A First Time Traveler’s Guide to São Paulo

If you’re planning a trip to Brazil it’s almost certain that you’ll at some point pass through São Paulo. São Paulo is Brazil's largest city and home to over 20 million Paulistanos as residents there are known.

Despite being the country’s biggest city many tourists spend little time in São Paulo. Choosing to only use its massive airports to enter Brazil then quickly fly off to other destinations, like Rio de Janeiro.

In this article, I am going to explain to you why touring São Paulo should definitely be part of your itinerary when in Brazil. By the way, to travel to São Paulo, Brazil you will need a valid passport and also have to apply for a Brazilian visa online.

Update: Thank you to one of my readers for reaching out about the new Brazilian visa system. As of yesterday, June 17, 2019, a visa is no longer required to visit from the US.
You can read more here.

Ok, let’s get into traveling to São Paulo….

Neighborhoods in São Paulo

Locals call São Paulo “Sampa” and because of its huge size, it has dozens of neighborhoods. To make it easy for you to choose where to go here are some of São Paulo’s coolest neighborhoods you should consider visiting.

Vila Madalena

This is considered Sampa’s hippest neighborhood. It has some of the best bars, restaurants, and art museums in all of Brazil and definitely in São Paulo. When visiting the neighborhood ensure you go to the Beco do Batman, a one way street in Vila Madalena known for its street art. During the weekend, go shop for antiques and sample Brazilian cuisine at the neighborhoods open-air market.

Pinheiros in São Paulo, Brasil

Pinheiros in São Paulo, Brasil

Itaim Bibi

This is one of the most affluent neighborhoods in São Paulo. If you’re looking for a fun night out head over to the nightclubs in this stylish residential area and you’ll be surely parting until the sun comes up. Make a point of visiting its restaurants and cafes - they’re also amazing.


If you’re looking to sample some Japanese cuisine visit this neighborhood. Liberdade nicknamed “Japantown” has the world's largest Japanese community outside Japan. The neighborhood has many sushi establishments and other food stores you can order Thai or Korean dishes. The area also hosts several eastern culture festivals like the Chinese New Year which you can plan to attend.

Baixo Augusta

This neighborhood was once listed as one of the four best places in the world with the best nightlife. Baixo Augusta has lots of restaurants, cinemas, theaters, shops, bars, and food trucks you can visit when the sun goes down. During the day, Baixo Augusta is a busy financial district.

Other popular neighborhoods you can visit in São Paulo to shop, dine or party include Pinheiros, Moema, Jardins, Bixiga, Luz, Centro, Bela Vista and Centro. All of these are highly visited by tourists and locals alike in São Paulo.

Where to Stay in São Paulo

Obviously, before you begin your tour of São Paulo you’ll need to get yourself a place to stay. One that is local but close to the main attractions and hotel that is safe and also very comfortable. The city has hundreds of hotels and your wallet will determine the hotel you choose. Here are some hotels you may consider:

Hotel Emiliano

This five-star hotel has been voted by Tripsavvy as the best São Paulo Hotel of 2019. The hotel offers luxury accommodation with a restaurant, spa, gym, and bar within the facility. It is close to a metro stop which will make exploring the city much easier.

Bê Hotel

Bê Hotel is a budget hotel and if you’re traveling as a group you’ll love it. Bê offers group travels triple rooms that have three twin beds. This place can really save you some money! The hotel is also located in a great area with nightclubs, restaurants, museums etc. so close by.

Hotel Unique

The hotel is regarded as the best hotel in São Paulo and it is famous for two things: Modern architecture and a fabulous rooftop bar. Guestrooms at Hotel Unique are modernly furnished and you’ll love staying here. While Skye, the rooftop bar, offers 360-degree view of Sampa that will make you never want to leave.

