São Paulo: 5 Unmissable Activities For The Best City Break

São Paulo is not an easy city for tourists on the whole. It’s big, it’s full of traffic and it lacks the tourist wow factor of big monuments that tourists can find in Rio de Janeiro or Brasilia. That being said, as a city built for and around locals, São Paulo has some truly unique opportunities for tourists that you wouldn’t find elsewhere, and it succeeded in completely stealing our hearts. Here are our top 5 unmissable things to do…

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1. Visit Iberopuera
Emma is wearing a white top and black shots and standing beneath a jacaranda tree in Iberopuera in São Paulo which has purple flowers
Jacarandas in Iberopuera

Iberopuera is São Paulo’s answer to Central Park and is one of the most beautiful green spaces in the city. Though it does get very busy on weekends (and thus is best visited on a weekday), it’s a beautiful oasis of jacaranda trees, lakes, trees and even wildlife in the middle of a very bustling city. There you can go running, hit up an outdoor gym, go to an open air art gallery, take beautiful pictures with the jacaranda trees (when they’re in bloom in October) or simply stroll around and soak it all in. You can even store your baggage in one of the many lockers in the park if needed (obviously not exactly an attraction, but great if you’re on a stopover!). Don’t forget to get a fresh coconut from one of the local vendors, which is a local favourite within the park!

2. Take A Self-Guided Street Art Tour
A giant wall mural in São Paulo, showing a girl wearing a cap and smiling. Next to her is a rose symbol and underneath an elephant
Street Art in São Paulo

São Paulo is absolutely packed with so much street art that you will not be able to avoid seeing some seriously impressive murals during your time there. In fact as home to such famous artists as Os Gemeos and Kobra, it’s actually a pretty underrated city in this regard! It’s worth carving out time to see it in all its glory, so we would recommend taking a look at guide to the best spots to see graffiti in São Paulo here. If you only have time for one spot, the obvious place to try is Beco de Batman, a cluster of streets filled with some of the most famous street art in the city. An added bonus to this area is that it’s entirely pedestrianised and has a lovely array of local craft stalls set up, where you can easily pass the afternoon souvenir shopping. If you’d rather go somewhere a little more unique, try our favourite, Minhocão, an overpass which is pedestrianised on Sundays and turned into to a huge walking street, packed with gigantic (building-high) wall murals.

3. Eat
A display cabinet full of croissants
Food in São Paulo is incredible

Ordinarily when people put things like ‘eat’ and ‘shop’ in top 5 lists, I get seriously mad (like I’m not going to eat when I go to this place?!), so I am actually quite shocked at myself, but here me out! São Paulo is a foodie city. Honestly, it is the foodiest of foodie cities that we have ever been to! Eating is actually a main attraction and I personally don’t think it should be taken lightly. So, what should you eat? Well, maybe we should write a guide to this too, but for now we’ll give you the brief summary of our recommendations: Japanese food in Liberdade (home to the largest community of Japanese people outside of Japan), pizza (really anywhere, but Bixiga is known as São Paulo’s Little Italy), feijoada on Sundays (which is a traditional meal, so hearty you are guaranteed to need a nap afterwards!). Brunch is also a São Paulo must. Also, vegans never fear, try our guide to our favourite vegan restaurants in São Paulo. Something we also really wish had time to try is this street food walking tour from Guru Walk!

Free museums and art exhibitions
A wall mural of a Mexican lady with dia de los muertos face paint
Art in São Paulo can’t be missed

We mentioned São Paulo is super artistic – what’s really great is the local council seem to have latched onto the fact that people want to see more art, and this interest is regularly encouraged with free museums, exhibits and pop-ups. To find out more, you can try this Ocula Guide to exhibitions happening this year and next (2023/2024) or this one for Art Galleries in general. To us, when we were there, it seemed that there was a gallery or exhibition on every other corner, even with Iberopuera park or just on random roads where we least expected to find them. The most well-known gallery in the city is the Museum of Art São Paulo, which is not to be missed. You do have to buy a ticket (about 60 Reals/£10 GBP at the time of writing), but this can be done easily online – many residents says MASP is the pride of the city, so it’s well worth a visit! If you’re really lucky, you might even be in the city at the same time as SP-Arte, a glorious festival of the arts, which takes place most years between March and April.

Concerts and festivals
Emma and Murray are standing with their friends Roger and Aisha in front of a stage with the words 'Meca (Jardim)' written on it. Emma and Murray are English, Roger and Aisha are Brazilian.
We loved Meca events festivals!

Some cities truly come alive at night – this is absolutely the case with São Paulo. It doesn’t matter what day of the week it is or where you are, we guarantee there will be something happening somewhere. Whether it’s a samba show,a concert or a full on festival, you are bound to find something to tickle your fancy! Look out for our favourite event provider, MECA, who have some awesome pop-up festivals in very creative destinations, such as the Botanical Gardens (which, by the way, are a pretty cool attraction to visit in their own right!). São Paulistas REALLY know how to party, and the atmosphere in most bars in the city would be enough to set you up for Carnival!

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Written by Emma Cartwright, 13 December 2023


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