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Are you thinking of visiting the Chilean capital but you’re not sure what things there are to do in Santiago? Well, you’ve come to the right place!
Santiago is a large city with a laid-back atmosphere. It’s surrounded by the gorgeous Andes Mountains and is your gateway to wine regions, Patagonia and even Easter Island.
But don’t just use Santiago as a starting point, there are many reasons to stick around and explore the city for a while.
The heart of the city is a historic gem, featuring old colonial buildings in neoclassical styles, as well as world-class museums, stunning urban parks, and bustling markets.
To find out the best of the best things to do in Santiago, we interviewed Emily from Don’t Call Me Gringa who first came to Santiago in 2005 as a study abroad student, and decided not to leave!
Emily shares with us her insider tips on what to do in Santiago, including the best places to see, eat, stay, drink, and explore.
Why visit Santiago?
Santiago’s has got a lot of attention as a city that’s really coming into its own. It’s got great museums and cultural events, delicious food, local crafts and of course, plenty of wine.
Chile is a gorgeous country with a huge variety of landscapes, and Santiago is the jumping off point to all that, whether you’re thinking deserts, glaciers, wine regions, or even Easter Island.
Santiago is not just a stopping point to explore other parts of Chile, it also has a vibrant atmosphere and welcoming locals. Not to mention a great gastronomy scene for those foodies who love to try new things.
With a high police presence and a low crime rate, it’s a safe South American city that tourists can feel comfortable in.
If you’re looking for a city with a laid-back atmosphere and plenty of things to do, then Santiago is for you.
Things to Do in Santiago
Now you know a little bit about what makes Santiago a great place to visit, it’s time to introduce you to the top attractions in the city!
1. Take the Funicular up to San Cristobal Hill
On a clear day, take the funicular up San Cristóbal hill to enjoy the views of the city. Taking the funicular up to Cerro San Cristobal in Santiago, Chile is an amazing experience.
Located on a hill overlooking the city and accessed from Metropolitan Park, the views are absolutely stunning.
On the hill rests one of the most iconic religious landmarks in Santiago—the statue of the Virgin Mary, which dates back to 1908.
Visitors can also take in breathtaking views of the Andes Mountains in the distance. The hill also contains several gardens and parks with lush vegetation and wildlife, along with cultural monuments such as colonial-style buildings, statues of historic figures from Chile’s past, and even a replica of Michelangelo’s David!
But it’s more than just a site for views, it also has a rich history, since it used to be an indigenous ceremonial site and was later occupied by Spanish colonial forces during their occupation of South America.
You can also ride a cable car from Metropolitan Park to San Cristobel too. But don’t just skip the park, take some time to explore the largest urban park in Latin America!
It also has a botanical gardens, or if you’re looking for fun things to do in Santiago with kids, take them to the zoo.
2. Learn About Human Rights Politics at Museum of Memory and Human Rights
If you’re interested in politics, the human rights museum Museo de la Memoria, or Museum of Memory and Human Rights, is a must-see for any history aficionado.
The museum celebrates human rights and exposes the atrocities of past wrongs committed by the Pinochet dictatorship.
Visitors can explore the permanent exhibits, which span decades of Chile’s turbulent past. By taking part in interactive installations and multimedia displays, visitors gain an intimate understanding of how human rights were violated during this period in history.
There are also temporary exhibitions throughout the year that provide further insight into the country’s tumultuous times. For those who are interested in the culture and history of Chile, the Museum of Memory and Human Rights is an ideal spot to learn about its past, present, and future.
3. Explore the Neighborhoods of Santiago
I often say one of the best ways to get to know a city is to wander around on foot. There are some neighborhoods in Santiago that are best explored on your own two feet.
The most notable area to explore is Plaza de Armas, the old city center in Santiago’s downtown. Here you will find some of the most notable pieces of neoclassical architecture, including the Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral, the Central Post Office Building, and Palacio de la Real Audiencia de Santiago (the government building).
The Bellas Arte neighborhood is full of bars and cafés that make for perfect people watching. Nearby Barrio Bellavista has some great restaurants and good nightlife.
To get off the beaten path a bit, head to Barrio Yungay, stopping at restaurant Boulevard Lavaud to pick up a map for a self-guided walking tour of the picturesque neighborhood.
You can also find free walking tours if you prefer to be taken around by a knowledgeable guide.
4. Try Chilean Food
I wouldn’t have believed it back in 2005, but it’s true that today Santiago has some great food.
Thanks to an influx of Peruvian immigrants, pretty much any Peruvian restaurant here is authentic and delicious.
If you’re ready for something different, head to the Patronato neighborhood for cuisine from kebabs to Korean served up by recent immigrants.
Chilean food is hearty, and my favorite place for a nice meal is Ana María in the República neighborhood.
