The best way to get to know a city is by walking it’s streets: and there’s no reason you can’t do that on your own! For those of you with only one day in São Paulo, we’ve made a Do-It-Yourself Walking Tour that will help you get a grasp on this giant place. While the city may seem daunting and impossible to conquer for a newbie, we’ve made this foolproof with detailed directions and a map that will guide you carefully you from each spot to the next.
The tour begins with places that most will just want to admire from the outside, and the more interactive spots are in the second half. Starred (*) are our “can’t miss” highlights- if you have a really small time frame, skip ahead to these! This tour only involves 45 minutes of walking time, plus whatever time you spend at each spot.
This walking tour focuses on the Cidade Velho (the Old Downtown), and the area from which the rest of the city stems. We love the old part of the city because it’s the perfect way to see the incredible architecture and classic beauty of São Paulo that often hides between the repetitive high-rises.
Print or screenshot this article and map and- you’re off!
1. Praça do Patriarca
One of the oldest squares in the city, this plaza gives access to several historic buildings surrounding it: most notably, the little Igreja de Santo Antonio. This church’s founding date is unknown, but it’s referenced as far back at 1592. So, it’s very very very old. The interior of the church features baroque details.
Next: From Igreja Santo Antonio, continue to the left (if you are facing the church), until you reach Rua São Bento. You will hit the triangular plaza when the road ends.
2. Start at: Praça Republica
Start: Take the metro from wherever you are and exit at the “Republica” metro stop.
This downtown public square is a hub of the “old city” of São Paulo. The largest building here is the Casa Caetano de Campos built in 1894, and it is now home to the State Education department.
On Sundays, there is an open air market with many food carts and vendors seliing art, clothing, jewelry and handicrafts that you won’t want to miss.
Next: Walk south on Ipiranga and stop at the corner with São Luis.
3. Biblioteca Mario de Andrade
This art-deco building (an icon of this style in the city) is important because it is São Paulo’s largest public library. It was named in honor of one of the founders of Brazilian modernism, and was the first Brazilian public institution that was interested in acquiring modern works of art by artists both foreign and local. It has been a part of the United Nations depository libraries system since 1958.
Next: Turn left on onto Rua Xavier de Toledo (with the library still on your left), and walk downhill for a few blocks towards the Anhangabaú metro station. Follow Toledo until you see the giant Municipal Theater in front of you.
4. Edificio Italia
In front of you is one of the tallest buildings in Sao Paulo, and one of the most iconic. It was built over 50 years ago in honor of the Italian immigrants who helped build the city.
Next: Continue down Av. Sao Luis to the short grey building at the end of the small park on your left.
5. Theatro Municipal de São Paulo
One of the most beautiful buildings in the entire city, allow a little time to stop and stare. It was completed in 1911, hosted the Week of Modern Art in 1922 (an event that revolutionized the arts in Brazil), and currently houses the São Paulo Municipal Symphonic Orchestra, the Lyric Choir & the City Ballet of São Paulo.
If interested in seeing a performance, check online here, tickets begin at R10 (USD$3.50). Tours of the interior are only by appointment, Tues. and Thurs. at 1pm and can be arranged here.
Opposite the theater, you’ll see the Viaduto de Cha metal bridge to the right, and the Parque Anhangabaú to the left.
Next: Cross the bridge to the right, and once on the other side you will enter the plaza (#5).
6. Largo de São Francisco
Most will simply pass through this plaza, but just notice the buildings around you as you do. This street houses several points of interest, such as the famous Law School, University of São Paulo, the School of Commerce and two churches. In the middle, you’ll see a controversial statue meant to represent a Frenchman kissing an indigenous woman.
Next: Continue past the statue on Rua Benjamin Constant until you hit Praça da Sé.
*7. Praça da Sé
This is considered the central point of São Paulo, and is something you can’t miss during your one day in the city! On the square you’ll see the highlight: the Cathedral de Sé. With a beautiful dramatic structure in front of the lush square, it’s one of the most photogenic spots on the walking tour. (Notice how the pedestrian traffic lights use little images of the cathedral in red and green to tell you when you can cross!). Marco Zero, a small post in the middle of the square, is considered the official central point of São Paulo and this is the point from which the distance of everything in the city is measured.
Walk around the square a bit and appreciate it all from every angle- there’s always a ton of activity and endless people-watching to be done!
Next: From the corner opposite the face of the Cathedral, take Rua 15 de Noviembro. Just after it curves and becomes Joao Bricola, and before it hits Rua Boa Vista, you will see the Banespa Building on the right.
*8. Altino Arantes Building (aka Banespa Building)
(Only open during working hours on weekdays)
This skyscraper may not stand out from ground level, but it offers one of the most incredible lookouts over the entire city of São Paulo. This is one of the best things views in the city, and the best way to really appreciate the vast expansiveness of it- from here, you’ll see that the city continues seemingly infinitely in every direction. It used to be the tallest building in the city until Edificio Italia (#2) surpassed it, but still offers views of every landmark on this list from a new perspective.
If you are going to the top, make sure to bring a copy of your passport and go early- lines can get long, and visitors are only allowed 5 minutes at the top (but if you’re willing to wait, sometimes close to an hour, it’s absolutely worth it).
It was inspired by the Empire State Building and Frank Lloyd Wright, and is the biggest reinforced concrete structure in the world! Even if you do not have time to go to the top, step into the lobby to see the beautiful marble floors and national crystal “déco-eclectic” chandelier.
Next: From here, continue to Rua Boa Vista and turn left, turn right onto Largo São Bento and continue onto Rua Florencio de Abreu. You will see it on your right.
9. (6am-6pm Mon-Sat, 6am-4pm Sun)
The final stop- foodie heaven. Even better, it turns out heaven has some great architecture. Take your time wandering under the giant stained glass dome and ogle at aisle after aisle of fresh produce, dried goods, and little shops offering the best snacks in São Paulo. If you’re hungry, make sure to get one of the infamous mortadella sandwiches- we recommend sharing with a friend. If you’re there on a Sunday, you’ll either be very lucky or very unlucky: most Sundays offer live music, except one Sunday per month the market closes for maintenance (and in classic Brazilian style, there is no regular schedule for these closings). If you’re one of the unlucky view, you’ll simply have time for the other São Paulo in one day highlights we’ve listed for you here!
Next: To return to the metro, trace your steps back past Mosteiro de São Bento and and onto Rua Boa Vista. Here you will see the Metro “São Bento”.
To make sure you won’t lose your way, check out the route on this map.
If you LOVED this post and want to see MORE like it, GO like our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or join our latest adventures on Instagram. Muito Obrigado!
10. Mosteiro de São Bento
(Hours of Services here)
One of the most beautiful and ancient Catholic churches, this monastery is almost 400 years old. The incredible 6,000 tube organ is one of a kind, and the most impressive instrument like it in all of South America. You don’t have to be Catholic (or religious at all) to appreciate the beauty here. If you are passing through on Sunday, many love staying for the mass and hearing the Gregorian chants with the beautiful acoustics of the building. If not, just stop in to see the building itself and definitely make a pit stop in the bakery- the recipes are all the priest’s own and everyone loves snacking here (but save your appetite for your next stop!).
Next: Continuing on Florencio de Abreu, turn right on Rua Constituição. Turn left on Rua 25 de Marco, right onto Rua Comendador Afonso Kherlakien and left onto Rua da Cantereira.
Let us deliver our adventures, travel hacks and stories directly to your inbox. Newsletter anyone?