Located in the state of São Paulo in southeastern Brazil is the megacity known as São Paulo. With over 30 million residents, São Paulo is the most populous city in both the Western and Southern Hemispheres, as well as the fourth-most populous city in the world. With its massive scale, it should come as no surprise there are seemingly endless things to see and do in São Paulo, Brazil.
The History of São Paulo
In its pre-colonial days, the area where modern-day São Paulo lies was home to indigenous tribes including the Tupiniquim, the Guarani, and the Guaianas. What would become the modern-day city was founded as São Paulo dos Campos de Piratininga in 1554 by Spanish Jesuit priest José de Anchieta and Portuguese Jesuit priest Manuel da Nóbrega.
Both men were instrumental in Brazil’s early history. They went on to play important roles in the founding of other Brazilian cities, including Recife and Rio de Janeiro. São Paulo dos Campos de Piratininga spent the next two years as a poor, isolated village sustained by the labor of the indigenous Amerindians. It would not be officially elevated to city status until 1711.
During its time as a poor village, São Paulo dos Campos de Piratininga became a mecca for explorers known as bandeirantes. These travelers organized expeditions into the then-unknown Brazilian interior in search of diamonds, gold, other precious stones, and Amerindians to enslave. Later, sugar cane became the main commodity crop, followed by coffee during the Imperial Period. Exporting coffee became the catalyst for major economic and population growth for the city.
Through the 19th century, slavery was abolished, and a large number of Italian, Japanese, and Portuguese immigrants moved to São Paulo for work. The city became more industrialized, surpassing a million residents in 1928.
Modern-Day São Paulo
Today, São Paulo is known as a diverse and cosmopolitan megacity. It’s home to significant Portuguese, Japanese, Arab, Italian, and Jewish populations, and boasts residents from over 200 countries. That unique blend is evident in the city’s unique neighborhoods, including Liberdade, as well as its cuisine.
I spent 36 magical hours exploring São Paulo in December of 2020 with my friends Guilherme and Rafa from Rio4Fun and Rio4Food, and Aurelio from Be My Guest SP. I quickly learned that being fluent in both Spanish and Italian helped me a lot there, as Portuguese shares many similarities with both. Even though my Portuguese is limited, I was able to figure out what people were saying most of the time.
As the first stop on my epic road trip through southern Brazil, I couldn’t have asked for better. São Paulo’s diverse food scene was the main highlight of my time there, but touring its electric neighborhoods and bustling markets is something I’ll also never forget. These are the top things to see and do in São Paulo, Brazil.
Visit Mercado Municipal de São Paulo
No one looking to explore the local food scene should miss Mercado Municipal de São Paulo, its central market. This one-stop shop consists of hundreds of vendors selling fresh produce, meat, alcohol, seafood, prepared food, and more! It all takes place in a massive building built in 1933.
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in authentic, local life in São Paulo, this is the place to do it. The bustling market is a haven for locals going about their day-to-day business, which also makes it a fantastic place to people watch!
All of the city’s major ethnic influences—including Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, and German—are represented there. That means there’s something there for everyone, from fresh cheese to draft beer to tobacco to shrimp direct from the ocean!
Many of the market’s vendors are happy to offer free samples for you to try! I highly recommend sampling a bit of spicy salami and a unique cheese salad with fruit, as well as a tasty yellow dragonfruit and juicy mango.
But the highlight of the market, for me, is the prepared food. One of the best options is the pastel de bacalhau, a fried empanada-like pastry filled with flaky, shredded cod and aromatic herbs.
You also should not miss the true star of the market, the mortadella sandwich at Bar Do Mané. This monstrous sandwich is piled high with mortadella, a peppery cold cut that is a blend of beef and pork. It comes topped with a mound of gooey, salty cheese and is served on a fluffy, toasted bun with pico de gallo on the side.
This monster of a sandwich took me back to all the times I enjoyed one back in Italy. Adding a squeeze of lime juice and a dash of hot sauce adds a nice punch of acidity and a kick of heat! Eating one is easily one of the best things to do in São Paulo, Brazil!
