So your going to São Paulo, Brazil… As the largest city in the southern hemisphere, it can be intimidating knowing where to start or how to budget, which is why we have put together this list of extremely affordable, and really quintessential São Paulo experiences to help you explore the city of São Paulo on a tight budget! Whether you use this list of free activities in São Paulo as your starting guide or the itinerary for your whole trip to this megalopolis, you’ll have the experience of a lifetime while you explore São Paulo.
It would seem a shame to visit the largest city in all of South America and the southern hemisphere without taking in the enormity of the place. And what better way than from the upper floors of two of the tallest buildings in the city center, especially since they are free of charge. That’s right. Free. Just make sure to bring your passport along and you will gain access to the observation floor in whichever building you decide to visit. They are about a block away from each other so either one is a good choice. From there, allow your mind to be boggled as you take in buildings as far as, and farther, than your eye can see. How many can you count?
Tip: You can ride São Paulo’s efficient metra to the São Bento stop and then walk a few blocks to either the black Martinelli building (entrance on the side) or the white Banespa (housing the Banco do Brasil) building across the street. While we didn’t check out the view from the Martinelli building, we would recommend the Banespa building because its taller and has better visiting hours. It also offers a 360 view of the city. Just make sure you remember your passport or a copy of it to secure your free entrance!
2. Stroll around Ibirapuera Park and pop into one (or more) of the free museums located in the park.
Easily found on any map, Ibirapuera park is not only a great place for a bit of outdoor recreation, think rollerblading, biking, a morning jog, but also is home to a variety of the city’s museums. These include the Afro Brasil Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC), Museum of Modern Art (MAM), and the Planetarium along with many other cultural spaces and sites, which if they aren’t free everyday, often host special free days or events. If none of the above interest you, take a book, a newspaper, a picnic and just find yourself a nice shaded spot in the park to relax or people watch – you are on vacation after all!
Tip: Check out http://www.parqueibirapuera.org/ to find out more information on park offerings, museum hours, and anything else you might want to know about the park before you visit.
3. Peruse the Mercado Municipal, enjoying the people watching as you see, touch, taste, and smell the local goods.
The Mercado Municipal in São Paulo is one of my favorite spots in the city, because – food, but it is also a great place to hang out, take pictures, people watch, shop, and, of course, eat. If you don’t feel like eating at the market (which is a shame as you can get some of the best value for your money here eating one of the famous sandwiches on offer in the lower level), take the time to pick out fresh ingredients for your home cooked hostel meal later or snacks to bring to your Ibirapuera Park picnic.
Tip: If you go for lunch, you’ll be sampling, eating, and perusing right along with the local lunch crew, which means you can follow the crowd to the best stalls and restaurants to get your grub.
4. Experience the country’s passion at the very well done Museu do Futebol (read: soccer museum) inside the Estadio Municipal Paulo Machado de Carvalho.
I really don’t know if a trip to Brazil could be considered complete without some aspect of soccer involved. Whether you join a pick up game on the beach, find your way into a stadium for a local match or international match (like the 2014 Fifa World Cup), witness Brazilians cheering their favorite teams on at a bar or find yourself in São Paulo at the Museu do Futebol, don’t leave the country without at least a little soccer fanaticism. If São Paulo is in your trip itinerary, a stop here can be a great introduction to Brazilian soccer and its impact on the country. With its free admission on Thursdays and Saturdays the value can’t be beat. Even if soccer isn’t your sport, the museum is still a fun way to kill a rainy afternoon in the city, and if soccer is your sport you’ll enjoy this museum full of memorabilia from all the Brazilian greats, facts on every world cup, and a look inside the Brazilian passion for the sport.
Tip: Bring your passport (not a copy), and you can rent a free headset with English translations for any of the exhibits that are not already in English. Also, make sure you go on a Thursday or a Saturday to gain free admission. If you won’t be in São Paulo either of those days, you can visit any other day and pay only a six reais fee (that is roughly 3 USD).
5. Be amazed by the street art found in Batman´s Alley (Beco do Batman), arguably the best place to see this type of artwork in Brazil.
One of the coolest streets in the city in my opinion, Batman’s Alley is a place for graffiti artists to express themselves in a highly visible way. This street is dedicated to street art and almost every inch was covered in color and design when we visited in May 2014. Not only is it an incredible place to take pictures and oogle at the talent of others, but it can also be a learning experience if you take the time to look into the meaning behind the pieces and the history of the alley. The alley’s artwork can also change daily, so if you find yourself yearning for more, don’t hesitate to head over to Vila Magdalena a second time on your visit to see if anything new has shown up while you were out soaking up other artsy things in the MAC or MAM.
Tip: The alley is located in the very hip and artsy neighborhood of Vila Madalena. It can be a great place to hang out at night whether you are looking for a few casual drinks while you listen to live jazz or an all-night, shots-and-dancing, seeing-the-sunrise, kind of night. For these reasons, and that its a relatively safe, budget friendly neighborhood, we’d also recommend staying in this area of the city. We stayed at Vila Madalena Hostel which was good value and had really friendly and knowledgeable staff.
This list is by no means exhaustive. In a city the size of São Paulo (~12 million) the list of budget friendly and free activities could be endless. Our aim with this list was to pick a few of our favorite free things in São Paulo to help any traveler realize that there are many awesome and free things to do and the city shouldn’t be overlooked by the budget conscious traveler. With that in mind, we’d love to hear other suggestions for free things to do in São Paulo, Brazil!