Constructed in 1910, at the height of Latin America's frilly neoclassical-meets-art nouveau architectural wave, the graceful Palacio de Bellas Artes still strikes an imposing figure amidst modern Santiago's cold skyscrapers. Its ornate stone facade, which would do any cathedral proud, and permanent artistic merit make it the perfect home for the National Museum of Fine Arts.
The permanent collection, displayed in the Palacio's soaring chambers, begins with the Spanish Colonial era and traces Chile's cultural development through the styles of its artistic masters. Temporary exhibitions come from around Chile and the world.
The MAC (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo), Santiago's contemporary art museum, is also here. While it University of Chile-operated institution may lack the gravitas of the neighboring Fine Arts Museum, exhibits can be a lot more fun.
The Palacio de Bellas Artes is located on the northern edge of the historic district, five blocks from the Plaza de Armas, close to the river. This busy neighborhood isn't the easiest to navigate with a car, but there are several metro stops nearby. The L5 green line serves the Bellas Artes stop, right in front of the building.
The Palacio's entry fee is included as part of a Turistik, which gives you a day's access to double-decker buses that circuit past most of Santiago's attractions. Guided Spanish-language tours of the museum can be arranged for groups with one week advanced notice.