Last Updated on March 9, 2023
São Paulo is a big, vibrant, city with high-rises as far as the eye can see. It may not have Rio’s beaches, but for urban explorers, it’s a dream destination.
Born and raised in São Paulo, my sister-in-law has rave reviews about the city where she still has family and visits often. Its 20-million metropolis may not be for everyone, but for most visitors, one taste of São Paulo leaves them only wanting more.
Even my son and daughter-in-law ,who recently traveled here for business, couldn’t say enough good things about the unique charisma, courteous locals, and dining options. Culture and art dominate the city and for those into a vibrant nightlife, São Paulo is where you’ll find it.
Based on family recommendations, we’re bringing you the best and brightest of the things to do while when you visit São Paulo.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit São Paulo in their spring (September to November). During this shoulder season, the days are long, nights are cool, and the city hosts a variety of week-long events focused on food, art, and entertainment.
Try the Local Cuisine
São Paulo is known for its diverse food scene, with unparalleled influences from all over Brazil and beyond. As well as being the ‘fine dining capital’ of Brazil, the street food in São Paulo is a huge draw. Beside the traditional Brazilian cuisine, visitors can find indigenous, African and European influences and ingredients in the local cuisine.
Don’t miss trying some traditional Brazilian dishes like feijoada, a hearty stew of black beans, beef and pork or pão de queijo, a mouthwatering cheese bread.
Metropolitan Cathedral da Sé
First on our list for things to do in São Paulo is a visit to Sé Square. The Square is the ground zero of the city and the Metropolitan Cathedral of Sé is an attraction that goes beyond religion as it represents a large part of São Paulo’s history.
In addition to the cathedral featuring unique Gothic revival style architecture, it is the largest church in São Paulo and one of the five largest neo-Gothic temples in the world. The cathedral has a capacity for almost eight thousand people, and it is from here that the distance from any point in the city is calculated.
The square is also a popular meeting point and gathering zone for all age groups.
Museu do Futebol
In a country as passionate about soccer as Brazil, host of the 2014 World Cup, it’s amazing that the Museu do Futebol didn’t open until 2010. However, as my sister-in-law proclaims “it was well worth the wait.”
Even for people who aren’t that interested in soccer, the museum is a great opportunity to learn more about Brazilian culture. A special gallery is dedicated to Brazilian soccer heroes, with a tribute to its two biggest legends, Pele and Garrincha.
Several beautiful photo galleries include one that shows the history of soccer from its humble beginnings at the end of the 19th century, with gorgeous old photographs of Brazilian society, and a second showcasing every World Cup, with sports, cultural, and social highlights of each tournament.
Another gallery is dedicated to the rules of the game—with audiovisual booths to watch famous goals and controversial calls.
The museum is housed inside Pacaembu, a classic 1940s stadium still used for matches and concerts.
Pátio do Colégio
This is where São Paulo emerged. Visiting Pátio do Colégio is a unique opportunity to see where it all started. The complex belongs to the Companhia de Jesus, a religious Jesuit order founded in 1540. The Anchieta Museum here preserves the origins of the city through models, maps and panels.
It’s fascinating to see the evolution of São Paulo from a small village to one of the largest metropolises in the world here along with several objects of sacred art from the colonial period. The complex also includes the S. Jose do Anchieta church, the P. Antonio Vieira Library and the Café do Pateo, one of the best places in downtown to enjoy a delicious cup of coffee.
Street Art in Vila Madalena
The neighborhood of Vila Madalena goes at its own pace in comparison to the rest of the city. Hilly, tree-lined streets with fantastical names such as Sunflower Road and Harmony Lane are located where three alleyways meet. It’s no surprise to hear the neighborhood is quite bohemian. But in addition to the cool free-spirited lifestyle, the Vila Madalena is also a cultural stronghold for São Paulo culture.
This is where Beco do Batman is located, a lane with walls completely covered in graffiti that are changed out from time to time. Well-known artists from not only Brazil, but other parts of the world come to make their marks here, however transient they may be.
The name is synonymous with the first graffiti drawing of DC Comics superhero Batman appearing in the 80s. Soon to follow were cubist and psychedelic images and more along its long walls.
São Paulo Museum of Art
A striking low-rise building (also known as the MASP) is a rectangular glass-and-concrete structure set on red stilts holding one of the country’s premier fine-arts collections.
Exhibits change on a rotating visit and include works by Van Gogh, Renoir, Delacroix, Cézanne, Monet, Rembrandt, Picasso, Rafael, Mantegna, Botticelli, Renoir, Cézanne, Modigliani, Toulouse-Lautrec, Matisse, Chagall, and Degas (the MASP features 73 of his sculptures). The baroque sculptor Aleijadinho, expressionist painter Lasar Segall, and expressionist/surrealist painter Cândido Portinari are three of the many Brazilian artists represented.
The huge open area beneath the museum is often used for cultural events and protests, and is the site of a charming Sunday antiques and crafts fair.
São Paulo is home to some of the best shopping in Brazil, with options ranging from high-end designer boutiques to trendy street markets.
Most of the wealthiest people in Brazil live in this city—and the rest of them drop by at least once a year to shop for clothes, shoes, accessories, luxury items, and anything else money can buy. Paulistanos (São Paulo citizens) work hard and they spend a lot, so there’s no escaping the many shopping and eating temptations you’ll find here.
Even if you’re not a shopaholic, don’t miss browsing the trendy stores of the Avenida Paulista, and enjoy people watching.
Explore the City’s Nightlife
If New York is considered ‘the city that never sleeps,’ then Sao Paulo definitely gets the South American vote.
Most Paulistanos won’t even set foot in a club until midnight, and when they do, they’re dressed to the nines. If you’re into the more ‘casual look’ just note that jeans and tennis shoes won’t make it past the door in most clubs.
To catch the big names in Brazilian music, São Paulo is the place to do it. The city gets more of the stars, playing more often, than any other city in Brazil. The city also offers a variety of theater, dance, opera, and classical music. Just do your research and you might be surprised to see one of your favorite artists or the hottest newcomers at the clubs.