Sao Paulo, the biggest city in Latin America, is often left aside and the common consensus is that it is a city for business, not for fun.
This can be seen in the numbers: Around 80 percent of visits to Sao Paulo are for business -- almost 10 million people per year. However, São Paulo is also ranked the third city for cultural tourism in Brazil.
Per year, it is calculated that over 90,000 events are held in the capital of the homonymous state, which results in an average one event every six minutes.
Saying that Sao Paulo is not a fun city is a mistake. There are plenty of leisure activities in one of world’s greatest metropolises.
Sao Paulo became an important city for Brazil in the middle of the 19th century when the economy was sustained by coffee producers in the region. The population boom started in 1930, the year Brazil started industrializing. Sao Paulo became the main city through this process.
But its history is not restricted to the last 250 years. Its founding dates back to Jan. 25, 1554. At that time, a Jesuit religious school known as the Pateo do Collegio was built and its building has lasted to today; it is one of the main tourist sights in the city.
It was also in Sao Paulo, on Sept. 7, 1822 that Pedro I, the prince of Brazil at the time declared the independence of Brazil from Portugal, shouting words that would be never forgotten: “Independence or death!” This day is now known as Independence Day in Brazil.
Close to the exact place where this took place, 70 years later the Ipiranga Palace was built. Today it is one of the most visited museums in Sao Paulo, and it has rare artifacts from the old Empire of Brazil. Designed by Italian architect Tommaso Bezzi, it resembles some of the castles from the renaissance era, and its large green gardens are a great place to spend time taking photos and enjoying the ambience.
Avenida Paulista (Paulista Avenue)
Avenida Paulista is the most famous avenue in Sao Paulo, often referred to as “the heart of São Paulo.” It isn’t long, just two-and-a-half kilometers, but some of the most important companies in Brazil have their offices there. It is a place where modernity meets history, and you will be too busy admiring it to become tired of walking along it.
It is also a preferred spot for public events, due to the visibility it provides. Annually, it hosts the largest gay parade in the world and the traditional race of Sao Silvestre, a 15-kilometer race that takes place on Dec. 31 and is attended by some of the most important marathon runners. The Sao Paulo Museum of Art (MASP) is located right in the middle of the avenue and was founded in 1947, featuring works of arts by Cândido Portinari, Salvador Dali, Vincent Van Gogh and Rembrant.
Parque do Ibirapuera (Ibirapuera’s Park)
Parque do Ibirapuera is a great for taking an outdoor bike ride in Sao Paulo. The large fields, nature, trees and ice-cream will make you feel relaxed.
In addition to the park’s bicycle lane there are 13 areas allotted for playing football, basketball and other sports, as well as areas to walk and a large area for picnics and relaxing. The Museum of Modern Art, the OCA and the Afro Culture Museum are also located here along with a theater, a planetarium and an obelisk. It is great if you are looking to spend a good time with family, friends or even on your own.
I have already mentioned some of the museums the city boasts, but it also has much more to offer. Near Sao Paulo’s most famous train station, Luz -- the architecture of which was inspired by London’s King Cross train station -- there are several places to visit: The Pinacoteca do Estado de Sao Paulo (an important art museum), the Portuguese Language Museum, the Sala Sao Paulo, which is home to the Sao Paulo Symphonic Orchestra, and the Memorial of Resistance, built in a former jail during the years of Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-1985).
An almost mandatory stop is the Municipal Theater, which can also be found in the central area near the train station. Built in 1911 and restored in 1991, the theater is steeped in history and is definitely worth a visit. Memorial of the Immigrant museum, the Latin America Memorial and the Museum of Sacred Art are also worth checking out.
Rua 25 de Março (March 25 Street)
If you want to go shopping, Rua 25 de Março is very popular for its competitive prices, and its popularity can be seen by the amount of people frequenting the area. Around Christmas time, 1 million people flood the street each day to buy gifts for friends and relatives.
Here you will find a lot of imported products, in addition to black market goods, such as pirate DVDS and CDs, as well as knock-off accessories, such as purses.
Two blocks down you will find the Municipal Market, a traditional place for buying typical Brazilian food and food from other countries around the world.
You can also visit one of the many shopping malls in the city. The Paulistanos (people from Sao Paulo) love them.
There are big shopping malls all over the city. The list is long but some of them deserve a mention, such as Morumbi Shopping, Iguatemi, Shopping Center Norte, Shopping Cidade Jardim, Bourbon and Pátio Paulista.
If you are looking for less busy areas to shop outdoors, a good place is Oscar Freire Street in the central area of Sao Paulo or Augusta Street, which crosses the Avenida Paulista.
Eating and drinking options
Being a cosmopolitan city, finding places to eat and drink is not a problem, and tourists are able to find everything they want easily. Not only Brazilian food but also pasta, pizza, fast food, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, etc. can be found.
The pizza in Sao Paulo, by the way, is very good. You can quickly find pizza restaurants of all price ranges with great menus and high-quality food.
If you want to find a good restaurant, the Itaim Bibi and Vila Madalena areas are recommended. With plenty of great options for every kind of food, these areas are always busy. It’s a good place to enjoy the evenings in the city.
I must also mention Avenida Paulista again as it has everything.
The number of big international events being held in the city has been growing in recent years.
The Formula 1 Brazilian Grand Prix is one of the major events, held in city in November. The whole city is affected during the week of the race, and around 5 million reais (approximately TL 5 million) is spent.
2011 saw many great music concerts in the city. U2 played three sold out performances in the Morumbi district, while Aerosmith, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jack Johnson, Elton John, Shakira and Katy Perry all performed for the Paulistanos last year.
Sao Paulo Fashion Week, the Lollapalooza Music Festival and the Virada Cultural, a 24-hour cultural festival, also feature high on the agenda of the city’s yearly events.
Football stadiums and matches
Sao Paulo holds the most Brazilian titles. Together, Sao Paulo FC, Corinthians and Palmeiras have won 19 championships and are some of the country’s most important clubs.
If you are a football fan, you could attend a game while you are in Sao Paulo.
The largest stadium is Morumbi, home of Sao Paulo football club. Palmeiras also has its own stadium, the Palestra Italia, but it was demolished in 2009 and their new stadium is still being constructed. The other big team, Corinthians, does not have a stadium and plays its home games at the Pacaembu, a municipal stadium, which is home to the Football Museum.
Only by going to a match will you understand how big Brazilian people’s passion is for football. People from all social classes gather together to support one cause, singing and shouting during 90 minutes. You will see very poor people, who work hard during the week just to buy a ticket. It is something difficult to explain.
Why Sao Paulo?
If you are looking to have a relaxing holiday, Sao Paulo is not the place to travel. But if you want a place where you can find a little bit of everything, you should definitely consider staying in Latin America’s greatest city.
Where to stay
You’ll find that most of the hotels are very functional and that there are hotels in all price ranges. If you are traveling for fun, however, you should stay in the central area, as the city has a lot of traffic. Staying in a hotel in the suburbs will mean losing part of your day traveling to the center. Staying near Avenida Paulista will make it a little easier to move around the citywith a rented car or by subway, although hotel prices might be a littler higher than in areas further away from the center.
The subway and buses are a good way to get around the city, but can be uncomfortable as they can get very crowded, especially during rush hour. On the other hand, public transport in Sao Paulo is very organized and is to use.
Taxis are also an alternative, but can be very expensive. In today’s world, GPS can help you find places easily if you are renting a car, and in Sao Paulo, this is a good way of getting around. The average daily start price is 90 reais (around TL 90), for most cars. It is also the best way to get around at night, as public transport stops running and taxis tend to be even more expensive than during the day.