Here are the best things to do in Sao Paulo, whether you are visiting Brazil with kids or without. Sao Paulo often gets overlooked in favor of Rio de Janeiro, but it’s definitely worth visiting! You can see a lot in one day in Sao Paulo, though we highly recommend you consider two or even three days to see this diverse city.
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The Best Things to Do in Sao Paulo, Brazil
One of the great things about Sao Paulo is that many of the main attractions are either free or relatively cheap. There are so many wonderful museums in Sao Paulo, that you’ll have to choose which ones to prioritize on your visit.
You can also take a full-day or half-day tour of the city to show you the major landmarks and introduce you to the city. This is a great way to learn some of the history of the city and get the lay of the land- you can always return to the areas that interest you most for further exploration.
Check Details: Half-Day Tour of Sao Paulo
Have more time? This full-day tour covers a huge amount of territory in Sao Paulo!
Check Details: Full-Day Tour of Sao Paulo
Explore Sao Paulo’s Historic Center
Start your first day in the historic center. If you have time, you could devote an entire day to exploring this part of town. However, if you’re trying to fit everything you can into one day, spend the morning here, have lunch in the center, then move on to other neighborhoods or choose one of the many wonderful museums in town.
Sao Paulo Cathedral
Start at the Sao Paulo Cathedral. Located on the Praça de Se, the square around the cathedral is best avoided. We saw a lot of homeless encampments. Don’t let this deter you from the cathedral! There is security at the door, and the inside of the cathedral is stunning, with high arches and beautiful brickwork as well as tall stained-glass windows. No admission charge.
From the Cathedral head down R. Sen. Fajio. One block down, on the corner of R. Quintino Bocaiuva, you’ll find Vintage Coffee. Get yourself a coffee and a typical Brazilian pastry. We recommend the Pastel de Nata, but everything we tried was delicious. The staff there are also very friendly and helpful with our lack of Portuguese vocabulary. Located at 230 R. Quintino Bacaiuva.
Centro Shopping District
From here, head north on R. Quintino Bacaiuva, and you’ll find the pedestrian-only shopping area. Browse around here, making your way towards the Martinelli Building.
This blocky tower is worth a pause- located at R. São Bento 405, this was Brazils first skyscraper. When it opened in 1929, it was the tallest building in Latin America. You can take a tour of this building with great views looking over the city.
Continue along the pedestrian street of R. São Bento 405 and you’ll find several good options for lunch. At the corner of R. Boa Vista, you’ll find Café Girondino. They have an upscale restaurant if you’re looking for a high-quality meal. They also have a café with snacks, drinks, and all the fried savory favorites. R. Boa Vista, 365.
You should also consider Vielle São Bento just up the block for a more casual, but complete meal. Our kids loved the street light décor, and the food was quite good. R. São Bento 514.
Mosteiro de São Bento
As you walk the last block or two of R. São Bento you can’t help but notice the looming edifice of the Monastery of São Bento. With the Metro plaza in the middle of the street, make sure you don’t miss this Monastery! The inside is almost completely covered in paintings, and the stained glass is really stunning. No charge for admission.
From here, you can continue sightseeing in the historic center, or head to Ibirapuera Park or one of São Paulo’s many museums.
Additional Sites in the Historic Centre
If you have time to continue your exploration of the historic center, here are a few more locations to add to your list.
Municipal Theatre of São Paulo
This opera house is considered one of the most important theatres in the country. Inspired by the Paris Opera, it was completed in 1909. This building is one of the landmarks of Sao Paulo and is included on most city tours.
Pateo do Collegio
This plain white building holds enormous significance for the history of Brazil and São Paulo. This is considered to be the place the city was founded. This is the site of the first Jesuit mission that was built in 1554, (originally a hut covered with palm leaves) and thus the beginning of the European settlement in this area.
Museums of São Paulo
Sao Paulo has many world-class museums so pick at least one to check out while you are there!
This science museum is a big hit with kids and parents alike. Located in Parque Dom Pedro II, is has everything from a giant model of the solar system, to exhibits on how the human body works.
Museu do Futebol
The Museu do Futebol is entirely dedicated to the sport of Futebol (Soccer to Americans). Learn all about the history of the sport in Brazil, and globally, as well as how it connects to greater society in South America. A great museum for kids with interactive exhibits. Don’t miss the gift show where you can get custom t-shirts!
Museu Afro Brasil
The Museu Afro Brasil covers the connection between African and the Americas- the largest in the world to tackle this subject. From the history of Brazil, to costumes from Carnival, to samba music, this museum covers the subject from many different angles.
Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo
The Pinoteca is one of the oldest and most important art museums in Brazil. Founded in 1905, it became a state museum in 1911. The museum houses a large collection of Brazilian art, primarily paintings and sculptures.
