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Santiago, the capital of Chile, is a buzzing, densely-packed metropolis sandwiched below the Andes Mountains and not far from the Pacific Ocean. During our week-long stay in the city, we were on a mission to find the best things to do in Santiago, Chile. Not only did we want to see top Santiago, Chile landmarks, but we also wanted to feel the true vibe of the area.
Visiting Santiago, Chile
Is Santiago, Chile worth visiting? Yes! Featuring historic architecture, spacious parks and fascinating neighborhoods, we had no problem filling our days with top Santiago, Chile attractions. We put some miles on our shoes and took a ton of pictures as we navigated our way through Santiago – and beyond. Is Santiago, Chile expensive? Generally, no. We felt it was a good value – most activities are inexpensive and there are also a lot of free things to do in Santiago, Chile.
Best Things To Do in Santiago, Chile
Wondering what to see in Santiago, Chile? Our list of top Santiago, Chile things to do includes our best recommendations for fellow travelers.
For each of the Santiago, Chile tourist attractions, we have included a short snippet of information, as well as some additional advice. At the end of the article, you will find a link to our Santiago tourist map of attractions to help you navigate around the city.
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#1 Soar To The Top of Cerro San Cristobal
Cerro San Cristobal (or St. Christopher’s Hill) stands on the north side of Centro in the Bellavista neighborhood within the Parque Metropolitano. Promising spectacular views on a sunny, clear day, ascending to the summit ranks as one of the top things to do in Santiago!
Trekking up Cerro San Cristobal can be done in a few hours, but there is a funicular that transports passengers to the top in just a few minutes. The roundtrip ticket is about $4 USD.
Cristobal Hilltop Views
At the top of Cerro San Cristobal, there are viewing platforms and an enormous statue of the Virgin Mary. The view of the massive, sprawling Santiago city grid is mind-boggling – especially since snow-capped peaks can be seen in nearly every direction. The towering mountains triumph over endless blocks of high-rises and smog. It’s a staggering contrast of nature and concrete jungle.
Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepcion Statue
Although the view of Santiago is impressive, be sure to climb the stairs to the Virgin Mary statue. Cerro San Cristobal has a long, religious past dating back to 1561 when a 10-meter-high wooden cross was placed at the top. Pilgrimages have taken place from Santiago to the top of Cerro San Cristobal ever since.
The statue of the Virgin Mary (46 feet high and weighing nearly 82,000 pounds) has graced the top of the mountain since 1904. During Pope John Paul II’s 1987 visit, he presided over mass at the base of Mary’s statue, making it a world-known place to worship.
The chapel on the side of the hill, constructed in 1921, celebrates the life and motherhood of Mary and is made to resemble a Roman grotto. It’s a quiet, peaceful place to say a prayer away from the many other visitors.
The Parque Metropolitano is the largest park in Santiago – and there is plenty to do there! In addition to San Cristobal Hill, the National Zoo and the Santiago Botanical Garden are located within the park. Visitors can easily spend 3-5 hours walking along the paths of the urban oasis. Within the green space, there are numerous fountains, planned gardens and statues.
#2 Shop at Mercado Central Santiago
The historic Central Mercado dates to 1872…and is all about fresh fish. The interior of the classic cast-iron structure plays host to touristy (and relatively expensive) seafood restaurants. Meanwhile, the take-it-home-and-cook-it-yourself whole fish option can be purchased around the perimeter. More casual dining establishments encircle Mercado Central, which is where Santiago locals dine on fried fish and plates of seafood – that are offered at more affordable prices.
While Mercado Central is one of the top things to see in Santiago, Chile, there are other markets that cater more to locals than tourists – and we highly recommend checking them out as well!
Read about our experiences shopping at other Santiago Markets: Mercado de Abastos Tirso de Molina, La Vega Chica and La Vega Central Markets.
#3 Take a Stroll in Parque Forestal Santiago
With wide paths, mature trees and classic street lamps, Parque Forestal is a Santiago must-see! Running parallel to the Rio Mapocho, the long and narrow park is bookended by Plaza Italia (officially Plaza Baquedano) and the Mercado Central. Offering an alternative to crowded sidewalks and rushing traffic, Parque Forestal is a serene east-west access along the northern border of Centro. Also located in the park is the impressive Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts, and that’s next on our list!
