Should You Visit República, São Paulo’s Rough-And-Tumble City Center?
The answer is yes, and this post will tell you how. República is one of three neighborhoods that make up the core of São Paulo (the other two being Sé and Centro Histórico). It’s home to some of the city’s most famous architectural attractions that you simply shouldn’t miss. At the same time, it may not necessarily feel as safe as most of the areas I’ve written about so far in São Paulo 360, a blog series about neighborhoods in the city.
In fact, República is a striking mix of incredibly ornate architecture and modern-day poverty. Homelessness and substance abuse are problems that affect many parts of São Paulo, but the former is especially visible in República. However, this shouldn’t scare you away from visiting the area as long as you exercise common sense.
I’ve divided this post into three main parts. If you consider yourself a novice traveler, you’ll want to read part one. Travelers who think they’d be comfortable exploring a bit more of República are addressed in part two. And if you’re a truly adventurous traveler, check out part three. Further suggestions and safety tips can be found after that (including one no-go zone). So without further ado…
For Novice Travelers
If what you’ve read about República so far is a bit of a turn-off, I totally get it. However, the neighborhood is home to one landmark that every visitor to São Paulo should see before leaving: Edifício Copan (The Copan Building). Located on Avenida Ipiranga, it’s very easy to Uber to and from if you’re concerned about safety.
Designed by famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in the 1950s, this gargantuan S-shaped residential building is possibly the most famous structure in the city (if not the entire country). Edifício Copan has appeared in billion-plus views music videos and the popular Netflix series Black Mirror. Its ground floor is a modest shopping center open to the public, but the most impressive thing about it is its unique design and size.
At the time of writing (March 2020), rooftop tours of Copan are currently suspended to prevent possible spread of coronavirus (according to one unofficial source). Luckily, there’s another observation deck that’s open on a neighboring skyscraper: the Edifício Itália, shown in the two pictures below.
Admittedly, the view of Copan from the Edifício Itália observation deck isn’t amazing. There are large glass panes which prevent visitors from seeing the curvy building in its entirety.
Nonetheless, I highly recommend visiting because the views of the rest of the city from Edifício Itália are amazing. It’s impossible to comprehend how insanely big São Paulo is without seeing the skyline from an observation deck like this. An endless sea of white concrete skyscrapers extends as far as the eye can see in every direction.
In order to go up to the Terraço Itália on the 41st floor of Edifício Itália, you can eat in the restaurant (which looks quite expensive) or pay 35 BRL to visit the bar and order a drink (which are quite expensive in the neighborhood of 45 BRL per, so a minimum per person of 70 BRL). The cheapest and easiest way to visit is to pay 30 BRL to visit the outdoor terrace, which includes a free glass of wine.
As I mentioned earlier, you can easily take an Uber to and from the Edifício Itália (which has a ground-floor lobby with attendants where you can wait indoors). This is a great way to visit the observation deck especially at night, which is open until 11:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. depending on the day of the week. If you’re interested in seeing what else República has to offer and don’t mind exploring its biggest avenues on foot, read on!
For Middle-of-the-road Travelers
(Be sure to check out Part I as well!)
Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Consolação
This massive stone church is located just a short walk down Avenida Ipiranga from Edifício Copan. It has both an incredible exterior and a beautiful interior with a stunning painting on the ceiling depicting angels in heaven.
Theatro Municipal de São Paulo
I’ve yet to take a tour, but a sign in the lobby indicated that tours are offered at 11:00, 16:00, and 17:00 on Tuesdays and 11:00, 13:00, 15:00, 16:00, and 17:00 on Wednesdays and Fridays. The lobby also has a fancy-looking restaurant that offers a (fairly expensive) lunch buffet Mondays to Fridays.
República’s Nicest Avenues
The triangle formed by Avenida Ipiranga, Rua da Consolação, and Avenida São Luís is arguably the most upscale part of República. If you choose to walk this short loop, you’ll see beautiful green trees as well as a lot of calçada portuguesa (Portuguese pavement), a specific type of distinctive white and black stones that can be found in former colonies of Portugal around the world (as well as in Portugal itself).
Most of the area’s most impressive architecture is also located within and around this small triangle.
For Adventurous Travelers
(Be sure to check out Part I & II as well!)
Visit an art and antique market in Praça da República on Sunday
Praça da República (República Plaza) is one part of the neighborhood that isn’t super nice. This green space has a fair number of loiterers, and I would say there’s not anything too special about it on most days of the week.
However, on Sundays the plaza hosts an art and antique market that was interesting to wander through. There was an incredible variety of artwork for sale with a lot of vibrant colors. For whatever reason, many of the stalls selling antiques seemed to specialize in rare coins and bills (presumably Brazilian).
