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Of course, there are more than 15 things to do in Santiago Chile! It is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city brimming with history.
I arrived on a glorious December day, in the middle of my South America travels, not sure what to expect, nor how long I would stay. I discovered that I loved exploring this capital city and could easily go back for more. Plan to spend at least a couple of days full of these 15 best things to do in Santiago Chile. You won’t be disappointed.
15 Things To Do In Santiago de Chile
1. People Watch In Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas is bustling. Always. In fact, it is rather chaotic and one of the best things to see in Santiago Chile.
The heart and soul of Santiago is filled with Chilean palm trees, warm breezes, fancy fountains and fascinating people. Musicians entertain, large choirs sing from the bandstand and men strategize their next move in chess games to throngs of onlookers. Plaza de Armas is surrounded by historical buildings. Be sure to take a few moments to step inside the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago.
Statues in the plaza all carry a piece of Santiago’s story. Don Pedro de Valdivia, the founding father of Chile and Simón Bolívar, the liberator of Latin America, keep history alive along with the sculpture dedicated to the courage of the Mapuche people of Chile.
Sit under a palm tree and people watch. Homeless people. Well-heeled business women and men. Grandparents on an outing with grandchildren. Plaza de Armas is the place to get a sense of Santiago de Chile.
2. Santiago de Chile | Take A Free Walking Tour
Wondering what to do in Santiago Chile? Walking tours are my go-to in a new city. I took two walking tours and learned so many fun facts about Chileans and their capital Santiago. Yes, it’s true Chileans LOVE sugar and add it to everything. They even love adding it to beer in the form of Fresca. Give it a try!
Hearing a resident of Santiago nonchalantly say that Chileans don’t really notice tremors unless they are over 8.2 on the Richter scale had me raising my eyebrows. They are living in the most seismic country in the world, after all. I took this tip to heart as my Air Bnb was in a high rise. “If you are in an apartment or tall building, open your door in case the tremors cause the door to get jammed.” Yikes.
Both free walking tours of Santiago de Chile were excellent. I took a 4-hour walking tour with FreeTourSantiago and had one of the best tour guides I’ve ever had. Meet the guides wearing red shirts in Plaza de Armas.
I also took the Offbeat Santiago Tour with Tours4Tips, which was fascinating and well done. Meet the guides wearing red and white striped shirts in front of Museo Bellas Artes.
As with all walking tours, a tip is appreciated at the end.
3. Things To Do In Santiago Chile | Visit La Chascona
La Chascona, Pablo Neruda’s house in Santiago Chile, has it all. Love. Poetry. Intrigue.
Pablo Neruda, a diplomat, politician and Chile’s poet extraordinaire, built La Chascona and named it for his lover, the love of his life, Mathilde who had unruly, red hair. Eventually, Mathilde became Neruda’s third wife and they lived together in La Chascona.
After the military coup in 1973, La Chascona was vandalized and flooded by the army. Neruda died shortly after the coup and Mathilde was determined to have his celebration of life in the house. And so it was.
Neruda’s death is still a mystery. Although he had cancer at the time, it is believed that he did not die from it. His body has been exhumed and a tooth sent to forensic genetic laboratories in Canada and Denmark to be analyzed. Was he in fact murdered by the Pinochet regime in 1973? In 2019, the results of the testing should determine whether or not Neruda was poisoned.
Mathilde lived in the home until 1985. Walking through La Chascona is like stepping into a time gone by. Knowing that Neruda was afraid of water, all the nautical designs including figureheads from the prows of ships and ship’s steering wheels evoke a house built for the sea. Sit in the garden, wander through the rooms and connect to your inner poet.
4. Experience the Museum of Memory and Human Rights
They look right back at you. Face after face. Young. Old. Very young. Female. Male. Humans. Loved Ones. They all have one thing in common. They disappeared, were tortured or executed during the Chilean dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet from 1973 – 1990.
The Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos is sobering. The exhibits describe the atrocities that happened to over 40000 Chileans. Detention centres were stationed all over the long narrow strip of a country and nowhere was safe.
Do you feel compelled to visit museums like this? As a foreigner passing through, I feel that I might understand the country and the people better if I momentarily step into their dark period.
After visiting the museum, I looked more carefully at people my age. The over-50 crowd. People who lived through a region of terror. I stared. I wondered. Were you an enforcer? A torturer? How did you survive? Who in your family is lost? No family went untouched.
And what happened to Pinochet? Nowhere in the museum does it explain what happened to him in 1990. To the best of my knowledge, he was harboured by Margaret Thatcher in England (as he had supported England in the Falklands War). He was worn and aged and barely able to walk in England. Upon returning to his homeland in 2000, Pinochet rose from his wheelchair and walked. A true miracle or a complete ruse? Pinochet was never convicted of any of the crimes that transpired under his dictatorship.
The Museum of Memory and Human Rights does not only focus on Chile. The main floor of the museum shares stories of human rights violations worldwide. Canada is front and centre for the way we treated our indigenous people in residential schools. This exhibit in itself is enough to stop you in your tracks and question humanity.
Make sure you don’t miss this thought-provoking museum as one of your best things to do in Santiago Chile.
Metro: Quinta Normal
Cost: Free Entry; Audio Guide: CLP$2000 ($4 Cdn)
5. Santiago de Chile| Venture WAY Back in Time
Don’t miss the Museo Chileno de Arte Pre Colombiano. Start your day with a coffee in the museum’s café and then explore the extensive collection of pre- Colombian art from all over Latin America.
