Touring Central São Paulo in Two Days

By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – São Paulo (SP) will leave you in little doubt that it is a business powerhouse: it is Brazil’s richest city and the largest in the southern hemisphere; the city and its vast, sprawling metropolitan area are home to over 20 million Paulistanos (people from the city) and Paulistas (people from SP state). 

MASP, photo by Flickr Creative Commons License/gnumarcelo

The São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP) on Avenida Paulista is internationally-recognized for its permanent and rotating galleries, photo by Flickr Creative Commons License/gnumarcelo.

Whether here on business or are simply yearning for a couple of days in a megatropolis, most find this city exciting, invigorating and chock full of things to see and do.

Business aside, São Paulo is a place of culture, history and great cuisine. A walk down Avenida Paulista – São Paulo’s most famous, skyscraper-lined central avenue – will give a sense of the city at large.

One minute visitors walk past the headquarters of a world-class bank, the next they come across the internationally-recognized São Paulo Museum of Art, MASP (R$15).

MASP’s Sixties-built concrete and glass gallery sits up on two giant red supports and is considered a tourist attraction in its own right: it holds around 10,000m² of both permanent and temporary exhibitions, including Latin America’s biggest collection of Western art.

Next to the idyllic Jardim da Luz park – itself home to an array of modern sculptures – you’ll find the Pinacoteca do Estado (R$6/free Saturdays), São Paulo’s oldest art museum, dominated by paintings and sculptures by Brazilian artists.

Across the road, inside the impressive Estação da Luz station, the Museu da Língua Portuguesa (Museum of the Portuguese Language, R$6/free Saturdays) pays homage to the history of the language and its various dialects and creoles around the globe.

Next to the Parque da Independência, in its stunning palatial setting, the Museu Paulista – or “Museu do Ipiranga” (R$6/free the first Sunday of month) is a tribute to Brazilian Independence and the Empire that preceded it, and ideal for those interested in history.

São Paulo's Mercado Municipal, Brazil News

Try something new – including the famous hot mortadella sandwich – in the Mercadão, photo by Milton Jung/Flickr Creative Commons License.

The historic center is well worth a visit: alight at Sé metrô station and work your way north. Start with the Catedral da Sé metropolitan cathedral and then head up to the Viaduto do Chá – noticing the jungle growing out of the top of the Prefeitura (City Hall) building – over to the Theatro Municipal, and on to São Bento.

After passing through hubbub of Rua 25 de Março, São Paulo’s mecca for those in search of cheap electronics goods, head on to São Paulo’s historic Mercado Municipal, the “Mercadão,” a massive open-plan market selling mainly fruit and meat.

Arrive hungry: the market’s famously friendly sellers will treat to a taste of fruits which you have probably never even heard of, without being overly pushy about you buying anything. Round off your trip to the market with a traditional “mortadella” (baloney) sandwich.

If you need to escape the chaos, peace can be found in the many parks dotted around the city, the largest and most famous of which is Parque Ibirapuera, which is home to the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art, MAM.

Although not extensive, the best way to get around Central São Paulo is by using the subway, the Metrô. Tickets cost R$3 per adult per journey. São Paulo is served by two international airports: Guarulhos, located outside the city, and inner-city Congonhas, set south of the center, with flights from Rio daily.