Are you wondering if São Paulo, Brazil is worth visiting?
São Paulo, known to locals as “Sampa,” is one of the world’s largest cities, and you can feel it when you’re there. I’ll never forget the endless view of skyscrapers from my cousins’ high-rise apartment. It made cities like New York and Chicago look small by comparison.
São Paulo is big, it’s diverse, and it’s full of energy and fun. Keep reading to learn more about this iconic Latin American city and decide if you want to add it as one of your next travel destinations.
Is São Paulo worth visiting?
Short answer: Yes! São Paulo is definitely worth visiting!
My Brazilian cousin once described São Paulo as “the world in a blender.” The city has a rich immigration history, and you’ll find pieces of history and culture from all over the world here.
Foodies will especially love São Paulo, where you can find a mixture of the best Brazilian food and any other ethnic cuisine imaginable.
Beyond the international food options, São Paulo is also filled with cultural centers, museums, historic buildings, parks, theaters, art galleries, and a diverse music scene.
Keep reading for a complete list of the best things to see and do in São Paulo!
13 reasons why São Paulo is worth visiting
1. It’s one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world.
São Paulo is the most cosmopolitan city in Brazil, due to migration from other Brazilian states and many countries around the world.
There are more than 12 million “Paulistanos,” as residents are called, which also makes São Paulo:
- The most populous city in Brazil
- The most populous city outside of Asia
- The world’s fourth-largest city proper by population
- The largest Portuguese-speaking city in the world
São Paulo has been labeled an “alpha city” due to its strong international influences in commerce, finance, arts, and entertainment.
2. It has a fantastic food culture.
São Paulo’s cuisine is a tourist attraction in and of itself. The city boasts 62 ethnic varieties across 12,000 restaurants and once received the title of “World Gastronomy Capital.”
There are endless Brazilian food items to try while in São Paulo, including:
- Feijoada: Black bean and meat stew served over rice
- Moqueca: Seafood stew with tomato, onion, lime, and coriander
- Cozinha: Popular street food made of savory dough shaped into a drumstick with a creamy chicken salad filling
- Brigadeiro: Small, creamy bites made with milk or dark chocolate, sweetened condensed milk, and butter
- Doce de leite: A thick, sweet, and caramel-like spread
- Baião de dois: A dish made from black-eyed peas and rice, with cheese and bacon
- Pasteis: Thin-crust pies with assorted fillings, fried in vegetable oil
- Pão de queijo: Small, baked cheese roll or cheese bun
- Pingado com pão na chapa: Coffee with milk and toasted bread with butter (my cousin emphasized that the bread has to be Pao Frances to be legit)
Beyond Brazilian food, you’ll also find many international restaurants with cuisine from Asia, Europe, Africa, North America, and other parts of South America.
Certain parts of the city are catered toward specific types of ethnic food. For example, the Liberdade area is known as Japan Town and is where you find a variety of Asian restaurants.
Zona Sul (South Zone) has good German restaurants and Zona Leste (East Zone) is the spot to find African cuisine. Visit the Largo São Bento area for Arab food.
3. It has amazing architecture.
São Paulo has an eclectic mix of modernist and classic architecture, with each structure telling a story about the city’s past.
One of the most beautiful buildings in São Paulo is Teatro Municipal (Municipal Theater), which was built by Italian designers, but if you look closely, you’ll find details inspired by nature in Brazil.
Museo de Arte de São Paulo (MASP) is the most famous art museum in Brazil and the largest suspended structure in Latin America. The design of MASP is fascinating, with the entire building balanced on top of two inverted beams.
Sala São Paulo, home of the São Paulo State Symphonic Orchestra, was originally constructed to be a train station hall, which you can tell when you walk inside.
4. It has beautiful parks and green spaces.
São Paulo has a network of green oases within the city that offer a welcome break from the chaos of urban life. Ibirapuera Park, Villa-Lobos Park, and Independence Park are some of the best parks for walking, running, picnicking, and enjoying special events.
