São Paulo is Brazil in miniature. A complex city with racial, ethnic, cultural, political, economic, and ecological diversity that makes it completely fascinating. However, most tourists skip this huge city of 13 million inhabitants known for being a big urban jungle, kind of ugly, and not really safe. It is a shame because the economic capital of the country has many interesting things to offer, like a vibrant cultural scene, vivid nightlife, and very good restaurants. If you are ready to explore another kind of place, complex, bustling, and mysterious, let me tell you what things to do in São Paulo!
Things to do in São Paulo:
- Visit the city center
- Go to Beco do Batman
- Visit Avenida Paulista on Sunday
- Have Japanese food in Libertade
- Chill in Ibirapuera park
- Walk on Minhocã
- Shop on Rua 25 de Março
- Enjoy the nightlife
Other useful information:
São Paulo in a few words
São Paulo, or Sampa for the locals, is the economic and financial hub of Brazil and the largest city in the Southern Hemisphere. It is also a real melting pot of cultures since the city is home to many European, Asian, African, and Arab descents, which makes the cultural and gastronomy life so interesting.
The city, located in southeastern Brazil, is a huge mix of different neighborhoods, some dangerous and dark, others cute and peaceful. It is also a place with gray and mysterious high-rise buildings, small residential houses, historic architecture, and amazing colorful street artwork. Finally, the city is home to a wide range of cultural institutions, museums, theaters, galleries, and music venues.
Things to do in São Paulo
São Paulo is definitely not the most beautiful city in Brazil, but it has something. Either you like it, or you hate it. I don’t think there are other alternatives. More than a city you admire, it is a city you need to live in.
Visit the city center
The historic center of the city is pretty small. Be sure to visit the Catedral da Sé, a stunning example of neo-Gothic architecture and an important religious landmark in the city. From there, you can easily reach Pátio do Colégio, the place where São Paulo was founded in 1554. After a look at the beautiful inside the Mosteiro de São Bento, it is time to go to the Mercado Municipal and enjoy fresh produce and local delicacies. Don’t try fruits for free. It is usually a scam.
Go to Beco do Batman
If you like street art, you need to visit this pedestrian alley, where all the walls are covered with bright-colored murals. You can also adventure in the rest of the neighborhood to discover more cool street art, visit the trendy shops, and have a café or a drink.
Visit la Avenida Paulista el domingo
Avenida Paulista is the Champs Élysées of Sao Paulo, and it is close to traffic every Sunday. Artistic displays, musical acts, and small vendors line the streets. You can also buy food and drinks and just enjoy the atmosphere. During the rest of the week, you can admire its modern architecture and visit its cultural institutions like the São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP).
Have Japanese food in Libertade
The largest Japanese community outside of Japan is living in São Paulo. If you are like me and are obsessed with Japanese food, you need to go to Libertade. I recommend you to go on Sunday and enjoy the fair in Liberdade with stands selling oriental street food and handicrafts.
Chill in Ibirapuera Park
This large urban park is a popular spot for jogging, picnics, and enjoying the outdoors. It also houses museums like the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art and the amazing and highly recommended, if you speak Portuguese, Afro Brazil Museum.
Walk on Minhocã
If you want to have a nice stroll, and you are a street art lover, Minhocã is definitely the place you should go on weekends. It is an elevated highway totally closed to traffic and the perfect place to chill, exercise, and have a beer while admiring gigantic murals.
Shop on Rua 25 de Março
It is quite an experience to shop on Rua 25 do Março, be prepared for an explosion of color, commerce, shouting vendors, and more. You can absolutely find almost everything you need there. Just be careful, it is not the safest street, and pickpockets are never too far, but it is worth the bustling experience.
Enjoy the nightlife
São Paulo has an amazing nightlife scene: music, art, dance… there are many things to do and enjoy. You will find many bars and clubs in Vila Madalena. The best is to get Paulista friends who could take you to enjoy the best places.
Where not to go!
I love São Paulo, but I have to say it is not a particularly safe city. Actually, I love Brazil, but for me, it is the less safe country I have ever been. However, it should not be a reason not to come and visit. If you respect some basic rules, you should have a very enjoyable stay. And one of the basic rules is to stay away from the following neighborhoods that may have higher crime rates or safety concerns:
- Cracolândia: This area in the city center is known for its drug-related issues and homelessness. Just avoid it!
- Jardim Ângela and Jardim São Luís: These neighborhoods in the southern part of the city have experienced higher crime rates and socioeconomic challenges.
