Best Things To Do in Santiago
Dramatic vistas at every turn — from St. Christopher's hilltop views to Portillo's snow-covered slopes — and impressive skyscrapers, colonial architecture and spectacular peaks all jockey for your attention in Santiago. Start your exploration in the Plaza de Armas, home to the Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art and the famous Metropolitan Cathedral. Afterward, stroll through artsy Bellavista to La Chascona, the former residence of Nobel Prize-winning poet, Pablo Neruda. You'll also want to save time for perusing the Central Market or for a leisurely tasting at one of the nearby wineries.
Updated March 18, 2014
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Beckoning to an artsy crowd, the Bellavista neighborhood features graffiti-lined streets with cafes, art galleries and boutique shops. Here, you'll find inventive cocktail bars and eclectic eateries rubbing shoulders with antique homes and colonial mansions. Spend some time exploring La Chascona — the former home of celebrated poet Pablo Neruda — before scouring the Patio Bellavista shopping area for souvenirs. Also be sure to continue north to take in the scenery from Santiago's crown jewel: St. Christopher Hill, a nearly 3,000-foot high hill tucked inside Metropolitan Park.
The creative energy, trend-setting boutiques and laid-back vibes found in Bellavista make this a popular hangout spot among travelers and locals alike. And according to some recent visitors, the best way to experience it all is by wandering away from the main drag, Pío Nono. "This place is like an outdoor art museum. Between the colorful houses and the street art there seems to be a surprise around every corner," one TripAdvisor user said.
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St. Christopher Hill (Cerro San Cristóbal) stands nearly 3,000 feet above the rest of Metropolitan Park, a large swath of green space in Bellavista. The hill's height affords spectacular views to those who visit the summit. To reach the top of the hill, you'll need to hop on the funicular located on the north end of Pío Nono Street, which flanks the eastern side of Metropolitan Park. Or, if you're up for the challenge, you can strap on some hiking shoes and make the roughly one-hour climb up the hill from the base at Plaza Caupolicán, which is just off of the Baquedano stop on metro Lines 1 and 5.
Regardless of whether you decide to make the journey to the top of the hill on foot or by funicular, you'll be rewarded with iconic photo-ops of the city below, as well as unrivaled vistas of the statue of the Virgin Mary at the summit. "The view is beautiful with most of Santiago spread out before you. Just hope for a clear day with less smog," explained one TripAdvisor user.
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Flanking the western edge of the Plaza de Armas, this neoclassical cathedral has a history that stretches back to 1541 when Spanish conquistador and city founder Pedro de Valdivia requested a place of worship be constructed at the edge of Santiago's colonial square. However, a fire tore through the first structure, and two buildings constructed in its place were destroyed after major earthquakes in 1647 and 1730. The towering cathedral that stands today underwent construction around 1750, and in the 1780s, Italian architect Joaquín Toesca added a new twist: a blend of neoclassical style with baroque elements. The result is an interior that boasts intricate stained-glass windows and an elaborate altar ornamented with marble and deep blue lapis lazuli.
Although you'll have to battle dense crowds to experience this site, recent visitors agree that the cathedral is a must-see site. "Do not miss this beautiful cathedral. Everything is just stunning, from the floor tiles to the frescoed ceilings," raved one TripAdvisor user.
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A hilltop park on the eastern edge of downtown Santiago, Santa Lucía Hill (Cerro Santa Lucía) draws visitors with its panoramic views. To reach the top of Santa Lucía Hill on foot from the park's main entrance near the Santa Lucía metro stop, you'll need to follow a long narrow path punctuated by high stone steps. Though the hike can be arduous (especially on a hot summer day), recent travelers remark that it's well worth the climb not only for incredible photo-ops, but also for the pleasant ambiance — complete with a fountain and terrace. For the best views, take one of the two staircases to the Caupolicán Plaza. "You must allow a few hours to wander slowly around Cerro Santa Lucía. The views are impressive and it is such a quiet and peaceful place to be," one TripAdvisor user insisted.
Or, if you're not up for the trek, you can opt to take an elevator located at the intersection of St Lucía and Agustinas streets, just a couple blocks from the park's main entrance.
