in Sao Paulo is a very special experience, and your goal should be a seat at the 67,000-person-capacity Morumbi stadium to cheer on São Paulo. But even if you can't get a seat at this famed futbol stadium, visit the Museo de Futbal for a taste of Brazilian soccer glory.

Enjoy Hotel Unique’s roof terrace

The city’s impressive night-time skyline is best appreciated with a cocktail in hand, in the trendy rooftop terrace at the Unique Hotel. In the Skye Bar, with wood decked floor and glass walls, you’ll be able to feast your eyes over Ibirapuera Park and the city scenes below. Even if you're not atop this landmark hotel, the facility lives up to its name. Designed by architect Ruy Ohtake, the hotel looks like an artistic interpretation of a boat, with round port-like windows—many provide dramatic city views. 

Stroll down Avenida Paulista

Contemporary tower blocks on Avenida Paulista, Sao Paulo, Brazil

As hard as it is to believe, Avenida Paulista was once a track through virgin rainforest. Now a grand ceremonial boulevard, laid out in 1891, this imposing street is a showcase for the glam side of high-rise São Paulo, with glitzy skyscrapers and upscale shopping malls.

Head to the top of Torre do Banespa

The wealthiest Paulistanos have swish apartments on the top floors of skyscrapers, possibly to get away from the traffic. But anyone can head to the viewing platform at Torre de Banespa (the Altino Arantes building), the top of which is the highest point in the city. It’s an enduring symbol of the city’s 20th-century architecture with a nod to New York’s Empire State Building.

Bar hopping around Vila Madalena

This is where you go and what you do for nightlife in São Paulo. Spend an evening (until the early hours, probably) bar hopping in the Vila Madalena neighborhood, undoubtedly one of the city’s hippest ‘hoods for nightlife. Choose between draft beer at football-loving São Cristovao, late-night jazz at Piratininga and murals of the city at Sabiá—and then wind you way on to many more at this area's bars and nightclubs.

Emma Levine
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