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A weekend in Sao Paulo

Reading time: 10 mins

Country… Brazil
State… Sao Paulo
Type… Major City
Language… Brazilian Portuguese
Currency… Reals $
Exchange rate (at time)… €1 = R$ 4.21
No. of days… 3
Average daily spend… €50.40 p/p
Accommodation… Hostel
Month… July
Daily Temperature average…  24°C
Nightly temperature range… 17°C

Getting there

To make the most of the winter sun, we opted for an evening bus to Sao Paulo. After quite a few Brahmas and yet another fish lunch, we boarded the bus ready to snooze for most of the 7 hour journey to São Paulo. 

The downside of getting an evening bus is arriving in a new city near midnight, tired, hungry and confused but we managed to find our new bed and crawled in.

First Impressions

Sao Paulo’s most defining characteristic, in a city where no iconic landmark comes to mind, is street art. With more than 12 million people living in high density apartment blocks the colour between the concrete comes as a surprise. Huge artworks dominate the walls of the city, some taking up the height of entire towers. These wonderful artworks bring character to the streets, alleys, bridges and motorways.

Discover downtown

We decided to tackle the downtown area of Sao Paulo by ourselves. We planned a route of the main sights in the historic centre and set out on a 3km walk. In the short amount of time we were exploring the city we encountered very contrasting scenes.

Many parts of the downtown area have been massively neglected in the recent past with investment moving to other parts of the city. This is particularly evident in certain parts, but overall it still retains a lot of it’s beauty and certainly all of it’s intrigue.

The Parque de Se or Cathedral square was so heavily populated with homeless people that it was impossible to do anything other than head quickly into the cathedral to take 5 minutes refuge before continuing on. 

It was tiring trying to navigate the busy streets, with the sheer amount of people and activity in front of us, as well as appreciate the architecture and sights of the city.

A little further on, our self directed tour took us to the more affluent parts of the city and here we took a much needed rest in a cafe selling local coffee from the region. People watching at “Wall Street” from a comfortable terrace proved more rewarding then navigating the hectic streets.

Try the local cuisine 

After spending over a week in Brazil ordering safe food from safe restaurants (read fish and chips or pizza) we decided to take a food tour to discover a wider range of the Brazilian cuisine. We didn’t know what to expect, but were pleasantly surprised to be taken to a mixture of trendy new restaurants, long time institutions and a cafe specialising in locally grown coffee.

The guides talked about the origins of the food and recommended dishes and accompanying drinks.

  • Stop 1 – Local workers spot: Acai bowl with banana and granola, Fresh juice, savory tapioca pancake, coxinha  
  • Stop 2 – Local coffee shop: Brazilian coffee, brigedoro, cheese tapioca bread 
  • Stop 3 – Ponto Chic: Bauru rolls (4 cheese melt with roast beef), local beer, Guayrana soda
  • Stop 4: Z Deli: Pastrami fries, local weisbeer

After this experience we were better able to explore the local eateries and street food options and be a bit braver when ordering more local cuisine.

The Dona Vitamina açaí bowl mixed with coconut, mint and served with banana & granola was a great example of this. We’ve not found a better way to start the day and it was a totally foreign food to us.

Sao Paulo is home to the largest group of Japanese and Italian immigrants in the world which is evident in its thriving culinary scene. Most evenings we ventured back to Vila Madelena to try it out. Carlos pizza was said to be the best the area had to offer and it didn’t disappoint. 

Get some fresh air

We took the metro to Paulista Avenue – one of the main avenues in the centre of Sao Paulo. Every Sunday, the entire avenue is closed to vehicles and all 3kms of it become an open space for markets, buskers, and thousands of people running, walking and using every form of non motorised movement on wheels.

Discover the colours of Brazil 

We followed that up with a visit to MASP and got our first taste of local life as we queued for over an hour to get in and shuffled around the packed gallery with what felt like a significant portion of the population. It was worth the wait however and offered a chance to see original artwork from Tarsila do Amaral (Capivari, SP, 1886-São Paulo, 1973), one of the greatest Brazilian artists of the 20th century and a central figure of modernism.

Get some fresher air

Having seen enough concrete, we set off for the 158 hectare Ibirapuera Park which, among some beautiful green spaces, is also home to the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art and the Afro Brasil Museum. We felt we got a good understanding of the history and culture of the country after these visits.

Wander around Vila Madalena and Pinheiros

As we walked around Vila Madalena, our guide introduced us to the main streets of the area and explained the rich culture and history which has made it so popular today. In the 70s, it was invaded by the students of one of the nearby universities (USP) and with that, soon bars, restaurants, small shops, and other commercial needs started to appear. With all the action happening in Vila Madalena, the village became a place of social movements, revolutionaries students, cultural facts, arts, musicians, etc. 

In recent years the area has developed and the bars, restaurants and shops have taken a level of sophistication you wouldn’t associate with students. Nonetheless, the area has really nice village feel to it and we were excited by the prospect of exploring our neighbourhood further. 

The area is particularly famous for its graffiti and we got a background on the different artists who are well known throughout the city and globally for their work here. Over the next few days we were able to spot pieces by the same artists in different parts of the city due to the distinctive styles of their work. 

The Vila Madalena neighbourhood definitely had the most enjoyable atmosphere of anywhere we visited in Sao Paulo. It really came to life once the sun set. Corner bars filled up fast, offering something for everyone. They showed sports on the big screen, hosted live bands, provided awesome bar food whilst delivering 2 for 1 beers to your table.

We immediately felt at home and were jokingly looking up rent prices.

Bars & restaurants of Vila Madalena & Pinheiros in a Google map →