São Paulo is the largest city in Brazil, with a city population of about 12 million and almost 22 million in its metropolitan region. It is the capital of the Southeastern state of São Paulo, and also a beehive of activity that offers a jovial nightlife and an intense cultural experience. São Paulo is one of the richest cities in the southern hemisphere, though inequality between the classes typically observed in Brazil is blatant. Historically attractive to immigrants as well as (somewhat later) Brazilians from other states, it's one of the most diverse cities in the world.
São Paulo – or Sampa, as it is also often called – is also probably one of the most underrated cities tourism-wise, often overshadowed by other places in the Brazilian sun & beach circuit such as Rio de Janeiro and Salvador. It is in fact a great city to explore, with its own idiosyncrasies, the exquisite way of living of its inhabitants, not to mention the world-class restaurants and diverse regional and international cuisine available to all tastes. If there is a major attraction to this city, it is the excellent quality of its restaurants and the variety of cultural activities on display.
Just south of the city lies the Parque Estadual Serra do Mar (part of the Atlantic Forest South-East Reserves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site), a mountain range covered by exhuberant rainforest that faces the coast and provides various ecotourism options.
Following São Paulo's extraordinary growth during the 20th century, most of the old city buildings have given way to contemporary architecture. This means that most historical buildings are concentrated downtown, where 17th-century churches stand in the shadows of skyscrapers. The best of São Paulo's gastronomy, nightlife, and museums are concentrated in the historic downtown and neighboring areas to the west. Consequently, this is where most visitors to the city tend to stay. Those who are adventurous enough to venture beyond these areas may discover a completely different São Paulo, including areas of preserved natural beauty, affluent suburban neighborhoods, as well as more dangerous and impoverished districts.
Note: the region of Avenida Paulista is partly in the Center, West, and South-Central, and its number of attractions, as well as its peculiar characteristics, justifies it having its own section.
Metropolitan area (Greater São Paulo)
A large sprawling city can present numerous challenges to sensibilities. São Paulo is no exception. Although the first impression might be that of a grey concrete jungle, soon it becomes apparent that the city has a great number of pockets of beauty. The population and environment of São Paulo is diverse, and districts within it range from extremely luxurious areas to hovels housing the poor and destitute, located usually in suburbia far from the so-called "expanded center".
São Paulo, together with Rio de Janeiro, is the spot where most visitors from abroad land in Brazil. While a complete experience of the city would take a few weeks (since the lifestyle of Paulistanos and every-day routine in the city are huge attractions in themselves), it's possible to visit all major sites within three days. Staying a little longer than that is always a nice idea. As the financial and cultural center of the country, the city is a sea of possibilities. Sightseers will be disappointed however, because the city does not have a single major tourist attraction.
The city has a so called clean city law that prohibits advertising such as billboards. Likewise, heavy trucks are not allowed on most streets except during the middle of the night. These are small but constant improvements which make the city more beautiful and pleasant to live in.
Native American Chief Tibiriçá and the Jesuit priests José de Anchieta and Manuel de Nóbrega founded the village of São Paulo de Piratininga on 25 January 1554 -- Feast of the Conversion of Paul the Apostle. Along with their entourage, the priests established a mission named Colégio de São Paulo de Piratininga aimed at converting the Tupi-Guarani native Brazilians to the Catholic religion. São Paulo's first church was constructed in 1616, and it was located where today is the the Pátio do Colégio (metrô: Sé or São Bento station).
São Paulo officially became a city in 1711. In the 19th century, it experienced a flourishing economic prosperity, brought about chiefly through coffee exports, which were shipped abroad from the port of neighbouring city Santos. After 1881, waves of immigrants from Italy, Japan, and other European and Middle Eastern countries, such as Syria and Lebanon immigrated to São Paulo State due to the coffee production boom. Slavery in Brazil was coming to an end, so incentives were given to immigrants coming from European countries such as Italy, Germany, Lithuania, Ukraine, Poland, Portugal, and Spain. By the beginning of the 20th century, the coffee cycle had already plummeted due to, among other factors, a sharp decline in international coffee prices and competition from other nations. The local entrepreneurs then started investing in the industrial development of São Paulo, attracting new contingents of overseas immigrants to the city. Many of those entrepreneurs were Italian, Portuguese, German, and Syro-Lebanese descendants such as the Matarazzo, Diniz, and Maluf families.
However, due to competition with many other Brazilian cities, which sometimes offer tax advantages for companies to build manufacturing plants in situ, Sao Paulo's main economic activities have gradually left its industrial profile in favour of the services industry over the late 20th century. The city is nowadays home to a large number of local and international banking offices, law firms, multinational companies, advertising firms and consumer services.
Many major international and Brazilian companies have offices in São Paulo, and the Bovespa stock exchange index (Ibovespa) is considered one of the most important Latin American market indices abroad. After merging with the BM&F (Futures Markets Exchange), Bovespa (São Paulo Stock Exchange) has become the third largest exchange in the world (Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper 2008).
Don't be surprised at the diversity of Paulistanos. For example, São Paulo is home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. It is not uncommon to see businesses and churches being conducted by Chinese and Korean-Brazilians in Liberdade, which was originally an Italian district, then Japanese and currently is heavily populated by Koreans and Chinese. The city's Italian influence is also very strong, mainly in the upper and middle-class spots, with about 6 million people in the metropolitan area having Italian background. The small but notable Arab and Jewish communities are also represented in the high-levels of society, from arts to real estate businesses, and notably in politics. But over all the most notably communities of São Paulo is the "Nordestinos", people with a northeasterner backgrounds or descent, which have a very particular culture and accent. Almost 40% of "paulistanos" have one of the parents or grand-parents who came from Brazilian northeastern region. Rarely this so important part of population reaches a high-developed level of economy or living, in exception of popular music and sports. It is too much more common to hear northeasterner accents in the streets of São Paulo, rather than immigrant accents.
