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São Paulo, Brazil is one of the largest cities in the world and can be a daunting place to visit. For that reason, we called on a São Paulo local to write this amazing guide. Paula from Paula Pins the Planet has written this blog about the best things to do in São Paulo while staying on budget!
However, visiting places such as São Paulo can be daunting for travelers. Not only is São Paulo the largest city in Brazil but also the largest city in the Southern Hemisphere!
When planning to visit Brazil, São Paulo simply must be in your travel itinerary. However, you may feel overwhelmed and intimated by the size of the city. And, with a huge range of things to do and places to visit in São Paulo, it can be hard to know what to do during your stay.
Luckily, I am a local, who was born and raised in São Paulo so I know so much about the city! To help you, I’ve prepared this awesome guide with 16 things to do São Paulo, and this guide is the best introduction of what the selva de pedra (concrete jungle, as the locals call it) has to offer.
However, it’s not just any list. In fact, this guide has all the cheap or free activities you can do in São Paulo – because you don’t need to break your budget to enjoy your time in São Paulo, Brazil!
So, if you want to visit some awesome cultural spaces, enjoy a bike ride at Ibirapuera Park, delight yourself with the flavors of the Municipal Market, and even take a city tour without spending anything, then this guide is for you!
Things to do in São Paulo, Brazil
1. Walk Paulista Avenue
São Paulo’s main avenue, Paulista, is the perfect place to visit to see the different cultures that make up the city.
If it’s your first time in São Paulo, don’t rush Avenue Paulista. Instead, walk aimlessly and enjoy the hundreds of local shops and restaurants. Eat your way down this culinary journey that is one of São Paulo’s top attractions.
If you’re lucky enough to visit on a Sunday when Paulista is closed off to traffic then you’re in for a real treat. This is when the avenue truly comes alive with live music, dance, and even more great food. It’s even worth renting a shared bike to ride the new cycle path that cuts Paulista from end to end.
For those who want to learn more about this important avenue, you can join the free walking tour every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday at 3:30 pm. The tour meets on the corner of Paulista Ave and Augusta St. and runs for 2.5 hours.
Paulistas Avenue is always busy, even late at night. Avenue Paulistas is the living heart of São Paulo and a must-visit for any visitor to the city.
2. Visit the cultural spaces of Paulista, starting with MASP
Walking along Paulista Avenue is already one of the best attractions in São Paulo, but be sure to explore the cultural attractions offered there too. There are some excellent options for museums and cultural centers to check out in the area. The best of all is that some of them offer free entrance for exhibitions, shows, and even play!
Start with the São Paulo Art Museum (aka MASP), which offers one of the best art collections in Brazil. Entrance to the museum is free on Tuesdays, however costs R$45 on others.
After, visit spaces such as Instituto Moreira Sales da Paulista, Centro Cultural Fiesp, Japan House, and Casa das Rosas, where coffee in the middle of the garden is excellent! All of these are completely free too!
Also, don’t miss the chance to visit the Livraria Cultura at Conjunto Nacional, it’s one of the largest book stores in the country.
When walking, look for some famous graffiti, such as the great image of Oscar Niemeyer by Eduardo Kobra. This mural is huge and covers the entire side of a skyscraper. This famous street artist is also the man behind the 2016 Rio Olimpic Games mural – it’s one of the best things to do in Rio de Janeiro and is the largest mural in the world at 3,000 square meters!
3. Take a free guided walking tour around São Paulo
Guided walking tours are a great opportunity to get to know São Paulo, and of course, to meet other travelers too. The best part is that you can do some of these tours for free in São Paulo.
They work on the tip system, so you only pay what you consider fair. Many of the tours are directed to foreigners with guides that speak both Spanish and English.
There are a few free walking tours in São Paulo with the best being the Paulista Avenue (mentioned above), old downtown, and Vila Madalena tours.
All tours are run by São Paulo Free Walking Tour and start at different times on different days around the city. These tours are one of the best free things to do in São Paulo, especially when you first arrive to get your bearings and be shown around!
