Things to do in Sao Paulo

Sao Paulo is a monster, but you might like it!

sao paulo people

On the bus ride in from Guaralhos International Airport towards the centre of the Southern Hemisphere’s largest metropolis it is only natural to arrive at a far from favourable first impression of Sao Paulo. The buildings are bland and grey giving an almost depressingly Soviet feel to the heartbeat of one of the world’s most colourful countries. While the feeling that this is Rio de Janeiro’s ugly big bully of a brother never quite goes away, the more time you spend in the city and the more little gems you discover, you might just be won over as there are so many things to do in Sao Paulo!

So what’s good in Sao Paulo?

Things to do in Sao Paulo


japanese museum sao paulo

Culture is a fairly vague term but Sao Paulo is widely regarded as the cultural capital of Brazil. First a few numbers for you. The metropolitan region of Sao Paulo is home to around 20 million people who are served by around 25,000 restaurants, 15,000 bars and 90 museums. Therefore you’ll never be short of things to do or places to eat and drink and the quality of these places is often extremely high.

As well as a great culinary scene and lively nightlife (see below) the city has a number of outstanding museums that provide an in depth look at many aspects of Brazilian society. The most well known is MASP (Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo) which has a large collection of art from a variety of the world’s greatest ever artists.

Some others that are worth a visit include the Japanese Immigration Museum and Museu Afro Brasil that provide a look at the role Japanese (there is a large Japanese community in Sao Paulo mostly in the Liberdade area) and African immigrants have played in shaping this extremely diverse country. The latter can be found the vast Parque Ibirapuera which has plenty of other attractions and monuments as well as being a nice place to hang out for an afternoon.


football museum

Then there is the national obsession that is football. The Museu do Futebol underneath the terraces at The Pacaembu Stadium might well be the best museum of it’s kind in the world. It offers an entertaining and interactive experience that summarises the history of football in Brazil and documents the highs and lows of past World Cups.

There is a relatively short break between seasons in Brazil so for the vast majority of the year there are matches on with the fiercely competitive Sao Paulo State Championship preceding the 38 game national Championship. The main clubs in town are Corinthians, Palmeiras and Sao Paulo while Santos, the former club of Pele and current star of Brazilian football Neymar are based just outside the city on the coast. These are four of the five most successful clubs in Brazil and it is well worth going to a match to sample the intense atmosphere even if you’re not a huge football fan.


street art in sao paulo

The city also boast some intriguing little districts that are worth checking out day or night. The most popular with travellers is Vila Madalena which has a bohemian village feel to it which makes it suddenly quite easy to forget that you are in such a giant metropolis. Numerous budget hostels have sprung up in recent years making this a decent place to base yourself and this area certainly has the closest thing to a backpacker feel in Sao Paulo. It is also the best place to check out some of Sao Paulo’s fabulous street art. The wonderfully named Beco do Batman is a collection of streets and alleys literally covered in the stuff in the heart of Vila Madalena.


sao paulo nightlife

There are lots of small quirky bars in Vila Madalena, many with live Samba and other types of music. There are numerous districts that are worth venturing to in search of nightlife. Rua Augusta which dissects the giant Avenida Paulista is a safe bet for some decent action and has decent alternative rock clubs. Nearby Bela Vista also has some good nightlife but it’s worth asking a local or someone at your hostel as nightlife here is fairly changeable and what’s hot now might not be in six months time. Regardless you will never be short of places to eat or drink in Sao Paulo whether you’re here at the weekend or not.


Other useful pages for backpacking in Sao Paulo

Sao Paulo is an urban jungle and it’s hard to know where to even begin as you try to discover it. These links may give you some ideas:

Free Walking Tour

Bar Crawl

Sao Paulo on Wikitravel

30 Things to Do in Sao Paulo


This article was published in July 2014.

Get our Backpackers Guide to South America 2017-2018 for a more detailed look at budget travel in the region.

Top 10 Best Cities for Street Art in the World

Top 10 Cities for Street Art

Bristol, England

bristol banksy

Home of the world’s most famous street artist, the mercurial Banksy. This city perhaps better than any tells the story of how in no time at all street art has grown from something people frowned upon to something which is widely accepted in society and has helped attract thousands of new visitors to Bristol. Head to the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery for a Banksy exhibition or follow the walking tour routes to discover his work which still decorates the walls of several streets in this city.

Berlin, Germany


The German capital is now barely recognisable from the divided city it was for 3 decades in the late 20th Century. Thankfully street art is everywhere and helps tell the story of torment and change that this incredible town has gone through. The best of it is to be found on one of the few remaining stretches of the old Berlin Wall, known as the East Side Gallery. You can find out more about it here.

Mexico City, Mexico

mexico city street art

The enormous capital of Mexico has often struggled to forge a positive reputation for itself and has never really been a big travel destination. However if you do find yourself in Mexico City, then be sure to check out its street art which is popping up all over the place. There’s even a pretty good tour you can do which isn’t a bad idea here as you’ll easily get lost if you don’t really know where to find it and you even get to meet one of the city’s prominent street artists. Find out more about the Mexico City Street Art Tour.

Lisbon, Portugal

lisbon street art

The crumbling Portuguese capital is a fabulous location for street art with rustic buildings and cobblestone streets prime for adaption. It has a huge number of abandoned buildings and factories which have been converted into grungy night clubs, art galleries or just left to rot. Many of them are now covered in gigantic pieces of street art and with the Portuguese government seemingly helpless to salvage this city, the underground artists have taken things into their own hands and have successfully managed to brighten up the decaying walls of Lisbon.

Melbourne, Australia

melbourne ACDC street art

Almost certainly the best city in Oceania for all things urban art. The local powers that be have approved many outdoor sites across the city to be adorned in street art. Some of the best locations to check it out include Centre Place, Union Lane, Hosier and Rutledge Lane, opposite of Federation Square and of course ACDC Lane!

Valparaiso, Chile

valpa street art

One of the most colourful cities in South America, Valparaiso is a wonderful place for those with an artistic inclination and is a great example of a city that has truly embraced street art. Valpa is just a cool place to hang around for a few days and has been rather aptly described as a mini Berlin by the sea.

São Paulo, Brazil

batman alley

The largest city in South America is perhaps the continent’s best for street art although it has some stiff competition with the likes of Bogota, Buenos Aires and Rio also good places to go. Head to the brilliant Batman Alley and its neighbouring streets for some wonderfully artistic designs. It’s not the only district worth checking out though but in such a huge city you have to do some digging around to discover the best of it.

Read more on our take on the urban monster that is Sao Paulo here.

Taipei, Taiwan

best cities for street art

One of the best cities for street art in Asia. Taipei has always been one of the most rebellious cities in the continent with the ongoing battle against Chinese influence and the protection of Taiwanese culture the overlying theme. Head to the Nangang Bottle Cap Factory, currently subject to demolition plans, for what might be the last chance to see the best of the city’s street art in a derelict building come unofficial art gallery.

Montreal, Canada

Montreal Street art

Montreal is another city with a big underground culture and its walls are increasingly being covered in street art. There are plenty of murals and galleries to check out while it holds a large festival of urban art each year that is well worth checking out.

Penang, Malaysia

penang street art

Malaysia is perhaps one of the more surprising places you find quite a lot of street art. There is plenty in the capital Kuala Lumpur but the most interesting work is found further north in Penang. Plenty of it is quite peculiar and will leave you scratching your heads as much as anything in this extremely diverse and intriguing city.

This article was published in July 2015.