As the largest city in South America and the entire Southern Hemisphere, you’ve probably heard of Sao Paulo. About twice the size of New York City, Sao Paulo’s metropolitan area sprawls further than the eye can see. We didn’t know much about this city before arriving, but it shattered every expectation that we had.
The culinary scene is bustling and extremely international, the city’s infrastructure is incredible, and the people are some of the friendliest that we’ve ever encountered. Did I mention that Sao Paulo has the biggest Japanese community in the world outside of Japan?
If you like Japanese food, love quality art museums, enjoy watching soccer or are interested in visiting one of the largest cities in the world, Sao Paulo is a great place you don’t want to miss!
Our São Paulo Vlog is our most popular YouTube video by far; you’ll be blown away by some of these foods!
The Best Things to Do in Sao Paulo
As the most populous city in Brazil, you’d be right to expect Sao Paulo to have a little bit of everything. The city is massive, historic, high-class, and very international. As a result, Sao Paulo is home to some of the best restaurants, art galleries, streets, and experiences in all of Brazil.
Some people try to say that Sao Paulo is just a giant concrete jungle, but in truth, it is a vibrant metropolis filled with cultural centers, world-class restaurants, stunning public parks, and more. Here are the best things to do in Sao Paulo.
1. Eat Incredible Asian Food in Liberdade
Liberdade is the Asian neighborhood of Sao Paulo. You could kind of think of it as Chinatown, except more Japanese than Chinese and also blended with other Asian cultures, like Korean and Taiwanese. The neighborhood is always worth visiting if you’re a fan of Asian cuisine, but it’s especially great on the weekends.
Many of the local residents and restaurants open up stands on a blocked-off street and sell all kinds of Asian food, including Chinese, Japanese, and sometimes Korean. They serve dumplings, stir-fry, desserts, tempura, bubble tea, and more!
Visiting Liberdade was easily one of the best experiences we had in all of Sao Paulo and we highly recommend making it a priority if you enjoy any kind of Asian food. While you’re there, check out Bubble Kill for some great bubble tea!
2. Go for a Picnic in Ibirapuera Park
Ibirapuera Park, or Parque Ibirapuera in Portuguese, is massive – like Sao Paulo’s version of Central Park in New York City. There are lakes, trails, museums, picnic tables, running tracks, restaurants, and more! The park is free to enter and is open from 5am to midnight every day of the week.
Some of the best museums in Sao Paulo are in or around the park. The food options range from snack foods and acai to full meals! There are also one- and two-seated bikes that you can rent to go for a bike ride around the park. We chose to take a bottle of wine and some sandwiches and have a picnic by the gorgeous lake while watching the swans swim around.
The park is located in a very safe area, and we could’ve spent days here between the museums, food, and natural relaxation that the park offers. Using professional photography equipment is technically illegal here, but they don’t really enforce this rule. If an officer comes up to you and tells you that you need to put your camera away, you can head over to the park authority’s office to get written consent to use your camera.
3. Admire the Graffiti at Beco do Batman
Beco do Batman, or Batman’s Alley in English, is a really cool corner of Sao Paulo worth checking out. It is essentially a street art park with several streets of elaborate graffiti that are filled with cool restaurants and cafes. The artwork is very impressive, and we went back a second time just to take it all in.
If you come in the morning, you’ll experience a relaxed, hipster kind of vibe, while the peak hours in the evening and night tend to get a little bit rowdier! If you’re in the Beco do Batman area and looking for a bite to eat, check out AVO. They have really great farm-to-table options and serve fantastic food.
While hipster vibes may not be for everyone, this area in São Paulo is a place that we absolutely recommend visiting. The sheer amount and quality of graffiti is incredibly unique, and we have never been anywhere like it in the world!
4. Get Lost in World-Class Museums and Art Galleries
If you’re a museum goer, Sao Paulo should absolutely be on your bucket list. If you enjoy art museums, you need to check out the Art Museum of Sao Paulo (MASP), the Pinacoteca, and the Museum of Modern Art (MAM). All of them house some fantastic works of art, but MASP is the most globally famous.
Depending on when you visit, the MASP may house works by Van Gogh, Picasso, and other highly renowned artists. If you’re more into Brazilian culture or history, I’d recommend the following three museums:
5. Walk Down the Avenida Paulista
The Avenida Paulista, or Paulista Avenue in English, is considered to be the main strip of Sao Paulo. It is lined with skyscrapers, great restaurants, shopping, and parks.
While the Praça da Sé may be the geographical center of Sao Paulo, Paulista Avenue is easily the cultural city center of Sao Paulo. It alone is a big part of what makes Sao Paulo one of the most famous Brazilian cities. On top of that, its numerous shops and stores make it one of the best places to see how Sao Paulo gets its reputation as a major cosmopolitan city.
We don’t really have a favorite thing to do here other than wander. There are plenty of great things to come across, and we just recommend walking up and down the almost 2-mile-long strip to find things that interest you. With so many malls, movie theaters, buildings, parks, and vendors, you’re bound to find something that piques your interest!