The citizens of São Paulo have a reputation as hard-working and industrious or shallow money-grubbers. It is common to hear that the people in São Paulo work while the rest of Brazil relaxes; even though many say this, it is plainly wrong. It is a fact, nonetheless, that the city of Sao Paulo alone actually contributes with 15 percent of the country's gross national product (45 percent if the entire São Paulo state is taken into account).
But when Paulistanos are not working, they are often clubbing. The city nightlife is as intense as it gets, which makes going to a club a total must-do. Everything is possible in a city that doesn't dare to blink.
São Paulo's basic spot for orientation should be Avenida Paulista. From there, it's pretty easy to reach every single spot in town, be it by bus or underground transport. It is located between the neighborhoods of Bela Vista and Jardim Paulista. Av. Paulista is also within walking distance to Centro and Ibirapuera Park, which makes it the perfect place to start a walking tour.
However, keep in mind that central Sao Paulo actually comprises a very large area, and travelling from one spot to another may require that you take a cab or public transport. To find out the general direction where you are, see the street signs, as it is colour-coded:
All other areas have blue street plates, and a bottom stripe on the following colours:
To find the direction of Downtown (most precisely Praça da Sé), just follow the direction of decreasing street numbers. That doesn't work, however, in the Santo Amaro subprefecture (South Central), neither in the Far South region; in these areas, decreasing numbers lead to Largo 13 de Maio.
Although traditionally a working and not a tourist city, its inhabitants, if more educated, probably speak better English (and perhaps Italian or French) than anywhere else in Brazil. English is generally spoken at main hotels and tourist-related businesses, although a menu in English is a rare find. Spanish is generally nonexistent. Several Portuguese language schools teach English as a second language. You may ask a person if he or she speaks English, especially younger people. Locals are often friendly, and will try to help visitors, but language difficulties can offer a barrier. It's a good idea to print out some key phrases.
A good tip is keep your destinations and addresses on paper, in case you cannot find anyone who speaks, you can show them the note.
If you want to say numbers, here is the translation
Be careful when plugging in electronic devices, as voltages vary between 110V and 220V across cities in Brazil, always 60Hz. In the city of São Paulo the voltage is usually 127V. Other cities in the state of São Paulo may use 220V plugs (such as Jundiai, São Jose dos Campos and cities by the beach). It is always prudent to ask before you plug an electronic device outside the city of São Paulo.
Many electric outlets will accept both the U.S. / Canada type plugs and the parallel twin round pins used in many countries in Europe (low current "europlug"). It is helpful to carry a world-travel adapter in any case, since other countries in South America vary in electrical plug formats and shapes. Some outlets for computers have the USA two flat pins and one round ground pin. A new, exclusive to Brazil shape of plug with 3 rounded pins (similar to the Euro one, but with another pin in the middle, slightly above) was introduced in 2009 and became the standard for newer electronic equipment. However, and likely to the fact that numerous people bring their electronics from abroad to avoid the heavy-taxed price of the imports, it's still pretty common to find the older outlets or ones that can fit several kinds (the outlet for the new 3-pin Brazilian plug is naturally compatible with Europe's twin round pins).
São Paulo has three major airports: Guarulhos International (GRU) and Viracopos (IATA:VCP, also known by city code CPQ) for international and some domestic arrivals, and Congonhas (CGH) for most medium and short haul domestic flights.
Guarulhos International Airport (GRU)
If flying into São Paulo from abroad, you'll mostly likely land at Guarulhos International Airport (GRU Airport), also known as Cumbica. Located 25 km from the city centre, the airport has three terminals that are served by Brazilian airlines LATAM , Gol  and by international United, Delta, American, Air Canada, Aeromexico, Emirates, Air France, British Airways, Lufthansa, TACA, TAP, Iberia, Alitalia, KLM, Swiss, Air China (via Madrid), South African, and many others.
Non-airline shuttle buses  are available from Guarulhos to Congonhas Airport (IATA: CGH, ICAO: SBSP), Praça da República (Downtown), Paulista/Jardins region, Barra Funda bus station and Tietê bus station (fastest access to the subway). All lines except Congonhas connect to the Metrô. R$42 one-way(August 2015). There is also a regular urban bus every 20-30 min http://www.viajenaviagem.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/pap-d.jpg (timetables ), which costs only R$6,15 (as of Feb 18) and goes to and from Tatuapé Metro station (30-45 min, via Ayrton Senna, the other is slower) (line 3, red ). Exit Terminal 1 Arrivals and head for the middle island. Look for buses 257  or 299. Less comfy than the shuttles, but can prove faster way to Paulista (and elsewhere) on days with dense traffic, as it goes for the closest Metro station. Be aware that you might be denied access with luggage that won't fit on your lap.
TAM, Gol and Azul, the three main Brazilian airlines, offer free shuttle buses for their passengers with flights to/from Guarulhos International Airport and Congonhas Domestic Airport. Check the schedules for TAM  and Gol . If you're on a budget trip and have enough time, you can ride those buses to Congonhas airport (you must show your boarding pass or printed reservation to the bus driver) and then get a taxi to your destination. It will be much cheaper than getting a taxi directly from Guarulhos airport. The trip between those airports takes between 60 and 90 minutes. No reservation is required.
A taxi co-operative, Guarucoop (tel: +55 11 2440-7070), has a monopoly on cabs leaving Guarulhos. They are plentiful and the queue is outside the arrival terminal. Credit-card users can pay for their journey in advance at the booth, although it's useful to have local currency as not all international credit or debit cards will work at all businesses in Brazil. Expect to pay about R$100-140(depending upon your destination), as of October 2011, for the 25 km journey into the city. Passengers can ask to see the tabela, which shows the fares for each neighbourhood. Other options such as Sao Paulo Airport Transfers , Vida e Energia Shuttle Services  or LingoTaxi (with English-speaking chauffeurs). When making your travel plans, keep in mind that a taxi ride into the city can take up to two hours during peak times (3 hours if it's a Friday!!), or around 45 minutes late at night or early in the morning.
