The largest city in South America, Sao Paulo’s cuisine and art is as multinational as its diverse population of 10 million. With the restaurants of the Jardins district serving every food imaginable to diners from around the world, you wouldn’t be out of place going to Sao Paulo just for the dining. But you’d be missing out on world-class museums, diverse and vibrant neighbourhood tours, and crazy-good shopping.
The tourist attractions that have captured the attention of visitors year in and year out are worth putting on your list, but if you have more time to spend in this magnificent city, stroll through some of the lesser-known neighbourhoods to experience the day-to-day of the Paulistanos, and perhaps stumble upon a café, shop or impressive mural that’s not yet been added to the latest tour guide to São Paulo. Art lovers should head to the neighbourhood of Luz for a one-stop museum day. Three important museums can be found here; the Sacred Art Museum, the Portuguese Language Museum and the Pinacoteca do Estado which is one of the most important art museums of the city, home to some incredible Brazilian art. All three give historical and cultural insights into the diversity of Brazilian culture. To see world-known artists such as Picasso, Modigliani and Chagall, visit the Museum de Arte Contemporânea, which is situated just outside the famous Parque de Ibirapuera. You can’t speak about São Paulo without mentioning music and the buzzling nightlife; they go hand in hand and you can expect to dance to everything from traditional salsa and sertanejo to rock ‘n roll and electronica. There is no shortage of places for entertainment at night, with Vila Madalena, Itaim Bibi, Downtown and Barra Funda being some of the most popular neighbourhoods after sunset. Be prepared to experience some close contact with the Brazilians, as the concept of personal space isn’t highly regarded in this part of the world.
Sophisticated or casual, not matter your shopping style, São Paulo offers an array of spots to get souvenirs, gifts, clothing or simply try some of the local fruits and other culinary delicacies. From luxury shopping malls to bohemian markets, there are more than 50 malls and 60 thematic markets in the city, so it’s easy to see why São Paulo is considered the main destination for shopping not only for tourists, but locals too. To find the biggest fashion houses, top brands and upmarket boutiques, head to Rua Oscar Freire. This tree-lined fashion street is worth a detour, even if it’s just for window shopping. The vibrancy of South America, however, comes alive in the local markets – it’s here where family, food and music collide. Mercado Municipal and Mercado Municipal de Pinheiros are recommended for food. For antique and vintage finds, visit Benedito Calixto Square on Saturdays or the Feira de Antiguidades do MASP on Sundays. For small, independent stores and the best Brazilian designers – from clothes and shoes to interior pieces and gifts, head to the bohemian Vila Madalena. If your legs are getting tired from the hills, take a break at one of the many bars and cafes in the area.
Guarulhos airport GRU is the main airport serving the city of São Paulo and getting from there to your accommodation by taxi is the simplest and safest for first-time visitors. For day-time adventures the metro and buses are the easiest ways to explore the city if you’re planning on moving from one neighbourhood to another in one day. If you’ve got a few more days in the city and not pressured for time, you can explore the local neighbourhoods by foot. Centro, Jardins, Vila Madalena and Higienópolis are all walkable and very safe during daylight hours. Watch out for motorcyclists when crossing the streets.
Cheap hotels, budget accommodation and youth hostels are available throughout São Paulo. You can compare prices to find an affordable option in a clean, safe and well-located area of the city, tailored to your preference – whether you’re visiting for a few days or staying longer. The most popular neighbourhoods for tourists visiting the city are Vila Madalena, Itaim Bibi, Pinheiros, Liberdade and Moema to name a few. Cheap accommodation can be found in the quieter months of January and February and when you book online in advance. First-time visitors can stay in Centro to be close to galleries, museums and to get a close-up view of the modern skyscrapers. For budget-friendly options search in Vila Madalena, to be close to the nightlife we recommend Baixo Augusto, while Liberdade are for the hipsters and Moema for families.
You can book cheap flights online to Brazil through most of the mayor airlines; Emirates Airlines, British Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, KLM or Qatar Airways. Cheap flights to São Paulo can be found all year round, but it’s best to book as far in advance as possible to find the most affordable option. South Africans do not require a Visa to enter Brazil for stays of up to 30 days, making this the ideal impromptu destination when cheap flight tickets or deals to Brazil are available.
To escape the buzzling atmosphere of the city, head to the neighbourhood of Moema. It has streets lined with trees, the highest number of restaurants and cafes in the city and it borders the well-known Ibirapuera Park which is an incredible space for sports, hub for culture and a resting place from the heat and traffic of the city. There are plenty of small stands and kiosks in the park that sells on-the-go snacks and drinks, or alternatively pack a picnic basket. Look out for the Auditorium designed by the architect Oscar Niemeyer and museums like the Oca de Ibirapuera which is famous for hosting large exhibitions. For lovers of Japan, and foodies, we recommend a visit to the neighbourhood of Liberdade. It has the largest Japanese colony outside of Japan, and home to the best range of oriental food – from Japanese sushi to Chinese dumplings, Korean BBQ and some of the best sake bars and ramen spots. Go hungry. To get the perfect profile pic from your time in this enigmatic city, head to Beco do Batman (Batman’s Alley) in Vila Madalena to get that perfect Instagram pose in front of one of the iconic graffiti artworks. This open-air gallery has become a tourist hotspot ever since the first graffiti artwork of Batman appeared on the walls during the 80s.