On Sundays, the streets along the river are closed to vehicular traffic, allowing pedestrians, joggers and cyclists the opportunity to enjoy the space without cars. On many Sundays, a Santiago Flea Market is held in Forestal Park, which attracts vendors (selling an incredible array of items) and entertaining street performers!
#4 Visit the Historic Museo de Bellas Artes
Located within Parque Forestal, the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts (Museo de Bellas Artes) is one of the most well-known museums in Santiago, Chile. It also reigns as the oldest art museum in South America. Founded in 1880, the collection has grown to include more than 5,000 Chilean and international artworks. Entrance to the Bellas Artes Museum is one of the Santiago free things to do!
The art collection resides in the grand Palacio de Bellas Artes, which for many is the main reason to visit the museum. The building was constructed in 1910 to celebrate Chile’s independence. Designed in the opulent Beaux-arts style, the building is one of Santiago’s architectural gems.
#5 Explore Cerro Santa Lucia
A favorite of locals and visitors alike, Cerro Santa Lucia is a spectacular retreat in the Santiago city center. The park also holds a fascinating part of the history of Santiago, Chile. Standing 69-meters tall, Santa Lucia Hill is the remains of a 15-million-year-old volcano. In the 1500s, it was used as a logistical lookout point and, in 1541, it is where Pedro de Valdivia officially declared Santiago a city. In the 1800s, the hill was essentially transformed into a monument to celebrate its place in history.
The maze of trails leading around and up (and up…and up…) to the top of the hill elicits a sense of kid-like adventure. Do we go left or right? Up or down? Around this corner or that one? Each path leads to something new and beautiful: a garden, a fountain, a statue, a fort, a monument or yet another amazing view. Even if you only have one day in Santiago, make it a point to go to Cerro Santa Lucia!
#6 Wander the Cobblestone Lanes in Barrio Brasil
The Santiago metropolis is comprised of numerous neighborhoods – or barrios – and each one has its own distinct ambiance. One of the top things to do in Santiago de Chile is to get lost in the various neighborhoods that fringe the city center – and Barrio Brasil is one of our favorites.
Located west of the city center, Barrio Brasil is an upper-class neighborhood featuring charming cobblestone streets and well-kept early-1900s mansions (most of which have been converted into apartments and boutique hotels). The neighborhood is also home to trendy restaurants and hip bars – most of which are found along Avenida Brasil and on Plaza Brasil, the historic heart of the district.
A popular spot for Santiago nightlife, we actually loved strolling through Barrio Brasil on quiet weekend mornings when the tree-lined streets were nearly deserted. We were enthralled by the creative street art and hidden plazas.
Top Tip: Seek out the romantic Plaza Libertad de Prensa, which features a picturesque fountain and mansions that were once owned by Santiago’s elite (like the Concha y Toro Wine family).
#7 Santiago Old City Center: Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas, is the main square and historic core of Santiago. At the center of the spacious square is a small park of trees and benches. The vast space is filled with cafes and street performers…and Plaza de Armas definitely ranks as a must-see in Santiago, Chile!
The urban plan – with the square at the center – was designed in the mid-1500s. Like many traditional city squares, Plaza de Armas is surrounded by the most important and beautiful buildings. Some of the notable structures that encircle Plaza de Armas are the Central Post Office Building (Correro Central), the Palacio de la Real Audiencia de Santiago (which today houses the National History Museum of Chile), the City Hall and the Santiago Cathedral.
Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral
The Catedral Metropolitana was built in the late 1800s, after two previous churches were destroyed in earthquakes. The church has double bell towers and is adorned with neoclassical elements. It is the interior of the cathedral, however, that makes the church one of the top Santiago, Chile tourist attractions. The church features three naves and multiple altars – all of which are ornately decorated. Overhead, the vaulted ceilings are decorated in colorful frescoes, while below, the floor is made of intricately-patterned black and white tiles.
#8 Dine Al Fresco in Hip Barrio Bellavista
The Bellavista neighborhood reigns as Santiago’s bohemian enclave. Situated between the Mapocho River and Cerro San Cristobal, Bellavista developed its artsy reputation in the 1970s. Spending time in the iconic neighborhood is one of the top things to do in Santiago, Chile.