A new train service has recently been launched, and it runs non stop to Luz Station, in downtown Sao Paulo. From Luz it is possible to connect to other train and subway lines and access many parts of the city. However the non stop service runs only few times a day, and taking the regular train (the one that makes stops and tranfers) may be challenging, hence not reccomended. It is so because trains and stations can be crazy crowded mlst of the day and there won't be people to give any information. Thus, the Airport Express can be a good option, specially if you are not carrying too much luggage. If you chiose this option, check the time table. Another drawback is that you need to take a bus from the terminal to the station, since there aren't internal tarins linking the terminals.
Congonhas Airport (CGH)
The Congonhas Airport is in a very central region, 15 km (9 mi) from downtown. This airport handles most of the flights to southern and southeastern Brazil, inluding the São Paulo – Rio (Santos Dumont) hop, nicknamed Ponte Aérea. As it was built in the 30s, its simple but glamorous architecture is worth seeing.
Take any of the "Aeroporto" regular line buses that run along Avenida Paulista. After some 40-60 min in modest traffic you'll be dropped right in front of the airport and the fare is the regular R$3,50 (Bilhete Único accepted).
It is mostly faster to take the metro (blue line) to the São Judas (Bus 875, 10 minutes to airport) or Conceição ("Aeroporto" bus, from stop closest to Habibs, 15 minutes,) subway stations, and then the bus from there.
Cab drives from downtown or Paulista should be used after checking how is the out of control São Paulo traffic. Check the CET  website (only in Portuguese), which is the traffic administration department of the city.
Viracopos International (CPQ or VCP)
Located in Campinas, around 99 km (62 mi) from downtown São Paulo, Viracopos International  is sometimes used when weather conditions prevent landing at GRU. Brazilian airline Azul  has its hub here, and it might be convenient depending on your exact location. Azul has flights abroad to Lisbon, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. It can be very difficult to get from Viracopos airport to downtown Sao Paulo or Guarulhos / Congonhas airports. Sometimes a free bus service will be included in your ticket, but check this before you buy the ticket as otherwise the cost to reach Sao Paulo can be prohibitive. Check out taxi companies like Brazil Airport Transfers  to get an idea of pricing. Viação Lira  has buses departing from Tietê bus terminal to Viracopos.
Transport in São Paulo can be anything from complicated to hellish. Peak hours are normally roughly 6AM-9AM and 4PM-8PM, but since city roads are constantly on the edge of their capacity, any little incident can cause major queues and delays. The cheapest way for tourists to get around is to use the subway/metro, trains and trolleybuses as much as possible, and then take a taxi for shorter distances. Even these means of transport can be uncomfortably crowded during peaks, and only a very limited carry-on is recommended. You can check the SPTrans  website, which is the city's transport administration department. There you can get itineraries using all the city's public transportation options.
The Bilhete Único is a transport smartcard that is used for paying fares on buses, subways, and trains. In essence, a single billing of the card grants a person up to four trips in São Paulo's public transportation system with free transfers between the subway system and buses within 3 hours. The card is issued at underground stations and costs R$4.00 plus an amount to be used for travel (R$ 24 in total); charge them with any extra amount required in newspaper stands, state-owned betting shops (known as "lotéricas"), supermarkets and other establishments – look for the red, round "Bilhete Único" logo. Fare charging rules are as follows:
Note that the discounts do not typically apply to intermunicipal buses (usually in blue color and operated by the EMTU company), although there are some exceptions.
By metrô and train
The rail network, composed of metro (subway) and surface trains, is the method of transportation a tourist is likely to use the most while visiting São Paulo. The metro is modern, safe, clean and efficient; the quality of surface trains varies, but those in more touristic areas area as good as the metro. An update-to-date map of the rail network can be found in this link.
Surface trains can also be used to reach a number of other cities in the metropolitan area of São Paulo and even beyond. The fee is the same, make some of these trips incredible cheap depending on where you want to go.
Fare and hours of operation
If you don't have a Bilhete Único smart card (see above), trains uses a simple flat-price ticketing scheme – you can get only one-trip tickets, which cost R$4,00, and allows you to go as far as you wish. Free train transfers appear as white links in the map; paid transfers as black links.
The single tickets can be bought at the counters or automatic machines, which can be found in every station. Buying multiple tickets will not save you money but will save time locating a vending machine or waiting time in line, which can both be bothersome. If you plan to take buses together with trains, using a Bilhete Único is highly recommended.
Typical operating hours for trains are Sunday to Friday, from 4:30AM-midnight (or 1AM Sa) or, depending on the station, up to 12:40AM. Connections on the network operated by Metrô are guaranteed only for boardings before midnight (1AM Sa), regardless of the station. Check the operating companies' website for more updated information.
Daily use of public transport may be quite stressful to Paulistanos; many take more than 2 hours to get to work or school! As consequence, manners are often left aside on train and metro, and on peak hours, pushes are common. When boarding, walk as far as possible into the train after the door opens, and if you wish to wait for the next train, step outside of the boarding area immediately. Otherwise, you may end up being forcefully pushed into the train.
Inside of the train, it is not uncommon to have a lot of people blocking the way to the door, even if they are not leaving the train in the next station. Unless it is a hub station, politely ask Vai descer aqui? (Are you going to step out here?) to make people move on for you to get out.
As weird (or stupid) as it may seem, Paulistanos do not typically wait for people to get out of the train before getting in. If you are confronted with a mass of people outside when stepping out, walk vigorously, otherwise they may end up pushing you back.
Do remember to keep on the right side of a metrô escalator in order to give way to other people in a hurry – you may be pushed aside if just standing on the left side of it, especially on the busiest hours. Also, should you sit in the assento reservado (reserved seats), be kind enough to give them up for the elderly, pregnant women, parents with babies and disabled people.
