As the sun rises over the Andes, the pastel-coloured buildings in Bellavista and Barrio Italia come to life as the city wakes up. People sip their morning mate before the busy capital city springs to life each day.
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Santiago, Chile is a city with a diverse range of attractions. There are old, local diners which have remained largely unchanged for decades, as well as trendy new gastropubs. The city also has elegant art-deco museums and the tallest skyscraper on the continent.
Santiago, one of the oldest cities in South America, was founded in 1541 as an administrative center and base of operations for the Spanish conquistadors. The city played a central role in Chile’s struggle for independence from Spain in the early 1800s and became its capital.
Santiago is located in a basin between the coastal range and the Andes Mountains. The city has a climate similar to much of Southern Europe, with warm, dry summers and cool, slightly humid winters. If you are looking to visit Chile, our guide on when to go provides information on the best time of year to visit Santiago.
Although Santiago is a city with many faces, it is without question one of the must-see places to visit in Chile. Whether you’re planning on spending a few days or an entire month here, there are endless activities and attractions to enjoy in Santiago, Chile.
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What’s there to do in Santiago?
- Join a walking tour
If you would like to acquaint yourself with the city, a walking tour is an excellent starting point. Numerous local tour companies offer well-organized tours with friendly and knowledgeable guides. A sightseeing tour of the city center will give you an overview of the area, information on the city’s most famous landmarks, and insight into local history. The large network of subway lines in the city can be daunting, but a good guide can help you navigate it all and show you the best points of interest.
Walking tours are typically free, but it is customary to tip guides for their service. We recommend Strawberry Tours, whose knowledgeable and personable guides offer four different itineraries or the option for customized Santiago Chile tours. Most of these tours cover different areas of downtown Santiago, highlighting its impressive art-deco architecture.
You can also take a bike tour of the city to cover more ground and explore further.
Another must-do is a city metro tour on Santiago’s expansive network. The fares are quite affordable by western standards and most destinations of significance are within a short walk of a station. Rechargable and refundable Bip! Metro Cards are available for purchase at all stations.
- Spend a morning at one of Santiago’s beautiful parks
The capital city is filled with parks, the most notable of which are the well-manicured parks. The largest and highest is the Parque Metropolitano, northeast of the city center. The park has two outdoor pool complexes, a botanical garden, an observatory, and the national zoo. Saint Cristobal Mountain, at the southwest end of the park, is the city’s highest point.
The southern bank of the Mapocho River features several kilometers of parks that are well-maintained and provide walking trails with plenty of Shade. There are also sculptures, murals, and public performance spaces located throughout the parks.
- Climb Santa Lucia Hill
Located in the central district of Lastarria, Cerro Santa Lucía is a striking feature of the cityscape. With excellent views of the Andes in the background and two 200-year-old fortresses, it is understandably a popular tourist destination. Surrounding gardens are neatly kept and the neo-classical Fountain of Neptune at the base is a noteworthy sight.
The first Spanish settlers in Santiago gathered their homes around this hill in the city. This is an important piece of Santiago’s history.
- Take in Santiago’s Plaza de Armas and adjacent Metropolitan Cathedral
All the best cities in Chile boast a lovely central plaza, and Santiago is no exception. The Plaza de Armas is located in the middle of the business district of Santiago and it showcases the country’s rich cultural heritage.
In the park, hawkers sell snacks and souvenirs while old men play chess. Businesspeople can be found on the benches, enjoying their lunch break. The palm trees provide shade above the large fountain and some of the best sculpted statues of Santiago.
The plaza is situated across the street from the awe-inspiring neo-classical Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral), with its ornate frescoed ceilings, gold-leaf altar and stained-glass windows.
- Seek out Santiago’s street art
Street art is abundant throughout Santiago, Chile and can be seen by both locals and visitors. Graffiti artists in the city showcase its artistry and character, which is not limited to museums. Its influence comes from all over the world, showcasing Santiago’s increasing international appeal.
There is a growing trend of street art becoming popular tourist attractions in Chile. Works by INTI and Lord K2 have become world-famous, but there are many other artists whose groundbreaking visions should be recognized. Their street art is painted, stenciled or sprayed across the city.
