The capital city of Chile, Santiago, sits in a valley surrounded by the Andes and the Chilean Coastal Range. Santiago is Chile’s largest city with forty percent of the entire country living there. It is also the seventh largest city in North and South America combined. Although big, Santiago has small neighborhoods or barrios that are fun to explore. Spend about a full day or two in Santiago If you are planning a trip to Chile. Santiago also makes for a good base to visit several other places as day trips. This post covers the 12 best things to see and do in Santiago.
Things to See and Do in Santiago
1. Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas is the name of the main square in Latin American countries. Santiago’s Plaza de Armas is a buzzing place with vendors, tourists and locals, all gathering in this square. Surrounding the square are some important buildings like….
2. Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral
Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Santiago. Construction on this cathedral started in 1753 and ended in 1799. It is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary into Heaven. The modern cathedral has a crypt, three naves, several alters and a chapel.
3. Santa Lucía Hill
One of my favorite things to see and do in Santiago! Santa Lucia is a hill located in the center of Santiago. It is believed to be a remnant of an ancient volcano. Today, you can walk up the hill for some good views of the city and surrounding hills. There’s a lot going on at Santa Lucia, from walkways to a Japanese garden to ornate facades to cannons, but my favorite was the magnificent Neptune Fountain that sits at the bottom of the hill.
4. Cerro San Christobal
Cerro San Christobal is the 3rd highest point in the city of Santiago and is considered a place to visit to see panoramic views of the city. On its summit is a 22-meter statue of the Virgin Mary, an amphitheater and a chapel. Perhaps the most fun thing about Cerro San Cristóbal is getting there. You can ride up this steep hill on a funicular. It’s a fun ride up, especially if you are going with children.
5. La Moneda Presidential palace
Opened in 1805 as a colonial mint house, this location minted coins until 1925. Today, it is the seat of the president of Chile. Visitors are allowed through the inner courtyards or you can reserve a free tour through the palace for a more in-depth look. Tours are offered Monday through Friday at 9 am/11 am/ 3 pm and 4:30 pm and last around 50 minutes.
Click HERE to book.
If you like architecture like I do, then check out the following buildings:
- The Main Post Office – a historic post office building on Plaza de Armas that was built in the 1880s and declared a National Monument in 1976
- Chilean National Library – started in 1913 and completed in 1925, this building was commissioned as one of the commemorative public works in honor of the first centenary of the independence of Chile
- Theatro Municipal – was opened in 1873 but destroyed several times by an earthquake and fire. The building has since gone through a few rounds of renovations
- Plaza de la Constitución – not a building per se but a large square in the heart of the civics district of Santiago. It is surrounded by lots of government buildings including the Presidential Palace.
There are 2 museums in and close by to Plaza de Armas that you could visit. The National History Museum in Plaza de Armas itself and the Pre-Columbian Art Museum a block away. I only visited the Pre-Columbian Art Museum in the interest of time and it was fantastic! It was hands down one of the best things I did on this things to see and do in Santiago list. I admittedly didn’t know a lot about Latin art and this museum does a great job walking you through the different periods of art in Chile.
8. Cementerio General de Santiago
Established in 1821, Santiago’s main cemetery is one of the largest in Latin America. This cemetery is the final resting place for at least 172 of the most influential people in Chile. The cemetery is very ornate with sculptures, elaborate grave stones and mausoleums.
9. Sky Costanera
Sky Costanera is the tallest building in all of Latin America. You can visit the 61st and 62nd floor of the building for 360 degree views of Santiago. Tickets can be purchased at the location. Sky Constanera is best visited during sunset. I had a dinner reservation and couldn’t wait that long but the pictures during sunset look amazing! One thing to note is that the last entry is before sunset so you may have to hang out up there a bit.
See HERE for schedules and rates.
As I mentioned, Santiago has so many little neighborhoods. My favorite of these were Barrio Bellavista. If you have read my prior posts, you know how much I love street art and Bellavista is full of it. This colorful but compact part of town is a must see in Santiago.
Another cute neighborhood that is worth a walk through. Lastarria has a bohemian feel to it. Check out the Plaza Mulato Gil de Castro. There was a little outdoor market the day I visited.
Santiago has no short of amazing restuarants. In fact, some of these are considered the best in Latin America. Unfortunately I visited during Christmas time where places closed starting on the 24th. However, I still managed to squeeze a few in. Here is where I ate.
Peumayén Ancestral Food
Even if you don’t eat anywhere else, you have to go to Peumayén Ancestral Food! Try their tasting menu that has 20 samplers. Each item is made from ingredients found in Chile. It was seriously incredible! My only criticism is that it took 2 hours to get through and I was very jet lagged! Just be prepared to spend 2 hours but it is absolutely worth it!
Bocanáriz is a wine bar that has an extensive wine list, including lots of fun wine flights. I ordered 2 appetizers instead of 1 main (which is my strategy for trying out more than one dish when traveling solo) and the most incredible dessert I have ever had! Bonus is that Bocanáriz is located in the Lastarria neighborhood which is really pretty.
Ambrosia boasts of Chilean and French cuisine coming together. This restaurant was number 30 in Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants a couple of years back. They have both indoor and outdoor seating and the ambiance is great but I thought the food was so so. It’s not that it was bad but I think I was expecting so much more from a highly rated restaurant.
12. Take a Day Trip
Santiago is a great spot for day tripping. Some of the popular day trips include Valparaiso and Vina del Mar on the coast and the wine valleys of Maipo and Casablanca.
Check out my post on Valparaiso here or below. Will be posting more on the rest soon! Stay tuned!
Tips for Santiago
Where to Stay
What surprised me the most about Santiago is how big and spread out it was. One of the biggest decisions you will have to make is where to stay. There are so many barrios or neighborhoods, each offering a different feel or vibe. If you have a car, not all hotels have parking so use booking.com to filter for parking if you need it. I stayed in the Providencia neighborhood.
Getting Around Santiago
If you are hiring a car, driving can be a little chaotic within the city. I think this also surprised me quite a bit. But in a way, I suppose it shouldn’t have because Santiago after all is a big city. There are lots of one way streets and the lanes are narrow (well, narrower than in the US) which added to the chaos for me. It’s not bad but something to keep in mind. There are a lot of toll roads in and around Santiago. Some rental car companies include the toll in the rental price and some do not. Keep an eye out for this.
Santiago has a metro system. I didn’t use it so I can’t exactly talk about it but there seemed to be metro stations in quite a number of places. I used Uber to get around (when I returned the rental car) and it was relatively cheap (between USD $5-3 dollars).
Where to Avoid
When I was doing research for my trip, I read a blog or two that had Santiago’s Central Market and Mercado Tirso de Molina as places to visit. After visiting both places, I can only recommend that you do not visit these two places. The Central Market itself is not bad. It is a covered market with souvenir shops and a few resturants but the surrounding area is an outdoor market place that is so crowded and just hard to navigate through. Several shop owners at the Central Market told me to be very careful of my belongings and not to even carry my phone in my hand. The nearby Mercado Tirso de Molina is also a covered market but it’s an everyday goods market for locals which I think is skippable.
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