Heading to Sao Paolo, but you’ve only got one day here and you’re wondering what things you can see and do?
Feeling overwhelmed as you know Sao Paolo is a huge sprawling city and you’re anxious you’re not going to be able to see the best this city has to offer?
Don’t worry, I’ve been in your position a couple of times before! When I used to work as a Flight Attendant I would quite often only have one day in Sao Paolo before I would have to fly back. Jetlagged as hell I would always get out and explore and I found some really awesome places during my layovers here! So much so that Sao Paolo became one of my favourite places to fly to! Let me show you all the best things to do in Sao Paolo if you only have one day here!
Whilst Sao Paolo isn’t your typical tourist or backpacking destination (most travellers would bypass Sao Paolo and go straight to Rio de Janeiro), I love that the city is not too touristy but yet it is so full of life. I don’t know why more travellers don’t come and experience this city as there are lots of really fun things to see and do here and you’ll most likely come away feeling like one day is simply not enough in Sao Paolo! As Sao Paolo is such a big city though it means it’s touristic sights are a little bit spread out. Luckily however they are no more than a short taxi ride away.
Firstly, Sao Paolo is a state as well as a city in south east Brazil. Like New York – it is a state but also the name of the main city in the state. The exact same applies with Sao Paolo. In this guide we will look at Sao Paolo City.
How big is Sao Paolo?
Before we get started let’s talk about how big and populated Sao Paolo really is. Over 10 million people alone live in it’s urban area. 10 MILLION! And more than 20 million live in the wider metropolitan area! It’s pretty fair to say Sao Paolo is absolutely huge. Way more people live here than you’ll ever find in Rio de Janeiro, New York or Mexico City.
Sao Paolo is not only Brazil’s largest city, nor is it just the largest city in South America, but it is the most populated city in the whole of the Americas and the largest city in the Southern Hemisphere! Not to mention one of the world’s largest cities. That’s quite an achievement! It is quite literally a concrete jungle! The main reason why Sao Paolo grew so rapidly was because of the coffee plantations here, and now it is the most developed city in Brazil.
Historical Immigration of Sao Paolo
Paulistanos (the residents of Sao Paolo) are very proud of their city for they have a very fascinating, unique and wide range of cultures here all blended together. Paulistanos are some of Brazil’s most ethnically diverse residents and this makes Sao Paolo uniquely different to other cities. This diversity in Sao Paolo comes from a long history of international immigration here.
In the 19th and 20th Century there were high immigration levels in Sao Paolo from people all over the world who came to work at the coffee plantations here after slavery became abolished. Most of the immigrants who settled were European, predominantly Italian, Portuguese, German and Spanish. Infact by 1900 half of the population of Sao Paolo was Italians! Then in the early 1900’s a big wave of Japanese immigrants arrived here and Sao Paolo now has the greatest Japanese population outside of Japan. You’ll also find sizeable Jewish, North American and Christian Arab communities here.
This is another thing I love about Sao Paolo and it makes it so unique. The people wholeheartedly are Brazilians whilst they still hold onto their roots. They are united as a population and embrace all the wonderful differences between them. Everyone can feel at home in Sao Paolo, and that’s such a wonderful thing. I remember the first time I worked on the flight to Sao Paolo, I was in shock as all the passengers were of Japanese origin. They looked totally Japanese, but they were all speaking in Portuguese! I found it so fascinating and so eye opening and quite frankly quite sad that we aren’t made aware that culturally rich places like this exist very successfully.
THINGS TO DO IN SAO PAOLO IN ONE DAY
Paulista Avenue (Avenida Paulista)
Avenida Paulista (Paulista is the name given to residents of the State of Sao Paolo) is one of the main arteries of Sao Paolo, and stretching 2.8 kilometres it is the largest avenue in Sao Paolo. Avenida Paulista is Sao Paolo’s economic, cultural and financial centre and you’ll find lots of shopping centres, cafes, restaurants and bars here. This avenue is bursting with life and a stroll down here will make you instantly feel the beating pulse of this city. Here you’ll also find the Sao Paolo Museum of Modern Art (MASP).
You MUST MUST MUST do a mandatory visit to the Havaianas store when you’re here in Sao Paolo! Why? Because Brazil is the home of these famous little flip-flops but more importantly because they are SO CHEAP HERE. I’m talking 5 times cheaper than what you can buy them for in the rest of the world!
The Havaianas flagship store is located in Sao Paolo at Rua Oscar Freire 1116. The store is huge and you can find every single style of Havaianas here (there are over 350 styles!) so stock up! Havaianas never go out of fashion and make a great gift for anyone! Lots of people bring them back as gifts for people back home, so you can always get them to have a look on the website (click here) and they can tell you exactly which colour and style they want! The shop is pretty Instagrammable too!
Beco do Batman (Batman’s Alley)
Another must do on your 24 hours in Sao Paolo is to head over to Beco do Batman. Beco do Batman (Batman’s Alley) is named so because in the 1980’s the cloaked cartoon super hero Batman was graffitied on the wall here and this started a trend that has continued to this day. What makes this area special is that almost every inch of this alleyway and the several streets that surround are is covered in interesting and colourful wall murals – it is like a free outdoors graffiti gallery!
