São Paulo isn’t best known for its parks. Ask a paulistano, and they’ll no doubt name mighty Ibirapuera, the city’s best-known green space, surrounded by high-rises and high- speed traffic spanning several lanes. Ask ‘Where else?’ and they’ll probably follow up with Aclimação – a small quaint park in a valley near the Centro – or leafy spots far from the centre like Serra da Cantareira, the Zoo and the Botanical Gardens, reachable only by car and a fair bit of effort. The problem with these and other, newer parks like Parque Villa-Lobos and Parque da Juventude, the latter set in the grounds of the former prison near Carandiru Metrô, is that they can get crowded, making it hard to find a place to sit, play or even eat. And in the newer ones, the trees are still small, 76 parks, according to City Hall, which aims to make that 100 parks in the near future. So if you’re in need of fresh air, unobstructed sky, sun, shade or, in some cases, even shelter from the rain – there are lots of spots to choose from.
Just a five minute bus ride from Santana Metrô is the Mirante de Santana, a small hill-top park lined by residences and trees. One of São Paulo’s meteorological observation points is here, but you don’t need special instruments to enjoy the view. The uphill climb on foot – there are no buses that go directly there – is worth the walk; you can see the city’s landmarks and the helicopters crossing over the Avenida Paulista skyline. If you have a car and the evening is cloudless, go for a night-time visit. But a little warning for park lovers: never trust an early morning sunny sky. In summer, high temperatures almost always result in heavy rains in late afternoon, so take an umbrella, or, if you don’t want to carry one around, mark the nearest shelter from the rain, which in all these places is possible to reach before the first drops turn into a downpour.
The more adventurous, and those keen to see the city’s social diversity in all its glory, should head for Parque Tiquatira. A Metrô ride to Penha, followed by a 10-minute bus ride, will take you to the long, thin ‘linear park’ tucked between the two lanes of Avenida Presidente Carvalho Pinto. Linear parks like this were created to bring the banks of small rivers into leisure use. A slight hitch is that the Tiquatira river, like most waterways in São Paulo, is effectively an open sewer; but it’s not smelly enough to put people off and São Paulo’s up-and-coming lower middle class families gather on the concrete benches and paths to make the most of sunny days. Here, leisure is a serious business; so if you like flying kites, this is where you want to be. Young men and children alike line up along the embankment to compete for a space in the sky and a hundred kites flutter up, up and away, some handled by serious-looking young men, who park up and blare funk carioca from the boots of their cars.
On the other side of the tarmac from the Tiquatira green, there are several snack, coconut water and juice bars, where whole families and groups of young people meet to show off their branded outfits until the early hours of the night. And if you’ve left the picnic at home, churrascarias and traditional costela no bafo – beef ribs, slow cooked in a closed charcoal grill – make for great open-air eating.
Across the Pinheiros river in Butantã, not far from USP, is a grander jewel of a park: the Casa do Bandeirante. There, eucalyptus and rubber trees are set around a 17th-century house, which is nowa museum of typical bandeirantes architecture – colonial-era explorers who ventured deep into inner Brazil, conquering land and Indians and looking for emeralds, gold and other riches. It’s well worth leaving the shady benches and the playground to look inside the house, notable more for its architecture than its small collection of historic wooden items.
Another park set around a house is the Parque da Casa Modernista in Vila Mariana, close to Santa Cruz Metrô. The park was created in 2008 after years of legal dispute between its former owners, the Klabin family, on whose estate most of Vila Mariana was built, and the local neighbourhood association. It has centennial trees and lots of shady spaces, with benches made from eucalyptus tree stumps. The tiny park is visited mainly by the locals who fought for its existence and for that of the modernist house within it, built in 1928 by Russian émigré Gregori Warchavchik, that doubles as an architectural museum.
Finally, close to Conceição Metrô lies the leafy and lovely Parque Lino e Paula Raia. A 30-year-old park set behind one of Banco Itaú’s headquarter buildings, the well kept, 15,000 square metre park has two children’s playgrounds and a good diversity of native trees. A haven of peace and quiet, it mostly lacks the noise and enthusiastic football-playing found in more popular parks like Ibirapuera, and the delicious feeling of being in the midst of the humid Atlantic forest should cool you down enough to stay comfortable while you sit on the benches and enjoy the simple pleasures in life.
Mirante de Santana
Get out at Jardim São Paulo Metrô (Line 1) and walk up to Av. Leôncio de Magalhães to its crossing with Rua Pedro Madureira. Walk three blocks, turn onto Rua Tobias Moscoso and walk another two blocks to the end of the street. Praça Vaz Guaçu, no number, Santana (3396 3000). Open 24 hours daily.
Parque Linear Tiquatira
Get out at Penha Metrô (Line 3), then take the 2716-10 Chácara Cruzeiro do Sul bus. Ask the conductor to tell you when to get off for the park. The best spot in the park is near the middle of the avenue, at Avenida Tarumã. Avenida Governador Carvalho Pinto, Zona Leste (3396 3000). Open 24 hours daily.
Parque Casa do Bandeirante
Take any bus to the University of São Paulo (USP). Get off at the main gate or, if you came across the Ponte Cidade Universitária bridge from Alto de Pinheiros, get off at the first stop after the bridge on Rua Alvarenga, then follow Rua Alexandre Marcondes Machado
to the park. Praça Monteiro Lobato, no number, Cidade Universitária (3031 0920). Open 7am to 5pm daily.
Parque Casa Modernista
Get out at Santa Cruz Metrô (Line 1) and walk one block in the direction of the city centre, on Av. Domingos de Morais. Turn left into Rua Santa Cruz, and the park is two blocks along the road. Rua Santa Cruz 325, Vila Mariana (5083 3232). Open 7am to 5pm daily.
Parque Lino e Paula Raia
(Praça Alfredo Egydio de Sousa Aranha) Get out at Conceição Metrô (Line 1) and walk toward the Centro Empresarial Itausa office complex, behind the bus stops. Between the buildings is a stairway that takes you to Rua Volkswagen, near the park’s entrance. Rua Volkswagen, no number, Jabaquara (5017 6522). Open 7am to 6pm daily.