Mercado Municipal de São Paulo
Rua Cantareira, 306 – Centro Histórico de São Paulo
São Paulo – SP, 01024-900, Brazil
Eat Japanese Street Food in the Liberdade Area
São Paulo’s Japantown, better known as Liberdade, is just one of several local neighborhoods you must explore to get a true feel for the city and its diversity. This neighborhood first welcomed Japanese immigrants in 1908. Since then, it has become a mecca for Asian fusion as more transplants from South Korea, China, and other Asian countries settled there.
Brazil has the largest population of Japanese people outside of Japan, so it comes as no surprise that Liberdade is one of the best places in the country to try Japanese food. I highly recommend the small hole-in-the-wall Japanese-Brazilian fusion eatery called Restaurante Sato. There, you can try pork and beef marinated in miso.
Nearby is Izakaya Kintaro, a bar and restaurant owned by a family of sumo wrestlers! There, I recommend the gingery eggplant with miso, as well as the fatty, melt-in-your-mouth pork with ginger. Of course, a Japanese-inspired meal isn’t complete without some sake, so try some Pure Junmai for a nice, smooth treat.
Further on, you’ll pass street vendors selling souvenirs, Japanese gardens, Asian supermarkets, and sugarcane juice vendors. If you want something sweet and refreshing, try some São Paulo-style sugarcane juice, which comes mixed with pineapple.
The Japanese-style pasteles at Yoka are crispy and hearty, and filled with beef, eggs, cheese, vegetables, and crema. They’re quite similar to Colombian-style empanadas and make for a nice meal on the go!
But the one thing you must try in Liberdade is the takoyaki. I first tried these delectable octopus fritters in Kyoto, Japan back in 2019 and was thrilled to see them in several shops in Liberdade.
I suggest trying them at Izakaya Issa, where they’re topped with a sweet sauce and bonito flakes. They don’t skimp on the octopus chunks inside, either! Pair them with some soju, a spirit made from distilled sweet potatoes, for an outstanding flavor combination!
Check out my VIDEO: Brazilian Street Food at Central Market!! Monster Mortadella Sandwich | São Paulo, Brazil
Enjoy Brazilian Pastries at Villa Grano
There are a number of reasons to visit the Vila Madalena neighborhood of São Paulo. After dark, the area comes alive and is known for its pulse-pounding nightlife. But there’s plenty to do during the day as well!
One of the best spots to visit during the day in Vila Madalena is Villa Grano. This is a Brazilian bakery that sells everything from cakes to cookies to bread to cold cuts. There, you must try one of the most iconic Brazilian snacks in the world, pão de queijo.
Pão de queijo is a type of cheesy baked or fried bread that is incredibly popular among locals. You can find it almost everywhere in the city, and the quality can vary quite a bit as well.
The kind sold at Villa Grano comes filled with delicious cream cheese and is very moist and flavorful! You can also get a baked version with catupiry on top.
Another bread dish you must try is the pão na chapa, which is essentially toasted bread with a large amount of butter. Don’t forget the sonho, which is a round pastry with tasty, smooth cream inside.
For a sweet dish, try the pastel de Belem, which is a type of Portuguese egg tart. The cream and multiple layers in it was enough to turn my head, and I’m not even much of a sweets guy!
All of the snacks here are quite rich, so they’re probably not the best for your waistline, but trying them is among the top things to do in São Paulo, Brazil!
Rua Wisard 500
Sao Paulo, State of Sao Paulo
Enjoy Brazilian Steak at Picanharia do Gaúcho
Arguably the most famous aspect of Brazilian cuisine around the world is churrasco, or Brazilian barbecue. No foodie trip through the southern part of the country is complete without trying some at an authentic churrascaria. These special steakhouses specialize in preparing traditional Brazilian barbecue!