São Paulo Museum of Modern Art (MAM)
This small art museum is situated in the heart of Parque Ibirapuera. Half of the museum is dedicated to a temporary exhibit, while the other half showcases the permanent collection. The permanent collection focuses on Latin American artists. There is a group of sculptures outside the museum as well. We spent about 45 minutes in this museum, though you could spend more depending on how interested you are in the specific temporary exhibit. There is a lovely café here if you are looking for lunch or a quick snack. Av. Pedro Alvares Cabral.
Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand (MASP)
MASP was privately founded by Assis Chateaubriand in 1947, becoming Brazil’s first modern museum. It’s current building by architect Lina Bo Bardi opened in 1968 and has become an iconic part of the city. You can’t miss this glass structure, which seems to be lifted by large red concrete structures, creating a plaza beneath.
The collection here is world-class- and counts more than 11 thousand pieces. Considered the most important collection of European art in the southern hemisphere, you’ll find many famous names showcased here, including a whopping 73 bronze sculptures by Degas.
Museu de Arts Contemporanea
Known as MAC, the Museu de Arts Comtemporanea is part of the University of Sao Paulo, and located Ibirapuera Park. The collection is extensive- covering the 20 and 21st centuries.
This large park deserves its own section. Not only does it include the Modern Art Museum (see details above), but also other famous structures, playgrounds, and two manmade lakes.
Obelisk of Ibirapuera
As you approach the park you’ll pass a large obelisk with its own park- the Oblelisco e Monumento Mausoléu ao Soldado Constitucionalista de 32. The is a monument to the heroes of the 1932 revolution.
Oca is an eye-catching round building designed to look like indigenous huts by the famous architect Oscar Niemeyer. It hosts rotating exhibits, so check the schedule before you visit. When we were in town they were hosting an exhibit of Tim Burton’s art. We were able to buy tickets on the spot.
Also by Oscar Niemeyer, you can’t miss this auditorium with its grand red entrance protruding into the sky. Check the schedule to see what concerts and exhibits are currently running here.
Head past the entrance to the Auditorio Ibirapuera, and you’ll find an extensive kids’ playground in rainbow colors. The elements of the playground are a bit spread out, but there are swings, a train-like set of tunnels to climb on, as well as a boardwalk with monkey bars running along the length of it.
Here are a few other ideas to add to your list of things to do in Sao Paulo!
Beco do Batman is an area around Rua Gonçalo Afonso and Rua Medeiros de Albuquerque that is know for it’s graffiti. While you’ll find street art throughout Sao Paulo, this stretch is particularly dense and well known.
Stroll Paulista Avenue
Running just under two miles, this avenue is the heart of the city- you’ll find major cultural institutions, such as the Sao Paulo Museum of Art, the center of the financial industry in Brazil, and the mansion known as the Casa das Rosas.
Shop at São Paulo Municipal Market
With 72 stained glass windows, this market is impressive in several ways! You’ll find it chock full of Brazilian food- from fruits and vegetables to beer and cheese. This is a huge tourist destination, tons of people and food move through here each day.
How Many Days Do You Need in Sao Paulo?
We recommend spending 2-3 days in Sao Paulo. We had one full day to see as much as possible and definitely could have spent more time there. The city is very museum heavy, so decide which museums you are interested in, and plan your time from there. You can easily spend one day in the historic center, and one day in Ibirapuera Park.
Where to Stay in Sao Paulo
We recommend staying in the Jardin district- you’ll be close to museums, parks, and restaurants, and a quick uber ride from the historic center.
Recommended Budget Hotel: Central Park Flat Jardins
Central Park Jardin has a lovely lobby, restaurant, and a pool on the 27th floor with amazing views (and a great spot to sit with a laptop).
The rooms themselves are a bit dated but spacious and clean. The wifi is weak, but the beds are comfortable, and the showers are strong and hot.
The best thing about this hotel is the location- within walking distance from world-renowned Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo Assis Chateaubriand (MASP) and Parque Tenente Siqueira Campos.
You can also easily walk down the hill for a great strip of trendy restaurants to choose from.
How to Get Around Sao Paulo
If you are visiting Sao Paulo for just a few days, we recommend using Uber to move around as efficiently as possible. If you are staying longer, you should consider the Sao Paulo metro- it’s extensive, clean, and safe.
Getting from the Airport to Sao Paulo
Sao Paulo is the only airport we’ve seen that thoroughly embraces using Uber. When you exit the terminal, you may see men holding “Uber” signs. I dismissed them as I didn’t want to hire someone that I didn’t book through the app. Turns out they are only there to answer questions, make sure you know how to use the app, and point you to the official Uber pick-up point for that terminal.
We arrived at Terminal two, and after crossing one lane of traffic, saw a large black sign designating Uber pick-ups. Our driver arrived within a few minutes, and we were off to our hotel.
There You Have It
All the best things to do in Sao Paulo with a few days to visit this massive city. We enjoyed our time in Sao Paulo before continuing on to Paraty. Don’t skip this city- it’s worth a visit!