Buses are the most popular way to get around the city. Even though drivers really step on it through the bumpy streets of São Paulo, buses are not the fastest way to get around. In addition, they can get really crowded. However, unlike the metro/train, they do reach every neighbourhood.
Tickets are R$4,00 one way. You can pay for the ride inside the bus, or use a Bilhete Unico card topped up with credits before boarding. If paying for the ticket on the bus, simply hand over the money to the teller sitting by the turnstile, and he or she will let you pass through. Note that children under 5 years old are allowed by law to slip under the turnstile for free! If you have the Bilhete Unico magnetic card, then a single fare payment allows you to take other buses for free for the next 3 hours after touching in the card. Simply scan the card in front of the card reader, and the turnstile will be released.
Most Brazilians move straight to the back of the bus when they board, which can make it difficult to get off the bus, but it's considered the polite thing to do. Also, if you are holding a large bag and standing, another person may offer to hold your bag for you. This is a perfectly alright thing to do, as they're really just being kind and polite. Use your best judgement if the offer seems like anything other than a friendly gesture.
If you are carrying large suitcases, try to avoid rush-hour traffic as buses can become incredibly packed. It is not always wise to take the bus late at night, especially if you find yourself all alone waiting at the bus stop – consider calling a cab instead, or asking someone you know for a lift.
Taxi ranks in São Paulo are white, with a distinctive luminous green "TAXI" sign on the roof top. Check out for the white color of the taxi rank (unless it's a radio taxi), the official license sticker with the driver's name and photo on the passenger side of the control panel, and the red license plate.
There are two kinds of cabs: cheaper street-hail and radio taxi. White taxis are often found at stands near city squares and big venues. Radio taxis can be ordered by telephone; ask reception at your hotel for help to call a radio cab, or just call a company. Some companies now provide an on-line, fixed price, quote and book service. Taxis in São Paulo are relatively expensive compared to other large cities worldwide and, depending on the neighborhood, there is a risk of being overcharged if you're a foreigner. To check app. taxi fares in advance, check out http://precodotaxi.com/sao-paulo/.
Unlike you may have heard otherwise, incidents of tourists being brought by taxists to be robbed are extremely rare. Taxis are one of the safest ways to get around the city, and certainly much safer than riding your own car if you are only for a few days of visit in the city.
Cars are an important tool in the life of every paulistano. By commuting to and from work, one can spend several hours a day inside a car, stuck in the traffic. Some places can be reached only by car, and if you have to travel long distances in town, it is usually the most convenient means of transport. It is also part of the Sao Paulo's own urban culture.It is common for some middle- and upper-class young people to receive a car from their families if they passed the entrance exams for university.
However, as it is the case in many big cities, getting around by car is borderline crazy if you're not used to São Paulo. Traffic can be chaotic and parking is a nightmare. It is also not so straightforward to find your way in certain neighbourhoods where streets can get windy. So be warned that visitors to Sao Paulo don't really need a car.
If you're comfortable enough to adventure yourself and feel more like a paulistano, feel free to explore the city from behind a steering-wheel. There is some information about driving in town that you should know beforehand:
Rotating transit policy (Rodízio): In order to reduce the congestion and the air pollution in Sao Paulo, the city council has adopted a mandatory rotating transit policy: cars whose license plate number ends in 1 and 2 cannot circulate on Mondays; if it ends on 3 or 4, Tuesday is off; 5 or 6, stay home or take a cab on Wednesdays; 7 or 8, Thursday is the unlucky day; 9 or 0, on Fridays you can walk. The prohibition is valid only on the so-called Expanded Center (blue street plates with grey bottom stripe), and for peak hours: 7AM-10AM and 5PM-8PM. During the remaining hours, cars are allowed to circulate freely.
Provisory driving licence: Being able to drive around the city is a great advantage for visitors staying in town for a longer period of time. You'll need a Brazilian provisory driving licence, valid for 6 months and renewable, that can be obtained at Detran (State Transit Department), on Avenida do Estado 900, near the Armênia metro station (blue line), tel. (11) 3322-3333. If you have an International Driving Licence, you'll still have to go to Detran and register it. Submit the following documents to “Setor de Atendimento ao Estrangeiro” (4th floor of the main building, also called prédio principal):
Drinking: Please be aware that, according to the national transit authority laws, it is illegal to drink and drive. Even tiny traces of alcohol detected in your blood (0.2g per litre, or the equivalent of a glass of wine) are enough for the police to apprehend the driving licence, apply a fine of around USD 600 and prosecute the drinking driver. The police will often search for drivers that seem to be under the effects of alcohol in large avenues and areas with an active night life – locals call this kind of searches a blitz.
Parking fees (Zona Azul or "Blue Zone"): The city council charges a parking fee of R$2 for one-hour parking in some of the main streets in the central area, so be careful not to be fined for not paying the charge. Check for signs in the sidewalk and yellow lines on the pavement. There are plenty of authorised shops, newspaper stands and transit guards selling parking tickets (Zona Azul) in the streets, which have to be filled in with the car plaque number, the date and the hour of the parking and placed inside the car, on the frontal window pane. These tickets are valid for one hour only, but they can be renewed if you plan to stay longer. Only two one-hour tickets can be placed at one time, which means that you'll have to check on you car every two hours to renew them. The fee is charged M-Sa 7AM-7PM, and charging hours may vary across neighbourhoods.
Driving at night: Buses stop at 1AM and the metro around midnight, so it can be tricky to get to many of the famous bars and night clubs unless you take a taxi, or... drive. If you go out at night by car, expect to pay a small fee to unofficial "car keepers" in order to park your car along the streets. This is a common use in many busy outing hubs around town, which may seem unfair given that parking your car in the streets is free of charge after 7PM, but they occasionally may check your car against stereo robbers. If the neighbourhood seems a bit dodgy or deserted, try to find a parking lot rather than parking in the streets.