The only downside to free walking tours is that they can attract very large groups. If you want a more personal experience, you can book a private tour of Sao Paulo instead!
4. See São Paulo from above at Mirante Sesc
The immensity of São Paulo cannot always be seen by walking the streets. Instead, I recommend getting a view from above to be able to see just how enormous São Paulo is.
The most popular and accessible is the Mirante Sesc, located at 119 Avenida Paulista. The view is spectacular and at the viewpoint, you can enjoy a coffee, a good meal, and even a glass of wine in front of the urban landscape.
Entry to the viewpoint is completely free and it’s open Tuesday to Saturday, from 10 am to 9:30 pm, and on Sundays and holidays, from 10 am to 6:30 pm.
The viewpoint gets really busy, so to avoid the crowds I recommend heading there when they first open to enjoy a morning coffee!
5. Try various delicacies and fruits at the Municipal Market
The food in Brazil is amazing and the Municipal Market is among the most popular sites in São Paulo to try some. At the market, you can taste lots of local cuisines and traditional dishes. For any foodie, this is a must-do activity in São Paulo!
You don’t even have to buy anything either as free samples and snacks are on offer so you can try lots of produce and meals before buying anything. It’s a chance to eat that weird fruit that you don’t know the name of, and to delight yourself with cheeses, salami, and other wonders sold there.
The Municipal Market is located on Rua da Cantareira, 306, and is open Monday to Saturday from 6 am to 6 pm. On Sundays and holidays, the market is open from 6 am to 4 pm.
6. Visit the graffiti of Vila Madalena and Batman’s Alley
Art in São Paulo is not restricted to museums. Just walk through the streets to find street art stamped all over the walls. Graffiti is everywhere, but there are places around the city that are famous for their street art.
The neighborhood of Vila Madalena is a delight for those who enjoy the colorful and intense traits of street artists. A special little corner, called Batman’s Alley, gathers dozens of works by street artists all in one place. Walking around the neighborhood it is possible to see iconic works also by artists like Eduardo Kobra. It’s art for free and accessible to everyone.
Batman Alley is a famous part of the city and a must-visit for any traveler to São Paulo. This activity is also completely free and can be done without a guide!
The area around Batman Alley, Vila Madalena, is also a good place to shop at brechós (antique shops) and enjoy a drink at boteco (local bar with a cold beer and great bar foo.) For these reasons, it’s also a great neighborhood to stay in with lots of hotels and hostels to choose from!
7. Visit the São Paulo Cathedral – Sé Cathedral
One of the most beautiful churches in São Paulo, the Sé Cathedral, is among the unmissable sites in the city. And not only for religious reasons, but also for the history and beautiful architecture.
The imposing construction of the Sé Cathedral marks the center of the city and the landmark of São Paulo, in the Sé Square. The interior, with capacity for 8,000 people, is surrounded by stained glass windows, mosaics, and works of sacred art, in addition to a large organ (considered the largest in South America!)
The Sé Cathedral is open to visitors every day from 7:30 am to 6:30 pm. Visits to the crypt are monitored and cost R$8.50. Although only a quick stop, this is easily one of the best cheap things to do in São Paulo!
8. Visit the Monastery of São Bento
The Monastery of São Bento is one of the most beautiful churches in Brazil. Despite having a modest exterior, the interior is decorated with stunning mosaics and immaculate status. For this reason alone it’s worth a visit.
However the Monastery of São Bento, besides the beautiful interior, enchants visitors by the masses with the Gregorian chant, a sacred song in Latin. Masses with Gregorian chant and organ take place from Monday to Friday at 7 am, Saturdays at 6 am, and Sundays at 10 am.
The Monastery of São Bento also attracts visitors for its delicious brunch, always offered on the last Sunday of each month. It is a very popular event and the tickets are sold out weeks in advance. The price of brunch is R$197 per person, but to only visit the Monastery of São Bento and the Mass with Canto Gregoriano is free.
