7 Best Reasons to Visit Sao Paulo (And Just ONE Reason to Skip It!)

Most visitors don’t bother looking for things to do in Sao Paolo. Sao Paulo is often the cheapest international airport for overseas arrivals, and for most travelers is just an overnight blip or maybe a day trip in a longer itinerary centered around Rio de Janeiro.

I’m not debating that. To be totally honest, in terms of big cities, it’s nothing outstanding.

BUT if you’re living in Brazil longer term, an expat, or really love culture and museums – it’s worthy of a visit.

7 Best Reasons to Visit Sao Paulo

7 Reasons to Visit Sao Paulo

Things to Do in Sao Paolo: Visit Sao Paulo for Samba and Night Life

Vila Madelena is just one of the hot spots of samba and night life in Sao Paulo, especially on weekends. You can show up to the artsy neighborhood for a late bite to eat and then head into any of the clubs to dance your butt off all night long.

Got a serious samba bug? Check out extensive reviews of Sao Paulo’s top 10 samba spots by clicking here.

Things to Do in Sao Paolo: Visit Sao Paulo for Amazing Museums and Sculptures

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an artistic toy-style rendition of a Portuguese battle at the Afro-Brazil Museum

The Afro Brazil museum, and Museum of Modern Art (both in Ibirapuera Park) and MASP (Art Museum of Sao Paulo) are some of my favorite museums in Sao Paulo.

Tastefully and modernly designed, the museums feature permanent exhibits as well as rotating, seasonal displays. Sometimes they offer free admission on certain days of the month – check the website links above to be sure.

Though English descriptions are scarce at Sao Paulo museums (and at the Afro Brazil museum: non existent), the art can still be enjoyed. And it’s the perfect place to practice your Portuguese reading skills!

7 Reasons to Visit Sao Paulo Brazil (1) checking out the artwork (sorry for the blurry photo!) 

Even outside the museums, Sao Paulo is a city full of sculpture and artwork.

7 Reasons to Visit Sao Paulo Brazil

sculpture in Ibirapuera park

Visit Sao Paulo for Safety

I felt much safer in Sao Paulo than in Rio de Janeiro. Brazilian friends told me that in Sao Paulo, the “safe” neighborhoods are very safe (as compared to Rio de Janeiro where crime happens everywhere). I stayed in Itaim Bibi and felt totally fine, any time of day or night. The streets are open and well lit, and there were always a lot of people walking around.

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I felt totally safe everywhere

Things to Do in Sao Paolo: Visit Sao Paulo for Ibirapuera Park

7 Reasons to Visit Sao Paulo Brazil Ibirapuera Park

one of the pretty ponds

In addition to hosting several museums worth checking out, Ibirapuera Park is the place to escape the hustle and bustle and surround yourself with nature in Sao Paulo.

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the map, showing how huge Ibirapuera actually is (complete with graffiti, of course)

Perfect for running, walking, and biking (and with a dedicated bike lane), Ibirapuera Park is a serious urban paradise. The ponds, old growth trees, and vast array of birds truly make you forget you’re in the largest city in Brazil, if it wasn’t for the silent skyline in the distance.

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the park is full of fountains and features, perfect to for reading next to

Things to Do in Sao Paolo: Visit Sao Paulo for Markets

Sao Paulo has large markets throughout the city, and a special handicraft market on Sundays underneath the MASP museum.

Mercado Municipal is especially famous, but if you aren’t shopping crazy, taking a stroll down any of the main streets (especially Avenida Paulista) will expose you to many vendors selling wares on the street, especially in the late afternoon and weekend. For more market suggestions, check by clicking here.

Things to Do in Sao Paolo: Visit Sao Paulo for International Dining

7 Reasons to Visit Sao Paulo Brazil (20) Yucatan Mexican Restaurant

just the first course

Of everywhere I’ve visited in Brazil, Sao Paulo has the best choice of international dining options. This makes sense, as the city is host to a huge number of Japanese and Italian immigrants, as well as a number from other countries as well, meaning a diverse and authentic range of restaurant options to choose from.

In general, I don’t like Brazilian food, and find it greasy, unhealthy, and unappetizing (especially as a vegetarian). But that’s fine in Sao Paulo, as there are SO many other options. I absolutely loved the food there!

One of my favorites is Yucatan – an all-you-can-eat Mexican restaurant, which is served piping-hot and made-to-order (rodizio-style rather than buffet style) all lunch long for about 30 reais (under $10). Mexican food is my FAVORITE but unfortunately I haven’t come across any halfway decent Mex restaurants in Rio.

Visit Sao Paulo for Service

Sao Paulo is an international city of commerce, and the service reflects that… in general. Even upon arrival at the airport, there is a booth set up to welcome tourists (including someone who speaks English!)

Compared to other places in the world, the service still wasn’t outstanding (one example – my “vegetarian” burrito took almost an hour to come out, and arrived filled with pork, even after double checking) but it is definitely better than in Rio de Janeiro. Waitstaff and hotel staff seemed much more attentive, and it’s more likely to encounter tourist service staff who speak English.

