Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Santiago
The site on which the city was founded back in 1541, Plaza de Armas is both the heart of Santiago de Chile’s historic district and the epicenter of the modern city. The leafy, palm-fringed plaza is surrounded by grand monuments and architectural landmarks, and it’s abuzz with activity at all hours of the day and night.
Nicknamed the Garden City and located just an hour from Santiago, Viña del Mar is a charming seaside town famous for its flowers and its beach. Top attractions include the seafront Wulff Castle, the Flower Clock (Reloj de Flores), and Francisco Fonck Museum, the entrance of which is marked by a stone moai statue from Easter Island.
The presidential palace known as La Moneda Palace (Palacio de la Moneda)is one of Santiago’s architectural icons. A giant Chilean flag billows before the white, neoclassical building, which houses movie theaters, art galleries, and an independent bookstore. Look for the statue of former president Salvador Allende at the southeast corner of Plaza de la Constitución.
Santa Lucia Hill (Cerro Santa Lucia) is one of two hills that overlook Santiago, where in 1541 Pedro de Valdivia founded the city long before Chile existed as an independent country. At the time, the hill was called Huelén by the indigenous people; a nearby street (by metro Salvador) still bears that name.
The hill rises about 230 feet over the surrounding part of the city, and there are excellent views of downtown from several terraces up there. Cerro Santa Lucia has three main constructions: the main entrance on the Alameda, with its wide, curving staircase, fronted by a fountain and backed by a yellow mansion; the fort at the top from which the best views of downtown can be seen; and the Castillo Hidalgo, which often hosts large international events.
There are also gardens and the Pedro de Valdivia Plaza, which has its own fountains and colorful tiled benches with Moorish influence. The top of the hill can be reached via the main entrance, as well as by way of the pedestrian access at the corner of José Miguel de la Barra and Victoria Subercaseaux, up a flight of stairs. There is also an elevator on the west side of the hill, where the pedestrian street Huerfanos ends, but this route only takes visitors halfway to the top.
Visitors to the hill would be hard-pressed to miss the cannon-firing, which takes place every day at noon and can be heard throughout many parts of downtown. This activity was suspended for several months after the 2010 earthquake, but it is back, routinely surprising those wandering the area.
Matetic Vineyard is located in the San Antonio Valley, a Chilean wine region about 120 kilometers west of the capital Santiago. With its abundant sunshine, cool breezes from the Pacific Ocean and irrigation by fresh water from the Andes, the region offers the perfect climate for growing wine. Additionally, high temperature fluctuations between day and night force the roots of the vines to penetrate deeply into the soil to provide themselves with nutrients, a fact that gives the grapes grown in the valley a strong and distinctive flavor. Matetic’s wines are known for their elegance as well as the intensity of the pure fruit and several well-known vintages are produced here, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir.
The winery was founded by the Matetic family in 1999 and due to the high quality standards and the specialization in biodynamic farming, Matetic Vineyard managed to soon become one of the leading wineries in Chile. There is no use of chemical pesticides and additionally, the fertilizer comes from the waste of the farm’s own animals. Equally balanced and eco-conscious is a visit to Matetic Vineyard. Visitors not only get to experience the wine making process and sample fine wines, but are also encouraged to enjoy the serene countryside and go exploring on horseback or mountain bikes. The vineyard also hosts a hotel called La Casona, a stunning colonial country home, as well as a restaurant specialized in complimenting the wine with a range of typical Chilean dishes.
The Santiago skyline is dominated by San Cristobal Hill (Cerro San Cristobal), a forested mountain rising 2,821 feet (860 meters) above the city. The site is protected as part of the Santiago Metropolitan Park (Parque Metropolitano), one of the most famous city parks in Chile. Today, the park serves as a scenic escape above the smog that can grip Santiago on winter days, and offers fantastic views across this city of 6.5 million to the Andes Mountains.
Open since 1883 and ranking among South America’s largest wine producers, Concha y Toro Winery is one of Chile’s most famous winemakers. The winery has vineyards all over the country and produces a huge variety of wines, including the world-renowned Don Melchor cabernet sauvignon. Its Pirque winery is a favorite Maipo Valley destination for oenophiles.
