Planning Your Trip
Things to Do
What to Eat & Drink
On the Brazilian landscape, one city stands above the rest in gastronomy, shopping, nightlife, street art, and museum offerings: Sao Paulo. Here foodies come to try all the flavors of the regions of Brazil, dishes of its diasporas, and experimental projects by Michelin-starred chefs. Over 50 shopping malls, the most famous high fashion street in South America, and 60 specialized shopping streets for everything from electronics to wedding dresses draw enthusiastic buyers to its stores every day. Paulistinos (the city’s residents) party literally until dawn in its baladas (dance bars) and along the Baixo Augusta. During the day, world-famous museums like the Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo opens its doors, while cultural centers like the SESC Pompéia offer free activities for residents and tourists alike. Stroll through the graffiti art of Beco do Batman or see Niemeyer’s massive Modernist building Edifício Copan. Everything can be found here, except a beach, but even those aren't too far away.
Planning Your Trip
- Best Time to Visit: Come to Sao Paulo in the spring (September to November). During this shoulder season, days are long, nights are cool, and the city hosts weeks-long events focused on food, art, and entertainment.
- Language: Portuguese
- Currency: Brazilian real
- Getting Around: The Metro, Sao Paulo’s public transit system, will be the easiest and one of the cheapest ways to travel throughout the city; download the Moovit app for simple navigation in English. Avoid renting a car as traffic can be horrendous—especially for those not familiar with the roads. Instead, take an Uber or taxi, both of which are plentiful.
- Travel Tip: Most businesses accept credit and debit cards. Except for buying tickets to ride the Metro and in certain markets, you won’t need cash unless you prefer using it over your card.
Things to Do
Sao Paulo has bangin’ nightlife, world-class shopping and museums, and live music throughout its streets. See art and learn the history of Brazil, soccer, and the Portuguese language in the city's museums, or cozy up with a good read in one of its many bookstores. Behold the structures of Modernist architects like the massive Edifício Copan and drum-factory-turned-cultural center SESC Pompéia, or walk down Paulista Avenue on a Sunday afternoon when it becomes a giant pedestrian thoroughfare. Sao Paulo has the largest city helicopter fleet in the world, so hire a chopper for an aerial view.
- Wander Mercado Municipal sampling mangosteen, persimmon, dragon fruit, and other exotic produce from its 300 stalls. (Samples are free with no obligation to buy.) Afterwards, climb the stairs to the restaurant portion of the market and order a mortadella sandwich.
- Spend the day at Ibirapuera Park museum hopping between the Afro Brasil Museum, Museum of Modern Art, and Museum of Contemporary Art. Walk along the park paths, rent a bike, or sunbathe with Paulistinos in its extensive green fields. See buildings designed by Oscar Niemeyer, like the Oca, and visit the spaceship-shaped planetarium.
- Visit the Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo (MASP) to see the genius of architect Lina Bo Bardi and art work spanning continents and centuries. Works by Picasso and Candido Portinari hang in glass frames in an open floor plan, removing any barriers from the viewers and the art. Check out what’s
happening in the pavilion beneath the museum, which acts as a meeting point for impromptu concerts, fairs, and protests.
Where to Eat and Drink
Sao Paulo has one of the most famous (and delicious) gastronomy scenes in the world, known for both its fine dining and street food. Regional dishes from all over Brazil, from the moqueca (seafood stew) of the north to the meaty farofa-topped barreado of the south, can be found here. Bite into a warm, crunchy coxinha full of shredded chicken; pop a cheesy, chewy pão de queijo; or try a flakey pastel. Order a mini-feast of feijoada from any neighborhood restaurant on a weekend, and after you’ve slept it off, refresh your pallet with an ice-cold açai bowl. In addition to offering food from all over the world due to its strong immigrant population, the city is also home to A Casa do Porco, an experimental pork restaurant with onsite butcher shop, and D.O.M., which highlights regional ingredients from throughout Brazil using French, Italian, and Indigenous cooking methods.