The central neighbourhoods of Santiago, such as Lastarria, Brasil and Bellavista, as well as Paseo Bandera, are home to many of the city’s beautiful murals. They are definitely worth a visit if you want to see some of the best art in town.
- Make a morning visit to the Mercado Central
The Mercado Central in Santiago is a massive, well-visited marketplace. Located in the north end of downtown near the Mapocho River, it is the lively hub of commerce in the city. Here you will find everything from fresh produce to handmade crafts.
Its seafood market is quite exceptional, as are its food stalls, serving up national specialties such as curanto, a hearty stew of seafood, meat, and potato typically eaten in Chiloé in the south. Beyond the food, the central market is an excellent place to peruse all that Chile produces, from flowers to woolen textiles.
- Visit one or all of the city’s world-class museums
When it comes to Chile’s fine art, Santiago is a treasure trove. Any visitor would be hard-pressed to choose just one of these historical places. They are some of the most famous buildings in Chile.
Those who wish to gain a deeper understanding of Chile’s turbulent history over the past fifty years should visit the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos. This museum documents the atrocities committed by the authoritarian regime of General Augusto Pinochet in detail. He was deposed in 1990.
To learn more about this dark time in Chilean history, visit the Travolution museum and a Santiago neighborhood that is still feeling the effects of the military dictatorship. You can get a 5% discount if you mention Worldly Adventurer when purchasing your tickets.
A block west of the center lies the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural (Museum of Natural History). The museum houses fascinating wildlife dioramas as well as an entire whale skeleton. It can be found in the picturesque Parque Quinta Normal (Quinta Normal Park) west of the city center.
The Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes are two of the best museums in Chile. They are located a block southwest from the Plaza de Armas and two blocks north of Santa Lucia Hill, respectively. Each museum has an exquisite collection that is arguably unparalleled in South America.
- Visit the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Centre
Among the city’s museums, the Centro Gabriela Mistral is particularly noteworthy. Not only does it house art exhibitions, but it also hosts premieres, concerts, and theatre performances. The centre is named after Gabriela Mistral, a renowned author, educator, humanist, and diplomat who became the first Latin American writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945.
- Spend some time in Barrio Italia
Just southeast of the city centre is the upscale neighbourhood of Barrio Italia. It’s home to lovely cafes, trendy bars, and excellent restaurants. Additionally, it’s the district for antique shopping. Here you can find an abundance of antiques and restored furniture.
Chile is blessed with many wonderful areas in which to stay, but for visitors looking for the best possible experience, Barrio Italia is hard to beat. This vibrant district offers a wide range of accommodation, from budget-friendly hostels to elegant boutique hotels. If you’re interested in finding out more, be sure to check out our guide to where to stay in Santiago.
- Eat lunch at a local Fuente de Soda
Fuentes are diners serving massive sandwiches and draft beer that date back to the early 20th century. They got their start as soda fountains, and most have linoleum floors, wood-panelling, and walls adorned with kitsch and memorabilia. Service is brisk, and the clientele is local.
Martuca in Barrio Providencia is a great place to find sandwiches. You can choose from a variety of meat, cheese and vegetable combinations, as well as an impressive selection of local and international microbrews. The atmosphere is reminiscent of the past, so you can enjoy your meal while taking a step back in time.
- Enjoy an exquisite dinner at Santiago’s top restaurant
On the other hand, Santiago’s dining scene is home to Boragó, which is considered the best restaurant in the city. This establishment is highly praised for its use of local ingredients and flavors in its dishes. Guests can choose to have up to seven courses at Boragó, with optional wine pairings.
- Do a proper pub crawl in Bellavista
In recent years, the Bellavista neighbourhood north of the river has seen an increase in upscale gastropubs. These restaurants serve high-quality beer that was brought over by German immigrants in the 19th century. Many of these pubs take their name from local breweries.
Of the many brewpubs in Santiago, Kunstmann Kneipe, Jardin Mallinkrodt and KrossBar are some of the best. They offer several types of draft beer, as well as excellent food options like charcuterie boards and craft burgers. More low-key bars such as José Ramón 277 are popular among young professionals and students for their sandwiches and beers.
