São Paulo is a massive urban jungle, home to over 12 million paulistas. While many prefer Brazil’s coastal cities for their natural beauty, those from the big city love its quirks and diversity. In addition to the main attractions, there so many hidden corners and treasures to discover.
With its many unique neighborhoods, street markets, and food festivals, it can be hard to decide where to start. But because it’s the city’s 463rd birthday, we’ve brought you a list of the top 10 places to visit. Many of them will be hosting free concerts, food festivals, and block parties for the occasion. All the more reason to check things out!
The Trianon-MASP is located right in the middle of the city’s main street, the Avenida Paulista. Surrounded by skyscrapers, Trianon-MASP is actually two things. A lush, green park with winding walkways on one side, the Parque Trianon. And facing it, the São Paulo Art Museum, or MASP, filled with vibrant collections and unique expositions.
The museum features a wide overhang, under which many a protest have taken place. Lovers and musicians gather under the wing of the museum to look over the rushing highway beneath. On Sundays, the entire Avenida Paulista closes off to cars. Visitors can stroll, bike, skateboard, and rollerblade down the street. To top it off, the MASP also hosts its weekly antique fair on Sundays.
2. Mercadão Municipal
The city’s main municipal market features a wide range of local produce and food. Food-lovers can discover every kind of fruit unimaginable (as well as many you may never have imagined before). Also, for a typical São Paulo treat, visitors can dig into a loaded mortadella sandwich with all the works. And with a full stomach, visitors can enjoy the markets beautiful glass paintings and the regular free concerts.
3. Galeria do Rock
Imagine a place where you can get a tattoo, piercings, a bong, the latest sneakers, and dreadlocks – all in one place. Well, in São Paulo, that such place exists in the “Galeria do Rock”, a five-story, open-air complex. You’ve got diverse reggae and hip hop record shops. Boutiques specializing in kicks and caps. African hair braiders and Brazilian barbers. Shops lined wall-to-wall with weed paraphernalia. Food stands packed with local fruit. Think of it, and you’ll probably find it here.
This unique mixing pot of local alternative cultures offers tourists and locals something new to discover at every visit. Next door, the Galeria Olido offers an alternative cinema with international film screenings, free concerts, and dance classes.
4. Parque Ibirapuera
Smack in the middle of the city is the beautiful Ibirapuera Park, 1,584 square kilometers of public space. Inaugurated on the city’s 400th birthday, the Park “Ibira” features museums, concert halls, outdoor expositions, lakes, picnic and exercise areas. Visitors can check out the Modern Art Museum, Afro-Brazilian Museum, and the auditorium designed by Oscar Neimeyer. In addition, the park’s winding walkways are perfect for a bike ride or jog, and the smaller trails offer a romantic stroll.
5. Praça Benedito Calixto
Named for the Brazilian painter, the Benedito Calixto Square sits in front of the beautiful Calvário Church. The square hosts a weekly Saturday antique and artisanal fair, regular street carnivals, food vendors, and live music.
6. Estação da Luz
This classic train station, built in 1901, puts you right next in the Bom Retiro neighborhood. Next to the station, you’ve got the romantic Luz Park, the Museum of the Portuguese Language, and the State Pinacotheca, the oldest art museum in São Paulo and one of the most important in the nation.
The Bom Retiro neighborhood is also the city’s Koreatown and clothing district. Walking down the Rua Correia de Melo, you can find lots of small, traditional Korean restaurants as well as the latest fashions for a cheap haggle.
7. Bairro Liberdade & Bixiga
The neighborhoods of Liberdade and Bixiga sit next to each other downtown. They are the city’s traditional Japanese and Italian neighborhoods, respectively.
In Liberdade, lanterns line the streets. Locals and tourists sit outside the small Japanese restaurants while waiting for a table. Imported manga clothing and toys fill the side shops. On Saturdays, Japanese-Brazilian street vendors set up shop to sell traditional fried foods, pastel, temaki, and red-bean cakes.
Meanwhile, the Italian neighborhood of Bixiga holds its artisanal fair on Sundays. Traditional Italian restaurants advertise homemade pasta buffets and sauces for diners to enjoy on a patio with live samba. Finally, every January 25th, the neighborhood cuts a giant “Bixiga” birthday cake to celebrate the city’s special day.
8. Memorial da América Latina
The Memorial of Latin America offers a wide range of expositions, outdoor concerts, and cultural festivals. Today, for the city’s birthday, the memorial will host a food fair of home brews and fried pastels.
9. Cinema Belas Artes
A publicly funded cinema, the Caixa Belas Artes features lesser-known international films as well as Brazilian cinema. Right outside the Consolação metro stop, to the left of the cinema is a small underground walkway which takes pedestrians beneath the busy street. Underground, you’ll find a small, second-hand book shop and walls lined with street art.
10. Praça Roosevelt
Finally, last but never least, the famous Roosevelt Square. While it may not look like much more than some concrete steps and stair rails, but in its simplicity lies its popularity. Indeed, Roosevelt Square is the gathering location for many a political protest, slam poetry circle, and drunken night out with the crew. It’s also the home base for the city’s skateboarders, who run tricks day and night off the smooth concrete and metal rails.