Valet services: Most bars and restaurants offer non-compulsory parking and valet services to customers, for which you will be charged a fee (it might be as costly as R$ 25 in upscale places). These services are often covered by insurance, nevertheless, whenever using valet services, do not leave valuables such as handbags, wallets, electronics and sunglasses in the car, as these items are usually not covered by the insurance policies in parking spaces.
Fuel: At petrol filling stations, you'll notice that ethanol is as common as traditional fuels in the pumps. That is because, after the oil shocks in the 1970s, the Brazilian government encouraged car makers to develop and improve the existent ethanol-fueled engines. This policy, applied over the years, has resulted in a large number of people choosing to buy this type of car. Ethanol tends to be cheaper than petrol, but the consumption in litres is around 30 percent higher. Many flex-power cars can now be fueled with either ethanol or gas, or a mixture of both in any proportion. Staff in petrol stations will fill in the tank for you, so you don't even need to step out of the car, unless if you're paying by credit card, in which case you will need go to the cashier to swipe it.
Biking can be the best way to see the city, especially during rush hour. Most of the city is flat or moderately steep, with only the extreme north part of the city being extremely hilly. Most drivers respect cyclists, but many drivers (including bus drivers) don't. However, many bike paths/lanes existing, including an excellent one on Avenida Paulista.
Some of the best areas to explore by bike are Parque Villa-Lobos, Parque do Ibirapuera and Avenida Paulista. The latter is especially pleasant on Sundays when it's closed to cars for the Ciclovia.
Cyclists with bicycles are allowed in the metro/train network at the following times:
There is a free public bike system called Bike Sampa. You only need to download the app and sign up with a credit card. Then you can immediately go to one of the stations and use the app to withdraw a bike. You get 60 minutes per trip. As of early 2016, the system is so-so. Don't expect to find a bike near Avenida Paulista late in the afternoon, or an empty slot to put your bike there in the morning. There's no way to report damaged bikes, so if you see on the app that a station has one bike left, don't bother walking there, because it'll likely be too damaged to use. There is another, much smaller public bike system called CicloSampa. As a foreigner it is complicated to sign up for CicloSampa.
There are public bicycle parking lots in many metro stations (06:00-22:00 daily), and in some it is also possible to borrow a bike using a credit card. Check the Metrô website for an up-to-date list of stations with infrastructure for bicycles. Parking lots (mainly the ones designed for cars) may not accept your bicycle, so if you are to chain yours to a pole, use a good chain with a strong lock. In metro/train stations, cyclists are allowed to put their bicycles on escalators to go up, but not to go down. At Ibirapuera park near gate 3 (Portao 3) it is possible to rent a bike for R$5 per hour. You only need your passport. It's a popular place for locals as well, with hundreds renting bikes on weekends.
São Paulo has about 55 km of bike paths. You can see many of them on this map. The map might not be up to date. On Sundays, it is also possible to use the Ciclofaixa de Lazer (see #Do section). The bike paths that cover more than one region are listed below. Others are described in the individual district sections.
You can also hire a private limousine service to help you out during you stay from companies like:
Royal American provides Luxury & Secure Ground Transportation through São Paulo
Although required by the national transit law, pedestrians are definitely not the priority in Sao Paulo, where cars dominate the streets and roads. Take care whenever crossing the streets, watching out for cars that may come unexpectedly, even if the pedestrian lights are green. Do not try to cross large roads with a high volumes of car traffic: usually there will be a pedestrian viaduct or bridge at some point in the sidewalk.
Despite the aggressiveness found in the transit, one can still have peaceful walks across town. The Historic Center area and Avenida Paulista are definitely places to be explored on foot. Check the individual district listings for other nice walks.
Main article: São Paulo/Paulista
Avenida Paulista (Paulista Avenue) is one of São Paulo's most popular postcards, as it is the pride of Paulistanos. It is one of the largest business centers, and probably the largest cultural region in the city. Its architectural contrast reflects the fact that the avenue is located between the "old" and "new" parts of the city.
The avenue and its surroundings, such as Rua Augusta, Alameda Santos and Rua Oscar Freire, contain numerous shop galleries, art galleries, theatres, movie theaters, pubs, hotel, coffe shops, bookstores, and gourmet restaurants. Gay nightlife is intense on Consolacao and Haddock Lobo Streets.
Main article: São Paulo/Downtown
São Paulo's Historic Center met a period of degradation, but it is gradually recovering with recent projects and investments. Even though it still has some problems, it is an area to not be missed due to its historical and cultural value for the city. Here you can find many constructions and landmarks from glorious moments of São Paulo's history, ridiculously crowded commercial areas, and a multitude of theatres and cultural activities.
Regarded as an "ugly and gray concrete jungle" even by many Paulistanos, São Paulo's city center indeed does not conform to a standard definition of "beauty", but nonetheless, it has become a source of inspiration for countless artists and photographers who can see on it much of the personality of the city.
Rio Pinheiros river area
Main article: São Paulo/West
The Pinheiros river crosses the West of São Paulo in North-South direction, and although heavily polluted, the river and its shores are among the most beautiful and interesting areas of the city. The East shore is filled with skyscrapers that compose the business centers of Brooklin Novo and Vila Olímpia, and contains the longest cycleway of the city, as well as one of the most vibrant nightlife areas. The West shore is home to University of São Paulo and exhibits a stereotypical portrait of São Paulo's social inequality, contrasting luxurious appartments and mansions with low class suburbs and favelas. In the middle of the river, stands the magnificent Ponte Octavio Frias, more known as Ponte Estaiada. The Line 9-Emerald train line runs alongside the river, making all spots quite easy to reach.
Although São Paulo is commonly associated with gray, concrete, and lack of green space, the Atlantic rainforest still covers large portions of the city and even of the municipality. These green areas are constantly under threat by irregular ocupation, so the government has turned many of them into into public parks in order to better protect them.
