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  • Writer's pictureDave Jackson

São Paulo travel blog | Is São Paulo better than Rio?

Updated: Jun 9, 2023

The massive sprawling metropolis of São Paulo is often overlooked by travellers opting to go to it’s coastal rival, Rio de Janeiro, which has some beautiful beaches. Having been to both, whilst Rio is fab, we think São Paulo has loads to offer & should definitely be on your itinerary.


São Paulo Skyline from the Museu do Futebol
São Paulo Skyline from the Museu do Futebol

 

Table of contents


 

1 - Things to do in São Paulo


1.1 - Museo do Futebol (football museum)


The Museo do Futebol is based at the Pacaembu Stadium and is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 5pm, apart from on match days. Although a lot of the museum isn’t in English, it has free WIFI so we had some great fun seeing how Google photo translate converted it to English. The majority of the museum is historic pictures & memorabilia, ending with your chance to shoot a penalty into the virtual net. A great way to spend a few hours!

Musoe do Futebol, Sao Paulo, Brazil - things to do
Musoe do Futebol, Sao Paulo, Brazil - things to do

1.2 - Municipal Market


A busy food market famed for the Mortadella Sandwich & exotic fruit stalls. Although there are places to buy fresh meat & spices the main draw for a tourist is the opportunity to try fresh Amazonian fruits, that are perhaps not available in your home country. All of the store holders are very keen to offer free samples to win over your business! Don’t miss trying the scrumptious Mortadella Sandwich. Be warned though, not many people will be able to finish one all to themselves (we shared 😋).

Mortadella at São Paulo municipal market
Mortadella at São Paulo municipal market

1.3 - Walking tours


We took two of the walking tours in São Paulo with “Free Walking Tours São Paulo”, they actually offer four covering different parts of the city. We did the Downtown & Avenida Paulista tours.


The Old Downtown tour is a great way to learn about the history of the city & it’s transformation from a small town to the buzzing metropolis it is today. Downtown a dodgy area of the city, so joining the tour allows you to explore it safely.



The Avenida Paulista tour focuses on the wealthy of São Paulo, visiting the sites of the five remaining historic residential buildings of the street, most of which have been taken down to make way for the new financial heart of the city which Avenida Paulista is today.

The other two tours are the Ibirapuera park & tour of the street art in Vila Madelana


1.4 - Avenida Paulista


As mentioned above, Avenida Paulista is the financial heart of São Paulo. It’s lined with skyscrapers & shopping malls & many museums. The reason for so many museums is that there was a law passed early on in the transformation of the street allowing planning permission to pull down residential buildings & build high rise buildings in their place, only if the building showcases some cultural heritage. The most famed of which is the Musuem of art of São Paulo (MASP).


1.5 - Street art of Batman Alley


Vila Madelana has many nooks & crannies filled with fabulous works of São Paulo’s street art. The crown jewel of which is the famed Batman Alley.



1.6 - Liberdade (Japanese district)


São Paulo is home to the biggest population of Japanese people outside of Japan. When we visited the Japanese district we were met with numerous electronic shops/stalls along with many Japanese/Asian restaurants. We ate in Kisetsu & enjoyed some great sushi & a stir fry. Well worth a visit to this area if you are craving some Asian delights!


1.7 - Bixiga (Italian district)


Along with the largest Japanese population, São Paulo is also home to the largest community of Italians outside of Italy. We actually got a little lost when visiting this area & ended up wandering though streets lined with mechanics & hardware stores, clearly we had jumped off the bus in the wrong place! Thankfully a lovely local woman pointed us in the right direction. The main streets to visit in little Italy are R. Conselheir Carrão & R. Trezedemaio which are filled with great spots for pizza & pasta. We had a nice meal at Cantina Mamma Celeste which is a great place for pasta. Outside of little Italy in neighbouring Vila Madelana we also had some great pizza at Mooca, it seems the Italian influence has spilled beyond the borders of little Italy & this is also a great spot for an authentic Italian pizza (although the wait was a little long). But as they say, “good things come to those who wait!” 🍕😋

Pesto pasta at t Cantina Mamma Celeste
Pesto pasta at t Cantina Mamma Celeste

1.8 - Ibirapuera Park


When we visited, like much our trip to Brazil, we were met with rain! However, regardless we hired bikes at one of the entrances for R$10 for an hour. It’s a great way to see the large park as we managed to ride around the circumference twice on the well laid out bike paths. The park is well lit at even at night is known to be safe. You will see many locals going for a run or doing some other form of exercise. If you end up having better weather than us it would be a great spot for a picnic, offering a bit of reprieve from the high-rise buildings & motorised transport it is surrounded by.