Ibirapuera Park, in particular, is a symbol of São Paulo’s commitment to green spaces. This giant, 400-acre park is filled with tree-lined walkways, thoughtful landscaping, and peaceful lakes, and features cultural institutions like the Museum of Modern Art, the Afro-Brazil Museum, and the Japanese Pavilion.
On the outskirts of the São Paulo metro area is Jaraguá State Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you can hike to the tallest point in São Paulo, Pico do Jaraguá (1,135 meters), for breathtaking city views.
5. It’s a soccer lover’s paradise.
In Brazil, soccer is more than a sport; it’s part of Brazilian heritage and cultural identity. São Paulo has a long and deep soccer history, which you can learn about by visiting the Museo do Futebol (Football Museum), located within the historic Pacaembu Stadium.
Aside from Brazil’s national soccer team, there are four soccer clubs in São Paulo that arguably get even more attention from Paulistanos. These clubs include the Corinthians, Palmeiras, São Paulo FC, and Santos, and locals eagerly anticipate matches between these teams.
If you want to watch a game yourself, one of the best stadiums to visit is the Arena Corinthians.
6. It’s a cultural melting pot.
São Paulo has a deep immigration history, with people who have come from all parts of the world to start a new life in Brazil.
My mom is one example of the melting pot São Paulo has become. Her grandparents immigrated to Brazil from Germany and Austria after World War II, as was the case for many Europeans during this time.
To this day, Paulistanos have many different ethnic roots, and São Paulo’s immigration past has been woven into the fabric of the city.
There are a number of museums where you can learn about São Paulo’s immigration history and other parts of the city’s culture, including:
- Afro-Brazil Museum, which celebrates the African diaspora’s profound influence on Brazilian society.
- Museu da Lingua Portuguesa, a tribute to the rich Portuguese language and its global influence
- São Paulo Immigration Museum (Museu da Imigração), housed within the historic Immigrant’s Inn, where many immigrants once lived as part of the Bras Immigrant Hostelry program.
7. It’s close to stunning beaches.
While São Paulo is not located right on the coast, you can be at the Atlantic Ocean in about an hour, where you can get your beach fix.
Some of the best beaches within easy driving distance of São Paulo include the Pitangueiras, Astúrias, and Pernambuco beaches in Guarujá. (I think Pernambuco Beach is the most beautiful of the three.)
Praia Grande is not far from Guarujá and has an incredibly long stretch of sand, giving you plenty of areas to pitch your chair or beach towel for the day.
Ilhabela (meaning “Beautiful Island”) is a little further up the coast and offers a more peaceful beach escape with gorgeous turquoise water.
8. It’s filled with artistic treasures.
São Paulo has a strong art presence, with several world-renowned art museums, including the MASP and Pinacoteca, that house thousands of masterpieces from around the world.
You’ll also find lots of incredible street art in São Paulo. Be sure to check out the Vila Madalena neighborhood, specifically the Rua Gonçalo Alfonso Alley (known locally as Beco de Batman, or Batman Alley) for some of the best graffiti in the city.
You can also admire the giant murals created by famous artist Eduardo Cobra, which are displayed all around the city, including the Avenida Paulista, Ibirapuera Park, and Consolação.
9. It has an excellent public transportation system.
São Paulo has the largest urban rail system in Latin America, with 15 different lines and 200 stops across the city. You’ll be able to get to pretty much any major attraction in São Paulo using the Metro.
In fact, the Metro will likely be the most efficient way to get around the city, as traffic in São Paulo can get ridiculous, especially during rush hour from 6:30-9:30 a.m. and 4:30-7:30 p.m. on weekdays.
A single Metro ride costs less than 5 reals (under $1), which means it’s also a very affordable way to navigate around São Paulo.
💡 SÃO PAULO METRO TIPS 💡
Plan to have cash on you, as most Metro ticket booths only accept cash payments.
If you’re staying in São Paulo for a longer period of time, you can register for a Bilhete Unico card online that you can then use at the automated machines at Metro stations.