What to Do During Your Trip to São Paulo

Once you find comfortable accommodation you can start to enjoy what this city has to offer.  Activities you can include in your travel itinerary include;

Street art in São Paulo

Must See Tourist attractions

Because São Paulo is such a huge city there are way too many places to see in one short trip. The city is seriously massive. Here are some of the top activities in São Paulo you shouldn’t miss though:

  • Ibirapuera Park: This park is located in the center of one of the world's busiest city and covers over 150 hectares, making it São Paulo’s largest green space. The park has lakes, museums, bike trails and amazing picnic sites for you to just chill and relax.

  • Municipal Market: Dying to try some Brazilian dishes? Then pay a visit to the Municipal Market the city’s biggest food market. The vibrant market is full of shops selling Brazilian produce and is the perfect place to give your taste buds a feel of Brazilian flavors.

  • Street Art Tour: Walking around the city and viewing the incredible street art is a must! São Paulo has some of the best street art in the world thanks to a group of innovative artists who continue to create spectacular art year after year. Don’t miss a visit to Beco de Batman to view the city's biggest display of street art.

  • Tour Museu de Futebol: If you’re a football fan then a trip to this soccer museum will be a total delight. Museu de Futebol is located at Estadio Pacaembu, one of the São Paulo’s most important soccer stadiums. As you know Brazil is mad about football and has one of the greatest football teams in the world. At the museum you’ll have a chance to learn about their football history with a wide range of memorabilia, photos, and videos throughout the museum.

  • Cocktails at Edificio Italia: If you want to have a good view of São Paulo then you must visit the restaurant and bar at Edificio Italia. This tall building at the center of the city which offers dazzling views and is perfect for sunset cocktails and golden hour Instagram shots.

  • Parque Zoológico de São Paulo: This zoo was opened in 1957 and occupies 204 acres. It has close to 2,700 animals of 366 species. I recommend you ask your guide at the zoo to show you the section where reptiles and birds are kept.

  • Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo: This art museum has a collection of Brazilian paintings showing the country’s vibrant history. You must visit it if you are a fan of art or not, it truly has something for everyone! The museum also has some French sculptures and a lovely Brazilian snack cafe.

Experience the nightlife

The nightlife in São Paulo will blow you away and if you can handle it be prepared to party all night. The city has a wide range of clubs from São Paulo dance clubs, São Paulo Rooftop bars, São Paulo jazz clubs, São Paulo disco nights and even São Paulo comedy clubs.

Do some shopping

You can visit several of the markets in Sampa to get some souvenirs for your trip, you may have to bring an extra luggage!  Also, the success of São Paulo fashion week has seen more fashion stores opened and you can shop for the latest clothes at these shops. Major luxury brands like Dior, Armani, Gucci also have shops in São Paulo near Rua Oscar Freire Street.

How to Get Around São Paulo

São Paulo has some pretty bad traffic and moving around using public transport will get you to your destination faster. I suggest you use the cities metro or bus service it is entirely safe and much more convenient especially around rush hour in São Paulo.

My best tip is to avoid traveling during rush hour as public transport (while being more efficient) will definitely be at its busiest.

Does São Paulo Have Uber?

Yes! There are several taxi apps like Uber, Easy Taxi, 99 Taxis available in the city. If you choose to travel by taxi definitely use these apps over hailing a traditional cab. You’ll be clear how much the trip will cost before getting in.

Final Thoughts

This magnificent city if just waiting for you to explore and will surly be worthwhile to stop in while traveling to Brazil. If you are visiting I suggest bringing along a Brazil travel guide with you. Here are some books I recommend...

I hope this travel guide helps ensure your stay in São Paulo is beyond exceptional! Also, a super common question I get is: What camera do I use for my travels. The body is a Nikon D5300 and I use the kit lens and a Sigma wide-angle lens which I am genuinely obsessed with.

My full list of travel gear, that I take on every trip can be found here.

Enjoy your travels and if you have any questions DO NOT hesitate to reach out to me via Instagram, Twitter, or just shoot me an email - tessajuliette at gmail dot com

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