Becca extremely happy with her bike in Ibirapuera Park
Becca extremely happy with her bike

1.9 - Museums


Although we didn’t have chance to visit any of the other museums other than the football museums, having spoken to other travellers the Museo Afro Brasil (African heritage museum) & MASP on Avenida Paulista have both come with great recommendations


2 - Where to stay in São Paulo


Because we loved São Paulo so much, we ended up extending our visit to 5 days rather than the initial 3 we had set aside. Due to this extension, we ended up having to move hostel, so we have two we can recommend. We decided to base ourselves in the Pinheiros/Vila Madalena area, which is full of quirky bars, many restaurant & lively nightlife. Both the below options are in that area and we felt very safe walking round the streets here day & night.



Very sociable hostel, great to meet fellow travellers & the staff work hard to make you welcome. Don’t be put off by it being a party hostel, it’s clean & although the bar is lively it’s completely optional if you join in or not & it closes at 11pm. The only real drawback to mention is that there is only a very small, not particularly well-equipped kitchen.



Just around the corner from O de Casa, this hostel had the complete opposite vibe. Rather than being offered free shots at 7:30pm we were offered to take part in a free yoga session (sadly we couldn’t make as we were out & about). Although it had a big nice common area & much more user-friendly kitchen, there didn’t seem to be many people staying whilst we were there.

We had a private room in both hostels which were both good. Staff in both hostels very welcoming & spoke good English.


3 - Places to eat & drink in São Paulo


São Paulo is known to be home to some of the best nightlife in South America. The Vila Madelena area is great for wine bars, cocktail bars & up market clubs.


A couple of places in Vila Madelena we can recommend are Trinca which is an amazing, but slightly pricey, cocktail bar specialising in Vermouths & Salve Jorge which is a lively bar serving food with live music most nights.


Cocktails at Trinca
Cocktails at Trinca

As mentioned above we ate some fab Japanese food at Kisetsu & ate some amazing Italian meals at Cantina Mamma Celeste & Mooca.


If you fancy splashing out, we went to a great Churrascaria (for more info of what a Churrascaria is, see our Brazilian food & drink article) in São Paulo Fogo de Chão, sorry not ideal if you are not a meat eater!!


Dave at Fogo de Chão
Dave at Fogo de Chão

4 - Where to get good coffee in São Paulo


If you are needing a bit of a caffeine fix Coffee Lab serves the best coffee we had in Brazil. Unfortunately although Brazil produces some of the best coffee in the world it exports most of the best beans, this place however has sourced some great beans & roasts their own coffee right in the cafe so the place smells amazing!


Coffee from Coffee Lab
Coffee from Coffee Lab

5 - Travelling around São Paulo


The Metro & bus network of São Paulo is great & very safe. They have a set price of R$4.40 which will allow you to get to most places within the city, including the airport! As always when travelling in Brazil take care to watch your belongings in crowded places in particular. (See Tips for safe travel in Brazil for some tips for safe travel)


6 - How to get there & where to go from São Paulo


São Paulo has a well-connected international airport so you may well be flying in. If like us though you are arriving by land, São Paulo is well connected via Brazil’s extensive bus network.

We arrived in São Paulo from Paraty, which has a frequent bus service cover by Primas & Reunidas. We had initially planned to go onto Florianopolis but ended up scrapping this plan due to it looking to plague us with continued poor weather. Instead, we opted to start our Pantanal Tour a little earlier. Due to the distance to Cuiabá the bus journey would have been 30 hours so we opted for the 2 hour flight with Gol.








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