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As the biggest city in Latin America and the entire Southern Hemisphere, São Paulo can be a bit daunting for tourists deciding what to see and do. Short of exploring with a Paulistano friend, tourists luckily have the option of taking one of a number of excellent walking tours that have popped up over the last few years to help visitors get a proper feel of São Paulo. Here is a selection of some of the best.
As their website boasts, São Paulo Free Walking Tour was the first of its kind in the city and has been guiding tourists around town since 2012. As the name suggests, tours are completely free of charge, and they offer a varied selection of routes around the city with licensed tour guides and are 100% in English.
The original tour, “Old Downtown,” meets outside the República metro station and takes tourists around the city’s historic center. The route hits all of the major buildings and sights in this unique part of town, such as the Theatro Municipal, Edificio Itália, Edifício Martinelli, Sé Cathedral and the imposing Copan building. The tour runs every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 11.30 am. There’s no need to book in advance, just show up outside República station on time.
The group added a new tour to their weekly schedule after a year of operations, visiting São Paulo’s most important street: Paulista Avenue. In comparison to the historic center, Paulista Avenue is certainly the city’s new center, with a number of sights, modern buildings and cultural spaces. The tour meets on the corner of Paulista Avenue and Rua Augusta, alongside the Consolação metro station. Participants will get to know everything there is to see on Paulista itself and the surrounding neighborhood, including the gorgeous São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP), Casa das Rosas and Japan House. The Paulista tours begin at 3.30 pm and run every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. The latter is the best day to do it, as every Sunday the avenue is closed to traffic during the afternoons, turning it into one of the city’s best attractions in itself.
The third Free Walking Tour visits the bohemian neighborhood of Vila Madalena and Pinheiros, home to charming, tree-lined streets, hip bars and restaurants and some of the city’s best street art. The tour visits such famous spots as Batman Alley, whose walls are covered with an incredible array of constantly changing graffiti and has become one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. The tour runs on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, beginning at 11:00 am and meeting outside the Fradique Coutinho metro station.
For those who already have a bit of knowledge about São Paulo, omelhordesampa is the ideal tour service. Founder Olavo Medeiros organizes unique tours around parts of São Paulo which are lesser-known to tourists. With varied packages around some of the city’s coolest neighborhoods (the historic Italian enclave of Bixiga, Pinheiros, Mooca, Bom Retiro), omelhordesampa tours offer a genuine experience of São Paulo, not restricted to plain-old sightseeing.
Tours are generally offered in Portuguese, but if you give prior notice Olavo will be able to arrange for a translator to come along. There is also the option to organize bespoke tours, for those who have less or more time to burn, or who want to see certain neighborhoods or sights in particular. These tours can also be in English.
One of the world’s greatest urban parks, Ibirapuera Park to the south of the expanded center of São Paulo is a must-see for any tourist in the city. With its buildings planned by legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, it’s a natural and man-made masterpiece. Ibira Walking Tour offers four tours a week around the grounds (Wednesdays and Saturdays at 10 am and 2.30 pm), taking tourists to all of the major sights. The tour guides have an extensive knowledge of the park’s history, and even São Paulo residents will learn a thing or two. Tours cost R$ 29.90 ($9) for adults, with children aged 12-17 paying R$ 15 ($4.55).
One of the best ways to properly experience a city’s culture is by going to a match of the region’s most popular sport. In Brazil, there is no debate, football (soccer) is the only game in town and São Paulo is the best city in the country to watch the beautiful game. With three of Brazil’s biggest clubs based here (Corinthians, Palmeiras and São Paulo FC), all with their own stadiums, there’s always high-level football to watch on any given weekend.
Unfortunately, it can be quite tricky for tourists to manage to get tickets to football matches, particularly the biggest and most important games. Ticket sales begin less than a week before the match, while foreign payment methods are not accepted for online purchases and there is very little information available in English. São Paulo Football Tours takes care of all of this for you.
While other tour operators advertise a sanitized, tourists’ version of football matches, São Paulo Football Tours offer you the genuine matchday experience. You will travel to the stadium with the fans, drink where the fans drink, eat what the fans eat, and sit where the fans sit, all the while in the company of a Brazilian football expert who can answer any questions you have about the game or the sport in general.