Centro São Paulo
- Start Praça da República
- End Praça da República
- Length 3.5km; two hours
Downtown São Paulo is a vibrant living museum of architectural gems and glory days gone by. Head out on a weekday (weekends and nights are a little too dicey) on this pleasant Centro stroll.
Start at Praça da República, head down Av Ipiranga and then turn left onto Av São Luís to get a look at what’s still one of the tallest buildings in town – the 46-story Edifício Itália. Continuing down Av São Luís, check out the rather squat, gray building at the end of the small park on the left. It looks like a prison, but it’s the Mario de Andrade Municipal Library, housing the largest book collection in the city.
Turning left onto Rua Xavier de Toledo, keeping the library on your left, follow the road downhill toward the Anhangabaú metro station a few blocks away. Follow Toledo until the Theatro Municipal appears – this baroque building, with its art nouveau features, is the pride of the city. Opposite the theater, on the right, is the Viaduto de Chá, a metal bridge built in 1892 and named after an old tea plantation that used to be in the area. Pedestrian traffic became too heavy for the old bridge and a new one was inaugurated in 1938.
Crossing the bridge, look out over the Parque Anhangabaú on the left. At the other side of the bridge, enter Praça do Patriarca straight ahead. Here you’ll find the Igreja de Santo Antônio, which retains many of its original 18th-century contours, including its rococo altar dating to 1780.
Turn right some 20 paces beyond on Rua São Bento, leading to Largo de São Francisco, a triangular plaza that is home to twin churches, both known as Igreja de São Francisco de Assis, and the well-respected College of Law. Just beyond the controversial statue of a Frenchman kissing an indigenous woman in front of the College of Law is Senador Feijó, leading to the famous Praça da Sé. Soak up the joyous vibe in the square, but watch your pockets. Step inside the enormous Catedral da Sé.
As you exit the cathedral, head down the plaza and continue toward the Caixa Economica Federal, home to the city’s coffers and also a great cultural center (Caixa Cultural) that features Brazilian artists. Turning right onto Rua Floriano Peixoto, walk to the end and feast your eyes upon the pinkish-colored Solar da Marquesa. Follow the street around to the left to Páteo do Colégio, the actual site where São Paulo was founded in 1554.
Directly in front of this plaza is Boa Vista. Follow it away from Praça da Sé to the end, where you’ll find Largo de São Bento, home to the Mosteiro São Bento, a monastery and basilica built in an eclectic style with monks still putting on Gregorian-chant concerts, knocking out coveted baked goods and – in grand Belgium style – offering red- and golden-ales brewed from their own recipe.
Leaving the square, walk up the pedestrianized Rua São Bento to Av São João. Turn left at São João and another quick left at the next street, where on the right stands the art deco Farol Santander building. Head to the top floor for a sweeping view of São Paulo. Backtrack to São Bento and then keep heading straight down Av São João. On the left just past São Bento stands Edifício Martinelli. You are now crossing the Vale do Anhangabaú that you saw earlier from the Viaduto de Chá.
Head up São João as far as Largo de Paiçandú. Behind the pretty NS do Rosário dos Homens Pretos is the magnificent Monumento á Mãe Preta (Monument to the Black Mother). This heart-wrenching statue depicts an African slave woman suckling a white child, and the poem underneath gives voice to her lament for her own children who must go hungry.
To wrap up a long day, continue forward and you will end up at the intersection of Av São João and Av Ipiranga, a corner that is considered the most famous in all of São Paulo and was immortalized in Caetano Veloso’s beautiful ode to the city, 'Sampa.' Turn left and you will be back where you started at Praça da República.