Brazil’s biggest city isn’t Rio but São Paulo, a madcap metropolis full of incredible art, culture, food and nightlife. There’s so much to seek out in the city lovingly dubbed “Sampa” by locals but to start you off, here’s seven essential stops for your São Paulo itinerary.
Visit the Museu do Futebol
Where else but Brazil would you find an entire museum dedicated to soccer? Tucked inside the Pacaembu Stadium (itself a former FIFA World Cup venue) is a 15-room shrine to the country’s favourite sport full of interactive exhibits, multimedia displays and even holograms. The museum charts the highs and lows of Brazil’s football fervour, from the room honouring the country’s 25 greatest players to the sombre video footage of the moment the team lost the World Cup to Uruguay on home soil.
See the city’s favourite park
Parque Ibirapuera is to São Paulo as Central Park is to New York. More than just a picnic spot – though it’s great for that too – the green oasis is the city’s cultural heart, home to galleries such as the Museum of Modern Art and the staging ground of events like fashion week and the art biennale. Stretching over two square kilometres, it’s one of Latin America’s largest urban parks and the perfect escape from Brazil’s big city madness.
Taste the Mercadão Municipal
There’s nowhere better to sample the flavours of Sampa than at its bustling central market. Impossibly large mortadella sandwiches, fried pastries, fresh fruit and salted codfish can all be found in the aisles of the Mercadão, which is dedicated entirely to gastronomic delights. Set across two levels with more than 300 vendors and a nonstop throb of shoppers, it’s also a great place to watch paulistanos (as residents are known) in their natural habitat.
Hit the Pina_Luz
São Paulo's oldest gallery is also one of its best. The Pina_Luz was known as the Pinacoteca until a 2017 rebrand and while the name may have changed, the museum’s commitment to displaying the best of Brazilian art from the 19th century through to today hasn’t. Just the building the gallery is housed in, a beautiful two-storey atrium dating back to 1895, makes a stop here worth the trip.
The world’s largest Japanese community outside of Japan is in... São Paulo? It might sound unlikely but the city became home to a large population of Japanese immigrants in the 1910s, who transformed the Liberdade district into a mini “Japantown”. Today, lanterns decorate the streets, McDonalds menus are displayed in Japanese and the Brazilian-made, Japanese language newspaper São Paulo Shimbun is sold at corner stores. The neighbourhood is fascinating any day of the week but particularly comes to life when visitors flock to the busy weekend handicraft markets.
Look at Beco do Batman
A graffiti tribute to DC superhero Batman in the 1980s kickstarted the transformation of São Paulo’s alleyways. A narrow intersection of streets in Vila Madalena, now dubbed Beco do Batman, is the city’s unofficial open-air gallery, with a regular parade of street artists stopping by to decorate the walls with bright, bold pieces – which never last long before a new creation is spray painted over the top.
See a show at Theatro Municipal
Ballets, orchestras and string quartets are all regular fixtures on the program at Sao Paulo’s finest performance venue. The Municipal Theatre is a city landmark, built in the early 1900s in the style of Paris’s Palais Garnier and decked out with lavish gold and marble interiors. Those who can’t make it to a show can sign up for one of the free English language tours, which run twice daily on Wednesdays and Fridays and once on Saturdays.