- Take a deep dive into Santiago’s nightlife
The capital’s nightlife is regionally renowned. Things get going late, as the local dinnertime isn’t until 10pm. If you show up to a bar or club before midnight looking to dance, you may be the only one out on the floor. But once things get going, they won’t stop until the sun is well up.
In many places, cafes and restaurants are used during the day for general dining. However, once night falls, these same places are cleared of tables and chairs to make room for the arriving pisco-fueled dance crowd. Some popular nighttime spots include Bar Constitución and Havana Club in Recoleta for electronic/reggaetón, and salsa/merengue, respectively, Club de Jazz in La Reina, and La Peña del Nano Parra,
- Survey the surrounding region at the Costanera Center
No matter where you are in the Santiago metropolitan area, you will be within sight of South America’s tallest building, the Costanera Center Tower. From the 62nd story, the view of the sprawling city and the snow-covered Andes is dramatic indeed. Nearly all of Santiago’s points of interest are withing view.
250 metres below is South America’s largest and most modern shopping mall. If you need to purchase any items or need to stock up on provisions, you’re sure to find what you require in this six-story shopping mecca.
- Join in the celebrations at the Santiago a Mil Festival
Every January, the capital hosts one of the top summer events in the country, the Santiago a Mil Festival. For three weeks, entertainers from around the world congregate in Santiago to put on world-class music, theatre and dance performances. Many of these events are free of charge.
The Santiago festival is a popular event that features performances, food, and art from all over the city. The festival takes place in the streets and lasts for days, attracting people from all over.
Check out the official website (http://www.santiagoamil.cl/en/) for the full rundown of events.
- Absorb the cityscape from the striking Bahá’í de Sudamérica temple
High above Santiago lies one of the city’s most picturesque feats of architecture – the Bahá’í de Sudamérica temple. This place of worship, belonging to the Bahá’í faith, has won dozens of awards for its intriguing design.
The temple is a beautiful building that offers amazing views of Santiago below, regardless of your faith. The easiest way to visit is by taking the blue line on Line Four from Tobalaba to Grecia, and then getting a taxi to the temple.
Where is Santiago and how can you get there?
Chile’s capital is located in the center of the country, 116 kilometers east of the port city Valparaíso. Although Chile is a distant destination for most travelers, Santiago is well-connected, with direct flights to many major cities in North America, Europe, Australia, and several cities in South America. Travel within Chile from Santiago is convenient and affordable, particularly by plane and bus.
Getting around Santiago
Santiago has South America’s largest metro system, as well as a comprehensive bus network. Fares start at 720 pesos (around $0.88 USD) and allow free transfers to other metro lines and buses within a two-hour time window. Metro hours are 7:00-23:00 Monday through Saturday and stop an hour earlier on Sundays.
Taxis are a popular and affordable way to get around. Some taxis use meters, others do not. If you take an unmetered taxi, be sure to agree on a fare before getting in. If you’d rather not take a local taxi, Uber operates in Santiago but since it operates in a legal grey area, the driver may ask one passenger to sit up front to hide the fact that it’s an Uber and avoid being stopped by the police.
There are several options for transportation to and from the airport. Taxis are the easiest and most convenient option, and will cost between $15.000-$20.000 COP. Alternatively, there is a bus service operated by TurBus for $1,900 COP one-way or $3,400 COP return to the Central Train Station. This station has a metro station which can take you to various parts of the city.
What day trips can you do from Santiago?
While there are many things to do in Santiago, Chile, some of the best activities can be found in the areas nearby the capital. A two-hour bus ride west will take you to Valparaíso, a city with a different pace and feel that is packed with character. Valparaíso is a great place to visit for a weekend (or longer) getaway – find out what to do there with our guide to the best things to do in Valpara
There are many vineyards in the area between these two cities, making for some great wine country. Emiliana is one of Chile’s most renowned organic wineries, and offers excellent tours, tastings, and winemaking workshops. Matetic is a boutique biodynamic winery with a delicious restaurant and high-quality wines. Read the article above to find out how to visit independently.
If you’re looking for a winter getaway, the world-class ski resorts of Farellones and Valle Nevado are just an hour and a half drive away. To get a better sense of all the places you can visit in Chile, be sure to check out our comprehensive practical and regional guides to the country.