On the weekends, this area is especially fun and there is even more street food. The Avenida Paulista is also a springboard that will lead you to countless other cool neighborhoods in Sao Paulo.
6. Spend an Evening in Vila Madalena or Along the Rua Augusta
Speaking of cool neighborhoods and areas, there are two other neighborhoods that we highly recommend checking out. Our hotel room was just a 10-minute walk from the Vila Madalena neighborhood, and we stupidly waited until our last day to check it out.
This area is really close to the Beco do Batman, and it is filled with awesome restaurants, stores, cafes, bars, and breweries. It’s a pretty hilly neighborhood and might take the wind out of you, but you can totally reward yourself with an ice-cold brew for your efforts.
The Rua Augusta is a street that runs perpendicular to the Avenida Paulista and is also lined with awesome food and drink options. You find the best things just by walking up and down the street and seeing what sticks out! This street is loaded with great happy hour specials and the best time to visit is around 3:00 in the afternoon.
We very highly recommend checking out Boardwalk Urbanoide on the Rua Augusta. It’s a gourmet food truck park with Asian, Arab, Brazilian, Mexican, and American foods as well as several drink and dessert options. This is one of the coolest places in Sao Paulo!
7. Fill up on Traditional Brazilian foods
This one goes without saying, as Brazilian food is notoriously delicious. While this is true, we definitely had not heard of some of the most famous Brazilian foods before we arrived.
For example, coxinha (co-sheen-ya) really needs to make your bucket list. It’s basically deep-fried shredded chicken that’s battered in a gnocchi-like covering. It’s hard to describe, but it’s a must-try food.
Also make sure to get to a Padaria (bakery) to try pao de queijo and brigadeiro. Pao de queijo is delicious bread made with cheese in the dough and it’s a Brazilian staple. Brigadeiro is a chocolatey dessert that is worth every single calorie.
Do yourself a favor and try them both.
In addition to these, an experience you absolutely cannot miss out on while in Brazil is visiting a churrascaria. A churrascaria is a traditional Brazilian steakhouse, and they are known for serving all-you-can-eat fine cuts of meat. While Fogo de Chao is the chain that has gotten famous around the world, the local spots in Sao Paulo are usually a better bet.
8. Go to a Soccer Match
Brazil = Soccer. Soccer is one of the most culturally important aspects of Brazil, and there are few better places in the world to watch a match than in Brazil. Brazil has several leagues and Sao Paulo has several different teams, making it the perfect place to catch a match.
We didn’t have the chance to go because the stadiums weren’t allowing fans at the moment because of the pandemic, but I’ve heard that a soccer match in Sao Paulo is an absolute must-do if you enjoy sports of any kind. If you get there early, people have told me that Brazilians know how to throw quite the tailgate!
Brazil was the favorite to win it all in the 2022 World Cup. Despite an earlier than anticipated exit, it was clear how much Brazilian soccer fans love their team, as the stadiums in Qatar were filled with green and yellow jerseys!
9. Grab a Mortadella Sandwich at the São Paulo Municipal Market
The Municipal Market is a large indoor mercantile space in the heart of Sao Paulo. Filled with restaurants and food vendors of all types, this space is a fantastic place to grab a bite to eat. The Mortadella sandwiches here are especially famous, and they are too big to even fit in your mouth!
10. Go for a Guided Tour of São Paulo’s Highlights
As such a big city, planning an itinerary for your trip to Sao Paulo can be overwhelming. With so many things to do, it is naturally a difficult job to plan out all that you will do during your time in the city!
While we normally love to explore places on our own, Sao Paulo is a place where hiring a tour guide may make a lot of sense. There is history and significance scattered all throughout the city, and tour guides are a fantastic resource as you explore this great city. From knowing the spots with the best live music to recommending the best restaurants to indulge in some Brazilian cuisine, working with a tour guide for a single day or more is almost always worth the investment.
How to Get to São Paulo
If you’re coming from anywhere other than Brazil, you’ll want to fly directly into Sao Paulo. It’s the biggest city in Brazil, and there really isn’t a better city to fly into. Sao Paulo is a day’s drive from the nearest bordering country and a 4-5 hour drive from Rio de Janeiro, which is the only other city that might offer competitive flight prices.
Flights from the United States to Sao Paulo fluctuate greatly depending on where you’re flying from and when you’re flying, but you can expect to pay anywhere from $500 to well above $1,000 for a round-trip ticket. While that might sound steep, it makes a lot of sense, as this flight is very long.
Atlanta to Sao Paulo takes about 10 hours, which is comparable to the flight from New York to Moscow. New York to Sao Paulo is takes 12 hours, which is the same as New York to Abu Dhabi. Scoring a round trip ticket from New York to Moscow for $500 would be a steal.
If you haven’t read my post on tips for finding cheap flights, I’d recommend checking it out before you book your next flight, regardless of the destination. Trust me, it’s worth it – you can save over half the cost of your flight by taking a few easy steps.