9. Walk through Ibirapuera Park
Ibirapuera Park is the largest park in São Paulo and a favorite backyard of Paulistanos (people who are born in São Paulo.) Every year millions of people visit the park to enjoy its beautiful green spaces, well-cared-for gardens, and the huge number of free attractions.
Besides being able to enjoy the park for running, cycling, skateboarding or having a picnic, visitors have the chance to visit several cultural centers, such as the MAM (Museu de Arte Moderna), Afro American Museum, and the Planetarium.
The park is so highly regarded among the people of São Paulo that many major events are held here including São Paulo fashion week, the Biennial of Arts, and the Biennial of Architecture. The park was also once home to the largest exhibition of Picasso works in Latin America at the Oca do Ibirapuera.
To avoid the crowds it’s best to visit during the week. Even then, some 20,000 people visit but it’s much less than the 130,000 that visit on Sundays!
Ibirapuera Park is located Av. Pedro Álvares Cabral. Open from 5 am to midnight every day, Ibirapuera Park is easily one of the best free activities in São Paulo!
Ibirapuera Park is huge, so visiting with a guide will help ensure you don’t miss the very best attractions. This guided tour is only a few dollars and comes highly rated!
10. Visit the Pinacoteca
The Pinacoteca is among the best places to visit for art in the city. The 19th-century building, all in exposed brick, deserves an independent visit for the works of art on display. The great cultural wealth of the interior of the Pinacoteca is where works by artists such as Portinari and Anita Malfatti are exhibited.
The museum regularly changes its exhibitions so you are sure to see something new and exciting on your visit.
The museum is open Wednesday to Monday from 10 am to 5:30 pm (open until 6 pm for those already in the museum) and free on Saturdays, however, on other days, tickets cost R$15.
Important: The area around the Pinacoteca requires visitors to take caution and keep their valuables close.
11. Visit the Luz Train Station
The Estação da Luz is a beautiful architectural work in São Paulo. The building, designed by the British architect Charles Henry Driver, was built between 1895 and 1901.
The building was once the main entrance door to the city of São Paulo. Coffee barons, members of royalty, São Paulo’s high society, and many immigrants who arrived in São Paulo came to try their new lives circulated through Luz Station.
Today, Estação da Luz remains one of the busiest stations in the city and receives thousands of workers every day. For visitors though, it’s a great place to visit and for just a second you’ll forget you’re in Brazil and feel like you’re in England.
Estação da Luz free to visit and because of its location is a great addition to visiting the Pinacoteca and the next activity on this list.
12- Walk on the Jardim da Luz (Luz garden)
Behind the Pinacoteca is Parque da Luz, the first and oldest public park in São Paulo with an area of 113,400 m². It was inaugurated in 1825 and created to be a botanical garden, so it has more than 160 different species of trees!
You’ll find fruit trees (including large jackfruit trees), native trees, and many flowers. It also has a water mirror, a cross-shaped lake (surrounded by sculptures representing the 4 seasons), many birds, a bandstand, a cave with a waterfall (this is a very different place), and a lookout over the cave!
There are some sloths loose in the park and if you’re lucky you can spot them on top of the trees.
Entry to the park is completely free and it’s open every day from 9 am to 6 pm.
13. Visit the Botanical Garden
The city offers several green areas for visitors to explore and some of them are really small paradises in the middle of the concrete jungle that is São Paulo. The Botanical Garden is especially interesting for its variety of gardens and beautiful walking areas.
Created in 1938, this park is not a super popular place to visit for residents and tourists – the Botanical Garden is still a space to be discovered in São Paulo. The 143-hectare area inside the country’s largest city reserve is an excellent surprise for visitors. It only takes a few minutes inside the space to feel part of the exuberant nature that surrounds the park.
Within the park, you can view lots of amazing wildlife including toucans, armadillos, howler monkeys, and sloths.
Entrance to the Botanical Garden is R$10 for adults and it’s open Tuesdays to Sundays and holidays, from 9 am to 5 pm.