One of the best in São Paulo is Picanharia do Gaúcho on the northern side of town. This large, open-air restaurant is the perfect place to dine for travelers looking to immerse themselves in Brazil’s churrasco culture. It’s a popular establishment frequented only by locals!
What to Order
I suggest going with a massive spread so you can try as many different types and cuts of meat as possible. Their lamb chop is especially smoky and tender, and full of juicy and flavorful fat. It had a freshness to it that I wasn’t used to with lamb, as Brazilian lamb is local, whereas lamb in the U.S. is usually imported.
One of the most famous cuts of beef in Brazil is picanha, the local word for top sirloin. It was a nice medium, and perfectly cooked. Brazilians are especially proud of their picanha, and after one salty, mouthwatering bite, I could tell why. It comes with a mint sauce, but I suggest against it so you don’t mask the natural flavors of the meat.
They also serve delicious polenta fries, which is something I grew up with, coming from an Italian family. The curried cheese is a unique dish with a dense texture and smoky flavor, while their medium-rare ancho is pure delight.
This dish common to Argentina and Uruguay is so moist and tender, it practically disintegrates the moment it touches your tongue! Trust me, if your list of the top things to do in São Paulo, Brazil doesn’t include churrasco, you’re doing it wrong!
Picanharia do Gaúcho
Av. Águas de São Pedro, 444 – Parada Inglesa
São Paulo – SP, 02302-070, Brazil
Enjoy a Typical Brazilian Breakfast in the Moema Neighborhood
As I quickly learned after landing in São Paulo, Brazil’s breakfast culture can be pretty bread-heavy. That aspect of Brazilian culture was on full display as my guides and I explored the Moema neighborhood early one morning.
The Moema district, located near the heart of the city, is one of the best places in town to get a feel for everyday life in São Paulo. Along its streets are food vendors selling typical local breakfast items like pão de queijo, orange cake, and sweet Brazilian coffee.
The coffee I tried from a cake-and-pastry vendor there is easily one of the sweetest cups of coffee I’ve ever had in my life! It’s so sweet that the sugar doesn’t fully dissolve in it, leaving some granules on the bottom of your cup.
I recommend pairing it with the fluffy and airy orange cake, which has a nice crust on the outside. It’s also bursting with vibrant citrus flavor. For a real sugar rush, dip it into the coffee. It will definitely perk you up in the morning!
See the Murals of Batman Alley
Another of the top things to do in São Paulo, Brazil is take a stroll down Beco do Batman. Better known as Batman Alley, this local lane is lined with a number of vibrant and colorful murals. It’s essentially an open-air graffiti museum.
The alley gets its name from the large murals containing the symbols of Batman and Batgirl, but there’s tons of other art to see as well. Everything there is painted by different artists, and therefore was painted in very different art styles.
At the time of my visit, the city was mourning the loss of an artist named Nego, who had been murdered recently. Because of this, some of the murals had been blacked out in protest, while others called for his killer to be brought to justice.
As a unique slice of the real São Paulo, I highly recommend visiting to get a taste of the city’s arts scene. It was one of my favorite things to do in São Paulo, Brazil, and gave me a lot of insight into what the city is really like!
Beco do Batman
Rua Goncalo Afonso Vila Madalena
Sao Paulo, State of Sao Paulo 05436-100, Brazil
Try Fresh Coconut Water at Estadio Municipal Paulo Machado de Carvalho
As a massive soccer fan, the idea of visiting Estadio Municipal Paulo Machado de Carvalho was pretty exciting. This 40,199-seat stadium was the site of several FIFA World Cup matches back in 1950. Several prominent pop and rock acts from Paul McCartney to the Rolling Stones to Avril Lavigne have performed sold-out shows there. It’s also been home to the Museo do Futebol, which chronicles the history of Brazilian football, since 2008.
But I didn’t go there to see a match or concert or even to check out the museum. Instead, my guides and I visited a local street food vendor right outside the stadium who sells coconuts!
Coconuts are one of my favorite fruits on the planet. I eat them all the time at home in Miami. They’re also staples in other countries I’ve visited like India and Ghana.
