Home to more than 17 million people, São Paulo is the largest city in South America and is Brazil's bustling economic and financial center. Throughout its history, waves of immigration have brought a mix of cultures and cuisines to the city that is reflected in the restaurants, theaters, opera and dance companies, and nightlife venues around São Paulo. No matter what time of year you visit, you'll find plenty of things to do in the city. However, May is the best time to swing through São Paulo to enjoy a variety of trade shows, symposiums, and events.
Ibirapuera Park is located in central São Paulo and provides visitors with a welcome respite from the bustling city. Spanning nearly 400 acres, this lush park features fountains, bicycle paths, and a number of cultural institutions including the Museu de Arte Moderne (Museum of Modern Art), the Museu Afro Brazil, the site of the Bienal de São Paulo, a Planetarium, and the Pavilhão da Oca that hosts many of the music and theater shows that come to São Paulo.
Located between República do Líbano, Pedro Alvares Cabral, and IV Centenário avenues, Ibirapuera Park is the most visited park in South America with over 14 million visitors a year. Visitors can spend anywhere from two hours to half a day exploring the winding trails, enjoying the lush landscape, or learning at one of the numerous museums.
Thanks to its diverse population of immigrants and Brazilian natives, São Paulo has developed a robust nightlife scene featuring a wide variety of genres and styles. With everything from dance and jazz clubs to disco nights and comedy spots, there is no shortage of great venues to discover on your trip to the city.
One of the most famous clubs in the city for all-night dancing is the Love Story Club. Located in the heart of the city's Republica neighborhood, Love Story Club is open from Monday to Saturday from midnight to 10 a.m. the following day. Crowds typically reach their peak around 3 a.m. and continue dancing long into the morning to a mix of house and dance music.
If you're looking for a more diverse range of music to dance to, though, check out D.EDGE on Auro Soares de Moura Andrade Avenue in Barra Funda for deep house music; Trackers in São Paulo’s historic center for rock, new wave, and indie music; or Casa da Luz in the Luz neighborhood for samba and jazz.
Thanks in part to the rising popularity of São Paulo Fashion Week and an influx of designers setting up shops in the city, São Paulo has become known as one of the primary shopping centers for all of South America, especially Brazil. Offering a wide variety of boutique, designer, and independent shops spread throughout the city, São Paulo is a great place to spend the day shopping.
Rua Oscar Freire is one of the best spots in São Paulo to find stores of any variety, especially near the Hotel Fasano. Locals and visitors alike browse the latest trends at stores like M Officer, Ellus, Zoomp, and Forum. Additionally, the Jardins neighborhood is known for its high-end fashion shops; downtown São Paulo's Rua 25 de Março is popular with market stalls and small shops that carry inexpensive clothing and accessories; and various malls spread throughout the city, including Shopping Morumbi, Shopping Iguatemi, and Shopping Pátio Higienópolis near the city center, are known for their wide selection of high-end and mid-range shops.
Located just 30 minutes from the city enter, Serra da Cantareira is a historic mountain range known for the freshwater stored in natural rock caverns called cântaros that refreshed early travelers to the region. Protected as a Patrimony of Humanity since 1993, Serra da Cantareira is home to Parque Estadual da Cantareira (Cantareira State Park), one of the world's largest urban forests and nature preserves, as well as Pico do Jaragu, the highest point in São Paulo, which offers breathtaking panoramic views of the city and surrounding area. From São Paulo, guests can easily access hiking trails that lead them through the Atlantic rainforest to the top of the mountain range.
Founded in 1957, the Parque Zoológico de São Paulo (São Paulo Zoo) is located on 204 acres of a state reserve of the coastal rainforest directly south of the city in Vila Santo Estefano. Each year, the zoo attracts over 1.5 million visitors, making it one of the most visited in South America. Home to about 2,7000 animals of 366 species, this zoo is the largest in Brazil, and the reptile and bird exhibits are particularly noteworthy for their diversity. Additionally, the zoo plays a key role in conservation efforts for the vast biodiversity of Brazil, which is home to 20 percent of the world's fauna and flora species. Whether you're traveling alone or with your family, a day at the zoo is a great way to see the wildlife of Brazil in its natural habitat.
Known as one of the world capitals of art, São Paulo is a great place to discover local and international artists, especially during the Bienal de São Paulo event. Established in 1951, the Bienal is the second-oldest art such event in the world, attracting millions of visitors to the city every two years (on even-numbered years) for a series of contemporary art exhibitions across the city.
If you're not in town during the Bienal, there are still plenty of other great places to discover the local art scene. The Museum of Art of São Paulo has an extensive collection that also includes works by several European masters, and the Museu de Arte Contemporânea and the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art both display a wide selection of Brazilian and international modern artists. Additionally, many of the streets of the city are lined with huge murals and graffiti art, which you can also see at Galeria Choque Cultural, and there are a number of smaller galleries spread throughout São Paulo to discover as well.
