São Paulo in One Day: A Self-Guided São Paulo Free Walking Tour

I LOVE going to Brazil. It’s my husband and I’d favorite holiday destination.

I live for the tropical fruits, the beaches, and the friendliest people in the world.

But, to be honest, I was never interested in São Paulo.

It is supposed to be one of the most exciting cities in the world, but going from one huge city to an even bigger city isn’t my idea of a relaxing weekend away.

That’s why I jumped on the opportunity for a one day in São Paulo layover on our way to South Africa from Buenos Aires.

This was probably the only way I was going to finally see this bustling Brazilian metropolis.

So we did it, one long layover, a lot of rain, and very little sleep, but we saw (most) of Sao Paulo in one day.

Here is how we did it…

Start your 1 day in São Paulo with acai and fruit at one of the many corner shops like this!

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How to see São Paulo in One Day

If you’re wondering how to see São Paulo in one day, the answer is: you can’t.

But you can certainly see a lot!

We covered a lot of ground by creating this self-guided Sao Paulo free walking tour itinerary before going.

I’m including a Google map of our route. I recommend downloading it before going and keeping that and this post handy as you go along.

This self-guided São Paulo walking tour is of the historic downtown.

You’ll start at the Copan Building and end at the market.

The SÃO Paulo Walking Tour Map

Our One Day in São Paulo Itinerary

We were in São Paulo on a 24 hour layover. We landed at around dinner time, settled into our hotel with plans to start our walking tour early the next morning.

I knew we would start our day at Edificio Copan so we got a hotel nearby, the Pergamon by Accorhotels.

It was pretty nice, especially for a 3 star hotel.

Our room was really big and the breakfast buffet was excellent, as per usual in Brazil.

With our bellies full of fresh fruit and pão de queijo (and a purse full of even more pão de queijo), we started our São Paulo walking tour…

Guided Tour Options

I really enjoyed our day walking by ourselves! But if you’d rather have a guide, here are some great guided tours to discover Sao Paulo with a local:

  • STREET ART BIKE TOUR |I love to see street art in urban cities and you often need a guide to find the best murals (and learn about the artist and meaning!). Reserve this street art tour to learn about São Paulo street art.
  • PAULISTA HIGHLIGHTS | One of the most famous landmarks in the city is the enormous Paulista Avenue! My walking tour doesn’t touch on it so if you want to explore with a local, book this Paulista Highlights tour.
  • GOURMET FOOD TOUR | On my walking tour you’ll have already seen the market and street food, so reserve this gourmet food tour to dive into São Paulo’s fine dining scene. My friends are obsessed with gourmet dining and it’s the only reason they regularly travel to São Paulo!

1. Edificio Copan

My husband is an architect so any trip to Brazil includes Oscar Niemeyer. Niemeyer’s Edificio Copan had to be on our itinerary.

It’s a 38 story residential building in the heart of São Paulo’s downtown.

The modernist architect designed the apartment building to house all classes, with sprawling apartments for the wealthy and affordable studios for the working class.

We had planned to visit the building and its rooftop view but it was closed for restoration when we were there.

To visit Edificio Copan, check in at Bloco F at least 30 minutes prior to your visit.

It is open on weekdays only from 10:30-3:30. Official website for visit information.

Even if you can’t visit, the wave-like façade is a must see! Also pay attention to the crosswalk lights, instead of little red and green men, there are little red and green Copan Buildings.

If you are facing the Copan Building, turn left and walk a block and a half down Av. Ipiranga to #344, the Italy Building…

Modern Edificio Italia is the 3rd highest skyscraper in all of Brazil.

2. Edifício Itália

The Edifício Itália is another architectural marvel in São Paolo. This tall building is the 3rd highest in all of Brazil.

Brazilian architect Franz Heep designed the Italy Building to offer the best ventilation while avoiding harsh direct sunlight for his tenants.

This building is a São Paulo icon and also has a rooftop observation deck and restaurant, the Terraço Itália, with 360 degree views.

Continue on another block down Av. Ipiranga to the Praça da República…

The Casa Caetano de Campos on Praça da República

3. Praça da República

This major square in downtown São Paulo is a welcome green space.

If you’re visiting on a Sunday, you’ll find a bustling market with handicrafts and delicious street food.

The largest and most historic building on the square is the Casa Caetano de Campos, built in 1894. Today it houses the Department of Education.

Looking around you’ll also see modernist buildings such as: Edificio Esther, the San Tomás buildings, Oscar Niemeyer’’s Edificio Eiffel, and Jacques Pilon’s Sao Luiz.

I enjoyed the green space the most, wandering under the trees and watching the monkeys prowl overhead.

Find your way back to Av. Ipiranga at the corner of Rua Sete de Abril, just under the Esther Building. Walk away from the square down Rua Sete de Abril for a few blocks, turn right onto Rua Dr. Braulio Gomes until you find…

The Biblioteca Mário de Andrade is the main public library.

4. Biblioteca Mário de Andrade

This is the main public library in São Paulo. The building is one of the major icons of the art deco style in the city.

This library was the first Brazilian public institution that acquired modern works of art by both local and foreign artists. You can see them in the Pinacoteca Municipal.

Mário de Andrade, its namesake, was one of the founders of Brazilian modernism.

With the library to your back, turn left on Rua Cel. Xavier de Toledo and walk two long blocks to the Theatro Municipal de São Paulo.

São Paulo’s Theator Municipal feels like it was pulled right out of Europe!

5. Theatro Municipal de São Paulo

This is one of, if not the, most beautiful buildings in all of São Paulo. Construction finished on this historic theater in 1911, with materials largely imported from Europe.

The inspiration was the Garnier of Paris.

It was designed to be an opera house. And from 1912 to 1926, the theatre presented 88 operas of 41 different composers.

Ironically, the most important event to be housed in the theater was not an opera, but the 1922 Week of Modern Art, insulting the Paulista bourgeoisie and their senses.

The theater is stunning, go inside for a look around the foyer. If you’d like to see the interior, schedule a tour ahead of time here.

From the theater, walk down Viaduto do Chá alongside the plaza (with the square to your left) and cross the Cha Bridge.

The view from the theater towards the other side of the Chá Bridge

6. Viaduto do Chá – Chá Bridge

The Viaduto do Chá is the city’s first viaduct. It was conceived and constructed by French immigrant Jules Martin in 1877.

The original iron bridge was replaced by the concrete one you see today in 1938.

Take a good look, you’ll likely notice it in many Brazilian interviews, movies, and soap operas that are set in the city.

This river divided what was once two separate towns and it took a herculean effort and major detour to cross. The viaduct was Jules Martin’s solution.

Cross the bridge and continue one block to the Praça do Patriarca….

7. Praça do Patriarca

This is one of the oldest squares in all of São Paulo.

Go inside the Igreja Santo Antônio, considered the oldest church in the city. It was founded in the 16th century, with mention of its existence as early as 1592.

The altar is a beautiful example of baroque style and was added in 1780.

Leave the church and take a right (with the church still at your back), take the first right onto Rua São Bento, walk until the road dead ends in a triangular plaza…

8. Largo São Francisco

This plaza is home to the largest grouping of baroque architecture in the city.

You’ll see the Law School, and the San Francisco de Assis church and the Llagas del Seráfico Padre San Francisco church.

There is also a controversial statue of a Frenchman kissing an indigenous woman.

Pass the statue on Rua Benjamin Constant for a few blocks until you reach Praça da Sé…

The main cathedral on Praça da Sé

9. Praça da Sé

Praça da Sé is considered the city’s central point. You’ll find the 0 kilometer marker (marco cero) in the center of the square literally marking the central point from which all roads through the city are counted.

The São Paulo Cathedral stands the head of the square and gives it its name, referring to the Holy See.

Walk around here. Take in the statues and monuments, find the 0 Km marker, and go into the Cathedral.

Leave the Cathedral and walk back across the square to the opposite end and take Rua Quinze do Novembro (the street that branches off the square diagonally off the left-hand corner with the cathedral to your back), walk until it curves nearly 90 degrees and changes names to Rua João Bricola…

The streets on this Sao Paulo in one day walking tour are a beautiful mixture of historic colonial architecture with new modern buildings.
The view from the top of the Banespa Building were unbeatable!!

10. Altino Arantes Building, aka the Banespa Building

Another major São Paolo skyscraper, the Banespa Building is of the Art Deco style and it was the tallest building in the city for twenty years (the Italy Building beat it).

The Altino Arantes Building was designed by Plínio Botelho do Amaral, who was inspired by the Empire State Building and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Since the Copan Building was closed for us we decided to visit the Banespa Building for a panoramic view of the city.

I really recommend it! In fact, it’s the highest view point in São Paolo.

The tour was very interesting, including offices restored in the original style to how they looked in the 1940’s when it was the Bank of the State of São Paulo.

Visit the Farol Santander (the top of the Banespa), It’s closed on Mondays but confirm official hours and entrance fees on the official site.

Once you’ve had enough of the views, take a left back onto Rua João Bricola and take the first left onto Rua Boa Vista then take the first right onto Rua Florencio de Abreu and then an immediate left onto a small road. You’ll see the Monastery on your left.

11. Mosteiro de São Bento

The São Bento Monastery was established in 1598 and is one of the most historic churches in the entire city. Note that the facade is brand new (from the 20th century).

Mass takes place at 7 am on weekdays, 6 am on Saturday and 10 am on Sundays and it includes Gregorian chanting.

Don’t miss the bakery next door. The breads, pastries, cakes, and jams are made by the monks themselves with centuries old recipes!

Words cannot do the beauty of this monastery justice. Photos aren’t allowed (which was torture! It is stunning).

The Mercado Municipal is a must visit for foodies in Brazil!

12. Mercado Municipal

From the monastery, we took an Uber to get to the market. I was both very tired by this point (we had barely slept!) and this area started to feel a little sketchier to me and since I wasn’t familiar, we just played it extra cautious.

But you can totally walk! And honestly, it would probably be faster if you walked.

I LOVE to see the local markets when I travel and this was no different. I remember Anthony Bourdain visiting this market and eating the enormous Mortadella sandwich at Bar do Mane and that was it, I had to follow his footsteps.

Unsurprisingly, everyone in all of São Paulo had the same idea. Bar do Mane was unenjoyably crowded. People were elbow to elbow on stools around tiny tables.

And if I’m being honest with myself, being faced with that much meat on one sandwich in person was a lot less appetizing in person than on my tv screen.

I’d be eating it just to say I did. And I wouldn’t enjoy neither the kilo of cold cuts nor the pushy fellow diners.

So we took a few obligatory photos and searched for a quieter bar within the market.

We found a hole in the wall by one of the entrances with two empty stools. The rest were occupied by local Paulistas in suits on their lunch breaks. The kind of people who know what’s up.

I’m eternally grateful for this decision! Martin ordered the daily special and I ordered my favorite Brazilian street food, a pastel de frango (tied in first place with coixinhas!).

Our lunch spot!
Pastel de frango, hot peppers, and a cerveja bem frio!

It was peaceful. The food was delicious, the fellow diners were friendly and welcoming, and the waitresses/cooks were that over the top nice that only a Brazilian can deliver.

With full bellies we explored more of the market, trying all the exotic fruit that we could.

DINING TIPS FOR THE MERCADO MUNICIPAL:

  • If you really have your heart set on Mortadella, the Bar do Mane is the place. Prepare for crowds and a wait.
  • The second story is basically a food court with a lot of dining options. You can try this for more variety but I didn’t care for the mall food court vibe.
  • Wander and find the tiny tucked-away bars like we did. I couldn’t even tell you which one it was but there will be plenty like it!
  • Talk to the vendors, especially the fruit and veg sellers! They’ll often offer exotic fruits for you to taste and I try something I’ve never heard of every time I visit Brazil.

Options to continue exploring São Paulo

We had to end our one day in São Paulo after the market. Rushing to the hotel in an Uber to grab our bags and rush to the airport (as fast as one can rush in hectic São Paulo traffic!).

If you want to compliment this walking tour of the historic center with more tours to extend your stay, here are a few great options!

São Paulo Day Tours

  • STREET ART BIKE TOUR | I love to see street art in urban cities and you often need a guide to find the best murals (and learn about the artist and meaning!). Reserve this street art tour to learn about São Paulo street art.
  • PAULISTA HIGHLIGHTS | One of the most famous landmarks in the city is the enormous Paulista Avenue! My walking tour doesn’t touch on it so if you want to explore with a local, book this Paulista Highlights tour.
  • GOURMET FOOD TOUR | On my walking tour you’ll have already seen the market and street food, so reserve this gourmet food tour to dive into São Paulo’s fine dining scene. My friends are obsessed with gourmet dining and it’s the only reason they regularly travel to São Paulo!

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