The vendor first uses a machete to chop off the top of the coconut and inserts a straw so you can drink the water inside. Fresh coconut water is filled with electrolytes and vital nutrients, and it’s super refreshing!
Then, once you’re finished drinking, the vendor then chops open the coconut so you can eat the meat inside. It’s moist, cold, and flavorful, and is a natural way to cool down in hot weather. If you’re looking for a way to beat the heat in São Paulo, look no further than this guy!
Estadio Municipal Paulo Machado de Carvalho
Praça Charles Miller – Pacaembu
São Paulo – SP, 01234-010, Brazil
Check out my VIDEO: Brazilian Street Food in Florianopolis!! Shrimp, Oysters & Hot Dog | Florianopolis, Brazil
Explore Paulista Avenue
Smack-dab in the of São Paulo’s financial district is its beating heart, Avenida Paulista. This busy, 2.9-kilometer-long street consists of six lanes, a median strip, and a bike path. It’s lined with tons of commercial spaces, including bars, fast food restaurants, coffeehouses, banks, gelato shops, and more.
The bike path along the median is popular among both bicyclists and roller bladers, so exercise caution if you choose to walk along it. Along the actual street, you’ll find street vendors selling souvenirs, arts and crafts, art books, dolls wearing custom clothing, and even Marvel superhero figurines. One vendor even sells Star Wars ships made from aluminum cans!
Further along Avenida Paulista is an old mansion that houses Brazil’s 1000th McDonald’s restaurant. Nearby is a European art museum called MASP Museum. If you have the time, I suggest popping in. If you happen to be exploring on a Sunday, you’ll find a weekly market in the space under the museum.
Of all of the popular things to do in São Paulo, Brazil, exploring Avenida Paulista should be on your list. It’s a bit touristy, but it’s also a great way to get a feel for the heart of a big Brazilian city!
Try Brazilian Craft Beer at Bar Do
If you’ve followed my travels for a while, you’ll probably know that I am a big fan of craft beer. One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to seek out local craft beers and see how they’re made if possible. The best spot in town to try Brazilian craft beers is Bar Do in the financial district.
There, they sell multiple local craft beers from Cervejaria Colorado, a popular brewery in Brazil. At the time of my visit, they also had four beers on draft.
I’m a big fan of IPAs, so I first went with an Imperial IPA that had a sweet, honeyed flavor. Their regular IPA is a bit lighter and easier to drink, but I personally preferred the Imperial, which had a much more unique flavor.
If you’re a beer lover visiting Brazil, look no further than this gem. Of all the things to see and do in São Paulo, Brazil, visiting this spot was one of my favorites.
Try Brazilian-Style Tapas at A Juriti
On my final night in São Paulo, I embarked upon one of my favorite things to do when I travel—a street food tour. In my opinion, trying local street food is one of the best ways to understand a destination’s food culture. Whether you’re in a bustling street market in Thailand or exploring hole-in-the-wall establishments in Brazil, that remains true.
For more bite-sized, tapas-style dishes, I suggest visiting A Juriti. This historic bar in the Cambuci neighborhood has been in business since 1957 and is known as the place to visit to experience the real São Paulo.
The bar has a very similar feel to tapas bars I’d visited during my time living in Spain. There are a number of dishes I recommend, including their sausage drizzled with a popular sugarcane liquor called cachaça.
Another fantastic option is the morcilla, a blood sausage served with fresh, crisp onions and spicy chilies. The marinated fish wrapped around a cocktail onion is quite potent, while the chicharron (fried porks kin) is crunchy and very fatty.
Those with more adventurous palates may want to try the fried frog. Believe it or not, it actually tastes similar to chicken. The only downside is that it’s pretty bony and doesn’t have much meat on it. But the meat that’s there is very tasty!