14. Visit the Soccer Museum at the Pacaembu Stadium
You must already know that futebol (or soccer) is the Brazil’s national sport. São Paulo has 4 huge clubs in the state and many opportunities to go watch a soccer game during your visit in São Paulo at one of the 4 big stadiums.
Pacaembu Stadium is the one closest to areas where most tourists stay (as many hotels are in Jardins or near Av Paulista), and you can take a short Uber ride to get there.
The “Museu do Futebol” (soccer museum) is located inside the stadium and you can also visit the stadium during your tour. Entrance costs R$20 and you can visit from Tuesday to Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm.
The museum tells the history of Brazilian football and also Brazil’s history in a very fun and interactive way.
This specific tour is for any football enthusiast. It includes a visit to three stadiums as well as the museum!
15. Eat Pastel (Brazilian pastry)
Pastel is a Brazilian specialty you just have to try and São Paulo is a great place to do it! You can find pastel everywhere in the city of São Paulo – there is even a contest to select the best where each resident has a favorite and they vote to know which is the best pastel in São Paulo.
Although pastel is on every corner, it’s really good to try it at the market. Some of the best include Mercado Municipal and Mercado Municipal de Pinheiros.
16. Visit Bairro da Liberdade
The Liberdade neighborhood started in 1912 with the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants who came to Brazil. Today, the area is not exclusive to the Japanese. Koreans and the Chinese began to occupy the region and the neighborhood gained eastern status, not just Japanese.
Still, the characteristics that remain, such as the lanterns along the main street, are Japanese. The red columns became a trademark of the neighborhood, which today is one of the most visited sites in São Paulo.
Those who like good food and shopping can’t miss going to Liberdade. The variety of quality restaurants is immense. You can start your day in one of the market stalls by trying various types of tempurá or the traditional pastels.
After passing by the shops – they sell things we never thought we would need, but which are irresistible – try fuller and more complete menus, like Rong He, where the noodle production technique is a show apart. To taste the art of sushi, go to Hidonê and Sushi Lika; for noodles, run to Aska. The options are many and able to please all pockets and tastes!
Visiting Liberdade is easily one of the best things to do in São Paulo – don’t miss it!
Where to Stay in São Paulo, Brazil
O de Casa Hostel Bar
This is easily the best hostel in São Paulo. Located on the outskirts of Vila Madalena the hostel is clean, comfortable, and a great place to meet other travelers to explore São Paulo with. Although not the cheapest hostel, it’s worth it!
HOUSI Bela Cintra
Housi Bela Cintra is located in the upscale neighborhood of Bela Cintra. This is a great area to explore the city from and it’s located halfway between Centro and Vila Madalena. For a mid-range hotel, this is one of the top-rated choices in São Paulo.
You can book on Booking.com
George V Residence Casa Branca
For a luxury stay in São Paulo, few hotels are as beautiful and George V Residence. Located in the rich neighborhood of Jardin the hotel in a great, safe location. The rooms here are very luxurious and include a superb breakfast.
You can book on Booking.com
Estúdio Vila Madalena
Airbnb’s are also a great idea in São Paulo. Estúdio Vila Madalena is a beautiful studio apartment in the heart of Vila Madalena. By using Airbnb you’ll get more value for money for both location and luxury.
You can book on Airbnb
Before you go…
São Paulo, Brazil can really be a cheap and fun place to visit especially with this awesome list of the best things to do in São Paulo. Just remember to get out and see the city, mingle with the people, and enjoy that amazing Brazilian culture that’s famous around the world!
Paula is a Brazilian native who calls Florida home. Her travel blog Paula Pins the Planet, offers great travel guides, tips and photography for the adventure seeker in search of authentic and real-life experiences. Paula is passionate about culture immersion, responsible traveling, and to empower people to live a Healthy Lifestyle.
Thanks so much for reading! I really hope this blog has helped plan your upcoming trip the São Paulo. If you found this blog helpful then be sure to check out all our other Brazil blogs or these related articles below!