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BUT – you should skip Sao Paulo if…

You want to go because you heard there is great shopping.

I was severely disappointed by the shopping in Sao Paulo. A couple lackluster malls, and the “famous” Rua Oscar Freire. Compared by many Brazilians to New York City, I didn’t see the resemblance. At all. I’d compare it more to the main street of a smallish town.

Yes, there are shops lining the street, and the standard flocks of Brazilians stretched across the sidewalk blocking your path (there’s no staying to the ride side of the sidewalk so that others in the opposite direction can continue on their way, no no).

But the shops themselves can be found anywhere else in the world (Armani, Diesel, Louis Vitton, etc), and without the ridiculous overpricing applied to everything in Brazil. Aside from a few overpriced local designers, there’s nothing unique here.

If you are stuck in Brazil and need to find something for a fancy night out, Sao Paulo might be a relevant option, but I definitely wouldn’t suggest it as a shopping mecca to someone who is used to the standards of the United States, or pretty much anywhere other than South America.


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a view of the city from across the pond – Ibirapuera park


Sao Paulo has awesome green spaces, better services, more varied dining options, and most neighborhoods have a safer feel as compared to Rio de Janeiro. Everywhere I went, I felt safe, which is the first time I can say that since coming to Brazil.

The prices were on-par with Rio in general, but apartments are slightly less and for a higher quality. For an expat – it’s a great city.

Was it one of my favorite cities? No. And I wouldn’t mind if I never went back. It definitely isn’t a must-see. But it seems like a great place to live as an expat, and it was a fun break and different experience from Rio.

Overall, Sao Paulo is a better place to live than to visit in my opinion.

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Why do you think of Sao Paulo? Have you ever been (or would you go)?

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7 Reasons to Visit Sao Paulo (1)

Necessary Details: Sao Paolo

Where to Stay in Sao Paolo
For a wide range of pricing options (and to earn points towards free stays), check here
Airbnb is a great value in Sao Paolo. You can use this link for 39USD off your first stay!
How to Arrive to Sao Paolo
You can take the bus into Sao Paolo from many destinations within Brazil, but most people choose to fly. While Copa Airlines isn’t my favorite carrier, they do usually offer the cheapest flights. To check the latest low prices on airfare to Brazil, try Skyscanner , or if you have some date and/or destination flexibility and want to score the absolute lowest prices, try Kiwi.com.
Visa information for Brazil and Visa Renewal
I’ve written an extensive post (along with Q&A about the topic in the comments) here
Visiting Rio de Janeiro as well?
Check out my full guide to Rio de Janeiro here, which includes the best suggestions for hiking (including my favorite Morro do Leme hike), where to eat, weekend getaways from the city (including Buzios), and the best beaches.
You can read every article I’ve ever written about Rio de Janeiro (and there’s a lot: I lived there for almost two years!) here.
Viator offers a bunch of different Rio de Janeiro tour options, including for visiting Christ the Redeemer, and provides excellent customer service and refunds if anything goes wrong — much more than local operators would do.

A short vacation in Thailand turned into a life abroad with a canceled ticket home. Nearly a decade later and after living in Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro, Puebla, and Puerto Vallarta, Steph is on to her next adventure and living back in beautiful, cosmopolitan Mexico City. She is living, traveling, and working (both as an expat therapist and an international health insurance representative) around the world to find the beautiful, inspirational, and interesting while sharing it with you!

Find me on: Web | Instagram | Facebook


  1. October 14, 2015 / 9:30 pm

    Completely agree! I felt very safe in Pinheiros and Jardins the whole time I was there. And I had so much good food. Love. It’s weird, most people are pretty meh about SP but both times I was there I dreamed about living there, though I’m not even sure why. Maybe it was just that it was so much more exciting than the small town we lived in haha.

    • October 15, 2015 / 9:37 am

      I felt the same, I would switch Rio from Sao Paulo in a heartbeat (most people who were visiting either would say I’m crazy)! I think SP is the perfect Brazilian city to live in as an expat. And a decently close drive from the beach!
      Most cities that I’d love to live in, are really different from the cities I love to visit. Like Rio de Janeiro – I actually think it’s a better city to visit than to live in!

  2. Rogerio Andrade (@TioRogerAndrade)
    July 31, 2018 / 12:18 pm

    huh? Better place to live but not to visit?… weird, at least

    • Steph
      July 31, 2018 / 1:11 pm

      I usually find that the cities I enjoy visiting aren’t the same cities I’d enjoy living in, and vice versa.

  3. Tarek
    May 8, 2019 / 12:38 pm

    You have missed one great and most important point. The beaches. Especially Santos is worth visiting.

    I’m currently in SP and covered almost everything. Although I think I overdid my days here. Still gonna stay for a few days and don’t know what to do as I don’t like going to museums especially where there’s no English audio or texts present.

    • Steph
      May 8, 2019 / 2:28 pm

      Interesting! I never made it to the beaches near SP. I heard they weren’t that great so I skipped them.

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