This graffiti alleyway is really cool and there are so many different styles of impressive and artistic street art here on the walls. Well known graffiti artists from all over Brazil have come to leave their mark on these walls and the level of work is very high. Whilst it might sound a bit risky to head to an alleyway, Beco do Batman is a well known touristic attraction and you’ll more often than not find a few other tourists also snapping away at the beautiful street art.
Beco do Batman is located in an area of the Vila Madelena neighbourhood, where three alleys meet in a triangle off Rua Medeiros de Albuquerque. The area is a nice upmarket wealthy neighbourhood with a bohemian vibe. Please be respectful when here as it is a residential neighbourhood!
The area around Beco do Batman is also a really popular place for nightlife in the city for young people. Head down Rua Aspicuelta to experience some great bars.
Escadaria do Patapio
Located in the vicinity of Beco do Batman is the beautiful Escadaria do Patapio stairway with some nice art going up the stairs. Escadaria do Patapio connects Rua Patapio Silva to Rua Medeiros de Albuquerque. It is similar to the Escaderia Selaron in Rio de Janeiro but not quite as colourful. It is a lot quieter though so it is easier to get pictures without other people in, something that can be quite a challenge at Rio’s Escadaria Selaron!
How to get to Beco do Batman
Closest Metro: Sumaré (green line) or Fradique Coutinho Metro Station (yellow line). Both stations are a 15 minute walk from Beco do Batman and the pavements are in poor condition so you may find it easier to get a taxi as it will drop you straight off at the top of Beco do Batman. Click here to find the location on Google maps.
Have dinner at a Churrascaria
No visit I repeat NO VISIT to Sao Paolo is complete without setting foot in a churrascaria. A churrascaria is a Brazilian barbecue basically, where meat is cooked in churrasco barbecue style. Most churrascarias work on the principal of you paying a set price and you can eat as much as you want.
They will place a card on the table next to you. On one side is red and on the other side is green. They will place the card with the green side up, and as long as the green side is showing, the waiters will continue to come to your table and serve you different kinds of meat. Only once you are full should you turn the card over to red, which will signal to the waiters you are done.
If you are looking for recommendations for which Churrascaria you should go to, I went to Novilho de Prata and Fogo de Chao and can highly recommend both. Fogo de Chao is a well known Churrasceria chain restaurant – you can even find them in the United States.
And of course when you are here don’t forget to drink caipirinhas – Brazil’s favourite cocktail! Caipirinha is made from cachaça, sugar, and lime and tastes delicious!
Sao Paolo has a great nightlife with a large variety of restaurants, bars and nightclubs. There are some fantastic rooftop restaurants and bars that offer impressive views, including Terraço Italia and Skye Bay.
If you still want to see the view from above but would prefer to see it from an Observation Deck, check out the one at Altino Arantes – a building that was inspired by The Empire State Building but on a much smaller scale! Altino Arantes is also known as the Banespa Building (Bank of Sao Paolo) and is only open during work hours on weekdays. The views from the 34th floor are incredible but you need to bring your passport to enter and you’ll only be allowed 5 minutes at the top as it gets very very busy!
Cuisines in Sao Paolo
Due to the varieties in culture it means the food in Sao Paolo is fabulous. There is such a range of speciality foods here that if you’re tired of steak there are lots of alternatives! The largest ethnic group here in Sao Paolo is the Portuguese, followed by the Italians. So if you’ve been away from Europe for a while you can get some top notch food here!
If you’ve been travelling around South America for a while you might start to feel like the food is a bit monotonous, so Sao Paolo is a perfect place to stop and get your fill of pasta and pizza or anything else you desire! You can literally get any cuisine here – even top quality sushi or ramen as there is a very sizeable Japanese community here! If it’s Japanese, Chinese or Korean food you’re after, head for Liberdade – it’s like a Little Tokyo and has some of the best Asian food in the city.
Where to stay in Sao Paolo
Especially if you only have one day in Sao Paolo you’ll want to stay near the centre close to Avenida Paulista. The areas of Jardins and Bella Vista are the best to stay – I always stayed in Jardins and felt safe in that area.
Fun Facts About Sao Paolo
- Sao Paolo holds the world’s largest Gay Pride Parade in the world.
- Brazilians call Sao Paolo ‘Sampa’ or ‘Cidade da Garoa’, meaning the city of drizzle as there is often a rain shower happening!
Safety in Sao Paolo
There is a big gap between the rich and the poor here in Sao Paolo. You will most likely see homeless people or beggars. I never felt unsafe in this city though, but that’s not to say things don’t happen. Keep to busy touristic places, don’t walk outside alone after dark, don’t keep valuables on display and just keep your wits about you like you would any major city.
How to get to Sao Paolo
Guarulhos (GRU) International Airport operates many international flights.
The airport is about 25 km from downtown Sao Paolo but it will take over an hour drive from the airport to downtown because of traffic. To get from Guarulhos to the centre you can either take the train, bus or taxi. Bus and taxi are the easiest as you need to get a bus to take you to the train station if you plan to get the train, so it adds another leg onto the journey.
Bus: The airport bus departs every 30 minutes between the hours of 05.40 and 22.40. The bus costs R39 (6.40) and drops you off on Avenida Paulista.
Taxi: Fares are fixed with taxis, and cost around R200 (£32.50) to downtown, depending on your exact location.
Brazil is a very large country full of many beautiful natural landscapes such as the Pantanal and Foz do Iguazu. If you will be heading to Iguazu Falls check out my guide here that explains both the Brazilian and the Argentinian side!