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.

Street Art

Like most neighborhoods in São Paulo, Liberdade has its share of interesting street art. However, there isn’t as much here as there is in Bixiga or Vila Madalena.

Safety

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

Liberdade is conveniently located near two metro stops on the blue line (Line 1)Japão-Liberdade and São Joaquim. This makes it very easy to get to from Avenida Paulista and other centrally located areas in the city.

São Paulo's metro system is straightforward and easy to use.

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.

Final Thoughts

(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!

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This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. Tom

    It’s neat to see a post about a Japantown, instead of the usual ones about Chinatowns. But I was surprised to read that Liberdade doesn’t seem to have much nightlife. Most Japantowns have small bars, tucked-away places that are anything but obvious, hidden. Wonder if some small sake bars, karaoke places are hidden in there? Also, I would hope some izakaya-style eateries are there, not just ramen and sushi. How big is the tent-market on the weekends? Food there?

  2. We were very sorry we missed Sao Paulo on our current trip around South America. We had only one day in port and the drive did not leave time to explore. But we did hear that Sao Paulo had a very large Japanese population. So should not be surprised to find that the Liberdade section had Japanese and Asian shops and restaurants. Good to know that it gets quiet at night. We would definitely take a detour to see the Japan House.

  3. I know a very limited amount about Japanese culture so I would love to visit a Japantown one day, the food looks delicious!

  4. FocusedTravelss

    I have yet to visit South America, but Sao Paolo looks like a contender as my first South American city!

  5. josypheen

    Yay! I was looking forward to reading your post about Liberdade! It’s very cool to see how the Japanese community lives in Brazil.

    p.s. It is great to see you have plenty of noodle options in Sao Paolo, although, is the ramen and udon still good on those super hot days? I feel like I love those dishes best when I am really cold! You’ll have to watch out for tsukemen or zaru soba/ somen for hot days!

  6. Ada

    I really loved your tour of this neighborhood. The photos gave me a much better sense of what Sao Paolo is like than I had before. Also, that ramen looks amazing!!

  7. Just Heading Out

    Interesting, I had no idea Sao Paolo had such a big Asian community. It’s not a place where I would have expected a Chinatown or Little Tokyo. But I’m glad there is, even more reason to visit. It’s really cool to see that those neighboorhoods are similar all over the world. Japan House looks super cool and those ramen are mouthwatering!

  8. April

    I want to go inside that 100 years old church. It seems easy to navigate the area and worth allocating our time. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Carol Colborn

    I loved the Japantown in San Francisco so I will make sure to visit this one in Liberdade in Sao Paolo. Thanks!

  10. Kailyn Travels

    The ramen looks so good! I hope I will get to visit Sao Paolo one day, and your neighborhood series will really help with planning!

  11. navigationjunk

    Liberdade looks like a very interesting place to visit, the food looks amazing, I would like to try some! I love the street art as well, one of my favorite parts about visiting a destination.

  12. Shane Prather

    I’ve always wanted to visit Brazil and this looks like an amazing city! I am a sucker for finding vibrant street art all around the world and loved seeing it splashed across the city. The cuisine also looks delectable!

  13. Steph / A Nomads Passport

    Liberdade looks like a really amazing city quarter. I have yet to make it to South America, but I’ll be sure to add it to may list of places to see in Brazil.
    The food looks so good. And the tip about the queue in front of restaurants is really helpful. It never crossed my mind that things like this mean the place has amazing food

  14. trimmtravels

    I am one of those travelers that loves finding Chinatowns and Japantowns. That ramen looks fabulous. The pedestrian bridge view reminds me of one I saw in Boston, of all places! I’m glad to know that overall Liberdade is a safe place to visit. You have me with Japanese food, Thai food and street art!

  15. Ketki Gadre

    It is strange that São Paulo has less Asian restaurants. However the Japanese dishes in Liberdade do look appealing. The bakery and street art is something I will certainly not miss. Great post!

  16. Fares

    You got me with that ramen! 😀
    I didn’t know Brazil had such a vivid Japantown, thank you for this article. And great photos by the way!

  17. Ana

    I’ve yet to visit South America. I’m fond of street art and the street art scene of Liberdade looks amazing. I never miss an opportunity of exploring Chinatown and Japantown in the US cities whenever I’m traveling. The food scene also looks very enticing.

  18. uoprincess

    I was just writing about Los Angeles’ Chinatown, so it was fortuitous to come across this article right now. I am right with you on trying the ramen restaurants. They are my favorite!

  19. Summer

    The mural on the Igreja Santa Cruz das Almas dos Enforcados church looks stunning would love to see it! I’d also like to visit the food fair in the plaza and try some of the ramen.

  20. Chris

    I love neighborhoods like this one. A foreign place in a foreign place. Fusion at its best. Your images made me hungry by the way, good job 🙂

  21. This is so wonderful and cool to note when visiting Sao Paulo. The food for one just looks amazing through your photos. The culTural center looks like a great place to walk around and learn through the exhibits. I would to explore this area whenever I visit!

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