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São Paulo is one of the world’s true megacities, so it would be impossible to see the entire place, on foot, in the space of one day. However, there are some regions of the city which are best explored by walking, a perfect example being the city center, one of São Paulo’s most fascinating neighborhoods. Here’s a guide to walking around the city’s unforgettable historic center.
Our tour begins at São Paulo’s beautiful Luz train station, one of the city’s largest transport hubs. Built in 1867, it is among the oldest buildings still standing in São Paulo and was designed by English architect Henry Driver, who based his project on railway stations in Melbourne and Glasgow. The materials used for the building were from the Saracen Foundry in Glasgow, and the station was assembled in Scotland before being shipped across the Atlantic.
Across from the station is the Pinacoteca, one of the city’s best museums with an excellent connection of Brazilian art.
Rua 25 de Março, a short walk from the Luz Station, has to be seen to be believed. Lined with shops selling all kinds of products, this long, hilly street is chock full of shoppers, 24-7. The common perception in São Paulo is that you can find anything on 25 de Março, at incredibly low prices. From the super tacky to the reasonably tasteful, it’s a one-stop shop for your Carnival costumes, Christmas decorations and colorful, noise-making tat for cheering on Brazil during the World Cup. Even if you’re not looking to buy, it’s worth seeing this veritable sea of shoppers for yourself.
The next stop, just as your hunger pangs are kicking in, is São Paulo’s Municipal Market, the Mercadão (Big Market) as it is known locally. This massive building is full of stalls selling an incredible selection of fruit and veg, as well as other ingredients such as cured meats, spices and seafood. Actually buying fruit in the Mercadão can be incredibly expensive, but every seller will allow you to try as many free samples as you like, without any commitment to buy.
Upstairs, there are a number of restaurants and snack bars with some of the most famous foods in the city, such as Hocca Bar‘s mortadella sandwich and pastel de bacalhau – a deep-fried thin crust pie filled with salt cod.
Mercado Municipal, Rua Cantareira 306, Centro, Sao Paulo, Brazil, +55 11 3313 3365
After a quick uphill walk past the São Bento church, you will come into contact with the Martinelli Building, one of the most historically important constructions in the city which marked the beginning of São Paulo’s expansion to becoming a true metropolis in the 1920s. In a previously low-rise city, the Martinelli was the first skyscraper in Brazil and for a time was the tallest building in Latin America. Today it mainly houses offices, but tourists may visit its rooftop for some superb views of the city (as seen below).
Continuing on from the Martinelli Building, hang a left down Rua Direita (one of the oldest streets in the city) to reach Praça da Sé, the symbolic center of São Paulo. Be sure to visit São Paulo’s biggest cathedral – also one of the biggest churches in Brazil – Sé Cathedral. Built at the beginning of the 20th century, the Gothic Revival cathedral is one of the most famous landmarks in the city. Tours of the church’s interior are free of charge, you will not be disappointed!
Catedral da Sé, Praça da Sé, Sé, São Paulo, Brazil +55 11 3107 6832
Head back to Rua Direita and continue across the Viaduto do Chá viaduct to the Theatro Municipal, São Paulo’s leading opera house and one of the city’s architectural treasures. Over 100 years old, it was designed by Brazilian architect Ramos de Azevedo, after whom the square in front of the theater is named. The building has an exquisite interior and tours are free.
Around the corner from the theater is the so-called Gallery of Rock, an iconic shopping center filled with dozens of cool stores which are great fun to browse. From vinyl records and leather jackets to action figures and Pokemon cards, it’s a one-stop shop for all your rocker/punk/nerd/geek needs. A truly unique place.
Galeria do Rock, Avenida São João 439, República, São Paulo, Brazil +55 11 3337 2361
One of the last stops on the walking tour is the Edifício Itália – the huge 46-storey skyscraper with arguably the best rooftop view of São Paulo. It was built in the 1950s as part of a widespread movement in the city to construct vertical housing and one decade later, it was given a veritable cherry on top with the opening of the Terraço Itália, a swanky rooftop restaurant with a breathtaking 360° view of the city. It is expensive, so lunch or dinner here is probably not recommended (we’ve got more to see, remember!), but visitors can sit at the restaurant bar and enjoy the sumptuous views.
To top off what will have been a memorable day, it’s time to eat. Walk down Avenida São Luis, looking out for the Oscar Niemeyer-designed Copan Building, the charming Dom José Gaspar Square and the Mário de Andrade Library on your way. Cross the road and grab a seat at Estadão, one of the city’s most traditional diners, which serves the city’s favorite sandwich. Go up to the counter and order um pernil com provolone and prepare yourself for one unforgettable sandwich. Two minutes later, you’ll be faced with something similar to that pictured below. Slices of slow-roasted and marinaded pork shoulder, onions, peppers, a bit of tomato, and melted provolone cheese served on a Portuguese-style roll. You might want to order another, actually.