Sao Paulo boasts some of the best museums in Latin America. Here, museums spring from the ground in Ibirapuera Park like fertile flowers, and flourish in Oscar Niemeyer-designed buildings known as the Museu de Arte Contemporânea, the Museu de Arte Moderna, and the Afro Brazil Museum. You can see famous Brazilian painters like Portinari, as well as the genius of Picasso, at the Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo and Pinacoteca, and learn about the art heists both museums experienced in the early 2000s. Explore the history of Portuguese and its interchange with other languages at the Museum of the Portuguese Language, or dive into Brazil’s soccer history at Pacaembu Stadium’s Soccer Museum. View religious art and see miracle pills at the Museum of Sacred Art, watch virtual reality dinosaurs at Catavento Cultural, and explore the audio-visual presentations of pop culture at the MIS. Each museum provides the opportunity to understand the culture of Brazil a little more through its own unique lens. Many are free admission, or at least have a free day once a week.
Toted as the most important art museum in the Southern Hemisphere, the MASP’s permanent collection contains art from throughout the world, and even fell victim to an art heist in 2007. Here you can find paintings by European masters like Van Gough, Monet, and Picasso, as well as the neo-realist canvases of Candido Portinari in the permanent collection. Temporary exhibits revolve around and play with the idea of “histories” like sexuality, feminism, dance, and Afro-Atlantic heritage. Made of glass, the museum hangs suspended over Paulista Avenue by giant red steel beams, and serves as a meeting point for impromptu concerts, fairs, and protests. Open Tuesday to Sunday, it’s free on Tuesdays.
The oldest art museum in the city, Pinacoteca has an 11,000-works-strong collection skewing heavily towards the Brazilian Modernists. Comprised of paintings and sculptures from the 19th century until today, its body of Brazilian art work is considered to be one of the most important in the country. The museum’s building was designed by Pritzker Architecture prize-winner Paulo Mendes da Rocha, and lets in loads of natural light throughout its multiple levels. See its 30 temporary exhibits, and go to the nearby Pina Estação to view the Memorial to the Sao Paulo Resistance, an homage to those who fought against the dictatorship within the very building where its victims were held. Open Wednesday to Monday, it’s free on Saturdays.
The Afro Brazil Museum chronicles the history of the Afro Brazilian population and examines how enslaved people and their descendants have shaped modern Brazilian culture. The museum’s collection of more than 6,000 artifacts ranges from masks and sculptures to Samba recordings and Carnival costumes. The different sections of the museum focus on the history of slavery, Afro-Brazilian religions, memory, art, and more. Located in Ibirapuera Park, the museum can be found inside the airy Manoel da Nóbrega Pavilion, designed by prolific Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. Though all the labels are in Portuguese, the museum provides English-speaking guides. Open Tuesday through Sunday, admission is free.
Mystic seekers, religious devotees, and architectural buffs’ interests merge at the Museum of Sacred Art of Sao Paulo. Located in the Luz Monastery, which Saint Frei Galvão founded in 1775, many patrons come to receive the saint’s miracle pills still made by the Carmelite Nuns. Others come to view the collection of colonial era religious ornaments, shrines, altars, statues, and books on display, especially the 1,600-piece Neapolitan Nativity Scene. The monastery, built in the Portuguese Baroque style, is the only original 18th-century building in Sao Paulo that's been preserved, making it a historical monument in its own right. Open Tuesday through Sunday, it's free on Saturdays.
Dedicated to the study of the linguistics and development of Portuguese, the Museum of the Portuguese Language traces the different accents and dialects of Portuguese throughout the world. Its interactive audio and visual displays also show how other languages have influenced Brazilian Portuguese. See the tree of language to discover Portuguese root words, use the Map of Speakers to hear different dialects throughout Brazil, and read poetry in the “planetarium of words.” The museum was intentionally created in the Luz railway station, for it was here where many European and Asian immigrants were first introduced to Portuguese. Open Tuesday through Sunday.
See virtual reality dinosaurs, view a meteorite collection, and participate in science experiments at the Catavento Museum. Installed in the 100-year-old Palace of Industry, Catavento is a children’s museum and educational space with highly interactive exhibits for young and old alike. The displayed artifacts and experiments touch on natural history, physics, biology, and chemistry. Exhibits fall into one of the museum’s four sections: the universe, life, ingenuity, and society (with ingenuity being the most hands-on). Though labeled only in Portuguese, many of the exhibits can be understood by all. Open Tuesday through Sunday, it’s free on Saturdays.
Originally designed by Oscar Niemeyer and later adapted by Lina Bo Bardi (the architect who designed the MASP), Sao Paulo’s Museum of Modern Art stands as part of the museum trifecta in Ibirapuera Park. Its permanent collection of more than 5,000 works showcases international (though mostly Brazilian) modern and contemporary art from 1945 until now. Every two years, it displays a new edition of the Panorama of Brazilian Art, a mapping of contemporary art productions from each region of Brazil. See paintings and sketches from Anita Malfatti, Joan Miró, and Picasso, or check out the DJ in residence program for, as the museum says, “experimental sound projects.” Eat at the restaurant or sun yourself in its sculpture garden. Open Tuesday through Sunday, it’s free on Saturdays.
Installed in the old transport authority building designed by Oscar Niemeyer, the Contemporary Art Museum holds eight floors of 8,000 works of modern and contemporary art. The collection’s main focus is on Brazilian and Latin American art overall, with pieces by prominent Brazilian artists like Tarsila do Amaral, Candido Portinari, and Anita Malfatti. See sculptures, paintings, photographs, and more from every major art movement from the 20th century until now. Run by Sao Paulo University, it is one of the largest art museums in the country, and maintains another two branches in the university. Go to the outdoor café at the top for panoramic views of Ibirapuera Park and the city’s skyline. Open Tuesday through Sunday, admission is free.
What do David Bowie, Stanley Kubrick, and Marvel Comics have in common? They have all been subjects of audio-visual exhibits at the Museum of Image and Sound (MIS). The MIS showcases modern film, photography, television, and music with temporary exhibits, in addition to displaying works from their 200,000-item permanent collection. Peruse the video lab, see the horror retrospective, watch a play in the auditorium, and groove to tunes at their monthly Green Sunset dance party. Open Tuesday through Sunday, admission is free, though some special exhibits charge a fee.
Brazil has the most successful national soccer team of all time, and within the halls of Pacaembu Stadium, the Soccer Museum recounts the history of the sport in the country via holograms, photos galleries, videos, and lots of memorabilia. Learn about Brazil’s top 25 greatest players, see photos of its historic teams and coaches, and brush up on your knowledge of the rules of the game. Watch historic goals and explore the interactive exhibits to better understand not just soccer, but the culture and history of Brazil itself. Open Tuesday through Sunday, it’s free on Thursdays.