Regarded among the best urban parks in the world, Ibirapuera Park, São Paulo’s answer to Central Park, is an excellent choice for anyone in the city looking for a relaxing environment close to nature. Besides its wonderful landscaping and architecture – the latter designed by iconic Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer – the unique thing about Ibirapuera is that such a beautiful island of nature and tranquility is located right in the middle of one of the world’s largest and busiest cities. There is lots to do here: visitors can rent bikes and cycle around the gorgeous lakes, you can wander around the park’s excellent museums and admire the architecture, or just take a seat on the grass and lose yourself in its splendor.
Centro Cultural São Paulo
Located on Rua Vergueiro in the central neighborhood of Paraíso, the Centro Cultural São Paulo (or C.C.S.P. as it is often referred) was one of the first official cultural centers in the city. Originally intended to be a public library, the design plans were altered before its construction to make it into something inspired by Paris’s Pompidou Center, with a library, theater, cinema and exhibition spaces all under one roof. As well as what’s going on inside, C.C.S.P. also has a café, study space and some beautiful gardens. On sunny days, the roof garden is particularly enticing – a great place to read a book or plug in your headphones and relax.
Known as São Paulo’s “second park”, behind the aforementioned Ibirapuera, Villa-Lobos is located to the west of the city on the banks of the Pinheiros River. While there is less going on compared to its bigger brother to the south, it’s another excellent option for a relaxing afternoon surrounded by lush, green space. Within walking distance of the neighborhoods of Alto dos Pinheiros and Vila Madalena, it is a great place for cycling, with a path that encircles the park. If exercise is how you relax, there are lots of free-to-use sports courts in the park, meaning you can play a bit of basketball, tennis, or even try your hand at soccer against the locals (warning: even your average Brazilian is quite good at soccer). Other activities include the Villa-Lobos library and the beautiful Prof. Ruth Cardoso orchidarium.
Located on São Paulo’s main street, Paulista Avenue, the Conjunto Nacional was one of the city’s first modern, multi-use buildings, designed by architect David Libeskind in the 1950s. The space has stores, cafés, and a theater, but its main attraction is the local branch of Brazilian bookstore chain Livraria Cultura. The largest bookstore in Latin America, it was built on the site of one of São Paulo’s most famous movie theaters, the Cine Astor. The book selection is excellent and there are lots of big, comfy armchairs and beanbags to take a load off and spend some time getting stuck into a new book.
Sometimes, in order to properly relax, all you need is a good, hot cup of coffee. In São Paulo, Vila Madalena’s Coffee Lab is one of the best spots possible for that much-desired cup of joe. As the name suggests, Coffee Lab takes the stuff very seriously, sourcing roasts from all over the country and using all of the latest brewing methods, so you know you are in good hands. All you need to do is take a seat on the balcony, enjoy your coffee and watch the day go by.
S.E.S.C. is an initiative headed by the Social Service of Commerce, investing in culture and the arts all over Brazil. They have built several cultural and leisure centers in São Paulo, the best of which is S.E.S.C. Pompeia, located in the leafy western neighborhood of Pompeia. Housed in a renovated oil barrel factory, the entire architectural project of the building was designed by renowned Italian-Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi, who also designed the city’s leading art museum, São Paulo Museum of Art (M.A.S.P). The main brutalist concrete structures are connected by intelligently thought-out walkways, taking something “ugly” and making it exquisite. There is always plenty do and see at S.E.S.C. Pompeia, with a packed schedule of exhibitions, shows, and lectures on offer. However, for those looking to relax, a stroll around the grounds, admiring Bo Bardi’s magnificent architecture, is an excellent way to unwind.
S.E.S.C. Pompeia, R. Clélia, 93 – Pompeia, São Paulo, Brazil, +55 11 3871 7700
Paulista Avenue on Sundays
In a city such as São Paulo, sometimes you just have to face facts – with so many people living in the same place, you’re very rarely going to be able to escape everyone. But when the atmosphere is right, even relatively crowded places, with the cheerful buzz of laughter and chatter, can be just as relaxing as absolute solitude. Every Sunday since 2015, São Paulo’s main thoroughfare – Paulista Avenue – is closed to traffic, turning it into an open, pedestrianized street. The gentle hum of families walking their dogs, people riding bikes or rollerblading, always with the background noise of some fascinating street music, serves to completely transform the road. Sunday afternoons are excellent opportunities to get out of the house and take a nice, relaxing walk down a street usually filled with vehicles and exhaust fumes. We guarantee you’ll be completely chilled out by the time you’re done.
When coffee just won’t do the trick, or the sun is already going down, it’s good to have something a little stronger to help you relax. Pitico, tucked in behind Largo da Batata square and Faria Lima subway station, is one of the most chilled out bars in São Paulo. It has an open-plan design, with picnic benches covered by a canopy, as well as an open-air area with beach chairs and low tables. It’s an excellent place for a relaxing drink on warm days, and while it does get busy on weekend evenings, it is also open every day for lunch, serving some great Lebanese street food.
Pitico, Rua Guaicui, 61, São Paulo, Brazil, +55 11 3582 7365
Feira Benedito Calixto
Every Saturday at the charming Benedito Calixto Square, the plaza hosts one of the city’s best antique fairs. While antique shopping may not sound completely relaxing, the market is rarely overcrowded and always maintains a lovely chill atmosphere. Have a browse around the stalls, grab a table outside the excellent Consulado Mineiro restaurant nearby, order some delicious snacks, perhaps your favorite drink, and do a spot of people-watching.
Have a beer in a boteco
Brazil loves beer. And like any other hot country, Brazilians like their beer cold. Really cold. One famous macro-brewed Brazilian beer even boasts that their product is to be served “stupidly cold”. Maybe it’s not for connoisseurs, but on any Brazilian summer afternoon, the refreshment of cracking open a “stupidly cold” one is hard to beat. Beer is served everywhere in São Paulo, from newspaper stands to bakeries, from hairdressers to internet cafés. However, the most traditional spot for a beer in São Paulo is at a boteco, a Brazilian-Portuguese word which can mean anything from a hole-in-the-wall dive bar to small restaurants, and everything in between.
The boteco is a Brazilian institution and, frankly, a pretty therapeutic experience. If you’re looking for a quick way to relax, wherever you are in the city, find the closest boteco, grab a table outside, order the cold beer of your choosing and watch this insane and incredible city go by.