The Best Things to Do for Free in São Paulo

MASP in Bela Vista neighborhood, São Paulo
MASP in Bela Vista neighborhood, São Paulo | © The Photographer / WikiCommons
Euan Marshall

Judging exactly how expensive São Paulo is can be a difficult task. In general terms, it is a costly place to live if you are earning Brazilian reais, but dollars, pounds, and euros go a long way in SP. However, there are plenty of things in the city that are just as expensive as London or New York, such as certain fancy restaurants. Either way, São Paulo is also a city that offers plenty of things to do for free. Here is a selection of some of the best.

Visit one of SP’s cultural centers

São Paulo has tons of spaces spread across the city, including exhibitions, libraries, theaters and cinema, all with free entry. Particular highlights are the newly built Instituto Moreira Salles on Paulista Avenue, with its gorgeous views and superb exhibitions, and Japan House, another new space at the other end of Paulista, promoting Japanese culture in the city.

In the center of the city, SESC 24 de Maio is an excellent place to spend an afternoon, while the gorgeous 1900s interior of the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil is worth a look.

1. Ibirapuera Park

Park, Natural Feature

Ibirapuera Park
© Gabriela Sakamoto / Flickr

The sprawling urban park voted one of the best of its kind in the world by The Guardian newspaper, Ibirapuera is a mandatory stop on any visit to SP. In the middle of the chaos of the city, Ibirapuera is a fascinating island of peace and quiet, where the locals go for bike rides, picnics, jogging or just a spot of sunbathing.

With free entry ever since its opening in 1954, there is plenty to do across its 158 hectares, such as marveling at the park’s two large lakes or enjoying its museums and buildings, almost all designed by iconic Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer.

Walk around Vila Madalena

To the west of São Paulo lies the hilly neighborhood of Vila Madalena, one of the city’s coolest, most artsy regions. Full of charming galleries, tree-lined streets, independent boutiques and pretty cafés, it is a lovely place to spend an afternoon.

One of Vila Madalena’s most fascinating characteristics is in the names of its streets, chosen by anarchist students in the 1960s and ’70s. They chose names such as Rua Harmonia (Harmony), Girassol (Sunflower) and Purpurina (Glitter) to go against the city’s usual custom of naming roads after politicians or army generals.

Window-shop on Rua Oscar Freire

It may seem like a bit of an oxymoron to suggest a walk around Rua Oscar Freire, the most expensive street in Latin America, as a free activity in São Paulo, but a spot of window-shopping around the countless designer stores and boutiques can make for a fascinating way to spend your afternoon.

Take the free walking tour

A classic money-saving option in any city is to tag along with a free walking tour. São Paulo’s most popular free walking tour has three different routes, going around the historic center, Paulista Avenue and the previously mentioned neighborhood of Vila Madalena. All tours are in English, and there is no need to book your place, simply turn up at the meeting point.

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