Parks in the city can be divided into three types:
Check the individual district listings for a more comprehensive list of parks and more detailed information.
Museums and cultural centers
As the art center of the country, São Paulo offers inumerous museums and cultural centers. Two museums to not be missed, due to their size, architecture, and historical importance, are Museu do Ipiranga (Southeast) and Memorial da América Latina (West).
Appreciators of art should also check Museu de Arte de São Paulo (Paulista), Pinacoteca do Estado (Downtown), Instituto Tomio Ohtake, Museu de Arte Contemporânea (West) and Museu de Arte Moderna (South Central).
Check each district section of this guide for a comprehensive list of museums.
São Paulo is a beautiful city seen from above, so spare some time to go to one of the few points where you'll be able to see how far this city extends to, specially at sunset.
Theaters and concert halls
The two most important concert and opera houses of the city are Theatro Municipal and Sala São Paulo (see São Paulo/Historic Center). São Paulo has a great number of theaters, most of which feature plays in Portuguese. The British Cultural Centre, Goethe Institute, Instituto Cervantes and Alliance Française occasionally have plays in English, German, Spanish and French, respectively; check individual District listings.
Ciclofaixa de Lazer
Now it is possible to safely cycle in the city during Sundays and holidays, using the Ciclofaixa de Lazer. It is a 255.2km route that passes mainly through middle and high class residential areas in the West and South Central parts of São Paulo and bike friendly parks such as Parque Villa-Lobos and Parque do Ibirapuera. You can see a map here.
Every Sunday, until about 4pm, Avenida Paulista is closed to cars, and people come out in droves to enjoy biking, rollerblading, walking, etc. There's a lot of live music on the street, from the usual street performers to a higher caliber band playing on a big stage. It's one of the best free things to do in the city.
Fun for the family
Both adults and kids are ensured to have fun by seeing the animals in the São Paulo Zoo, Zoo Safari (with animals roaming freely) and in the São Paulo Aquarium (see São Paulo/Southeast). São Paulo also has educative spaces aimed both at adults and children, including Catavento Cultural (see São Paulo/Downtown) and Espaço Ciência (see São Paulo/West). Finally, Mundo da Xuxa (see São Paulo/South Central) is a theme park only for the small ones.
Football is an inherent part of Brazilian culture, and São Paulo is no exception, being home of four football teams that generally run in the 1st division: São Paulo, Corinthians, Palmeiras and Portuguesa. The four large football stadiums in the city are Morumbi (see São Paulo/South Central), Allianz Parque (see São Paulo/West), Pacaembu (see São Paulo/Historic Center), Arena Corinthians, a new stadium that was constructed in the São Paulo/Far East region to host the opening and some games of the FIFA World Cup 2014, as well as the local football team Corinthians, and Canindé (see São Paulo/Southeast). A word of warning, however: although most matches are safe and fun events, games between the biggest local rivals (Corinthians, Sao Paulo, Palmeiras and, to a smaller extent, Santos) have had episodes of violence flaring up (the majority of cases, such incidents happening outside of the stadium), due to a minority of violent fans (ultras). Going to such games can be a risky proposition.
Arena Corinthians is easily accessible via metro, being located next to Line 3 (Red) at the Corinthians/Itaquera station. Estádio do Morumbi is not easily reachable from the center (e.g Av. Paulista) by public transport. A taxi from Av. Paulista costs about 50 R$ (Nov. 2014). Invest this money instead of splitting the trip to Morumbi into metro and Taxi combinations, it will only save you about 10 R$. If you want to watch a game there, try to get tickets before the match day (Online tickets are available until 3 days before the match) because they might get sold out easily.
1. Parque Villa-Lobos (Villa-Lobos Park) is one of the most pleasant urban parks in the world. It's similar to Central Park In New York City. Perhaps not worth a visit just for sightseeing, but it's an excellent escape from the bustling city. On weekends, it can become quite busy. It's far superior to most parks because:
And you can:
2. Parque do Ibirapuera (Ibirapuera Park) is also a massive, bustling park. It is surrounded by the neighborhoods of Paraíso, Vila Nova Conceição, and Moema. There are plenty of sports facilities, such as basketball courts, a soccer field, and running and cycling tracks. Skateboarders and hip-hop break dancers hang out around the covered pavilion known as Marquise do Ibirapuera. On weekdays, people from all over the city come here to run in the early hours or walk their dogs. On weekends, the park is at its busiest, with families gathering under the trees, people exercising, and kids rollerskating.
According to the São Paulo Convention & Visitors Bureau, São Paulo hosts 90,000 events a year, from meetings and conferences to sports and cultural events. Information in English and Spanish about the events happening in the city can be found on . Events tied to a particular region are listed in the individual district sections. The following events are considered important to the city as a whole:
University of São Paulo (USP) is Brazil's most important university in terms of academic research and international reputation, with its main campus located in the West. It was considered the top university of Latin America according to the QS Ranking. Other important public universities present in the city are Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP) (see São Paulo/South Central) and Federal University of ABC (UFABC) (see Santo André).
The city also contains many traditional private high education institutions. Check the individual district sections for a comprehensive list of them.
Information for students
By bus:From Avenida Paulista to the Policia Federal department, you can take the bus line "669-A/10 Terminal Princesa Isabel" in front of Trianon-Masp Metro station (on the same side of MASP museum), get off at the final stop, then take bus "978-J Voith" and get off at Rua Hermano Marchete, 1030. Walk up the street until you see the Policia Federal. To return, take the same bus "978-J" to Terminal Princesa Isabel. Then, take bus "669-A/10 Terminal Sto. Amaro" to return to Avenida Paulista.
By train: From Metro station Barra Funda (red line), take the CPTM light rail train to Lapa station.
There are a number of language schools where you can learn Portuguese, for as short as two weeks or for a longer period of time. These include both private lessons and classes with more students.
You can find practically anything in São Paulo. Imported goods can be expensive, but look out for Brazilian-made bargains in all categories. Spend some time in one of the many "shoppings" (as Brazilians call the shopping malls) and also look out for areas with shops catering for specific interests.
Remember that street shops usually operate 8AM-6PM, including Saturdays (when they close earlier), but most of that are closed on Sundays. The countless shopping malls operate M-Sa 10AM-10PM and Su 10AM-8PM.
Central shopping areas
The area between Avenida Ipiranga and Parque Dom Pedro II (Downtown) is the closest to what São Paulo has from a "central shopping area", with various pedestrianized and non-pedestrianized shopping streets. The exceptionally crowded Rua 25 de Março, with its diverse range of bargains, is perhaps the most famous commercial street of the area.
São Paulo has also many specialized shopping areas, such as Rua Teodoro Sampaio (West) for furniture and musical instruments, Rua José Paulino (Downtown) and Brás neighborhood (Southeast) for bargain and wholesale clothing, Liberdade neigborhood (Downtown) for cosmetics and Asian products, and Rua Santa Ifigênia (Downtown) for electronic equipment.
Paulistanos, especially those with higher income, have an indoor shopping culture. The fear of criminality, traffic and São Paulo's unpredictable weather are strong factors to this. Shopping malls in São Paulo are not only centers of "shopping" but also leisure areas, typically offering spaces for kids, cinemas, food courts, and sometimes even theatres, expositions, and sport areas. Many shopping malls in São Paulo also offer miscellaneous services such as banks, laundry, repairs, and sometimes even police stations and doctors.
The selection of shops of a mall depends on the type of public predominant in the surroundings: at shopping malls located at working class neighborhoods, it is easier to find bargain department stores, while shopping malls in wealthy areas may be the only way to have access to exclusive designer stores. Check the individual district listings for a comprehensive list of shopping malls in the city.
Some shopping malls that deserve special mention are Morumbi/Market Place (South Central – with more than 600 shops and dozens of restaurants), Eldorado (West – with an immense food court), Iguatemi (West – the oldest shopping mall of São Paulo, with very upscale profile), Cidade Jardim (West – the "rich-only" shopping mall), Aricanduva (Far East – the city's largest and most famous working class shopping mall), and Frei Caneca (Downtown – the favorite of the LGBT public).
Suburban shopping areas
Far from Downtown, there are many suburban shopping areas. The busiest of them is probably the area around Largo 13 de Maio (South Central), the "central shopping area" of the former city of Santo Amaro, now part of São Paulo.
There are also the outdoor markets (feiras livres) and municipal markets (where you can buy fresh and cheaper fruit, vegetables and meat), supermarkets and atacados (a type of supermarket where you pay less if buy at least a certain quantity, very convenient for families).
Most of these local commerce centers are not listed in this guide, but they are of extreme importance in the daily life of Paulistanos.
São Paulo has the highest living cost in the Americas, and it's the 10th most expensive city in the world, according to the Mercer Worldwide Cost of Living 2011 Survey. However, it should be remarked that such rankings are based on averages, which hardly describe a city as huge and with so many contrasts as São Paulo.
It is absolutely possible to enjoy the city's attractions while spending a moderate amount of cash in both accommodations and food. For example, a set meal, drinks included, in a reasonably good place is around R$43. Ask locals for tips how to make the best out of your money if you're on a tight budget.
São Paulo is home to a superb diversity of restaurants and cuisines, where you can enjoy typical dishes from literally all over the world. The price range is as wide as the diversity of the restaurants in the city, from cheap snacks and meals in simple and cozy restaurants and food tents in popular markets, to the hugely expensive high end cuisine and internationally recognized restaurants, such as D.O.M, which was (in 2012) elected the 4th best restaurant in the World and the best in South America by The World's 50 Best Restaurants.
The city is also home to a vast array of Brazilian and international fast-food chains, offering varying options ranging from burgers, to sushi and kebab. The fast-food chain Habib's, which originated in São Paulo, is the favorite of lower class Paulistanos due to its cheap "Arab-Brazilian" snacks.
In São Paulo, the ever-present beans-and-rice accompaniment typically involves brown beans instead of black beans, as in Rio. Another typical food in São Paulo is the Virado à Paulista, which consists of rice, tutu de feijão (a paste of beans and manioc flour; sometimes made of corn flour, in order to be drier than the manioc flour one), sautéed collard greens (couve) and pork chops, typically bisteca. It is usually accompanied by pork rinds, bits of sausage, a fried egg and a fried banana.
Another typical type of restaurant in São Paulo, are the world famous churrascarias where an enormous range of meats and cuts, comes to your table by the stick, offering also a range of sides and salads. In those places, you can eat as much as you want, paying a single fee whose price range may vary from R$45 to R$115. This system is called rodízio, and it has been very successful in the city, spreading to other types of cuisine like Italian, where you can find the rodízio de pizza and Japanese, with the rodízio de sushi.
The cuisine of São Paulo shows the influence of European, Middle Eastern and Asian immigrants. The majority of immigrants in São Paulo arrived from Italy, and other European countries like Portugal, Spain and Germany. There's also big numbers of Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants from Japan, Lebanon and many other nationalities. Therefore, it is possible to find a wide array of cuisines in the city of São Paulo. Pizza is a particularly popular dish, which can be found with and endless range of toppings, and paulistas will swear their city has the best pizza in the country, if not in the world.
When eating out, a tip of 10 percent on the value of the bill is usually included. Some restaurants don't include this service charge (when you may come across the message "Serviço não incluso" at the end of the bill), but unless the staff are upsettingly rude, do pay the standard 10 percent tip as it is usually part of their wages.
You will have no trouble finding bars in São Paulo, where you can enjoy an ice cold beer, a shot of cachaça or a caipirinha – or anything else for that matter. A chopp (a 300 ml glass of draught beer) will set you back between R$3 and R$10 (in extreme cases), depending on the bar, but anything around R$4, R$5 is fine. Vila Madalena and Itaim have a very high concentration of bars, and are great spots for an all-nighter. For specific suggestions of bars, check the district section.
