The largest city in Brazil, Sao Paulo (or Sampa as it is also often called), offers an intense cultural experience. Tropical plants, charismatic people, and lively, bright colors, sounds and scents surround every traveler here, from the moment they step from the plane. It is a melting pot city, and has large, integrated populations of Italian and Japanese cultures among others. This fusion of culture has created beautiful combination art, culinary scene, and music that are well worth exploring.
flickr/Rodrigo_SoldonThis is the largest church in the city (but not the state) of Sao Paulo, and can seat 8,000 people. It is a large-domed 20th century cathedral of the neo-gothic style, and was constructed using over 800 tons of marble. Much of the decor inside of the building has sculpted and carved tributes (embedded as mosaics and woodwork) to Brazil, such as pineapples, coffee beans, and armadillos. Though the entire cathedral is impressive, the twelve thousand pipe, five keyboard organ is especially grand, and is one of the largest in all of Latin America.
photo/museudofutebolThe ultimate museum for football (soccer) fans, the Museu do Futebol offers both traditional exhibits as well as video and interactive displays. From information on famous players and famous games to basic instruction on how the game is played, the museum has things for people at every level of fandom, and even those considering becoming fans. It’s not just a place to watch, either, but to discover the speed of a kick when hit beyond a goalie cutout. Because of the high number of hands-on things to do, it’s the perfect place to take active kids, particularly if they are soccer fans.
flickr/lubasiThis market building sits along the Tamanduateí river, and is a beautiful domed art deco building with seventy two stained glass windows created by the same Russian glass artist who created the Sao Paulo Cathedral. Inside is an enjoyable market specializing in fresh food and dried goods. It is also a great place to sample a couple of classic Sampa delights: mortadella sandwiches and pasteis, pockets of dough stuffed with meat, cheese or fish and then fried.
flickr/lauromaiaLiberdade is considered to be São Paulo’s Japanese district, although nowadays more Chinese and Koreans inhabit this area, with many of the ethnic Japanese having moved to more upscale areas. The entrance is found by a large, red arch that is used in ancient Japanese architecture to mark the entrance to Shinto temples. A weekly fair takes place in the main square here where traditional Asian and Asian-inspired crafts can be sold on the street. Japanese imports of all kinds, great Asian markets and other Japanese shops are found in abundance here. Liberdade Square and the neighboring streets host several celebrations. Among the most popular are the Chinese New Year and Sendai Tanabata Matsuri, in July.
flickr/BenjaminThompsonHome of the finest European Art collection in South America and possibly the Southern Hemisphere, the MASP is a must-see for any art lover traveling to Sao Paulo. The artistic experience begins before entrance, as the unique architectural design created by Assis Chateaubriand is a work in itself. The collection is vast and covers a number of the most well-known European Masters, including Rubens and Rembrandt, Botticelli and Picasso, Goya and Cezanne, along with a section dedicated to early masters of the Americas. The museum is large, and those who enjoy time to see paintings in depth should plan two or more days here.
wikipedia/The PhotographerThis ornate, gilded architectural wonder was created to showcase the importance of Sao Paulo on the international arts scene. Designed after the Palais Garnier in Paris, the Theatro Municipal made its world debut in 1922 as an important arts showcase when it hosted the year of modern art. Recently restored to its original opulence in 2011, the theatro continues to host world-class operas and other dramatic performances, often with international stars.
flickr/Marilane BorgesThe goal of this museum is to create an interactive experience with the Portuguese language that is fun and educational for both those new to the language as well as lifelong native speakers. Much of the presentation focuses on the history of the language, proto languages, and the various backgrounds and cultures who speak the Portuguese language. Though there are some language nuances that may go over the head of a non-speaker, there is still a lot to see for both the linguist and the traveler speaking guidebook Portuguese.
flickr/articotropicalThe 2.8 km (1.7 miles) long Paulista Avenue was originally a residential street filled with large, ornate mansions belonging to coffee barons. Many of these were torn down in the 1950’s, and replaced with large, multi-story buildings. It remains a center of luxury and business, and is much like Park Avenue Meets Wall Street in New York City. Today, many of Sao Paulo’s major banks make their headquarters here, in addition to some of the finest prep schools in the country. The avenue is home to a native park from its mansion days, a number of museums and cultural centers, and is one of the main thoroughfares for city parades, road races, and other pride events.
flickr/Luis GuilhermeConsidered to be one of the most important art museums in Brazil, the Pinacoteca is home to the oldest art museum in São Paulo. The museum is one of the world’s best examples of Brazilian art, and houses many of the most important nineteenth century Brazilian pieces, as well as some modern displays as well. It also contains a number of European works, and some displays on artisan craftwork, like paper making. The museum can be found in a large nineteenth century mansion in Jardim da Luz, downtown.
flickr/Rodrigo_SoldonSampa’s answer to Central Park, Ibirapuera Park serves as a major recreational site and is one of the main tourist attractions in Sao Paulo. It has paths for walking and jogging, bikeways, woods, lakes, sport courts and areas for relaxation that attract city residents of all ages. Bicycles can be rented also. There are several buildings and sculptures here of note including several museums and churches, along with a large obelisk commemorating the revolution, and a statue of Pedro Alvares Cabral. The entire park overlooks a lovely pond. Admission to the park is free, except when it comes to special events.
10. Sao Paulo Cathedral
9. Museu do Futebol
8. Mercado Municipal de Sao Paulo
7. Liberdade District
6. Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo (MASP)
5. Theatro Municipal de Sao Paulo
4. Museu da Lingua Portuguesa
3. Avenida Paulista
2. Pinacoteca do Estado
1. Ibirapuera Park