Everything You Need To Know About Liberdade, São Paulo’s Bustling Japantown
In major cities around the world, Chinatowns and Japantowns are popular tourist destinations, and I think that’s because each one is unique. That’s especially true of Liberdade, the centrally located neighborhood in São Paulo that’s home to many of the city’s residents with Japanese (and to a lesser extent, Chinese) heritage. If you’re visiting São Paulo and want to make the most of a morning or afternoon in Liberdade, then read on!
This blog post is part of a series called São Paulo 360, which aims to highlight different areas worth visiting in Brazil’s biggest city. To learn about some other great neighborhoods, click here!
What You Need to Know
Where is Liberdade?
According to Google Maps, Liberdade is a large area which is surrounded by the neighborhoods of Sé, Cambuci, and Aclimação. Its western border is the Avenida 23 de Maio and Corredor Norte-Sul highway. Luckily, everything of interest is concentrated within the space of just a few city blocks in the northwest corner of Liberdade.
For visitors, the most important street worth exploring is Rua Galvão Bueno. On its northern side is Praça da Liberdade (Liberdade Plaza). South of the Rua Fagundes cross street, there aren’t as many restaurants and shops, which means the heart of Liberdade is basically only three or four city blocks. Almost everything mentioned in this post is contained within the triangle formed by the following three streets: Avenida da Liberdade, Rua Barão de Iguape, and Rua da Glória.
Praça da Liberdade
This plaza is fairly modest and small, but be sure to check it out if you’re visiting Liberdade on the weekend. That’s when a bunch of vendors set up tents and sell snacks and souvenirs.
Praça da Liberdade is also home to a small church called Igreja Santa Cruz das Almas dos Enforcados. It’s not always open for visitors, but if it is when you’re there, be sure to take a peek inside! It’s over 100 years old, and there’s a stunning mural on the ceiling.
Rua Galvão Bueno
This main thoroughfare of Liberdade is like an open-air market every day of the week. Lined with Asian grocers, Japanese bookstores, antique shops, and an entire mall dedicated to anime and manga memorabilia, Rua Galvão Bueno is busy from morning until sundown. There are also a ton of street vendors selling knick-knacks and art; they’re easy to recognize by the brightly-colored umbrellas they use to shield themselves from the sun.
Rua Galvão Bueno also crosses over the Viaduto do Glicério (a large highway) in Liberdade. This pedestrian bridge offers an interesting photo opportunity, and while it’s not a fully panoramic view, it is a small glimpse into just how vast the city of São Paulo is.
Have a Meal in Liberdade
As you might expect, one of the main things to do in Liberdade is to eat. If you’re having a hard time deciding, consider checking out Rua Thomaz Gonzaga, a street with quite a few options.
When I’m in Liberdade, my personal go-to is ramen. I need to check out a few more sushi places, and if I find any that are really outstanding, I’ll come back and update this post with suggestions! In general, any restaurant in Liberdade with a crowd during lunch or dinner is bound to be good.
In addition to good Japanese food, Liberdade is also the best place to find other Asian cuisine, including Chinese and Thai. Unfortunately, São Paulo doesn’t have as international of a food scene as other cities of similar size. So if you’re craving any kind of Asian food, Liberdade is probably your best bet. (And for those wondering, I don’t think Liberdade has any Vietnamese restaurants as of February 2020. What a shame!)
As a final note, I’ll mention a massive cafe and bakery located on Praça da Liberdade called 89ºC Coffee Station. Despite the name being an almost laughable ripoff of the famous Taiwanese chain, 85°C Bakery Cafe (which has locations throughout the world), 89ºC Coffee Station actually does make a good latte, and their pastries look tempting too.
As a very popular tourist area, Liberdade is safe to visit. As always in Brazil, just keep a close eye on your belongings. Although the actual district of Liberdade is much larger than these few blocks, there aren’t nearly as many restaurants or shops beyond the streets mentioned above. Feel free to check out more of the area if you like, but you might not find much of interest.
The other thing I’ve noticed is that Liberdade gets pretty quiet at night. As a largely residential area, it’s not a center for nightlife, so for this reason I recommend visiting during the day. If you want to have dinner here, I personally just recommend taking an Uber back home.
How to Get to Liberdade
Japan House São Paulo: Technically not in Liberdade, but don't miss it!
This cultural center may be about a half-hour walk (or a short metro ride) from everything else mentioned in this post, but it’s definitely worth a visit. Inside are art exhibits, a restaurant, a cafe, and multiple stores. Located on Avenida Paulista, the unusual exterior of Japan House São Paulo (shown below) will be hard to miss.
The first floor is home to an imported goods store, the Japanese bookstore, and the cafe.
The third floor is where you’ll find the exhibition hall. In addition to a number of photographs displayed on the wall, there was an incredible, massive installation that was made completely out of chopsticks, entitled ‘Construção’ and created by artist Tadashi Kawamata. It looks as if the exhibits rotate periodically, so you may see something different when you visit.
(And What's Up Next for São Paulo 360)
If this post seemed short and sweet to you, that’s no coincidence. Liberdade is easy to explore in just an hour or two (maybe three if you want to do a bit of shopping). Since it’s perfect for spending just a morning or afternoon, there’s no reason not to include it on your São Paulo itinerary! You’ll learn a lot about a very important community in the city and still have time to see or do something else on the same day.
For my third post in São Paulo 360, it’s going to be a fun one: Vila Madalena! This hip, upscale neighborhood is one of my favorites because of its famous artwork, cool cafes, and more. In fact, it’s home to the city’s famous ‘Batman Alley.’ Intrigued? Be sure to check it out in the next week or two! Thanks for reading, guys!