Sao Paulo Cityscape
Sao Paulo (Photo credit: Kaique Rocha)

Sao Paulo Travel Guide

QUICK FACTS

  • The largest city in Brazil (and in the Southern Hemisphere), with 11.2 million people.
  • The cultural capital of Brazil, known for its varied and jovial nightlife.
  • With the largest economy (in GDP terms) of all Brazilian and Latin American cities, Sao Paulo is a financial hub and a symbol of the region’s rapidly growing economy.
  • Nickname: The City that Never Sleeps. Known to locals (paulistas) as Cicade da Garoa (“city of drizzle”).

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

  • Currency: Brazilian Real (BRL)
  • Spoken languages: Portuguese, though English is also widely spoken.
  • Best Time To Visit: June to October. The summer is typically hot and humid, while the winter (June-August) is more pleasant (though stil chilly in the evenings). Avoid visiting during the rainy season, which typically lasts from December to January.
  • Arriving via airport (Aeroporto Guarulhos): shuttle buses are R$35, regular buses are R$4.30 and taxis are R$100-140. 

WHERE TO STAY

Vila Madalena is one of the trendiest neighbourhoods of Sao Paulo, known for its party scene. Avenida Paulista/Jardins are the more upscale areas, and are home to the best restaurants with everything in walking distance. For a happy medium, try Ibirapuera – it is next to the largest park in the city, and has a trendy (yet sophisticated) feel. Budget accommodation can be found in most districts in Sao Paulo.

GETTING AROUND

  • The metrô, Sao Paulo’s subway system, is safe, clean, and efficient. It runs from 5 AM to midnight (or later), and a single ride costs just R$3.
  • Buses can be crowded, particularly during peak times (6AM – 9AM and 4PM – 8PM), but they reach places the metrô does not. One way tickets cost R$3.
  • If you want a taxi, look out for the white taxi ranks with green letters – taxis in Sao Paulo are known to be overpriced (relative to other cities).

SAO PAULO NIGHTLIFE

  • Drinking age is 18, last call is never – this city is alive and kicking 24/7!
  • Rua Augusta is Sao Paulo’s nightlife central, particularly along Baixo Augusta a stretch filled with wall-to-wall bars, gastro-restaurants, strip clubs and several small nightclubs called bar-baladas.
  • Vila Madalena is the place to go for a more traditional night out, with many Brazilian gastropubs and places hosting live Samba bands.
  • Upscale scene: head to Itaim Bibi and neighboring Vila Olímpia.

UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT

  • Head to the Banespa skyscraper – take a free ride to the observation deck for stunning panoramic views of the city.
  • Avenida Paulista is the city’s cultural hub, well worth the visit for its contrasting new and old architecture. It is packed with art galleries, theaters, pubs and restaurants.
  • While it is not that aesthetically-pleasing, Sao Paulo’s historic center is intriguing and a must-see for the first time visitor.
  • Built in 1967, the immense Sao Paulo Cathedral features beautiful interior work. It has a capacity for 8,000!

INTERESTING WALKS

  • Parque do Ibirapuera is the largest green space in Sao Paulo, and makes for a pleasant escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
  • Free organized walking tours are always available from various points downtown.
  • For those interested in street art, take a walk in the Vila Madalena district. Be sure to check out “Batman’s alley” off Rua Harmonia, where you can find artistic street graffiti 500 ft high.

LOCAL WISDOM

  • Keep valuables hidden at all times. When using ATMs, opt for those in highly concentrated areas such as theaters, cinemas or shopping malls.
  • Traffic jams are common in Sao Paulo, so if you are traveling by road be aware of this – it can take up to an hour and a half to complete a journey of a few blocks.
  • Sao Paulo isn’t as synonymous with Carnaval as Rio but its lack of crowds and lower prices make its Carnaval in February appealing. It hosts its own Rio-style parade in its sambódromo, and many bars and clubs keep the party going with costume balls and special events.
  • Where to find good cheap eats:  everywhere! Sao Paulo is well known for its vast amounts of food on offer and most areas will provide good cheap options for food. While in Sao Paulo, be sure to check out caipirinhas, and cachaca – the Brazilian national drink and cocktail!
  • Dangerous areas to avoid: be careful in the downtown center at night, and watch out for pickpockets at Praça da Sé. Use common sense (as in any major city) and you shouldn’t have any problems.

RECOMMENDED SAO PAULO GUIDE BOOKS

Recommended trip duration: 3-4 days


SEE ALSO:
Sao Paulo Travel Guide was last modified: September 23rd, 2016 by Nick
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