10. It has pleasant weather most of the year.
São Paulo has a humid subtropical climate, meaning this part of Brazil typically has mild* winters and warm to hot summers.
*If you’re like me and live in a place that has freezing cold winters, read “mild” here as “warm.” Brazilian winters still average in the 60s and 70s (Fahrenheit) most days, with nighttime temperatures that may dip into the 40s and 50s.
São Paulo summers are very sunny and you can expect temperatures in the 80s most of the time. Keep scrolling for a graph that shows the average high/low temperatures in São Paulo for each month of the year.
11. The people are warm and welcoming.
I don’t think I’ve ever met a Brazilian I didn’t like. Brazilian culture is very warm and hospitable, and Brazilians have a great sense of humor and love to laugh.
I enjoyed the relaxed culture in São Paulo, despite it being such a mega city. I’m not sure if it’s the great weather or the great food, but Paulistanos seem to have a natural joie de vivre.
12. It has a vibrant nightlife.
If you enjoy being out long after the sun has set, you’ll love being in São Paulo. While many people are out and about during the day, the city really comes alive at night.
Choose from endless cafes and restaurants where you can enjoy a late-night meal and drinks, followed by live music and dancing.
My cousin said she really loves Rua Avanhandava, a street in São Paulo with an awesome nighttime ambiance.
13. It’s one of the most innovative cities in Latin America.
Roughly 63% of businesses that operate in Brazil have their headquarters in São Paulo, including Netflix, Spotify, Amazon, and Google.
São Paulo is one of the best cities in the world for technology businesses, and it’s a place where entrepreneurs can thrive due to the intricate support networks in place there. If you’re interested in seeing the latest innovations in Brazil, São Paulo is the place to be.
Reasons not to visit São Paulo
So are there reasons São Paulo is not worth visiting? While I think the pros very much outweigh the cons, here are a couple of things to keep in mind when considering a trip to São Paulo:
It’s very densely populated
São Paulo is not your average city. As you may have gathered from the stats at the beginning of this post, São Paulo is a huge city with lots of people. If being in large crowds is not your cup of tea, you may prefer to explore less urban parts of Brazil.
Some areas are not very safe
I hesitate to even put this one in here since this is pretty typical for most cities. I have heard mixed things about São Paulo’s safety levels.
When I was there, I stayed with relatives who lived in a gated home to protect themselves from break-ins, and we were told not to venture out on our own at night.
With that being said, I did go out at night with my cousins several times and never felt unsafe.
I would follow the typical safety precautions of any city: Stay in populated, well-lit areas, don’t venture down dark alleys and back streets, and keep your belongings close to your body. (A fanny pack or crossbody bag is great!)
Top places to go in São Paulo
These are some of the best places to visit when you’re in São Paulo.
This beloved park has been elected as one of the best urban parks on the planet. Ibirapuera Park is an island of green and tranquility in the middle of a noisy city, and it’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon.
Aside from the sports and leisure areas, including bike paths, a playground, and areas for walking and jogging, you will also find museums, auditoriums, and a planetarium. Check the park’s calendar for a list of special events that take place there throughout the year.
The Municipal Market of São Paulo, known as Mercadão, is one of the most important tourist attractions in the city. Here you can be sure that you’ll eat well as you discover exotic fruits and enjoy a variety of local snacks. (Be sure to try a Pastel or a Sanduiche de Mortadela!)
The building where the Mercadão is housed is known for its stained-glass windows that were imported directly from Germany, as well as its giant columns, making this a must-visit place for foodies and architecture buffs alike.
São Paulo’s Municipal Theatre was first constructed in 1903 and is one of the most picture-worthy spots in the entire city.
The theatre hosts performances by local music and dance schools, and on days when no performance is scheduled, the theatre is open for visitors to step inside.
Museo do Futebol
For soccer aficionados, the Museu de Futebol in São Paulo is a must. The museum is located under the bleachers of Pacaembu Stadium and traces the history of Brazilian soccer, including its legendary players and World Cup Games since the national team’s inception in 1930.
