What to Do in São Paulo: Your Complete Travel Guide

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As some of you may know, my daughter Bella recently spent six months studying and living in São Paulo. While Brazil is considered a global south country, it is one of the most beautiful and diverse places in terms of culture and ethnicity. There are stunning neighborhoods that will make you believe you are in a western European country, as well as beaches that will quite literally take your breath away.

With São Paulo being such a large city, Bella and I have put together a three day itinerary showing you our favorite places to stay, good neighborhoods for shopping, and the best restaurants in the area. We’re also sharing some important safety tips to keep in mind when traveling there. Consider this your go-to São Paulo travel guide, whether you’ve been before or are planning your first trip.

Sao Paulo three day itinerary
Sao Paulo itinerary

Where to Stay in São Paulo

I travelled with Bella back in July of 2023 to help her settle into the city and I stayed in the most amazing Airbnb. I loved it so much that I actually stayed there again with the fam when we visited for Christmas (find specific apartment here). This is in the neighborhood called Higienopolis, which is quieter and older, and is located in a more traditional area where there are more trees and plants on the sidewalks—always a perk!

Another great neighborhood to stay in is Jardins, especially if you are a shopaholic. The streets here are also a little more quiet but super luxurious with a good amount of nature as well. I have picked out a couple of apartments in the area with a higher price point (at the moment), and a lower price point.

Pinheiros is another great and central location to stay in. There are a ton of cool cafes and restaurants in the area as well as bars and clubs if you’re a night owl! Bella had a few friends that lived in Pinheiros and all of them felt super safe. The area also is super accessible for public transportation, which is an added benefit. I found a little loft in Pinheiros that matches the vibe of the neighborhood perfectly!

Best Restaurants in São Paulo

The first place I will recommend is for breakfast in São Paulo and it’s called Fabrique. This place is always packed because everything is homemade and tastes very fresh. They also have a great variety of juices and if you have ever visited Brazil you know that Brazilian juices are the best around!

Cafe da manha em São Paulo
Where to eat in São Paulo

A cool cafe to visit for brunch in Pinheiros is called Levena SP, which we visited with one of our Brazilian friends. This place has the coolest layout with tables on different levels—the entire cafe is not one one level but three! Definitely a great place for pics and it’s just a ten minute walk from Rua Oscar Freire!

Brunch spot in Pinheiros

Lunch in Jardins should take place at Gero. This place is delish and has the cutest outdoor seating with views of the street (while still offering some privacy.)

For an incredible dinner with an even better view, you absolutely must put Vista Restaurante on your list! This is a restaurant located on the rooftop of the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is free to enter.

If you’re a pizza lover, you will love Leggera pizza napoletana. This restaurant was elected as the best Pizzaria of South America by the renowned guide Gambero Rosso! This pizza definitely lives up to its name.

Rascal is another excellent place to head for dinner. It’s basically an all you can eat gourmet buffet and I ate here with my family for my birthday when I visited in July. We ate at the Higienopolis mall location but there are a few other locations you can choose from.

Last but not least, Braz Pizzaria is a chain restaurant of sorts but think of it as fancy and delish! Braz is always a great place to go because the restaurants are all over São Paulo, and the pizza is guaranteed to make your mouth water.

What to do in São Paulo

For shopping, we’d recommend heading to Patio Higienopolis, which is in a great neighborhood. It’s about a ten minute walk from the first airbnb listed (the one I stayed in with the fam), and it has a ton of great restaurants!

Rua Oscar Freire is also a super cute street to walk down. There are plenty of little boutiques and the street itself is filled with lots of trees and nature.

Check out Avenida Paulista on Sundays if you’re into flea market shopping—the whole street closes from 7am until 4pm. There are usually a ton of vendors out and it’s packed with locals enjoying their weekend. There are also plenty of museums on this street, and a few of them are free to the public!

Sao Paulo itinerary
Street art in Sao Paulo

As far as specific sightseeing areas in São Paulo go, Mercado Municipal is typically one the first places that will pop up when you start researching. It’s definitely a super cool place to see with loads of fruit vendors selling the most exotic produce you have ever seen—all under one roof.

The issue with Mercado Municipal is that it is extremely busy with different vendors calling you to try their fruits (be sure to ask if it is free to try!) and it all takes place in a tight space. If you’re a little claustrophobic and you do not do well in crowded places, Mercado Municipal is probably not the place for you. But if you don’t mind these things, it can make for a very fun and memorable experience.

São Paulo

Beco do Batman is another enjoyable place to visit as well. The alley is filled with a ton of vendors on Sundays but it’s still a nice place to visit during the week.

São Paulo is an urban jungle, with so many places to see and things to do, but sometimes a little escape is needed. Ibirapuera parque is a park in the heart of the city. It’s considered the Central Park of São Paulo and it’s always packed with locals on the weekends. Here you can lay out your canga (a Brazilian beach towel) with a coconut in hand, and watch the Brazilians play footvolley (a form of volleying a ball with only their feet, chests, and head)! Ibirapuera Parque is a gorgeous place to visit if you want to play local for a few hours.

Ibirapuera Parque
Things to do in São Paulo
Things to do in São Paulo

Transportation in São Paulo

Uber is amazing in São Paulo, and honestly, it’s very affordable. I preferred to use Uber Black for my everyday trips because the windows are typically more tinted and it’s considered safer, but Bella used regular Uber X for a stricter budget and felt just as safe on every ride.

The important thing to note (also stated under safety tips) is that you should not be using your phone in the car. Unfortunately, a big crime is stealing phones and wallets from people at a stoplight. If the car is in motion it’s not as dangerous, but I would not risk pulling it out at a stoplight.

Another mode of transportation that Bella used every day in São Paulo was the metro. She took it many times completely alone and never felt unsafe. As long as you remember to keep your phone in your purse and you only pull it out to check for directions, the metro is a great way to get to your destination much quicker and it’s very affordable (only 80 cents per ticket.) Also, on Sundays, public transportation is now free!

Safety in São Paulo

Unfortunately, in a city with over 20 million inhabitants, São Paulo can be a little dangerous. But as someone who has travelled to a few different cities in Europe as well as cities like Miami and New York, São Paulo is just another big city where you need to keep your eyes open.

Never put your phone in your back pocket where anyone can snatch it, but rather keep it in a purse or a backpack. As I said above, there is an issue with people breaking windows to get phones from Ubers. Try to keep your phone and purse on the floor and you should be fine.

This is recommended anytime you’re in a foreign country and you aren’t feeling safe, but do not speak English! If you are in the neighborhoods recommended above, like Jardins and Pinheiros, you will find that there are a lot of English speakers around. However, if you start to feel uneasy about an area you’re in, step into a pharmacy or gas station and find directions to leave. Just try to avoid calling attention by speaking loudly in your foreign language.

Whether you’re visiting São Paulo for the first time or you’re in need of some new activities while traveling, we hope this travel guide has helped.

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