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If you're looking to learn more about General Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship, plan a visit to the Museum of Memory and Human Rights (Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos). The museum catalogues Pinochet's 17-year rule, which resulted in the torture, murder and disappearance of thousands of Chileans. According to many recent visitors, the museum succeeds in increasing cultural awareness of the thousands of residents impacted by persecutions, exoneration, imprisonment and torture during Pinochet's rule. The museum pays tribute to the thousands of lives lost between 1973 and 1990 through photographs of victims, video coverage of protesters and a host of legal documents, letters and artifacts from the late 20th century.
Visitors describe the museum's collection of stories and objects as enlightening, yet somber. "The stories, pictures and artifacts are amazing, if somewhat chilling. It is important to learn these lessons so it doesn't happen again," commented one TripAdvisor user. Upon entering the museum, also be sure to admire its glass and copper building, designed by acclaimed Brazilian architect Marcos Figueroa.
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Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia (who founded Santiago) established this historic square back in 1541, creating a religious and political hub teeming with architectural treasures. Amid the many sights on display in the Plaza de Armas, you can't miss the graceful Metropolitan Cathedral set along its western border. You'll also stumble upon the former Governor's Palace, which has been converted into the city's main post office as well as the Historical Museum (Museo Histórico Nacional), which houses fascinating exhibits cataloguing Chile's history from the pre-Conquest period to the 20th century. Meanwhile, the plaza fills with comedians, artists, photographers, performers and street vendors on a daily basis, making this a popular spot to simply relax and soak up the city's culture.
"This palm covered square is the soul of the city […] many museums are within a few blocks walk and it's a great place to people watch," explained one TripAdvisor user. As you stroll through the plaza be sure to exercise caution and look after your valuables; pickpockets tend to frequent the area.
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For literary aficionados, no trip to Santiago would be complete without visiting La Chascona, the former residence of Noble Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda. Named "La Chascona" — or the "Woman with the Tousled Hair" for Neruda's third wife, who was characterized by her red, wavy strands — the converted museum today houses a rare collection of Neruda's personal possessions, including a portrait of Neruda's third wife painted by Diego Riviera.
While you're free to explore the museum on your own, previous visitors recommend taking advantage of the audio guide tour (included in the cost of admission), which provides a rich background of Neruda's life. "The audio tour gives great historical context and, although it took years of repairs to restore the home, it feels as though Neruda has just stepped away," said one TripAdvisor user.
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Wine connoisseurs love the aromatic vino and colorful scenery found in the Maipo Valley. A smattering of small wine producers — renowned for their flavorful reds, especially cabernet sauvignon — can be found within an hour's drive of central Santiago. One of the Maipo Valley's most revered wineries is Concha y Toro. Situated in Pirque, a major wine-producing area about 15 miles southeast of Santiago, Concha y Toro pairs inventive wines with flavorful small dishes and offers tours of its vineyards every day from 10 a.m. to 5:10 p.m. for 8,600 CLP (approximately $15.50 USD) per person. According to one TripAdvisor user: "The walks through the vineyard are nice, the guides are very professional and the tasting at the end is generous for the price." For further details, visit Concha y Toro's website.
There are also a handful of venerable and up-and-coming wineries scattered across Chile's Casablanca Valley (about 50 miles northwest of Santiago). This region teems with wineries that produce top-tier Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs. To arrange a trip to a variety of wineries across the valley without having to rent your own set of wheels, plan your trip on the Casablanca Valley Wine Producers Association website.
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Every winter, powder hounds flock to this ski area 102 miles northeast of Santiago to tackle the Andes' famed slopes. Portillo's history stretches back to 1930, when winter sports aficionados began constructing a ski area surrounding Laguna del Inca (Lake of the Inca) that lured skiers from Europe, North America and other parts of Chile. Over time, Portillo earned such a positive reputation that it was chosen to host the Alpine World Ski Championships in 1966. After hosting the first-ever World Championship event in Latin America, Portillo and its popularity only continued to grow, earning it a reputation as one of Chile's most-beloved ski retreats.
Portillo boasts 1,235 skiable acres and 19 runs. But that's not the resort's only draw. Recent visitors are just as impressed by the scenery. "Portillo is an intimate resort with breathtaking views and great groomed runs. I was lucky enough to go up for a night," remarked one TripAdvisor user. If you have the chance, many travelers recommend staying at the Hotel Portillo, easily identifiable by its famous canary yellow facade. The hotel offers enviable access to the slopes, fresh cuisine and all-inclusive rates. But there is one hitch: Guests of the Hotel Portillo are required to stay for at least a week.