R. Amarante, 31 – Cambuci
São Paulo – SP, 01543-040, Brazil
Check out my VIDEO: Brazil’s Largest Favela!! Exploring Rocinha + Brazilian Food | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Enjoy A Unique Hot Dog at Super Hot Dog
Another thing you’ll learn very quickly in Brazil is that locals have a strong affinity for hot dogs. Part of the German culture brought over by immigrants, Brazilians have embraced them and have even come up with their own unique versions. Having one is another of the top things to do in São Paulo, Brazil!
At Super Hot Dog, a popular spot in town, they take a typical hot dog and add mayo, ketchup, mustard, corn, tomatoes, onions, and fritas. Then, the entire thing is topped with a mound of smooth and buttery mashed potatoes!
I’m not a hot dog fan by any means, but if any hot dog were to change my mind, it would be this one. It’s a wild smorgasbord of textures and flavors, and each element hits your taste buds a bit differently.
It has a unique tropical and refreshing feel, and the fluffy bun is fantastic. But it’s the mashed potatoes that turn the Super Hot Dog into a full-on event. There’s no way to eat this hot dog neatly or delicately.
It will get all over your fingers and face and will fall apart on you, but that’s all part of the fun of eating it!
Super Hot Dog
Av. Nossa Sra. da Assunção, 72 – frente – Vila Butantã
São Paulo – SP, 05359-000, Brazil
Stay at Hotel Intercity Ibirapuera
Of course, it will be difficult to explore São Paulo without a place to lay your head at the end of the day. For that, I recommend staying at the Hotel Intercity Ibirapuera in the Moema neighborhood.
The hotel boasts an elegant and luxurious-looking exterior and lobby, as well as 202 clean and minimalistic rooms. The rooms have a modern feel and are quite spacious. My room had a king-sized bed and a desk where I could work and offload my photos and footage every night.
There’s also a flatscreen TV, a sofa, ample closet space, and a minibar. The bathroom is clean and modern, and offers everything you could possibly need. Guests can also take full advantage of the hotel’s swimming pool and fitness center.
If you’re looking for something a bit more “homey” and luxurious than a standard hotel room, you’re in luck! The Hotel Intercity Ibirapuera also offers three different luxury apartments: Standard, Luxury, and Premium. The Premium is considered their most complete accommodation and is designed to feel like a true home!
The hotel is centrally located. It’s just a short drive from Congonhas Airport, and minutes from Ibirapuera Park and Shopping Ibirapuera. At just a quick drive or walk from many of the top things to do in São Paulo, Brazil, it’s one of the best hotels in town to stay at.
Hotel Intercity Ibirapuera
Avenida Ibirapuera, 2577 – Moema
São Paulo – SP, 04029-200, Brazil
BONUS: Try Brazilian Snacks at Frutaria Jardim Rizzo
After eating lots of heavy and greasy street foods around town, it’s understandable if you want something light to change it up a bit. I can’t recommend a better place than Frutaria Jardim Rizzo, a 24-hour fruit stand that sells shakes, smoothies, juices, and more.
Because of its proximity to the Amazon rainforest, the superfood known as the açai berry is abundant in Brazil. Take advantage of your time in the country and try some unprocessed, unpasteurized frozen açai.
It comes mixed with banana and topped with a saccharine guarana syrup. Even though it’s just frozen fruit, it has a thick and creamy texture that makes it feel like a much heartier and more decadent dessert.
Another rich dessert is their tapioca cream with coconut. It’s very thick and feels like condensed milk with a bit of coconut in it. For a light dessert with a lot fewer calories, try the frozen dragonfruit, which feels like a dragonfruit slushie. It’s icy and sweet, but not overly sugary.
Frutaria Jardim Rizzo
R. Francisco Pugliese, 79D – Jardim Rizzo
São Paulo – SP, 05587-040, Brazil
The massive, bustling city of São Paulo is a fantastic mix of food, markets, and urban exploration. Its unique mix of cultural influences makes it one of the most exciting cities in the Americas. It’s a city I thoroughly enjoyed exploring, and I hope you will, too. Book a trip to São Paulo to experience its diversity today!
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