In addition to the fashionable boutiques and cool art galleries, Barrio Bellavista boasts numerous cafes, bars and clubs. Ideal for people-watching and relaxing on an outdoor patio for a drink or meal, visiting Barrio Bellavista is an essential Santiago activity. Find top reviews for places to eat and drink in Bellavista on TripAdvisor.
Other Bellavista activities include checking out La Chascona, the house of Santiago’s famed Poet Pablo Neruda, visiting the Parroquia de Santa Filomena and shopping at the Pio Nono local market on weekends.
#9 Explore Nature and History at Quinta Normal Park Santiago
On the west side of the barrio is Santiago’s oldest park, Quinta Normal, which was created in the mid-1800s as a botanical garden. The Chilean International Exhibition was held on the park grounds in 1875. Today, the 88-acre park features a small lake with paddleboats, fountains and walking paths. Grills are also available for use, which makes it a great spot for a picnic in Santiago!
Nearby Attractions and Museums in Santiago Quinta Normal
Located in – and around – the park, visitors will find the following Santiago, Chile sights.
Chilean National Museum of Natural History
The Chilean National Museum of Natural History (Museo de Historia Natural) was established in 1830 – and features a variety of exhibits that detail the country’s diverse animal and plant lifeforms. Packed with impressive displays, we thought the modern museum was well-worth a visit.
Top Tip: Entrance is free on Sundays and English audio guides are available.
The Railroad Museum (Museo Ferroviario) is an open-air museum that consists of about 15 steam locomotives. We didn’t visit this museum, but heard it’s popular with kids and a must for train enthusiasts.
Museum of Memory and Human Rights
The Museum of Memory and Human Rights (Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos) details the Military Coup of 1973 and the human rights violations that occurred under Pinochet until 1990. This is a must-do in Santiago for visitors who are interested in learning about the turbulent recent history of Chile.
Basilica de la Virgen de Lourdes and Gruta
Just outside the northwest corner of the park is the Basilica and Gruta de la Virgen de Lourdes. We found the grotto to be a very peaceful place within the city and witnessed many worshippers come to light candles.
#10 Spend a Day at a Chilean Winery
It’s no secret that we’ve long had a love affair with red wine and there’s few better places to sip and swoon than in Chile. The long, skinny country has nearly 1200 wineries balanced between the shoreline and the mountains. Leaving the city center to visit a nearby winery is one of the fun things to do in Santiago, Chile.
Search for highly-rated Santiago wine tours on Viator!
Visitors have a choice when it comes to Santiago winery tours. We tend to like to plan our own day trips, so we opted to visit Undurraga Winery. The award-winning, yet unpretentious winery, is just a 30-minute bus ride from Santiago. Undurraga Winery, which has been in existence since 1885, was family-owned until fairly recently, exudes classic vineyard charm.
Undurraga Winery Tour and Tasting
We took a tour of the Undurraga Winery, which ended up just being the two of us and our guide! He showed us the grounds, explained the history, soil and process and finished it all off with a fantastic tasting of the wine produced at Undurraga Winery. The underground cellar, constructed to withstand earthquakes, was our favorite part of our private tour. It held hundreds of barrels aging wine to perfection and releasing aromas of oak, fruit and earth.
Santiago Wine Tasting
Visitors who don’t want (or have time) to venture beyond the city limits to a winery have the opportunity to try local wine in the heart of Santiago. Bocanariz is the most famous wine bar featuring a list of more than 350 Chilean wines. Read Reviews.
Both enthusiasts and novice wine drinkers can also join a wine tasting experience in the center of Santiago de Chile. Participants will learn about the history of each wine as well as where it is produced. Find out more.
Torremotos at La Piojera
While Chilean fine wines can be sampled at a variety of establishments and at nearby vineyards, drinking Torremotos is an essential local Santiago experience. Torremotos – or Earthquakes – is a potent concoction of pipeno (cheap table wine) and pineapple ice cream.
La Piojera, a gritty and sticky dive bar, is famous for its Torremotos. The downtown Santiago location hosts an odd mix of locals and tourists, all slurping the sticky-sweet, local specialty. While the drink itself won’t go down as one of our favorites, we thought the atmosphere and the people-watching was top-notch!
Santiago Chile Tourist Map
Use thia link to Google Maps to find your way to the Best Things To Do in Santiago!
