Being the largest city in the southern hemisphere, São Paulo is no stranger to a diversified culture, art, fashion, and everything else you will find in a megalopolis. With its numerous cultural institutions and beautiful architectural sights, you might find it hard to narrow down what to see, especially if you have a short time in the city. Below I’ll share with you some of the top sights that are unique to São Paulo and that you shouldn’t miss during your first visit.
1. Museu de Arte de São Paulo (São Paulo’s Museum of Art)
Even though the Museum of Art of São Paulo, also known as MASP, was only opened in 1968, today it is considered one of the best art museums in the Americas. It contains the most comprehensive collection of Western art in Latin America. While its collection reaches back to the Renaissance, its primary focus is on mid-20th-century art and later, including artists from Europe, the Americas, and Brazil.
In it, you’ll see displayed masterpieces by the Impressionists and modern painters like Mante, Matisse, Picasso and Miró, among many others. If you love the bronze works by Degas, then you’ll fall in love with this museum as it has on display 73 of his pieces.
The building itself is considered a Modernist work of art designed by Brazilian-Italian architect Lina Bo Bardi. On every Sunday, an antique market is hosted at the plaza under the suspended structure. The museum is free every Tuesday and Thursday after 5 pm.
2. Teatro Municipal (Municipal Theater)
Designed by Architect Ramos de Azevedo, this architectural masterpiece from 1911 was modeled after the Paris Opera with a mix of Italian Renaissance and Art Nouveau themes. The theater is considered a major center for the performing arts in South America and is home to the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, the Coral Lírico (Lyric Choir), and the City Ballet of São Paulo.
3. Parque do Ibirapuera (Ibirapuera Park)
Being the city’s largest green space and one of the biggest city parks in Latin America, Ibirapuera Park is like the Central Park of São Paulo. Like most urban parks, there are dozens of paths to walk and bike, as well as a lake, squares and resting areas to people watch. Something unique to the park is also it’s architecture and landscape design. The park was laid out by landscape architect Roberto Burle Mark while architect Oscar Niemeyer designed its main buildings. Both are considered to be among the best and most influential architects of the 20th century in their particular fields, and both are Brazilian. In the park, you’ll find beautifully designed museums, monuments, playgrounds, gardens, and more, all with a modern touch that invite you to enjoy the park and spend a day of leisure.
Inside the park’s grounds, you shouldn’t miss the following four buildings. First is the Auditório Ibirapuera, the ultra-modern music hall designed by Oscar Niemeyer. It is considered one of São Paulo's best concert venues. Second is the Museu da Aeronáutica e do Folclore, the Aeronautics and Folk Art Museum, which displays aircraft models and flight equipment in addition to folk art from all over Brazil. Third is the Museu de Arte Contemporânea, the Contemporary Art Museum, also designed by Niemeyer with its grounds by Burle Marx, housing over 8,000 pieces that include Picasso, Léger, Modigliani, among others. And last, but not least, the large Museu Afro-Brasil, which celebrates the contributions of Afro-Brazilians and their social and cultural history.
4. Sé (Sé Cathedral)
This neo-Gothic cathedral took more than 50 years to be completed, and while it might be a "recent" building (finished in 1967), it was built on the site of an earlier cathedral it replaced.
The reason for the delay of its construction was due to both World Wars, which made it difficult to import the mosaics and other decorative elements from Italy. Even though it was still unfinished, it was consecrated in 1954, during São Paulo’s 400th anniversary.
While the cathedral carries a neo-gothic style, its dome is a Renaissance style, contrasting with the rest of the structure. You can tour the crypt below the cathedral to see the marble sculptures and tombs, and while in the central nave don’t forget to look at the column capitals, which have a representation of Brazil’s flora and fauna carved in them.
Since the cathedral is located in the center of São Paulo’s old town, it is the perfect place to start a walking tour around the historic center.
5. Memorial da América Latina (Latin America Memorial)
The Latin America Memorial is a complex of buildings that honor the struggles of the Latin American people. And guess what? Niemeyer also designed it. The complex provides a place for celebrations and public events, in addition to a library, research center, the Brazilian Center for Latin American Studies, and displays of art including Latin American folk art. An iconic piece of the memorial is the bleeding hand sculpture. If you look closely, the blood resembles a map of the Americas.
6. Paulista Avenue and Alameda Santos Avenue
These two parallel avenues are among the most famous in the city. Paulista Avenue hosts the biggest gay pride in the world each June, as well as New Year’s celebrations and even revolutionary protests. Beyond its cultural impact, it is home to the MASP and many other cultural institutions. If shopping is on your list of things to do, then look no further than the malls along Paulista.
Just next to Paulista is Alameda Santos, which might not compare with the fame or grandeur of Paulista, but hosts a wider variety of the best restaurants in the city, with a more chill and laid back environment.
There’s much more to explore all around São Paulo, but this is a great start to get to know a city that is not only a business center but also a cultural center that represents all of Latin America.
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