The Municipal Market of São Paulo is a large public market in the Mercado neighborhood in the historic city center that features hundreds of stands vending fruit, vegetable, dairy, and meat products. Commonly referred to as Mercadão, or "big market," this bustling center is one of the most visited sites in the city for tourists. Housed in a historic building, this sprawling indoor marketplace is a great place to shop for local cuisine, and it also features an extensive food court of local restaurants and businesses.
Reopened with new facilities and programs in 2016, the Planetário do Carmo has seating for 274 people with chairs tilted at different angles to give all guests a great view of the dome. Located in Parque do Carmo in eastern São Paulo, the planetarium is part of the Open University of the Environment and Culture of Peace, and routinely puts on shows that illustrate the night sky over Brazil. The planetarium also hosts a variety of lectures and special events throughout the year, so make sure to check the official website before you go to see what's coming to the attraction during your trip.
Known as one of the most important thoroughfares of the city, Avenida Paulista (Paulista Avenue) runs from the Jardins neighborhood through to Bixiga, the neighborhood known for Italian, Black, and northeastern immigrants. Combining the historic decadence of one of the city's original financial hubs with the modern cultural diversity of São Paulo, this stretch of the city is great for historic sightseeing or simply enjoying a coffee at one of the many cafes along the avenue. While you're exploring the area, don't miss the early-20th-century Casa das Rosas (House of the Roses), one of the last remnants of the bygone era of Brazilian coffee barons, or the Feira do Bixiga, a large pedestrian mall that features a flea market every Sunday.
Built between 1903 and 1911, the Municipal Theater was inspired by the famous Palais Garnier that houses the Paris Opéra and has a fully-restored auditorium that hosts a full line-up of shows throughout the year. Featuring everything from operas and plays to symphony orchestral performances and ballets, this famous venue is located just north of the city center and the Catedral Catedral da Sé. However, even if you're not there to see a show, you can take part in a free guided tour of the venue to witness its magnificent architecture, which drew inspiration from Renaissance, Baroque, neoclassical and art nouveau styles.
Located in the middle of the city near the main square of Praça da Sé, the Catholic Catedral da Sé de São Paulo (São Paulo Cathedral) is a massive neo-Gothic cathedral that can hold up to 8,000 people for religious services, making it the largest church in São Paulo. While you're there, marvel at the large stained-glass windows and intricate details carved into the marble interior or attend daily Mass. Additionally, although the cathedral is open daily throughout the year, you can also take part in a guided tour in the afternoon on weekdays and most of the day on Sundays.
Edifício Itália is one of São Paulo's tallest buildings at 46 stories, but the main draw for tourists is its observation deck, which provides panoramic views of the city. The building is also home to a rooftop restaurant, Terraço Italia, and an accompanying piano bar, where guests can order a meal or drinks and take in the view. Located in the city center, Edifício Itália is about a mile northeast of the Catedral da Sé, and the observation deck is open for free from 4 to 5 p.m. daily. You can also check it out from 3 to 7 p.m. on weekdays for a small fee; confirm details online before heading out.
Located in Fontes do Ipiranga State Park in the southern Vila Água Funda district of the city, The Botanical Garden of São Paulo is an expansive site that's home to the state's Botanical Institute. Established in 1938, this 405-acre garden is a great place to unwind in lush nature after a trip to the zoo, which is located next door. The Botanical Garden also hosts a variety of special events and educational programs throughout the year, so make sure to check the official website before your trip to see what's happening.
Known as São Paulo's Japantown, Liberdade is a small district near the center of the city, just north of Parque da Aclimação, that's home to the world's largest ethnic Japanese community outside of Japan. Featuring streets lined with lanterns, sushi restaurants, and a variety of Japanese shops as well as several Japanese gardens and cultural institutions, Liberdade is a great place to sample authentic cuisine and experience the rich Asian culture and heritage of the city. Liberdade is also home to large Chinese and Korean populations, meaning you'll also find a variety of restaurants and shops dedicated to arts, crafts, and cuisines from all over Asia.
Learn History at the Instituto Butantan
Located in the western Butantã district of São Paulo, the Instituto Butantan (Butantan Institute) is a research center affiliated with the city's State Secretariat of Health that is considered one of the biggest of its kind in the world. Home to a serpentarium (snake home) as well as history, biology, and microbiology museums, the Butantan Institute provides hours of educational amusement and discovery. It is also world-famous for its collection of venomous snakes, lizards, spiders, insects, and scorpions as well as for being the largest immunobiological and biopharmaceutical producer in Latin America.