The coolest and most “in tune” travelers know that São Paulo, the largest city in South America, has the most intense cultural life of the country, a cosmopolitan and refined gastronomy, and a crazy busy nightlife. But the image the city carries is of the concrete jungle, the sea of buildings stretching from all sides, stealing views of the horizon. The reason is justified. São Paulo has always been closed by walls, by the windows of passing cars, and doors hiding everything interesting happening inside four walls and away from the sight of passersby.
Carnaval -considered the biggest street party in the world- just ended, and this year marked a milestone for the city. Never before had so many people taken up the streets and neighborhoods to celebrate with the Carnaval groups, filling it up with music and fun. This happened thanks to a movement that is taking shape and taking over public spaces to promote fairs, celebrations, sports and leisure activities. Today, overlooked places became hot spots, and it is unthinkable to find a weekend where there isn’t, at least, one big outdoor event, often times open to the general public.
Some of these places are not necessarily shown in traditional travel guides. But, those looking for some authentic city action won’t want to miss such spots, especially in times when they’re bursting with locals.
An elevated track built in the 70s, splitting a traditional neighborhood in two and bringing much degradation for over 40 years, still works as an expressway during the week. However, on the weekends, with the traffic closed for cars, the tracks become a real urban linear park. You will find entire families exercising, walking, biking and enjoying themselves. A very active and politized group fights for the creation of a real park, with vegetation, in the Highline style. Meanwhile, the space also hosts flea markets, food festivals, artistic installations and even theatrical plays, performed on windows of the buildings alarmingly close to the tracks.
Learn more about Parque Minhocão
Deactivated and abandoned areas converted into cultural spaces are easily found in almost every big city in Europe and the USA. But around here, this trend took longer to arrive. As the first cultural center of its type, and maybe the most interesting, the name says it all. Created in the middle of deactivated centenary train tracks, it’s where some of the biggest parties of the city take place, from Halloween to arraiais (a traditional Brazilian festival in June). There’s still space for expos, bazaars, concerts and much more.
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PRAÇA DAS ARTES
Restored from its ruins in 2012, and with a new and contemporary look, Praça das Artes is considered today one of the most democratic, organized and beautiful spaces downtown. There, many important fairs, expos, cinema exhibitions, and several parties have taken place, such as Gop Tun and Metanol.
PRAÇA DOM JOSÉ GASPAR
Downtown is going through a very slow and inconstant pace of revitalization, one that has been dragging on since the 90s. There was no big company investment or public money that could make a significant difference. The change really came with Paribar, a mix of dive bar and vinyl store that started attracting a very cool crowd to lively parties in the square across the street, such as the now famous Selvagem. The area was discovered by the “hipsters”, and similar places followed, such as Mandíbula bar, at the gallery next door, and the Ramona restaurant, across the street. paribar.com.br
LARGO DA BATATA
Maybe the most misused space around town in the past, the Largo da Batata finally came to life. After receiving a metro station, a new landscape, and a bike path that splits it in half, this big esplanade today attracts not only big events, such as concerts and even Carnaval, but also several contemporary bars and restaurants, such as Z Carniceria and Pitico.
The most famous and important avenue in the city has never been anything more than an avenue, surrounded by skyscrapers and people in suits coming and going around rush hour, with the exception of the iconic Masp and the Parque Trianon across from each other. However, in the last year, taking advantage of the new outdoorsy spirit of the paulistanos, the hip and progressive mayor made the controversial decision of closing the route on Sundays, making it a car-free area for the population to use it as a real concrete beach. The news are still generating a lot of debate with the “orderly” defenders of cars, but there isn’t one Sunday when the avenue isn’t crowded with people. More info here.
*Renato Salles is also a traveling explorer at chickenorpasta.com.br (in Portuguese)