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When outdoor enthusiasts flock to the Andes' jagged peaks and wine lovers explore the Maipo Valley's spectacular vineyards, art history buffs head to the Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art (Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino). The museum's permanent collection includes a diverse assemblage of pottery, sculptures and textiles from Mesoamerica, the Amazon, the Caribbean and Central and Southern Andes. Highlights include pieces from the Inca and Aztec empires and Chinchorro mummies. The temporary exhibits, which showcase everything from desert hats to weavings to rock art, are also worth visiting.
Travelers give the museum heaps of praise for its versatile collection of artifacts and well-designed layout. One TripAdvisor user was "amazed at the extent and quality of the collection," noting that the museum is "well designed […] telling a story within a story on how the pieces came to be."
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To get your seafood fix in Santiago, head straight to the Central Market (Mercado Central). Here, you'll find a festive atmosphere and top-grade fish. As you walk past the stalls and stands, you'll come across rarities like giant squid, sea urchin and barnacles, among other unconventional offerings. Venture to the center of the market to indulge in local cuisine — like ceviche and empanadas — as you listen to live music. Even if you're not a fan of seafood, the Central Market is worth a visit: You'll find an eclectic assortment of fruits, vegetables and spices here as well. As you eat your way through the stalls, don't forget to admire the surrounding architecture. Set beneath a wrought-iron ceiling raised in 1872, the market impresses as much with its lively ambiance as its setting.
Though some discerning foodies claim that this market lacks the exuberance of Europe's markets, such as Barcelona's Boqueria, most visitors agree the market is a treat for the senses. "It's fun to peruse the vendors' colorful stalls and watch the fishmongers in action as well as take in the hum of all the diners," exclaimed one TripAdvisor user. The Central Market sits just off of Ismael Vergara in Forest Park, to the east of Santiago's central district. You can reach the market via metro Line 2; the nearest station is Puente Cal y Canto. The market is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, though stalls and restaurants open and close at various times. For further details, check out the market's website.
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If you came to Santiago to enjoy the city's collection of art, head straight to the National Museum of Fine Arts (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes). The museum's permanent collection showcases works from Colonial times to the present. Among the must-see art pieces on display here are works from celebrated Chilean artists like Roberto Matta and Luis Vargas Rosas. But perhaps even more enticing than the artifacts is the main hall's glass-encased ceiling, which casts abundant natural light onto the artwork. Another main selling point for visiting the museum is its impressive temporary collections that have included graphic prints by acclaimed Latin American artist Nemesio Antunez and a Bauhaus Film exhibit that traces the origin of the modernist movement through film.
Many recent visitors describe the National Museum of Fine Arts as educational and the layout as aesthetically pleasing, though some do note that the small size of the permanent collection left something to be desired. That said, many travelers highlight the temporary collections as main draws. "Don't miss this beautiful art space. [The] temporary exhibitions from Herman Miranda and Asger Jorn and Surrealists are excellent," commented one TripAdvisor user, adding, "All in all a superb little museum."
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The Mirador Interactive Museum (Museo Interactivo Mirador) contains plenty of child-friendly activities, allowing wee ones to brush up on science and technology while you take a quick breather from sightseeing. Kids ages 4 and older can release any pent up energy by participating in stimulating activities like construction, mining robotics and electromagnetism workshops. For youngsters requiring more stimulation, one of the museum's 300 hands-on exhibits — which specialize in art, technology and science — are sure to hold their interest.
According to recent visitors, the museum is a great stop for both the young and the young at heart. One TripAdvisor user describes the museum as a "really special treat. In a playful setting, basic concepts […] are taught in an entertaining manner. Parents can lay back or just sit down and let kids do their thing."
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When the celebrated Fashion Museum (Museo de la Moda) opened its doors in 2007, it attracted the "glitterati" with its array of famous garments. Among the 10,000 pieces on display are Madonna's "cone bra," John Lennon's military jacket and a strapless gown once worn by Princess Diana. But there's plenty more to capture your attention. Occupying the 1962 home of Jorge Yarur Bascuñán, the son of one of Chile's famed textile moguls, the privately owned museum also features a variety of collectibles, such as an original 1958 Ford Thunderbird.
While some recent visitors note that stark contrast between museum's 1960s-era style modernist style and the varied collection of memorabilia — which spans four centuries — most cite a pleasant experience overall. "There were some special outfits worn by famous people including Michael Jackson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Princess Diana and Madonna […] we didn't understand the museum but somehow we did quite like it," noted one TripAdvisor user.
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