Santiago's Cathedral - or Catedral Metropolitana - is considered one of the finest pieces of religious architecture in South America. This is the Catedral Metropolitana's fourth incarnation (as well as numerous touchups) since a church was first dedicated on this spot in 1561, and must be one of its loveliest.
It was most recently rebuilt in the 1750s, with the help of Italian architectJoaquín Toesca, who designed the baroque-fringed neoclassical facade that set the standard for subsequent structures around the Plaza de Armas.
Yet, as impressive as the stone exterior is, it is the resplendent vault and richly adorned altar, inside, that really inspires. A small museum of religious artifacts adjoins the main church.
Bellavista, a walkable neighborhood not far from downtown Santiago, is routinely referred to as the city’s bohemian neighborhood. There’s street art and both sedate and raucous nightlife, art galleries, theater performances, dance clubs, loads of restaurants (both formal and informal) and one of Chile’s most-visited museums, La Chascona. Even this museum has a colorful history; it is one of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s homes-turned-museums. And the whole neighborhood is just a few blocks south of Cerro San Cristobal, the large hill that overlooks the city and has both a sanctuary and a large marble statue of the Virgin Mary on top, in addition to the hiking trails, swimming pools and Japanese garden.
On weekends, the hill attracts families, couples, runners, cyclists and participants in group activities, from yoga to zumba. And all week long, the Chileans of all ages and income brackets come to hang out.
Bellavista’s food options cover nearly every budget, with many restaurants in the Patio Bellavista, an walkway that also houses gift shops, theaters and jewelry stores. There is a string of cheaper eateries with a beer garden atmosphere on the street Pio Nono, and tonier options on the parallel street of Constitución.
The interior, wrought-iron construction of the Mercado Central looks like it could contain a greenhouse, but with the masonry outside, this building houses local eateries, a few fruit and vegetable stands, the occasional roaming musician, and just a sampling of souvenir stands, though in total there are more than 200 locales. The building dates back to 1872, and is consistently named as a must-see in Santiago. In fact, in 2012, National Geographic named it as the 5th best market in the world.
Due to its central location, and the fact that it is often visited by tourists, it has also become a hub for pickup and drop off for a number of different tour services.
Inside the market, there are several restaurants serving local specialties, which mainly revolve around fish. There is the larger-than-life centolla or king crab, which the waiter cracks for you as you wait, or flavorful (raw) sea urchins served with plenty of onion, cilantro, lemon juice and olive oil. Or if you want something hearty, try anything called a budín or chupe, which will be thick, creamy soups and casseroles served in the typical greda (terra cotta) dish. If you’re feeling more austere, try grilled fish with a salad, but don’t pass up on what is probably Chile’s favorite appetizer, machas a la parmesana, which are razor clams served au gratin.
More Things to Do in Santiago
At the Santa Rita Winery (Viña Santa Rita) in the scenic foothills of Alto Jahuel, you can explore Chile’s winemaking tradition dating back hundreds of years. Wander through old world vines, sample full-bodied Chilean wines, and tuck into a meal at the winery’s fine dining or casual restaurants.
Cajón del Maipo, a narrow canyon where the Maipo River flows, begins just 16 miles (25 kilometers) southwest of Santiago, but its picturesque scenery, fresh air, and charming mountain towns feel worlds away from Chile’s capital city. Thanks to its close proximity to Santiago, though, Cajón del Maipo is one of the more popular day trip destinations for an easy escape to Chile’s famed wilderness.
Forestal Park (Parque Forestal), the natural green lung of Santiago, provides a peaceful break from the frenetic bustle of Chile’s capital city. Stretching from Central Market to Plaza Italia, this area offers walking paths shaded by leafy trees and two popular museums: the MAC (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo) and Palacio de Bellas Artes.
At the heart of Chile’s political landscape, the Plaza de la Constitucion is a vast, paved square occupying a full square block in the center of Santiago’s civic district. Surrounded by government buildings like the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Justice, and the Banco Central de Chile, the most impressive site of all is the square’s Palacio de la Moneda.
Designed by the Italian architect Joaquín Toesca and built in the late 18th century, the Palacio de la Moneda is said to be one of the finest neoclassical buildings in South America. Originally intended as the Royal Mint, today the palace houses the Chilean presidential offices.