Paulistinos love a cold, creamy chopp (draft beer), especially on weekend afternoons at botecas (neighborhood bars), which are plentiful in the Vila Madelena neighborhood. For something harder, the national liquor is cachaça, a sweet spirit made from sugarcane juice and the base ingredient in another famous Brazilian beverage: the caipirinha. Most bars will have these drinks, but to check out the microbrewery scene, head to a craft beer bar like Emporio Alto dos Pinheiros, one of the pioneers of the craft beer movement in Brazil.
According to Sao Paulo Turismo S/A, the official tourism and events company of the city of Sao Paulo,
the tap water is drinkable. However, it’s recommended to have filtered water instead. You can easily find mineral water at supermarkets, restaurants, coffee shops, and bars.
Where to Stay
The art-filled Vila Madelena neighborhood offers well-priced Airbnbs and hostels, colorful streets of graffiti murals, third wave coffee shops, local bars, and friendly bohemian artists. Staying along Avenida Paulista in neighborhoods like Bela Vista will give you easy access to the MASP and the city’s best nightlife strip on Baixo Augusta. Centro might be a little rough, but bursts with personality and contains historic sites like Edifício Copan, Mercado Municipal, and Cathedral Sé. Stylish and LGBTQ-friendly Higienópolis is food heaven with swanky hotels and one of the city’s best malls, all only a mile or two from Avenida Paulista. Further out, Brooklin Novo offers luxury hotels and shopping, good for business travelers wanting to relax. Pinheiros has cultural centers with fascinating free activities, art galleries, funky boutiques, and a park great for midday lounging.
Check out our recommendations of the best hotels in Sao Paulo.
Sao Paulo’s main airport is Guarulhos International Airport (GRU), where most international flights will land. Two other airports service the city: Viracopos Airport (VCP) in Campinas for flights in Latin America and Congonhas Airport (CGH) for domestic flights. The Tietê Bus Terminal links Sao Paulo with all major cities in Brazil via clean, comfortable, and cheap long-distance buses.
Culture and Customs
Pickpocketing is a problem in Sao Paulo, especially in crowded, touristy areas. Be aware of your belongings, especially if going to large markets or festivals. While some areas are fine to walk at
night, others are not. Check with your accommodation about the safety of where you are staying, and when in doubt, this issue is easily remedied by calling an Uber. Walking during the day throughout most of the city is safe.
This is not the laid-back beach side Brazil you would find in Rio or Florianopolis. Sao Paulo is the financial center of Brazil and one of the largest cities in the world. Expect a much faster pace of life, and people letting loose at night and on the weekends after long work days. When dining out, service will generally be fast, and the tip is already included.
Money Saving Tips
- If you want quick, cheap food with lots of variety, go to a comida por quilo restaurant. Fill your plate from the buffet, then take it to the cashier to weigh it before you eat. You pay by weight rather than a set price, and it usually ends up costing the equivalent of a few dollars.
- Go to the top of Edifício Copan for free by lining up outside gate F any day at 1:30 p.m. You’ll be let in at 2 p.m. to head to the roof where you can see panoramic views of Sao Paulo.
- Take the Metro or a bus to the airport instead of an Uber or taxi. Give yourself a time cushion in case the transfers take a while.
- The 99 Taxi app is usually a little cheaper than Uber and just as reliable.
- Many of the museums like MASP and Pinoteca have free admission days. Others, like MIS and the Museu Afro Brasil, are fee all the time.
- For free, quality entertainment, go to a centro culturai (cultural center). Sao Paulo contains about 40 cultural centers showcasing exhibitions, theater, art, concerts, debates, and more.
- Check out Mamba Negra free music parties in abandoned buildings throughout the city.
- Visit outside of high season (December to March) for cheaper accommodation.
São Paulo Turismo S/A. "FAQ: What is the language that the people of São Paulo (Paulistanos) speak?"
São Paulo Turismo S/A. "Practical Guide: Currency and Exchange."
São Paulo Turismo S/A. "FAQ: Is Tap Water Drinkable?"