Just as much a staple of the Chilean diet and easier on the budget, Chilean sandwiches from Dominó are giant, greasy and covered in avocado.
And of course, being near the coast, Santiago is well known for its excellent seafood.
5. Check out the Nightlife in Bellavista
Bellavista is the place to go for things to do in Santiago at night. It has lots of bars and discos – remember, don’t call it a nightclub unless you’re looking for a strip joint!
There are also some good clubs and bars around the street Orrego Luco in Providencia.
Along the street Tobalaba, just south of the metro station of the same name, you’ll find a variety of bars. Moloko is a hip bar with a great cocktail list, but I still say Ecléctico has the best mango sour in Santiago.
6. Check Out the Markets in Santiago
I love markets, so I send everyone to Mercado Central (Central Market), the fish market, and La Vega, the fruit and vegetable market.
You will find tourists, but these are also working markets where santiaguinos do their shopping.
Mercado Central is a great lunch stop, but make sure to eat around the edges rather than in the center – same food, lower prices!
For crafts, don’t miss Pueblito Los Dominicos. The setting is peaceful, the artists themselves are there to talk to you, and while the prices can be a bit higher, quality is ensured.
7. Attend Fiestas Patrias
Chile’s major holiday is called Fiestas Patrias or el dieciocho, the independence day-related national holiday surrounding September 18th.
It’s a week-long party featuring outdoor festivals called fondas where you’ll find food, drink, entertainment and games.
All that plus the start of spring means everyone in the country’s in a great mood and ready to celebrate!
8. Try Pisco Sours
Make sure you try plenty of pisco sours, which are similar to margaritas but with pisco, a grape-based brandy, instead of tequila.
Pisco is only made in the 4th region of Chile and part of Peru, and for both countries the question of who it really belongs to is a matter of national pride and argument. Chilean or Peruvian, pisco sours are delicious!
9. Take a Day Trip to The Mountain Villages
If you’re going to take a day trip from Santiago, it’s got to be wine tasting at one of the quaint villages in the Andes. Whether in the Colchagua Valley to the south or Casablanca Valley on the way to the coast.
For souvenir shopping, take a day trip to Pueblito Los Dominicos, an artisan village in the foothills of the Andes.
Sometimes the hustle and bustle of the city can be a bit overwhelming, so these quiet mountain villages offer a beautoful rural escape. Plus, it’s always fascinating to see how people live in rural Chile.
10. Take a Day Trip to Valparaiso
Another great day trip would be to one of the most vibrant cities in Chile, Valparaíso. It’s known for its colorful buildings and coastal beaches. It’s a great place to kick back and enjoy the ocean breeze and great colors.
It’s also famous for its street art, which is a popular hobby among young people in the city. If you’re someone looking for a hipster vibe and a young crowd, then take a trip to Valpo.
It’s also a lot less touristy than other cities in Chile, so you will be met with a more local vibe.
11. Go Wine Tasting in Concha y Toro
Chilean wine is world famous, so why not make sure to learn about its history, production methods, and secrets behind its taste?
Nestled in the picturesque area of Pirque, you’ll find the Viña Concha y Toro, which is one of the most important vineyards in the world.
It produces some of the countries most exquisite and famous wines.
On a guided tour of the vineyard, you’ll be taken to the summer gardens that once belonged to the owner’s old summer house, which is home to more than 25 different grape varieties.
You will learn about the growing methods of the grapes and wander around the old wineries, including the “Casillero del Diablo” the most famous wine producer in Chile and around the world.
And of course, you will get to taste a few wines on this tour, too.
12. Check out Palacio de la Moneda (La Moneda Palace)
Visiting the Palacio de la Moneda is one of the top things to do in Chile for those looking to explore the cultural heritage of this country.
The palace itself is grand and architecturally impressive, boasting 250 years of history. It features intricate stonework and archways and contains a wealth of artworks, sculptures and artifacts that tell the story of Chile’s past.
Within the palace there are also several museums which showcase priceless artifacts from across the world, including ancient Greek coins, paintings by famous Chilean artists and medieval armour.
Visitors can also explore the gardens surrounding the palace which are the perfect place to relax and enjoy the tranquility of nature.
13. Get Cultured at National Museum of Fine Arts
The National Museum of Fine Arts in Santiago is a must-see for art lovers. It houses an impressive collection of Chilean and international artwork, ranging from the 16th century to modern day.
Visitors can wander through the galleries and take in pieces by Jean Lucrat, Morisot, and more.
There is also a large selection of sculptures, photographs and prints, as well as interactive programs that explore the works of art in detail.
It was founded in 1880 and has since become one of Latin America’s most important cultural centers – it is easy to see why the National Museum of Fine Arts should be on your list when visiting Santiago.