You’ll see old movie clips and hear radio transmissions from famous soccer games and interviews with soccer personalities. Be sure to check out the room dedicated to Brazil’s soccer king, Pelé.
Rua 25 de Março
This street in central São Paulo is popular for shopping and is known as the place to find bargains.
If you’re on the hunt for clothes and souvenirs at a good price, this is a good area to check out. Just note that this street gets very crowded. It seems everyone wants to shop here!
Avenida Paulista on a Sunday
Avenida Paulista (Paulista Avenue) is one of the most important streets in São Paulo, stretching from the northwest to the southeastern part of the city. On Sundays, the six-lane road is closed off to vehicles, making it an expansive, pedestrian-friendly zone.
On Paulista Avenue, you can see lots of street artists, alternative fashion styles, and a stage for public gatherings (featuring everything from Carnaval celebrations to political protests).
This street is also home to many delicious restaurants and street food vendors, and it’s where the MASP museum is located. Exploring this area would be an easy add-on if you plan to visit the museum.
My cousin hails Rua Avanhandava as “the most charming street in São Paulo.”
Beautiful, tiled water fountains are found all along this street, and at night the glow of string lights creates a magical ambiance. Browse the various shops where you can find unique gifts and souvenirs.
This is also the place to go if you want to enjoy live jazz music and eat delicious Italian food.
A few recommended restaurants on this street include:
- Famiglia Mancini Restaurant, Rua Avanhandava, 81
- Pizzaria Famiglia Mancini, Rua Avanhandava, 25
- Il Ristorante Cucina & Musica – Walter Mancini, Rua Avanhandava, 126 (the most expensive of the three)
Museo de Arte de São Paulo (MASP) is found on the popular Avenida Paulista and is a must-see during your time in São Paulo.
This iconic art museum is part of the National Heritage List and has been dubbed the most important art museum in the Southern Hemisphere, with a collection 10,000 pieces from all parts of the globe.
For impressive views of São Paulo from up high, visit Sampa SKY. This famous glass observation deck is located on the 42nd floor of Mirante do Vale, the tallest building in the center of São Paulo. Note that you will need to purchase tickets to go up.
Another stunning visual arts museum is the Pinacoteca de São Paulo (São Paulo Picture Gallery). It’s the oldest museum in São Paulo, dating back to 1905, and it houses a collection of nearly 9,000 pieces from both national and international artists.
The museum’s unique interior is what will first catch your eye when you step inside. Exposed brick walls and a large, two-story atrium allow you to enjoy the artwork under natural lighting.
Be sure to also check out the museum’s beautiful garden, which includes several interesting sculptures.
Sala São Paulo
Sala São Paulo is the largest concert hall in Latin America with nearly 1,500 seats, and it’s home to the São Paulo State Symphonic Orchestra.
The hall has an adjustable ceiling that allows for acoustics to be adapted depending on the type of music performed (pretty neat!). Another unique feature of this concert hall is that it functions inside a working train station, the Julio Prestes Station.
Templo de Salomão
Templo de Salomao, or the Temple of Solomon, was built by the founders of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. It’s an active place of worship but also attracts tourists because of its unique design and its sheer size.
The temple is said to be an “exact replica” of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem that’s described in the Bible. The temple has the height of an 18-story building and can hold more than 10,000 people. Admission to visit is free.
Roda Rico São Paulo
Roda Rico São Paulo (Big Wheel of São Paulo) is the largest Ferris wheel in Latin America at 91 meters high.
The ride has 42 air-conditioned cabins, each with eight-person capacity. There’s even Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on board! Hop on to catch stunning, panoramic views of São Paulo.
Zoologico de São Paulo
The Zoologico de São Paulo (Zoo SP) is the largest zoo in Latin America, and it’s been around since 1958. The zoo is heavily focused on wildlife conservation and is the first Brazilian institution to participate in several projects that protect endangered species like the golden lion, tamarin, ocelot, and Lear’s macaw.