More Santiago, Chile Points Of Interest
Looking for more activities in Santiago, Chile? The following are top-recommended places to visit in Santiago by fellow travelers.
Completed in 2013, the nearly 1,000-foot-tall Gran Torre Santiago Tower is the tallest skyscraper in Latin America (and the second-tallest in Latin America and the 5th tallest in the Southern Hemisphere). The Sky Costanera observation deck on the 61st and 62nd floors opened in 2015 and offers stunning 360-degree views of Santiago and well beyond. Purchase tickets in advance online!
Palacio de la Moneda
The Palacia de la Moneda, which translates to the Palace of the Mint, is the official Chilean presidential residence and houses top government offices. The striking building first opened in 1805 and was used as the country’s mint before becoming the seat of government. Visitors can explore the courtyards (for free) and the Cultural Center (free before noon). Read reviews.
Cemeteries may not be typical tourist destinations, but the Cementerio General, which features lush grounds, moving memorials and ornate sculptures, is also one of Santiago’s urban parks. There are more than 2 million people buried at the cemetery, including many famous Chilean citizens, like presidents, politicians, scientists and musicians. Read reviews.
Day Trips From Santiago, Chile
Santiago, Chile day trips are an excellent way to experience more of the country!
Full-Day Tour to Valparaiso and Vina del Mar
Join this highly-rated Santiago, Chile tour for a full-day adventure exploring Chile’s colorful coastal cities: Valparaiso and Vina del Mar. Visit a winery in Casablanca Valley, feast on a seaside lunch and photograph vibrant Valparaiso buildings. Get the details!
Cojon del Maipo Day Trip
Leave the city behind for a full dose of nature on a day tour from Santiago to Cajon del Maipo. Savor the mountain landscapes while enjoying a picnic lunch (local wine included) and learn about the culture of the region. Find out more!
Small-Group El Morado Trek and Hot Springs Day Trip
Truly immerse yourself in the region’s spectacular nature on a 5-hour, guided hike in the Andes Mountains. End the tour relaxing while sipping a pisco sour as you soak your muscles from the day’s hike in a thermal pool. Book it now!
Hop On Hop Off Santiago, Chile
Our recommended places to visit in Santiago are spread out all over the sprawling city. For an easy way to get to all the top attractions in Santiago, Chile, hop aboard the red, double-decker bus. All-day tickets allow guests to catch a ride and disembark at any stop…and buses run every 30 minutes. Additionally, there is on-board commentary full of facts about Santiago, Chile that provide a narrative as you pass by the sights. Buy Your Ticket Online!
Where To Stay in Santiago, Chile
When deciding where to stay in Santiago, the first thing to determine is which neighborhood. We think the best place to stay in Santiago, Chile is Centro, because of the proximity to landmarks and sights.
After staying in a hotel at our previous stop in Puerto Varas, we opted to stay in an Airbnb Apartment in Santiago near Plaza de Armas. We have found that staying in apartments is often less expensive than hotel rooms – with the added benefit of a kitchen and, usually, more space. As a bonus, our Santiago Airbnb apartment had stellar views!
However, for those who prefer staying in traditional accommodations, there are many Santiago Hotels (and posh Santiago, Chile resorts) to choose from in – or close to – the city center. You can search for the best hotels in Santiago, Chile on Booking.com!
Before You Go To Santiago, Chile
- Santiago is a walkable city…but only if you pack the right travel shoes! Don’t forget to pack a pair of lightweight and comfortable walking shoes for your trip to South America. I (Sarah) have traveled with these shoes by Columbia. Kris prefers wearing these trail shoes by Merrell.
- We’re certain you’ll be snapping tons of photos during your Chilean vacation. Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for high quality photos. We travel with a Canon Rebel (which takes amazing photos) and a Canon PowerShot ELPH (which takes beautiful pictures and is a slim and lightweight budget camera).
- It’s easy to get turned around in any foreign place…and especially a big city like Santiago! Make sure to have a good city map and/or guidebook before arriving in Santiago. Whether you travel with a suitcase or a backpack, you also want a great day bag to organize and secure all of your essential, everyday travel items.
- As you plan your trip to Chile, keeping track of the details is essential. Stay organized with our simple Printable Travel Planner. It contains 26 pages of trip organization!
- If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, consider traveling protected with World Nomads.
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