São Paulo overview
São Paulo offers countless things to do for its visitors. From excellent restaurants and botecos to a vibrant music and clubbing scene and more culture and shopping opportunities than you’ll know what to do with, it’s a place like nowhere else.
The biggest city in Brazil (and the biggest city in South America), São Paulo is all about superlatives. The city’s traffic might be the worst and its commuters may have reached critical mass years ago, but the delicious abundance of restaurants, the cultural diversity of the population and the hedonistic intensity of its nightlife remain unsurpassed on the continent.
São Paulo is the engine driving Brazil’s ongoing economic transformation, and the evidence is everywhere – from ramshackle communities of jobseekers to swanky penthouses, new art galleries and plush play spaces. All the conflicting energies of the place can be summed up in one word: exhilarating.
São Paulo museums and attractions
Gritty and bustling, Centro – the old downtown area – mixes 19th-century European architecture with Latin American hustle. Packed with peddlers of kitsch and tat, shopping street Rua 25 de Março remains a tackily entertaining place to experience the city’s street life, though the area can get sketchy at night.
Just south of Centro is Liberdade, São Paulo’s Japantown, rife with kanji and kana signage, Asian cuisine, sundry doodads for sale and a festive atmosphere at the main plaza’s weekly market.
For a splash of cool green in the midst of the urban canyon of Avenida Paulista, Parque Trianon offers precious respite as the last remnant of the original Mata Atlântica, the coastal rainforest that’s been decimated by development.
For the culturally inclined, São Paulo’s splendid Museu Afro Brasil, located in the expansive Parque do Ibirapuera, has on display more than 4,000 impressive paintings, photographs, costumes and exhibitions related to the African strands of history and culture in Brazil and the Americas. And for worshippers of the beautiful game, the Museu do Futebol in the city’s art deco Pacaembu Stadium is a treat.
Unlike in Rio, where the homes of the poorest are always in view, São Paulo’s favelas are less visible to the casual visitor. To get a glimpse, head out into the city’s vast perifería on a tour with São Paulo insider, Flavia Liz Di Paolo. The personal guide, who personalizes a variety of tours for her clientele, will take you to Paraisópolis and into the home of Estevão, whose oddly beautiful house is made of teacups and saucers, fragments of ceramic, old telephones and thousands of other bits and pieces, all embedded into the lattice-work walls.
Museums and attractions details
Parque Trianon (officially Parque Tenente Siqueira Campos) Rua Peixoto Gomide 949. +55 11 3289 2160.
Museu Afro Brasil Parque do Ibirapuera Portão 10. +55 11 3320 8900.
Museu do Futebol Praça Charles Miller 1. +55 11 3663 3848.
Flavia Liz Di Paolo. +55 11 3032 2692.
Art fairs and galleries in São Paulo
On the strength of its two mammoth art fairs – the annual SP Arte, held in April, and the bi-annual São Paulo Bienal, which takes place in Brazil’s spring – São Paulo’s burgeoning art scene continues to add to its already expansive options on tap.
Appreciators of painting and sculpture can get their fill at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP) (no website), a modern glass edifice suspended beneath two giant red upturned U’s. Temporary exhibitions of Brazilian artists share floor space with biggies like Picasso and Gainsborough.
The Pinacoteca do Estado is another striking building and the home to work by Brazil’s most important modernists. Transforming three houses into a gallery, the cutting-edge Galeria Vermelho also has a garden and an impressive facade used for large installations and projections. At the opposite end of the size spectrum, intimate but impressive Choque Cultural dedicates itself to Brazilian urban artists, from graffiti merchants to skateboard designers and printmakers, earnestly and stylishly fostering an appreciation for street-level art.
MASP Avenida Paulista 1578. +55 11 3251 5644.
Pinacoteca do Estado Praça da Luz. +55 11 3324 1000.
Galeria Vermelha Rua Minas Gerais 350. +55 11 3138 1520.
Choque Cultural Rua Medeiros de Albuquerque 250, Vila Madalena. +55 11 3061 2365.
For in-depth and up to date coverage of all that’s going on in Brazil by local experts – from food and drink to arts and entertainment – visit our local edition at Time Out São Paulo.