You’ll find hundreds of other animals at this zoo, too, including Brazilian native species like jaguars and Guianan cocks-of-the rocks, as well as lions, camels, bears, and elephants.
Aquario de São Paulo
If you’re interested in seeing underwater creatures, stop by the Aquario de São Paulo (São Paulo Aquarium). The aquarium houses a 15,000-square-meter space with two million liters of water containing nearly 3,000 animals from 300 different species (whew!).
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Best time to visit São Paulo
São Paulo has a humid subtropical climate, and temperatures don’t vary as much as they do in more temperate climates. Generally, you can expect the weather to be warm and humid, even in the “winter.”
Note that seasons in Brazil are the opposite of the northern hemisphere. December through March is São Paulo’s summer, which is when temperatures are warmest but you can also expect the most rain (average 11-14 days out of the month).
I think the best time to visit São Paulo is during their winter from June through September when temperatures average in the 70s and there’s much less rain. I visited São Paulo in July and found the weather to be perfect. It sometimes got a bit chilly in the evenings but even then, I never needed to wear more than a light sweater.
Day trips from São Paulo
The city of São Paulo is within a Brazilian state that is also called São Paulo (like New York, New York). If you want to escape the noise and crowds of the city, there are plenty of attractions in other areas of the state that make for excellent day trips.
Here are some of the best day trip options from São Paulo, in order from closest to farthest:
Embu das Artes
Distance from SP: 40 minutes
This city outside of São Paulo is known for its weekly arts and crafts fair and local artisan shops where you can find one-of-a-kind treasures.
Roteiro do Vinho (São Roque)
Distance from SP: 1 hour and 15 minutes
If you’re interested in a wine tour, visit Roteiro do Vinho (“The Wine Route”) in São Roque, where you can visit a number of vineyards and learn about the long history of wine production in this region of the country.
See all the establishments that are part of the Wine Route here.
Distance from SP: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Santos is the largest port city in Brazil and is home to several amazing beaches, including Gonzaga Beach, Ponta da Praia Beach, and Boqueirão Beach.
Distance from SP: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Guarujá is not far from Santos and is another excellent choice if you’re hoping to spend some time on fantastic Brazilian beaches. Pitangueiras Beach and Praia da Enseada are two of the best ones.
🚌 TAKE A GUIDED TOUR OF SANTOS AND GUARUJÁ!
For a relaxing day of fun, book this highly-rated guided tour of Santos and Guarujá and save yourself the stress of navigating around on your own.
Weekend trips from São Paulo
If you’re willing to venture farther out of São Paulo, here are a few other destinations that would make for an excellent weekend trip!
Distance from SP: 3 hours
This beach town is a favorite escape for locals. Come here to enjoy less-crowded beaches and stunning natural beauty.
Distance from SP: 4 hours
Ilhabela is the largest island off the coast of Brazil and offers nearly 25 miles of pristine beaches. To get here, you would drive to São Sebastião and take the ferry to the island, which runs every 30 minutes.
Alto da Ribeira Turistic State Park
Distance from SP: 5 hours
This park, known locally as PETAR, is filled with caves, waterfalls, hiking trails, and archaeological sites to explore.
How to get to Rio de Janeiro from São Paulo
The quickest way to get to Rio de Janeiro from São Paulo is by plane — it’s only a one-hour flight. The best airports to use are Congonhas (CGH) in São Paulo and Santos Dumont (SDU) in Rio de Janeiro.
Your next best option would be to drive to Rio de Janeiro, which is about a six-hour journey from São Paulo, but it’s a straight shot on the BR-116 highway.
💡 TRAVEL TIP: STOP BY UBATUBA ON THE WAY TO RIO 💡
If you plan to drive to Rio, you could also consider driving along the coast and visiting Ubatuba along the way. This will lengthen your drive by a couple of hours, but you’ll have a more scenic trip than if you take the inland route.
