Walking downtown São Paulo
* main photo: Diego Torres Silvestre via Flickr/Creative Commons.
“Where would you take a friend visiting São Paulo?” I asked my Twitter and Facebook friends. Most of the answers were “Paulista Avenue” and “a Friday afternoon traffic jam”. But a lot of people mentioned downtown São Paulo, the old center of the city. And they’re right. Best place to know a city is it’s central area.
With this in mind, I set set up this map. The idea is to get to know downtown São Paulo when and how you want to. This is a walking guide, not meant for cars. If you get tired, check Moovit and go ahead using buses or the Metro (subway). Taxis are also widely available in the area. And consider bike renting during weekends, when downtown streets are empty.
Start your day near Estação da Luz, eating cheese bureka with apple juice at Casa Búlgara, a familiar joint in the area since 1975. You’ll be at Bom Retiro, an immigrant neighbourhood with Jewish, Korean and South American traditions.
* Also in the area is Café Colombiano. The name explains it all: Colombian coffee, quite good.
Walk your way to Parque Jardim da Luz, the first public park of São Paulo. You may spend an hour or so at Pinacoteca do Estado, even if only to appreciate the architecture.
* Also in the area: Sala São Paulo (one of the best concert halls in America, a very beautiful building), Memorial da Resistência (aka DEOPS Museum, dedicated to the victims of the military dictatorship in Brazil), Museu de Arte Sacra (religious art from colonial times), Museu da Língua Portuguesa (fresh and modern, all about the Portuguese language). More details on post (in Portuguese, with a map): Cinco passeios no entorno da Estação da Luz.
Walk up Avenida Ipiranga until you reach Praça da República. Then cross Avenida São Luiz and have lunch at newly opened La Central, a small/fancy taco place inside Edifício Copan, a masterpiece of Brazilian modernist architecture by Oscar Niemeyer. Also inside Copan is the excellent (but requiring more time to enjoy) Dona Onça, dedicated to Brazilian food. And right there on Avenida São Luiz is Paribar, a very Paulistano place of bohemian inspiration.
* Also in the area: Fuentes (traditional Spanish), Riconcito Peruano and Tradiciones Peruanas (cheap, fast, familiar Peruvian food), Habib Ali (small and very popular place serving Lebanese specialities), o Pasv e o Ita (some of the oldest restaurants in the city, cheap, plenty and informal).
Enter the Theatro Municipal for a coffee at Santinho, then digest all the food while searching the many vinyl records stores at Galeria Nova Barão. There are options to everybody: from indie to classic rock, from 70s funk to MPB.
* Also in the area: Biblioteca Mário de Andrade, another landmark of Brazilian architectural modernism.
If you like Theatro Municipal, you will love the main building of Correios (post office), where Avenida São João meets the Anhangabaú valley. On the way out, go up Viaduto do Chá to see Banespinha, aka Edifício Matarazzo, currently the office of the São Paulo mayor. Walk towards Rua São Bento and ask to take the lifts up the top of Edifício Martinelli, one of the most beautiful in the city. From there, you can see Sampaio Moreira, the very first Paulistano skyscraper, inaugurated in 1924. Martinelli is frequently mentioned as the first skyscraper in São Paulo, but it’s construction started in 1922 and finished only in 1930.
* Also in the area: Praça das Artes, a wide space for free art exhibitions and a welcoming shaded area for the days of strong, summer sun.
Now it’s a short walk to São Paulo’s heart: the Catedral Metropolitana de São Paulo, or Sé. You can go for a quick tour or kill time in the square watching all sorts of prophets screaming all kinds of stuff for whoever stops to listen. Beware: Sé is one of the areas I tell people to walk with care in São Paulo. Mind your bag, don’t show off money or expensive stuff and act safe. Right in front of the Sé you’ll find São Paulo’s ground zero, marking the geographical centre of the city.
* Also in the area: Pateo do Collegio (São Paulo’s birthplace), Mosteiro de São Bento (a Benedictine monastery open to the public with a very good coffee place and bakery inside), Torre do Banespa (iconic from São Paulo’s economical expansion of the 1940s), Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (on Rua São Bento, a beautiful building with an art gallery and theatre inside).
Cross in front of Fórum João Mendes and go to Liberdade neighbourhood, spiritual home of the Japanese diaspora in Brazil, nowadays also home of Chinese and Korean immigrants and their families too. Try to get here before 6 PM, just in time to get in line at traditional (and very busy) ramen house Aska Lámen.
* Also in the area: There are plenty Japanese restaurants at Liberdade, all opening and closing quite early. For sushi, the best ate the oldest, like Hinodê. Go to Kintaro for a very informal snack with beer on the counter. Or have a pastel (very Paulistano!) at Yoka.
Finish your rolê (Paulistano slang for “a walk”) having sakê on an izakaya, traditional Janapese bars selling booze and small portions of food. Issa is one of the most celebrated. Then it’s time to take the Metro, go back to your hotel/hostel/whatever and take a well-deserved rest.
Or not! You can keep up and enjoy the night downtown. Check tMandíbula, Trackertower and Alberta#3. Weekend? Try a party like Calefação Tropicaos. The documentary Reclaiming the Jungle explains São Paulo’s street party scene. It’s also worth to walk up Augusta street, just to check what’s going on. When you reach Paulista, turn right and walk three blocks until you reach Consolação. You can call the night off by having a drink at Riviera‘s counter, a bohemian classic bar, recently restored and reopened.