Sao Paulo has two airports, but only one of them is internationally focused, and that is Guarulhos International Airport (GRU). Guarulhos International Airport fairly consistently offers competitive flight options from anywhere in Latin America and North America. If you’re flying from North America, Sao Paulo is probably the cheapest Brazilian city you can fly to.
You may find similar flight prices into Rio de Janeiro, but it’s a long distance from Sao Paulo and doesn’t make much sense unless you also plan on heading to Rio during your trip. If you are considering visiting Rio de Janeiro during your trip to Brazil, we highly recommend doing so.
How to Get Around São Paulo
METRO | UBER
Sao Paulo is easily the most navigable city we’ve visited in Latin America. This is especially noteworthy given the fact that it’s one of the biggest cities in the whole world. Getting around Sao Paulo couldn’t be easier, and there are several different ways to do it.
The best way to get around Sao Paulo is by public transportation. The metro system is immaculate and incredibly accessible. There are 6 lines in the Sao Paulo metro system, and they’ll get you within minutes by foot of wherever you want to go within the megalopolis.
The stops are all named in Portuguese, but the metro narrator announces every stop in both Portuguese and English, and using the system is quite easy. It is also pristinely clean and remarkably safe. We used the metro about 90% of the time we wanted to go anywhere in the city, and it never once let us down.
The Sao Paulo metro also runs from very early to very late – about 5:00am to midnight. As a foreigner, your only ticketing option is to buy individual tickets to use as you go, as the refillable card is only available to locals. Each trip costs less than a dollar, and transfers to other lines are free.
The system simply rocks and is one of the two best systems we have ever used. Panama City’s system is comparable in terms of cleanliness, but the only system we’ve encountered in the whole world that is on the same level of reach, quality, and cleanliness as Sao Paulo is in Shanghai, China.
Your next option is Uber, and you also can’t go wrong here. Uber in Sao Paulo is shockingly cheap, and perfectly safe. We went on several 45-minute, 15-mile rides during our trip that cost around $5 each.
There are always Uber drivers around, and Uber is an awesome option if the metro route isn’t convenient or if your trip is relatively close. A 10-minute trip might only cost you about $2, which is only a few cents more than a metro trip but takes significantly less time and effort. You can’t beat that!
To get from Sao Paulo’s main airport, Guarulhos (GRU) to the city, you can use both the metro and Uber. We’d recommend Uber if you have baggage, as wheeling suitcases through the metro system might not be very fun, and an Uber from the airport to the center of Sao Paulo only costs about $15-20 depending on the time of the day.
The metro is also possible, and if you opt for this route your best bet is to either take the Airport-Express train to Luz metro station or take a bus to either Barra Funda, Republica, or Tatuape metro stations, from which you can connect to the rest of the city. We took an Uber to get from the airport to the city, and then the metro to get back from the city to the airport.
Where to Stay in São Paulo
Sao Paulo, along with the rest of Brazil, has a reputation for danger and violent crime. While that is certainly true in some parts of the city, we didn’t feel in danger once during our visit. To us, it felt perfectly safe, and we only took basic precautions to protect ourselves.
With that being said, it doesn’t hurt to stay in a good neighborhood! We explored the entire city, and we definitely recommend either staying in any of the Jardins neighborhoods, somewhere along or near Avenida Paulista, or Pinhieros.
The Best Time to Visit São Paulo
The best time to visit Sao Paulo is during Brazil’s summer months, which run from December to March. This high season is when the city experiences pleasantly high temperatures, nice weather, and fully open amenities.
While the summer is optimal, the winter months provide comfortable temperatures as well. We visited Sao Paulo in May, and the weather was immaculate. Remember that the Southern Hemisphere’s seasons are opposite of the Northern Hemisphere. Summer in Brazil takes place during winter in the Northern Hemisphere.
Because of its latitude, Sao Paulo is fairly pleasant to visit all year round. The summer months from December to March will provide the warmest temperatures, while the winter months from June to August will be the least crowded.
Is São Paulo Worth Visiting?
Brazil is one of the biggest countries in the world, and Sao Paulo is its biggest city by far. Its size doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a good place to visit, though! With all of the other incredible destinations in Brazil and South America, is Sao Paulo worth visiting?
We would certainly say so.
From the diverse Brazilian, Japanese, Chinese, and Italian cuisine to the broad range of fun activities spread throughout the city, Sao Paulo is absolutely loaded with incredible things to do and see. We would return to Sao Paulo in a heartbeat if we had the opportunity!
Sao Paulo is one of the most well-rounded cities that we have ever visited. We even imagine what it would be like living there some day.
Our Final São Paulo Tips
As I said earlier, Sao Paulo is largely a safe city for tourists. We never once had any kind of problem, nor did we feel endangered in any way. While this might not be the case in certain bad neighborhoods on the fringe of the city, you really have no need to visit them anyway.
That covers everything you need to know before you go to Sao Paulo. If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to drop a comment!