14. Check out the Views from Sky Costanera
The Sky Costanera is a remarkable landmark in Santiago that shows how the city is moving with modern times.
It was designed by renowned architects Alejandro Aravena and Gustavo Grobocopatel and was built to be a symbol of progress for Santiago’s citizens.
Standing at 300 meters tall, it’s one of the tallest skyscrapers in Latin America and offers stunning 360 degree views of the Andes Mountains and the city skyline.
Aside from admiring its impressive architecture, you can also take an elevator up to its observation desk or enjoy a meal at one of the many restaurants located within the building.
15. Explore the National Museum of Natural History
The National Museum of Natural History is great place to learn about the country’s unique and diverse ecosystems.
You can explore the numerous exhibits featuring various species of flora and fauna from the region, as well as learn about the history of Chile’s geography through interactive displays and artifacts.
The museum also houses a permanent collection of fossils from prehistoric animals, providing insight into the evolution of life on earth.
16. Go Skiing at Santiago’s Ski Resorts
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Santiago, then you should consider checking out some of the nearby ski slopes, which offer top-class skiing all year round.
Just outside the city is the Valle Nevado ski resort, which is only a 1.5 hour drive away from downtown.
This resort has the highest slopes in Chile and boasts the best snow in South America, with trails of various difficulties, making it perfect for any level of skiier. And the best part is, you can ski any season.
If you’re looking for somewhere a little closer to the city for skiing, Portillo is a ski slope designed for one-day skiiers. It has ski rentals, lift passes and ski schools, but doesn’t have as many trails as Valle Nevado.
17. Hike up Cerro Santa Lucia Hill
Cerro Santa Lucía is the perfect spot for a hike. First and foremost, the hill offers a breathtaking view of the city’s skyline, and it was once used as a lookout by Spanish conquistadors but has now been converted into a beautiful public park with winding staircases and numerous paths for exploration.
There are many fascinating historical relics scattered around the hill, such as an old military fortifications from the 1800s, ancient cannons from the War of Chilean Independence, and statues of Chilean heroes.
The top of Cerro Santa Lucia Hill also contains an important monument of a stone plaque with the paragraph that Pedro de Valdivia, the founding father of Santiago, send to Charles V to tell him of their new conquered land.
18. Learn About Poet Pablo Neruda at La Chascona Museum
The La Chascona Museum is located in the Barrio Bellavista neighborhood and was the former home of Nobel Prize-winning poet and politician Pablo Neruda. It is used to house his personal collections of art and artifacts that date back to the early 20th century.
Here you can explore a wide variety of cultural items such as books, photographs, ceramics, furniture, jewelry and much more.
In addition to its incredible displays of historical artifacts and artworks, visitors can also learn about Neruda’s life story and his political impact on Latin America.
It also has a cozy cafe where guests can enjoy delicious food before or after exploring the museum.
Getting To & Around Santiago
Public transportation in Santiago is efficient and modern. The metro is easy for tourists to use, and the bus system which gets you everywhere isn’t too hard to figure out.
If you decide to get a taxi, be sure to make sure the taxi is metered as some drivers like to take this off and charge you whatever.
When it comes to flying to Santiago, TACA is usually the cheapest air option from the US, although LAN/American and Delta offer better schedules.
If you’re in the northeastern US, check out Air Canada – they have some great deals.
A popular route for people traveling South America is to take the bus from Mendoza, Argentina, which gives you great views as you cross the Andes.
Best Time to Visit Santiago
If you can come in September and catch some of the dieciocho celebrations, do it.
Winter is grey and smoggy, so I wouldn’t suggest coming in June or July, and if you don’t like heat, you want to avoid January and February.
March-May and August-December are great.
Where to Stay in Santiago
When it comes to finding a place to stay in Santiago, it can be a bit overwhelming narrowing down the options.
For budget travellers, my favorite hostel in Santiago is Eco-Hostal Tambo Verde – great location, a social atmosphere, clean and comfy rooms, and it’s eco-friendly.
If you’re looking for more high end places to stay in Santiago, The Hotel Magnolia is a boutique 5* hotel that always seems to please. Plus it’s in a great location in downtown.
For more places to stay in Santiago choose from the largest range of hotels, apartments, and guesthouses with our partner Booking.com. You get free cancellation on most rooms, and in most cases you only pay when you stay.
Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Santiago
I love Santiago because it’s always evolving! The city I live in now is not the city I came to many years ago, and experiencing the transformation is a lot of fun.
I hope this guide helped you plan your trip to Santiago and gave you some ideas for what to do in the city.
It’s truly a hidden gem in South America and just waiting to be explored!
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Do you have any tips on what to do in Santiago, Chile? Share in the comments below!