São Paulo/Downtown

São Paulo downtown. Old financial center Skyline.

São Paulo's city downtown area (Centro) is where the city was founded, in 1554. It contains many historical buildings and areas which are protected by the municipality. In the second half of the XX century, business and upscale households have moved away from the Center, making the area meet urban degradation and rise of criminality. Many renovation projects are taking place, making the region slowly but confidently regain importance and take its place as the city's historic core and a vibrant commercial and cultural zone.

The Center is composed of the Sé and República districts, plus the ring of districts around these two: Bom Retiro, Santa Cecília, Consolação, Bela Vista, Liberdade and Cambuci.

Much of the best of the architecture of São Paulo is located in the city center. There are many baroque and neoclassical buildings, with some resemblance to those found in cities like Paris, Vienna and even Buenos Aires, as well as some impressive early-modern buildings like the S-shaped Copan. However, due to the lack of policies for protecting the cultural heritage of the city, some of these buildings suffer from vandalism and are sometimes completely covered with graffiti.

Note: Avenida Paulista is partly in the Center. For places in this avenue and up to 4 blocks from it, check the São Paulo/Paulista section.


The neighborhoods of Downtown

Each district of the center has its own peculiar history and characteristics.

The Downtown "Concrete Jungle" seen from Edifício Itália.

Get in

By metro or train

Estação Luz, the oldest and one of the busiest train stations of the city.

The rail network is the easiest and fastest way of getting to the center. The city center is crossed by various train and metro lines. These are the stations located at each district:

Take note of the odd fact that Paulista Station is on Rua da Consolação, while Consolação Station is on Avenida Paulista. If you find you have gone to the wrong one, you can use the long underground passageway that connects them.

By bus

Numerous buses run continuously to the center from other parts of the city. For a visitor, they may sometimes be more convenient than the Metro, and you save some money by taking only buses instead of buses + train (but not that much). Check the SPTrans website for routes and itineraries (only in Portuguese).

From many parts of the São Paulo, there are buses going to Parque Dom Pedro II, where the busiest bus terminal of the city is located. If you step down at this terminal, memorize the spot where the bus stopped if you plan to go back using the same bus, as you may have a hard time finding it again in the large and confusing terminal.

By car

The Center is crossed by Corredor Norte-Sul, that links the north and the south parts of the city, and by Radial Leste-Oeste, that links the west the and east. Av. Rebouças and Av. Nove do Julho come from the Southwest, and Av. do Estado from the southeast.

On weekdays and Saturday morning, going to most parts in the Center of São Paulo by car is not recommended, unless you are masochist, rich, or have a lot of patience. Parking can cost as much as R$ 20 (US$ 11) for a single hour! It is best to park in the street at Zona Azul areas, where you pay an amount set by the Municipality, but finding a place to park may take some time. On weekends, cheaper parking is usually available.


Historical landmarks

Viaduto do Chá and Shopping Light.

Historical buildings

Palácio das Indústrias, former city hall of São Paulo and now a cultural and educative center.

Historical churches

Catedral da Sé.


Pinacoteca do Estado.



Concerts and theatre

Sala São Paulo opera house (also Júlio Prestes CPTM station).

The center of São Paulo contains dozens of theatres and concert halls, with dozens of performances being carried everyday. Most theatrical performances are in Portuguese, and their price may vary from completely free to R$ 300. It is better to choose the place by the performance you want to see. A list of performances being carried in the city can be found in various websites, including: , , , . The following theatres and concert halls are the ones that deserve particular attention:


Liberdade district, a traditional neighborhood for Asian immigrants in São Paulo.

The center of São Paulo is the place of cultural events that may get hundreds of thousands of visitors. Avoid going to such events by car, as you may spend more time stuck in traffic and searching a place to park than enjoying the events themselves.

Cultural centers



All these listed high education institutions are private and located in the district of Consolação.


A little bit of everything is available in Centro. The Old City Center, especially around the Law School on Largo São Francisco, is the place to go if you’re looking for rare, discounted or out-of-print books. There are several good used bookstores in the area, some—such as the Messias—are traditional São Paulo favorites.


Contrast is the area's middle name. You can eat well both in traditional local eateries or elegant restaurants.

Bela Vista

Bixiga's cantinas and pizzerias are amongst the best in the city. Try authentic fresh Portuguese rolls or Italian loaf with butter and "pingado," or "café com leite" coffee with cream from the bakery at the corner of Conselheiro Carrão and 13 de Maio streets. You won't regret it!


As in all of São Paulo, the variety of gastronomical options in this section of town are plenty, so feel free to just stroll down the streets without a pre-fixed plan. Vilaboin square, nearby FAAP, holds options for every taste.


Liberdade is a paradise for fans of Asian food. Although the best Japanese restaurants may be in the East, those do not nearly match the cost-benefit of the ones in Liberdade. Besides, here you can find some interesting mixes of Asian and Brazilian food, like at Sukiya.



Bela Vista






Mid price


Stay safe

Safety in the Downtown region has largely improved in recent years. However, the Centro Velho ("Old Town", the area composed by the Sé and República districts, plus the adjacent Luz neighborhood in Bom Retiro/Santo Cecília), precisely the area where most historical sights are contained, is still problematic in terms of safety.

During the day (except on Sundays), the Old Town is considerably safe. You will see many homeless people in the streets, but there will be ostensive presence of police, and most streets will be quite crowded for anything to happen. Homeless people generally ignore passersby, but pickpockets in very crowded streets are common, just like annoying vendors. Watch your belongings all the time.

There are some particular areas to be aware even during the day:

With so many skyscrapers, the Old Town may look a densely populated area, when in fact, it is not. The center of town is alive during week days because of offices and shops. During the night and Sundays, there is still some life in certain parts, like the bars/clubbing area between Largo do Arouche and Praça da República, but many streets may also become desolate, containing few people other than homeless and drug addicts. Needless to say, the "Crackland" should be completely avoided during the night unless you are in some trustworthy guided tour.

For the rest of Downtown, follow the general advice for São Paulo.


English-speaking churches

Near Bela Vista/Liberdade/Paraiso, the Fellowship Community church caters to English speakers in the morning and services are spoken in Portuguese in the evening. Calvary Baptist church in Campo Belo features services in American English and Saint Paul's Anglican in Alto da Boa Vista, in British English.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, October 04, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.