Top Things to Do in Sao Paulo

São Paulo is as famous for its ugliness as Rio is for its beauty. Restaurants, shops, hotels and nightlife here are infinitely better than in Rio. While wandering and browsing in plush neighborhoods such as Jardins, it is even possible to forget that few cities in the world have quite so much relentless concrete punctuated with quite so few green spaces; or have rivers quite so disgracefully polluted as the Tietê. Marlene Dietrich perhaps summed it up when she said, "Rio is a beauty—but São Paulo; ah …São Paulo is a city."

It has world-class art collections, notably Western paintings at MASP and local sculpture at MuBE, and all things soccer at the Museu do Futebol where the likes of Pele are celebrated. São Paulo is vast but it’s not all an urban jungle—take for example its parks, including Parque do Ibirapuera and Parque da Independencia, which manage to combine lush lawns and running tracks with museums and concert halls. There are smart fashion stores, but no-one should miss the belle époque Mercado Munipical, the city’s largest indoor market. And then of course there’s a night out on the town—São Paulo is best seen from above, from its terrace bars.

Catedral Metropolitana

Like São Paulo itself, the landmark cathedral is more remarkable for its size than its beauty, and is a mish-mash of neo-Gothic and Renaissance. A narrow nave is squeezed between two monstrous 97m-high spires beneath a bulbous copper cupola.

Mercado Municipal

The architecture of this famous covered market, a forest of domed skylights and stained glass, is an attraction in its own right.

Mosteiro do São Bento

Also known as Benedictine Basilica de Nossa Senhora de Assunção, this is São Paulo’s most beautiful church.Despite the Benedictines’ arrival here in 1598, the monastery is a modern church dating from 1914.

Parque da Independência

This large, formal park on the site where Brazilian independence was declared, is littered with monuments to independence and Brazil’s early imperial past. It is watched over by a faux-French chateau, recalling Versailles, which houses one of the city’s largest museums.

Museu Brasileiro da Escultura (MuBE)

This contemporary space, designed by Brazil’s Pritzker prize-winning architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha, showcases Brazilian sculpture through temporary exhibitions.

Jardim Zoológico

Brazil’s biggest zoo also claims to be the fourth biggest in the world, with 3,200 animals, including large international mammals and many rare and endangered Brazilian species.

Autódromo de Interlagos

Officially known as Autódromo José Carlos Pace, this is the venue of the famous Brazilian Formula 1 Grand Prix. The track overlooks a vast artificial lake set in remnant forest in the far southeast of the city. There are races all year round—please check for details.

Parque do Ibirapuera

The park was designed by architect Oscar Niemeyer for the city’s fourth centenary in 1954, with shady woodlands, lawns and lakes. The park is also home to a number of museums and monuments and some striking buildings designed in the 1950s and only been constructed in the last five years.

Terraço Italia

Located on the 41st floor of the iconic Edifico Italia skyscraper, this top notch Italian restaurant has dishes to match its panoramic views. Exquisite antipasti, risotto and fillet steaks. Recommended. Open noon-midtnight.

Museu do Futebol

The beautiful art deco football stadium, Estádio Pacaembu, hosts domestic games and major rock concerts and is a major part of local culture. Inside the stadium, this museum cost US$15 million and was inaugurated by Pelé in 2008.

Sala São Paulo

Formerly the Sorocaban Railway station, this magnificent neo-gothic hall with excellent acoustics is the city’s premier classical music venue. They have a busy schedule of performances, with concerts usually on Thu, Fri and Sat, plus a restaurant.

Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP)

This is the most important gallery in the southern hemisphere, preserving some of Europe’s greatest paintings. There’s a huge number of works by French artists including Renoir, Degas and Monet.