São Paulo: The City Where Everyone’s Culture Fits 

Doni in São Paulo at night

By Phillip Lucas

In a city where there’s room for a little of everything, it’s almost impossible not to think about the various forms of culture that São Paulo offers. Host of the Modern Art Week, in 1922, the largest Brazilian city is considered a reference in the most diverse forms of cultural expression.  

Museums, theaters, concert halls, leisure and sports centers, bars, restaurants, nightclubs. The metropolis — with all its problems — breathes culture.

And it is impossible to start this article without mentioning the São Paulo Museum of Art, idealized by Assis Chateaubriand, one of the main entrepreneurs in the communication business in Brazil in the 20th century. The first address was in a building on 7 de Abril Street, in 1947. In 1968, the museum moved to the heart of the city.

Designed by Italian architect Lina Bo Bardi, the building on Paulista Avenue was inaugurated on November 8th of that year. The late Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip attended the inauguration. The construction was a landmark for São Paulo, which was in the moment of expansion.  

Suzan Bloch by Pablo Picasso
Painting of Suzanne Bloch by Pablo Picasso. (Photo courtesy of Sartle.com via Wikipedia)

There are more than 10,000 pieces in the collection. One of the most famous is the portrait of Suzanne Bloch, by Pablo Picasso.  

“I saw many exhibitions of Botero, Monet. And I believe that was where I had my first contact with world masterpieces. And with that, I learned to be more curious about painting itself,” says import analyst Eduardo Rivas.   


The Pinacoteca, in the Luz district, is the oldest art gallery in the city. Inaugurated at Christmas in 1905, the state government administers the complex. A fan of the place is journalist Marina Cid.  

Street corner in São Paulo, Brazil
Street corner in São Paulo, Brazil

“At the Pinacoteca there are always traveling exhibitions, like the Os Gemeos (“The Twins” in English), which I really liked, and exhibitions of works from the collection,” says Cid. And she wasn’t the only one to praise the show of artists Gustavo and Otavio Pandolfo.   

Nearly 240,000 people (about half the population of Wyoming, U.S.A.) visited the show, which was open to the public between October 2020 and September 2021. It was the third most viewed exhibition in the history of the Pinacoteca.  

Cid introduces us to another cultural tour option in São Paulo: “The MIS is a great place for those who like interactive and thematic exhibitions. I’ve been to many there: Castelo Rá-Tim-Bum [a children’s tv show from the 90’s], John Lennon, Rita Lee [a Brazilian singer], Silvio Santos [famous TV host], Hitchcock” and more.  

And at Ibirapuera, the main park in São Paulo, those who exercise can also check out two other important museums: the Afro Brazil and the Museum of Modern Art.  

For those looking for orchestra presentations, the best places to go are the Sala São Paulo and the Theatro Municipal, both located downtown. Theater shows of the most varied genres are also staged throughout the city. 

Martinelli Building in Downtown Sao Paulo - Sao Paulo, Brazil
Martinelli Building in Downtown Sao Paulo – Sao Paulo, Brazil

Historic buildings are also excellent options in the city. “One of the places I like most is the Martinelli, known as the first skyscraper in São Paulo,” recommends financial consultant Michel Oliveira.

“When it inaugurated [in 1924] people were afraid to go up, because it looked like [the building] was going to fall. And because it was built on a slope, it gave the impression of being crooked,” adds Oliveira, who has worked in the building for a couple of years.


Despite the large number of options for museums, art institutes and historical buildings, those places are not spread throughout the city. Almost all of them are in downtown São Paulo, which makes access difficult for those who live in the suburbs. For journalist Onil Junior, it’s necessary to raise awareness of the importance of culture in society.  

“People need to be interested in the artist, in the play. But many times, these events do not reach the peripheral regions. So, one of the possibilities to increase access to culture is to make cultural events happen in the peripheral regions, so that the population can get to know and research more about it,” Junior says.  

For the compliance analyst Douglas Aguillar, another factor that keeps the poorest people away from these spaces is the lack of public transportation.  

“This ends up making access impossible because of the time it takes to get to these places,” he says. “And during the weekend, the train and subway lines don’t operate 100%. And it is at the weekend that most of the population has time to have fun. So, the lack of urban mobility affects direct access to culture.”   


To stimulate the consumption of art, one strand that has gained prominence in recent years is street culture.

The São Paulo of the gray walls has accumulated more colors. Visual artists and urban collectives spread throughout the city, which has gained new — and beautiful — landscapes. True open-air museums.  

One of them is the Beco do Batman, a narrow street in the west zone of São Paulo, full of murals and graffiti.  

Batman mural in São Paulo, Brazil
Batman mural in São Paulo, Brazil

A group of artists of indigenous origin graffitied the viaduct in Jaraguá, the north zone of São Paulo. This one, in the Avenida Paulista region, the most emblematic of the city, portrays the writer from Minas Gerais, Carolina Maria de Jesus. The work, signed by Criola, was baptized “The Ancestress of the Future.”  

“São Paulo is a box of surprises when we talk about culture. Every day, we learn new things because new information arrives here,” Aguillar says. 


 With almost 13 million inhabitants, São Paulo is the main Brazilian city. To have an idea, the city hall budget is the third largest in Brazil, behind only to the budget of the federal government and the budget of the government of the state of São Paulo.   

And its vocation as a business hub comes from the beginning of the 20th century, when coffee — produced in the state’s interior — was the main product exported by Brazil. Paulista Avenue, in the early 1900s, was a street full of mansions, where the coffee barons used to live.  

Buildings at Morumbi neighborhood in Sao Paulo financial district - Sao Paulo, Brazil
Buildings at Morumbi neighborhood in Sao Paulo financial district – Sao Paulo, Brazil

Even with its wealth, São Paulo never was the Brazilian capital. While the main city of the state of São Paulo was growing, Rio de Janeiro — 430 kilometers away — was the seat of executive power. The choice of Rio as the federal capital in 1763 was strictly intended to supervise the mining regions during the gold cycle. In 1960, the federal administration moved to its current home: Brasília, built during Juscelino Kubitschek’s government.

While São Paulo grew for business, Rio de Janeiro has always had a greater vocation for art. The natural beauties, such as the beaches and the Pao de Açúcar, complete the plot of the “Wonderful City.” In São Paulo, everything is “for yesterday.” In Rio de Janeiro, everything is “contemplated.” But the charm of one does not erase the effervescence of the other.

São Paulo is the main business center in Brazil, and one of the most important in Latin America. Throughout the year, sectors such as civil construction, telecommunications and information technology hold their fairs and conventions, attracting thousands of visitors. The metropolis realized the importance of business tourism and today draws almost 10% of the hotel reservations in the entire country.


Of course, don’t forget São Paulo’s nightlife. There are options for all tastes: nightclubs with varied musical rhythms, ranging from rock to hip hop, including country and samba; places with a more intimate theme, others more stripped down; clubs for those who want to go out with friends or to date — for the heterosexual or LGBTQIA+ public. 

Not to mention São Paulo’s most distinctive cuisine, with its array of bars and restaurants. Italian cantinas in Bixiga, Japanese restaurants in Liberdade, and steakhouses in Vila Olímpia are great options. There are also Arabian, Thai, African, Portuguese and vegetarian food options. There are over 20,000 establishments in the city.

For product specialist Gibran Sattaur, Veloso Bar is a mandatory stop for those who want to know São Paulo’s famous bar food.

“The atmosphere is very pleasant; they have a very nice outdoor area, with a summer afternoon vibe. It is a place where there is no live music. And the beer there is very good. And the coxinha [bread and fried chicken dumpling] is their main dish,” he says.  

Doni in São Paulo at night
Doni in São Paulo at night

Douglas Aguilar values the possibility for people to get to know new flavors, with the large range of restaurants.

“That’s good because you learn another way to prepare the same food, to present a meal,” he says.

Shows with world-renowned artists, and those seeking to rise in their careers, are also in plentiful supply throughout the city. Currently, São Paulo hosts Loolapalooza, in March, and starting this year — it will have a second big music festival, The Town, later in 2023.  

The metropolis is also the stage for great international tours. In March, for example, the band Coldplay — led by Chris Martin — had no less than six concerts here. And it’s not unusual to see Paul McCartney, Foo Fighters or Metallica performing here, as well.

For those who want to come to São Paulo and don’t know where to start getting to know the city, the tip is: look for the new, for what you can’t find in your hometown. And for a simple reason: São Paulo is so big that it has no end. Even those who have lived here for decades can learn about a new metropolis around the next corner. 


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