The title says it all. It’s not that São Paulo is short on things to see, it’s just that the quality of things to see isn’t that great. I was expecting a whole lot more for a city so big. Granted, I didn’t visit Parque Iberapuera, one of the main attractions, but I don’t think that would’ve swayed me into liking São Paulo. Should you skip São Paulo? No, but don’t spend too much time here. Two days is more than enough to cover everything of note.
My friend Mike and I started by exploring the historic city center. We took the Metrô to São Bento and took a quick look at the Mosteiro de São Bento. It’s a Benedictine monastery originally founded in 1598, but the current church was built in the 1920s.
A short walk away was a collection of tall buildings from the 1920s and 30s that looked like a scene out of The Great Gatsby. One of these buildings is Edifício Altino Arantes, built in 1939. It was inspired by the Empire State Building and stands 36 stories high. It’s also known as Edificio Banespa. The lobby is quite impressive, with a huge chandelier and an antique bank safe on display.
Visitors are allowed access to a viewing deck at the top. A passport or copy of a passport is necessary for foreigners. You ride the elevator to one of the higher floors, change elevators for a few more floors, then climb some stairs to the top. We were allowed only five minutes at the top, but it was well worth it to see the urban sprawl of São Paulo.
Our next stop was Pátio do Colégio. This was where the original city of São Paulo was founded in 1554. There is a plaza with a church and monument, and a few judicial buildings around it.
The church was built by the Jesuits in 1554, followed by many other buildings, but they were kicked out of the city in 1760. Their original buildings were razed in 1886 leaving nothing from the original complex. The Jesuits returned in 1954 and rebuilt an exact replica of their church and complex. It now houses the Museu Padre Anchieta, named after the leader of the first mission in the area. The museum holds several historic colonial artifacts.
Praça da Sé is just a few minutes walk away. It’s a plaza that is crowned by one of the most magnificent churches in the city, Catedral Metropolitana, built between 1913 and 1967. The architect was the German-born Maximilian Emil Hehl.
The plaza itself felt kind of nasty. There were a lot of unsavory characters around plus a very large police presence. I was surprised and saddened that there were also several homeless people living in the plaza.
We took a quick walk to another plaza to see two important buildings in São Paulo. The Universidade de São Paulo law faculty is a very nice building. To the right of it is Igreja de São Francisco de Assis, one of the oldest churches in São Paulo, built in the 1600s. Its colonial monastery was demolished in the 1930s.
Next was a stop at Praça do Patriarca, where there are a few government buildings and a small church, Igreja Santo Antonio.
From there, we walked up the pedestrian Rua São Bento. It is lined with shops and there are a few restaurants here and there. Nothing impressive in the area except for the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil. This bank building was erected in the early 1900s and now features contemporary art exhibitions in the old bank vaults.