- Brás: It is a very interesting place with bustling markets and commercial activity, but be aware pickpocketing and street crime are present. Don’t come at night or on Sundays!
- Campos Elíseos: This neighborhood has faced urban decay and safety concerns over the years. It is still an appealing area to explore, but be cautious and avoid being there at times.
When planning your visit to São Paulo for the first time, consider staying in well-known and popular neighborhoods, such as Paulista Avenue, Jardins, Vila Madalena, and Moema. These areas tend to have better infrastructures and a higher concentration of attractions, restaurants, and accommodations.
Anyway, in São Paulo, and generally in Brazil, always inform yourself and talk with locals to know where you can move being the safest as possible, and take necessary precautions to ensure an enjoyable experience.
How to move around Sao Paulo?
São Paulo is a huge city to navigate, and you will need to use transportation to visit touristy places, enjoy the nightlife, and have the best food. Fortunately, there are several transportation means you can use.
The metro system is extensive, affordable, and safe. It is also fast and efficient. Just think to plan your route in advance.
The bus network is extensive, and it can take you to places not easily accessible by metro. It can be a bit challenging to navigate, especially if you don’t speak Portuguese, but they are often a good option.
You can use Uber and also 99, which are the best options if you are not comfortable using public transportation or at night. Download the app before arriving.
Walk only in the neighborhoods you know. If you have to go further, check if it is a safe area before starting to walk. When it is dark, prefer using public transportation or Uber.
Tips to move around São Paulo:
- Avoid rush hours because São Paulo’s traffic can be extremely congested.
- Use navigation apps, but don’t use your phone on the street. If you need to check the apps, go inside a shop.
- Stay safe by keeping your belongings secure, and stick to well-lit and populated areas.
- Learn basic Portuguese phrases. Even if many people speak English or Spanish, it is always better to be able to ask for directions in Portuguese.
- Plan ahead and research your destinations, public transportation routes, and opening hours of attractions in advance to make the most of your time in the city.
When to visit São Paulo?
São Paulo has a tropical climate, which means it has relatively mild temperatures year-round, but there are distinct wet and dry seasons to consider. From October to March, it rains a lot, but the temperatures are hot. From April to September, it is the dry season, but it can be pretty cold sometimes.
Is it safe to visit São Paulo?
I love São Paulo, but I wouldn’t say it is a safe city. Anyway, safety can vary based on factors such as neighborhoods, time of day, and personal behavior. In a general way, you have to research the neighborhood you plan to visit and stay in to be sure it is not a dangerous area. Always be careful with your belongings, don’t walk at night, stay aware in crowded areas and talk to locals who can always give you the best recommendations regarding safety.
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Being a digital nomad in São Paulo
São Paulo can be an exciting destination for digital nomads looking to live and work in a dynamic and vibrant urban environment. You will have the opportunity to explore the city diverse neighborhoods, culture, and culinary scene while maintaining your remote work routine.
Some neighborhoods offer a good balance of coworking spaces, cafés with a comfortable atmosphere to work from, safety, and access to amenities. Internet is pretty fast and reliable in all the city. You can also consider having a backup solution, such as a portable hotspot, in case of connectivity issues.
Meeting people as a digital nomad is pretty easy in São Paulo, since Brazilians are friendly. Many of them can speak English or Spanish in the city, but the more Portuguese you know, the easier it will be to make interactions. You can also join local digital nomad or expat groups to amplify your circle.
Travel responsibly in São Paulo
Traveling responsibly is an obligation wherever you go. Many actions can be taken to preserve the planet and protect the local communities. I give you a short list of inspiration:
- Support local businesses by choosing locally-owned accommodations, restaurants and buying souvenirs and crafts directly from artisans and local markets.
- Reduce plastic waste by carrying a reusable water bottle and bringing a reusable shopping bag for your purchases.
- Minimize environmental impact by using responsibly water and energy and selecting public transportation, walking, or biking whenever possible to reduce carbon emissions.
- Learn about local social, environmental, and economic issues to better understand the context of the destination.
- Participate in responsible tourism activities, such as community-based tourism, volunteering, or supporting local conservation efforts.
By practicing responsible travel habits and showing consideration for the local community and environment, you can have a positive impact and leave behind a lasting impression that respects and preserves the city’s unique character.
Remember that São Paulo is a city of contrasts, with a rich blend of cultures, traditions, and lifestyles. Most tourists miss it because of the safety and poverty issues. Don’t let stop you from discovering a unique city.
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