I spent three days in Ubatuba between my visit to São Paulo and Rio, and it was a welcome beach retreat between the fast-paced city tours.
Ubatuba’s beaches are quieter than others in the São Paulo state. I’ll never forget waking up early to watch the sunrise one morning when it was so calm and peaceful — that image will be painted in my memory forever.
Here are answers to a few other common questions about São Paulo.
What is São Paulo known for?
São Paulo is known for its amazing selection of food, featuring not only a variety of Brazilian delicacies but also a smorgasbord of cuisine from around the world. If you’re a foodie, you’ll be in paradise here.
São Paulo also has a rich artistic and cultural history, with numerous museums dedicated to preserving stories from the past. One of the most notable museums is the São Paulo Art Museum (MASP), with its collection of nearly 10,000 pieces.
Is São Paulo a good tourist destination?
Yes, São Paulo is an awesome tourist destination, with an endless number of cultural and historic attractions, restaurants, and other points of interest to check out. São Paulo also has an excellent public transportation system that makes it easy to navigate around the city.
Note: Unless you are very comfortable driving in big cities, I would not attempt to rent a car. People drive pretty crazy!
Is São Paulo safe?
Generally, São Paulo is safe for tourists, especially if you plan your activities during the day. As with any large city, it’s good to take the usual precautions, like staying in more populated and well-lit areas and not wearing expensive jewelry or other symbols of wealth to avoid pick-pocketers.
Personally, I never felt unsafe the entire time I was in São Paulo (except for maybe in a car — the driving in São Paulo is nuts), but I was always with someone else — most often family members who knew the city well.
Areas to avoid
The names of unsafe areas in São Paulo vary depending on who you talk to, but in general, the farther away from the city center you get, the less safe things are, especially at night.
You’ll especially want to stay away from the favelas, or low-income neighborhoods, where sadly, crime is much more prevalent. A couple of these favelas include Paraisópolis and Heliopolis.
🏚 A NOTE ABOUT FAVELAS
Some people feel the term “favela” is pejorative and shines a negative light on the people who live there, many of whom are hardworking citizens trying to make ends meet.
Ironically, many favelas are positioned right next to the richest parts of São Paulo, an indicator of the extreme wealth disparity in the city.
Is Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo better to visit?
Both cities are worth a visit if you have the time! I visited both Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo during my trip to Brazil and loved them both.
São Paulo is a massive city and is fascinating to explore from a food and culture standpoint.
Rio de Janeiro is a more beautiful city with its location on the ocean and its unique cone-shaped mountains (like Sugarloaf Mountain) dotted along the landscape.
But if you only have time to visit one of the cities:
- Choose São Paulo if you’re interested in modern, urban architecture and a diverse food experience.
- Choose Rio de Janeiro if you’re more interested in natural beauty and exploring iconic sights like Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, and Copacabana Beach.
How many days is enough for São Paulo?
I would plan to stay a minimum of three to five days in São Paulo to have time to sample lots of different food items, visit the many museums, and explore other noteworthy attractions in the city.
Of course, if you have the time, you could easily stay a week or longer and not run out of things to do.
Is São Paulo a beautiful city?
I think São Paulo is a beautiful city filled with history and culture. While it doesn’t have as much natural beauty as other parts of Brazil, it does have plenty of scenic parks and architecture to enjoy.
Like with any city, some areas of São Paulo are more beautiful than others. If you stick to the key attractions listed in this post, you’ll get to see the most impressive parts of Sampa.
Conclusion: Is São Paulo worth visiting?
I hope I have convinced you that São Paulo is absolutely worth visiting and should be an important stop as part of your Brazil itinerary.
São Paulo is a concrete jungle that’s filled with an endless array of food, art, architecture, and history to explore. I was only there for a few days, but the city left a lasting impression on my heart.
I will leave you with two song recommendations my cousin provided that are classic São Paulo tributes. Maybe they will put you in even more of a mood to visit this iconic Brazilian city: