What to do in São Paulo the concrete forest

Last updated on January 11, 2024

The trip to São Paulo started and ended in tears. The first for the jungle and the latter for the new friends we will miss. It’s a concrete forest of a city – a sprawl of never-ending skyscrapers and dense traffic – but within that madness, a medley of fascinating culture abounds, including some of the best street art we’ve ever seen. So what should you do in Sao Paulo?

What to do in Sao Paulo

We stayed in São Paulo, or Sampa as it’s known locally, for ten days, first in Vila Madalena and then a little further out with a couchsurfer in Alto da Lapa. It was a complicated visit, made tricky by bed bug bites (the itchiest things we ever did know) and a general lacklustre for being in a city.

We also went there with the main intention of taking advantage of the high-speed, reliable wi-fi to get some work done before heading back out into the wilderness. For that reason, we didn’t see much, but over the ten days, what we did see helped seal a fascination and appreciation for this culturally rich city.

Villa Madalena

Vila Madalena is the city’s arts hub, full of boutiques, galleries, restaurants and bars, all on tree and art-lined streets. All the businesses are independent and creatively decorated – you could fill a Wallpaper guide solely with the one barrio. It’s achingly hip, but without the obvious pretensions of somewhere like East London.

We loved it there, sampling some of the excellent vegetarian restaurants and marvelling at the street art. At night, it comes alive, especially along Rua Aspicuelta, where the bars spill out onto the streets and the busy Paulistas dine out on the food the city is famed for. Pizza is said to be better than Italy and, while we can’t agree with that, it certainly is good.

Alto de Lapa

Alto de Lapa was much quieter and gave us the opportunity to see how locals live. We stayed with Jan, a kindergarten teacher, and her two housemates, Barbara and Tati. As is often the case, it was these people that cemented our love for the city.

We were pretty boring guests to start out with, cooped up working on our websites and Steve’s film. However, when the weekend came, we enjoyed a splendid day exploring the Mercada Municipal, visiting an art opening and drinking to the early hours in a local restaurant. You can see some pictures of the incredible fruit market in the gallery above.

We also visited the Japanese area, home to the largest population of Japanese people outside of Japan.

São Paulo is a monster of a city and we barely saw an inch of what it has to offer, but we felt its energy, tasted its food and were delighted by the kindness of its people.

It’s one of the most creative, and visually rich, cities we’ve ever come across and for those reasons it’s worth a visit. Also, they have vending machines that sell books on the subway, and you can choose to pay however much you think the book is worth – amazing!

Do you have any more suggestions for what to do in Sao Paulo?

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