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Ibirapuera Park | © Gabriela Sakamoto / Flickr
Ibirapuera Park | © Gabriela Sakamoto / Flickr
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What to Do On a Layover In São Paulo

Picture of Euan Marshall
Updated: 22 March 2018
If you’re traveling anywhere in South America, chances are it will involve a stopover at São Paulo’s Guarulhos International Airport, the busiest transport hub on the continent. Though it requires a bit of time to get into town, a day trip to São Paulo is well worth the effort. Here are some tips on how to make the most of your layover in São Paulo.

Getting into town

As mentioned previously, getting into São Paulo from Guarulhos is not completely straightforward. The airport is actually located in the city of the same name, which in itself is the 13th most populous city in the entire country, not bad for a de facto suburb of São Paulo. There is precious little in Guarulhos for tourists, however, meaning you’ll have to make your way into SP itself.

Guarulhos International Airport
Guarulhos International Airport | © Igor Schutz / Flickr

While construction has begun on public transport links between São Paulo and Guarulhos Airport, the projects are woefully behind schedule and it doesn’t look like they will see the light of day anytime soon. As a result, most visitors arrive in São Paulo via taxi or Uber, which is easy and comfortable but can often cost in excess of R$ 100 ($30).

A cheaper alternative is to use the Airport Bus Service coaches, which cost R$ 48.80 and offer comfortable seating and free Wi-Fi. Coaches leave the airport every hour, and if you buy a return ticket you will save 50% on your journey back to Guarulhos.

Once in São Paulo, you have plenty of options of things to do, all depending on your tastes, the time you have available, the day of the week, and the weather.

Paulista Avenue

Regarded the most important avenue in São Paulo, Paulista Avenue is a good place to visit in order to get a feel for the city in a short space of time. The city’s top art museum, MASP, is located half-way down the avenue and is well worth a visit. There are also a number of cultural centers, such as the Instituto Moreira Salles, Fiesp and Casa das Rosas, where you can look around some interesting exhibitions.

If you’re visiting on a Sunday or a national holiday, Paulista Avenue is closed to traffic and open to pedestrians, making it a kind of urban beach with families walking their dogs, cyclists, buskers and performance art shows.

Ibirapuera Park

If nature is your thing, spend your layover in São Paulo at the city’s stunning urban park, Ibirapuera – voted one of the best of its kind in the world by The Guardian newspaper. Among the seemingly chaotic and crowded concrete city, Ibirapuera is an island of tranquility and nature, with sprawling parks, beautiful trees and huge lakes. It is also worth checking out the park’s architecture, with almost all of the constructions having been designed by legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer.

In terms of activities, the Afro-Brazilian Museum is a must-see, with a number of fascinating artifacts and exhibitions on an oft-overlooked part of Brazil’s history.

Museu Afro Brasil, Ibirapuera Park
Museu Afro Brasil, Ibirapuera Park | Nicolas de Camaret / Flickr

Walk around the Historical Center

Though it went through a long period of decay throughout the 80s and 90s, the center of São Paulo is where the city’s oldest buildings are situated and it is well worth having a walk around. For one of the greatest views of this massive city, go up to the top of the Edifício Itália building, grab a Martini at the bar, and gaze at the never-ending sea of cityscape all around you.

View from Terraço Itália, São Paulo
View from Terraço Itália, São Paulo | Leandro Neumann Cluffo / Flickr

Visit the Soccer Museum

Brazil is soccer-mad, and São Paulo is home to the country’s best museum dedicated to the sport. Housed inside the municipal Pacaembu stadium, the gorgeous 77-year old monument to Brazilian soccer, the museum is very informative and full of impressive exhibits.

Charles Miller Square & Pacaembu Stadium, São Paulo
Charles Miller Square & Pacaembu Stadium, São Paulo | Eduardo Zárate / Flickr

Chill out in Vila Madalena

If you aren’t looking for tourist attractions per se, a good way to spend a relaxing sunny day in São Paulo is by heading down to the hip neighborhood of Vila Madalena and taking a seat in one of the area’s many trendy bars and restaurants. Vila Madalena’s leafy, hilled streets are also full of independent fashion boutiques and galleries, making it a great place to spend your layover, while still managing to get a feel for this unique, cosmopolitan megacity.

Beco do Batman in the Vila Madalena neighborhood
Beco do Batman in the Vila Madalena neighborhood | © Alf Ribeiro / Shutterstock