Sao Paulo history is connected directly to the coffee cultivation so Brazilian coffee is the real deal here. In fact, Brazil is the world’s largest producer of coffee, and if you watch the locals, you will see that they drink plenty of it, too. Stop at a café or padaria and order a cafezinho (espresso), cafe com leite, or cafe pingado (hot milk with a shot of espresso added to it, slightly stronger than cafe com leite).
This city has an unbelievably rich and diverse night life, and is able to provide entertainment for all tastes, from traditional samba-rock live music to electro-pop night clubs, raves and even some fetish clubs. It is worth planning at least one night out while you're in town. On the other hand, São Paulo's nightlife can be quite expensive; most clubs charge an entrance fee. Usually, entrance hovers around R$25, but they can be over R$250 (US$145) in some upscale places.
The main areas for nightlife in the city are Vila Olímpia, Vila Madalena, and Barra Funda (West), Moema (South Central), Tatuapé and Mooca (Southeast), Avenida Paulista (Paulista), (Southeast)and Santana (Northeast). Be sure to check the individual District listings.
Visit vejasp.com.br or buy one of the paper editions to have the latest clubbing updates.
If you plan to explore the city and cannot rely on car/taxi, staying near a Metro or train station is a very wise choice. Just be sure to avoid degraded areas. For lists of recommended hotels in the city, see the individual District listings. If you wish to stay close to the airport, please see the article on Guarulhos.
Internet cafés (also called cyber cafés or lan houses) can be easily found in every neighborhood.
People from Sao Paulo kiss on the right cheek once when they say hello, goodbye and nice to meet you. Some will kiss twice, once on each cheek, a kiss in the air. Men kiss women on the cheek and women kiss women as well, but two men won't give the kiss out unless they're gay or with intimate long-time friend or family. If you feel the occasion is a bit formal, especially on business occasions or if you don't know the person too well, a hand shake will do the job. However, if a paulistano takes the initiative to kiss, make sure you turn your face to the left side to avoid embarrassment.
Gay and lesbian travelers
São Paulo is the host of one of the biggest Gay Pride parades in the world, attracting every year about 4 million people. Although paulistanos are relatively tolerant to homosexuality, openly public displays of affection between people of same sex are uncommon and likely to attract attention, with the exception of places such as Avenida Paulista and the Ibirapuera Park, and at some bars, coffee shops, night clubs and shopping centers. Such displays of affection should be completely avoided in poorer neighborhoods and on public transport, where prejudice is more likely to be openly manifested.
Update: Although the area of Avenida Paulista was a traditional haven for gays and lesbians of São Paulo, as of February 1, 2011, a number of violent attacks against homosexuals had recently been reported in this area. If this situation does not revert, gays and lesbian couples are advised to take extra care while walking Avenida Paulista and its surroundings, specially at night.
São Paulo, once one of the most violent cities of Brazil, has managed to drastically reduce crime during the 2000s, similarly to Rio de Janeiro. According to the Sangari Institute, São Paulo was the safest capital city of Brazil in 2011, in terms of homicide rate.
Unfortunately, that doesn't mean that a visitor can really relax about safety, because São Paulo is simply too large and diverse to be described by average statistics. In fact, two of the most visited areas, Downtown and the Pinheiros subprefecture (in the West), have respectively 150% and 50% more violent crime than the city average (according to ). Check the individual district listings for safety advice in each area of the city. The general advice is as follows:
Visitors should avoid walking in deserted areas at night, or at least avoid walking alone. Buses are reasonably safe, but waiting alone at a bus stop at night is not. The metro is always safe, but commuter trains that go to peripheral areas can be dangerous late at night. Be extremely careful when using ATMs at night (or better, do not use them if they are located in a deserted and dark places, if you really need one, try searching in places like shopping malls, theaters and cinemas and gas stations).
Driving can sometimes also be risky, especially when you are alone and/or in a upscale bars/clubbing area, like Vila Madalena or Vila Olímpia. If you are driving at night, when stopping for whatever reason (even at a traffic light), check your surroundings. Keep your doors locked and windows closed during the night. If possible, when going back late to the hotel, take a cab or ride with a group of friends. During the day, keep valuable objects away from the window (even if you are using a taxi).
Some areas can be dangerous even during the day. These includes run-down areas, like favelas and areas populated by drug addicts. The last can be easily recognized by the presence of poorly maintained buildings, bad odor, and dirty streets – there are many of those in the Historic Center. Most drug addicts are harmless, but a few may resort to violence to get money to buy their drugs.
Contrary to popular belief, nowadays poor neighboorhoods in São Paulo aren't usually dangerous, at least not more dangerous than an ordinary neighborhood. Still, some of them can be dangerous, so if you are in doubt, don't go or have the company of a local.
And naturally, every safety recommendation that applies to big cities in general also applies to São Paulo:
Tourist police stations
Familiarize yourself with the location of the police stations specializing in tourist service and protection. These stations offer information on public safety and are staffed with qualified professionals to meet your needs.
The city of São Paulo is only one hour driving from the Paulista Coast, which is a typical Brazilian region full of splendid beaches and great seafood. The young and the old of São Paulo alike head there on the weekends to enjoy the sand, sun and fun. Note the telephone code changes from 11 to 12 (northern coast – São Sebastião and remaining cities to the north) or 13 (Bertioga and remaining cities to the south) as you travel from Greater São Paulo to the Paulista Coast. All coded from 14 to 19 are upstate São Paulo. The rich agricultural state offers winter destinations, upscale retreats and large Rodeos.
In parenthesis the typical duration of the journey by car (using the fastest route in good traffic conditions) is listed. During long holidays (like Carnival and New Year), expect to be much more.