The adjacent Antiga Escola Normal Caetano de Campos also had some public performances as well as multiple street food vendors, so I picked up a delicious lunch of noodles and tempura.
You might be wondering: what’s so adventurous about an art market? Well, República is pretty quiet on Sundays. It’s not a complete ghost town, but most businesses will be closed and the streets will have fewer people. In my opinion, crowds are generally safer in Brazil than the lack thereof.
If you want to visit the Sunday art market without walking all over the neighborhood, the metro will drop you off right on Praça da República.
The Gallery of Rock and surrounding alleys
The most grungy part of República is the series of pedestrian walkways centered at the intersection of Rua Barão de Itapetininga and Rua Dom José de Barros. It’s not an unsafe area during the day and in fact is home to many shops and restaurants. Since it can get fairly crowded though, you’ll definitely want to keep track of your phone, wallet, and other personal belongings here.
The most notable shopping center here is the Galeria do Rock, which is home to multiple floors of rock- and grunge-themed stores. Home to record stores, eateries, tattoo and piercing parlors, and (for some reason) a lot of tee shirt printing shops, the unique theme of the Gallery of Rock matches its urban surroundings almost perfectly.
From street level, the unique design of the building is eye-catching even if you aren’t sure what it is. Its upper levels also offer great views, especially of the yellow church (Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Homens Pretos) pictured below located in the adjacent Largo do Paiçandu plaza.
And while you’re here, you might as well go check out the interior of the church if it’s open. The pastel blues, yellows, and pinks adorning the sanctuary of this historically black church give it a more inviting vibe than the city’s more massive cathedrals.
Go hunting for pixação
Pixação (also known as pixo) is a unique type of graffiti that is specifically Brazilian. Inspired by heavy metal album art from the 1980s, pixo almost looks like a foreign language. Its historical ties to socioeconomic inequality are fascinating (read more here).
As a form of protest, pixadores (pixo artists who are often from poor, distant suburbs) have targeted buildings in the center of the city that were traditionally occupied by the wealthy and powerful. That’s why pixação is so common in República, the part of the city center that used to be home to the elite.
Pixo is often scrawled onto seemingly impossible surfaces, like flat sides of tall buildings. Can you imagine how someone physically made it up there to paint, presumably under the cover of darkness because the act is a criminal offense?
Even though these are the most impressive examples of pixo, it can be found on surfaces high and low throughout República (in addition to other graffiti and street art). I recommend keeping an eye out for it!
República is unfortunately next to São Paulo’s infamous ‘Cracolândia.’ As the name suggests, this part of the city is known for rampant drug use. It’s safe to say that you shouldn’t wander over, day or night. According to this website, ‘Crackland’ is roughly defined by “R. Mauá in the north, Av. São João in the south, Av. Dq. de Caxias in the west and Av. Ipiranga in the east.” In terms of neighborhoods defined by Google Maps, this corresponds with the two areas known as Campos Elíseos and Santa Efigênia.
The most important thing to remember if you’re visiting República is to stay south of Avenida São João. No attraction mentioned in this post is north of this major road.
As I’ve suggested earlier, São Paulo is best explored during the day. This doesn’t mean you can’t ever go out at night, but it does mean that you’ll need to exercise additional caution after dark. República is an area I personally wouldn’t walk in at night. Uber fares are quite cheap in Brazil so there’s no reason to risk your safety just to save a few dollars.
In addition to staying alert and watching out for your personal belongings, I would say it might be better to leave your camera at your hotel or Airbnb on the day you visit República. I haven’t tried to bring mine here, but I think that a large camera would attract a lot of attention that a smartphone wouldn’t.
In fact, every photo on this post was shot on my Google Pixel 3, which has a truly amazing camera. As a full-time traveler, the Pixel 3 is an amazing choice for getting crystal clear shots without having to risk having my nice camera snatched. If you’re interested in purchasing a Pixel 3 via Amazon, click here.
All travelers have a certain tolerance for risk, which is why I wanted to write this post with three different types of travelers in mind. As someone who has been forcibly robbed while traveling, I know what it’s like to be afraid of an unfamiliar place. I’m also always prepared for the chance of being pickpocketed (for example, by only carrying one or two bank cards and a small amount of cash).
In the end, República really isn’t that scary of a place. It’s seen better days, but it’s also seen worse days. As long as you stay alert and use common sense, a visit to this unique part of São Paulo should be an enjoyable part of your trip. Have you been to República? If not, how much exploring would you be willing to do? Let me know in the comments below!