11 Reasons You Should Get to Santiago Before Everyone Else Does
Once overlooked by travelers making their way down to Patagonia and Easter Island, Santiago has grown into a destination to visit in its own right over the past decade.
With museums, restaurants, nightlife, and plenty of history, there's something for everyone in Chile's capital. And if that's not enough, it's got the Andes in its backyard and the beach city of Valparaíso just an hour and a half away.
Santa Lucía Hill
In the eastern part of Santiago's downtown district is Santa Lucía Hill. Small in area but over 600 meters tall, it was once used by the Spanish as a lookout point for planning the city.
With a web of trails and steep steps, ornate facades, a fountain, statues, and a crafts market, the perfectly manicured hill is one of the first places travelers should visit to really take in the city along with sweeping views of the Andes Mountains. If you're at the top during midday, just be sure to prepare your ears for the daily cannon fire.
Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral (GAM)
A short walk from the Santa Lucía going west along the main street of Providencia, you'll find the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center. Named after the Chilean feminist poet, diplomat, and educator, locals love the vibrant culture center for its art and music offerings and exhibitions. It's also quite the architectural spectacle as it marries an urban, copper-encased environment with a public space.
The GAM serves as an entryway to the Lastarria neighborhood (or barrio, in Spanish), a popular and flavorful area for both locals and tourists thanks to its museums, restaurants with outdoor seating, and bars with happy hours. Cobblestone streets and European architecture fill the area, with modern touches sprinkled in such as the facade of the new Hotel Cumbres Lastarria.
Barrio Bellas Artes
A neighboring barrio is Bellas Artes, which is home to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Museum of Fine Arts). First opened over a century ago, the museum (which is free to the public) covers over 49,600 square feet of space and has over 12,000 pieces, including 19th-century European art, Argentine art, and more that make it the largest public collection in Latin America. Visitors can have a quiet stay near the museum at the new Hotel Altiplánico Bellas Artes and explore more of the neighborhood, which is popular for its artisan shops, bookshops, theaters, bars, and restaurants.
In addition to a wide variety of shops and boutiques, downtown is home to several architectural landmarks. Among them is the Palacio de La Moneda (the Coin Palace) and the Presidential palace, which boasts Neoclassical architecture. In front of the Presidential Palace is a square that has statues of diplomatic historical figures.
Near the area is also Paseo Ahumada, a broad avenue with blocks of stores and restaurants and a row of historic churches, including Basílica de la Merced, Iglesia de la Compañía, Iglesia de Santo Domingo and Iglesia de las Agustinas.
Plaza de Armas
The main square of Santiago, Plaza de Armas, is what plans were based around when the city was built. Around the square are several historic buildings, including the exquisite Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral, the Central Post Office, and the main City Hall building.
Mercado Central de Santiago
Though there are many different markets throughout the city, the Central Market remains the one to visit first. The market is celebrated for its seafood, including raw offerings you can pick up and prepare at home, and cooked dishes you can munch on instantly at a selection of stands and restaurants. Nearby is La Vega Central, a popular fruit and vegetable market that's great for people watching.
Gran Torre Santiago
As the tallest skyscraper in Latin America, at 65 stories, the Gran Torre is also home to the largest shopping mall in Latin America, with a distinct shopping category assigned to each floor. Two hotels also occupy the tower, and Santiago's newest attraction, a two-level observation deck called Sky Costanera, just opened in the space at the end of August, offering 360-degree views of the city.
The city's high-end financial district is referred to as Sanhattan, an ironic play on New York's Manhattan. It's home to new and expensive buildings housing offices, restaurants, banks, and hotels, including the W Santiago, which has a popular rooftop bar and a super trendy Japanese restaurant.
Another popular area in Santiago for nightlife is Bellavista. Picturesque during the day with its colorful homes and graffiti, the bohemian neighborhood is just as vibrant at night. Along with color and art, visitors will find plenty of entertainment and food worth staying for. Also in this quarter is poet Pablo Neruda's famous house, La Chascona, and the popular restaurant named after him, El Mesón Nerudiano, where you can get a yummy Pisco sour and traditional dinner in a rustic yet decadent atmosphere.
When Chileans want to get away from the city, they go to Valparaíso for the beach or up to the Andes for skiing. Among those Andean ski resorts, Valle Nevado is popular for skiing and snowboarding and offers several different hotels, restaurants, and bars, some of which are situated outside, overlooking all the action. If you're lucky, a condor might majestically fly over you while you're having an afternoon coffee.