Free Things To Do in Santiago
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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.
- #1View all Photos#1 in SantiagoFree, Parks and GardensTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Parks and GardensTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
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.
- #3View all Photos#3 in SantiagoFree, Parks and GardensTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Parks and GardensTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
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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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.
- #9View all Photos#9 in SantiagoMuseums, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseums, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
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.
- #10View all Photos#10 in SantiagoFree, Churches/Religious SitesTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDFree, Churches/Religious SitesTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
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.
- #13View all Photos#13 in SantiagoFree, Cafes, ShoppingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDFree, Cafes, ShoppingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
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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