Every second morning, here’s where you can see the changing of the guard set to the Chilean national anthem, and while you can’t go inside the palacio, you can wander its inner courtyards. In front of the south side of the Palacio Moneda, it’s worth visiting the Centro Cultural Palacio de la Moneda. Opened in 2006, the cultural center features temporary exhibitions of South American art and photography.
Built in 1925, the Chilean National Library (Biblioteca Nacional de Chile) is home to an extensive collection of rare books and valuable manuscripts that date back to the early 1800s. Its luxe interior spans two floors, which boast marble staircases and ornate sculptures of some of the country’s most famed artists. The impressive French neoclassical building is also home to the nation’s National Archives.
Travelers who visit the vast open rooms lined with historic texts and open study tables say the iconic building in the center of Santiago offers a rare opportunity to travel back in time. And the silent stacks prove a stark contrast to the electricity of the city streets that lie right outside its doors.
El Yeso Dam (Embalse El Yeso), which was built in 1964, created a turquoise reservoir that can hold more than 253 million cubic meters of water. Though just a couple hours outside of Santiago, the snow-capped mountains that surround the site are more reminiscent of rural Patagonia than of the bustling metropolis.
Santiago is a busy, walkable city, with a fairly compact downtown. But there are times when you’ve had enough of having to move along at the speed of the crowd, and wish you could have a more spacious place to be. And you can. There are three major pedestrian thoroughfares in downtown Santiago, Huérfanos, which runs west down from Cerro Santa Lucía, and both Paseo Ahumada and Paseo Estado, which stretch north from the Alameda (Avenida Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins) towards the Mapocho River and Mercado Central.
Paseo Ahumada is perhaps the busiest of the three, and you’ll find families and individuals walking, talking on the phone or sitting on benches at most times of day, On the street there are nearly always street performers and vendors, selling hats, scarves, and the occasional television antenna. There are also popular stands selling mote con huesillo, a local drink made of sweet peach punch with reconstituted dried peaches and wheat kernels at the bottom. Shoe stores and fast food, ice cream, cafés and some of the major department stores fill out the rest of the blocks, which quiet down after work or when it gets dark.
Visitors to Santiago can take a trip back in time just by walking through the doors of the famous San Francisco Church (Iglesia de San Francisco). This iconic church ranks among the city's oldest and most beautiful religious structures, dating back to the original Spanish settlements.
Marvel at the bold and imposing red exterior, then enter to find soft yellows, blues and whites decorating the interior. Learn from your guide about the legend of the statue of Virgen del Socorro and savor the silence of the church, where you can spend some time in quiet meditation or prayer before returning to the hustle of Santiago city streets.
Tucked within Cajón del Maipo, a narrow river valley snaking its way up to the Andes just outside Santiago, lies Termas Valle de Colina. These mineral hot springs at the base of the San José Volcano comprise eight different milky blue pools set to different temperatures for comfortable (and supposedly restorative) soaking.
Learn about the history of Chilean wine production, sample full-bodied reds, and explore underground cellars at Undurraga, an award-winning, internationally recognized vineyard outside of Santiago. The winery’s gardens, designed by Pierre Dubois in the 19th century, appeal to nature lovers and wine buffs alike.
Santiago's Club Hipico (Club Hípico de Santiago) is the most exclusive of Santiago's race tracks. Dating back to 1870, it's the oldest racetrack in country and home to South America's oldest stakes race — the Clásico El Ensayo, making it the best place to see thoroughbred horse racing while in the Chilean capital.
One of the country's three main tracks (the other two are Hipodromo Chile and Valparaiso Sporting Club), Club Hipico is known for its formal gardens, fountains, ponds, and views out to the Andes.
Located just west of Parque O'Higgins, race days are long by international standards, and there are usually around 18 races per card. With an arena that can hold over 30,000 people, live concerts also take place at Club Hipico.
The Lastarria neighborhood’s cobblestone streets and European architecture create a Bohemian vibe. This district offers antique stores and indie boutiques, as well as the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Centre. Wander around the green oasis of Parque Forestal; enjoy international cuisine; or get your art fix at the Museum of Visual Arts.
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 Chilean poet and politician Pablo Neruda helped design this quirky, nautical-themed home for himself and his third wife, Matilde Urrutia, for whom La Chascona—which translates from Spanish as tangle-haired woman—is named. Home to an eclectic collection of Neruda’s possessions, the house offers insight into one of the most important figures in Chile’s recent history.