These statues were my favourite. The Museum gave a great explanation, “These remarkable wooden statues were placed on top of tombs in ancient Mapuche cemeteries. They reflect the spirit (am) of those buried there and are intended to assist them in their journey to the afterlife. Chiefs and great warriors were sent to the East after death, to roam among the volcanoes of Kalfumapu, the “blue land.” All others went to the West, to eat bitter potatoes beyond the sea.”
I think I’d rather roam among volcanoes. And you?
Don’t miss the textile room. It is mind-boggling to see the beauty and detailed textiles that humans created long before industrialization. Pull out the display drawers to see more pieces of exquisite weaving. Who needs machines?
Metro: Plaza de Armas
Entrance Fee: CLP$6000 ($11.75 Cdn)
6. Things To Do In Santiago Chile | See the Palacio La Moneda
Of all the things to do in Santiago Chile, you just have to, at least, walk past the seat of the presidential offices. It is this exact building that was bombed during the military coup in 1973. Then-president Salvador Allende was inside at the time of the bombing and did not survive. A statue honouring him is nearby.
Metro: La Moneda or Universidad de Chile
7. Explore Cerro Santa Lucia
The Santa Lucia Hill in Santiago Chile is a perfect place for a picnic or an afternoon stroll. I didn’t make it to the lookout at the top but would gladly return and climb up for the view! The historical and trendy Lastarria neighbourhood is at the base of the hill. Stop by, either before or after exploring Cerro Santa Lucia, for a coffee and a browse through the shops.
Metro: Santa Lucia
8. Santiago de Chile | Eat Seafood at Mercado Central
Don’t be surprised to see Chileans eating seafood in the morning at the Central Market. Chileans believe that seafood is the greatest cure for hangovers. Take for example January 1. The place will be packed. Perhaps this is one of the best things to do in Santiago Chile!
If you’re not into seafood for breakfast, head on over to watch locals barter and purchase fresh seafood.
Metro: Puente Cal y Canto
9. Things To Do In Santiago Chile | Relax in Barrio París-Londres
One of the things to do in Santiago Chile is step away from the hustle and bustle. Find París and Londres streets. Wander the cobblestone streets and if you have time to dilly dally, find a street-side cafe and enjoy a coffee or glass of rosé. You are surrounded by lovely jacaranda trees and stunning architecture. You might for a moment feel like you are in London.
Look for Londres38. This house was a former detention centre during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. As a former centre of torture and repression, Londres38 today works towards memory, justice and human rights. There are guided and unguided tours.
Metro: Universidad de Chile
10. Indulge in Pastel de Choclo
Santiago being a modern, sophisticated city has restaurants galore. Anything you want, you can find. But while there, have a leisurely lunch (usually between 2-3 pm) and indulge in Chilean pastel de choclo. It’s a hearty dish made with chicken and beef, one wedge of a hardboiled egg, 3 olives and a few raisins. All this deliciousness is topped with a mashed corn crust, sprinkled with sugar (I told you they LOVED their sugar!) and baked.
11. Santiago de Chile| Visit Iglesia de San Francisco
I walked into the San Francisco Church and its hidden courtyard just at closing time. There is an admission fee but somehow I got a glimpse without paying. This is the oldest colonial building in Santiago, Chile and worth a few minutes of time.
Metro: Universidad de Chile
12. Things To Do In Santiago Chile | See the Views from Parque Metropolitano
Cerro San Cristóbal is Santiago Chile’s largest green space. Although you can hike to the top, I was advised for safety reasons to take the funicular. Be prepared to line up to purchase an entrance ticket. I purchased a combined ticket for the funicular and teleférico. The funicular takes you to a glorious viewpoint over Santiago. This truly is one of the best things to do in Santiago Chile.
Hang out for a bit, purchase a snack and enjoy the views.
Follow the road to the station for the teleférico (it is not well signposted). Hop on and enjoy the sweeping vistas of Cerro San Cristóbal, Santiago and the Andes. You might even have the cable car all to yourself!
If you know where you are going, you could get off at Pedro de Valdivia (Barrio Providencia) which is close to the Costenara centre (the tallest building in the photo above) or take the return teleférico back to Bellavista.
Cerro San Cristóbal is full of hiking trails, places for picnics, a zoo, a botanical garden and public swimming pools. If you have lots of time in Santiago, get familiar with this park.
Cost: CLP$4700 ($9.20 Cdn) for a return ticket on the funicular and the teleférico. Decide beforehand if you want a return ticket on the teleférico, as there are several options.
13. Stroll This Neighbourhood: Barrio Italia
Barrio Italia is one of the best things to see in Santiago Chile because it is away from the hustle and bustle of central Santiago de Chile and feels very local. If you love the bohemian vibe accompanied by vintage shops and antique furniture lining the sidewalks, plan to spend some time in Barrio Italia!
There are lots of cafés and restaurants to enjoy. I loved Café de la Candelaria. It is a beautiful restaurant and a tranquil oasis to relax and enjoy a meal or snack.
Metro: Santa Isabel or Baquedano
14. Santiago de Chile | Pick Up Some Produce at La Vega Central
A short walk from the Mercado Central is La Vega Central. Pop in here for vegetables, fruits and flowers or to witness a slice of Chilean life! It is bustling so watch out for pickpockets.
Chileans pick a regular vendor.
You never bargain with your vendor at the markets in Santiago Chile. As the customer, you trust that your chosen vendor is providing you with the highest quality produce at the best price. Once you have established your vendor-customer relationship, the vendor will save the best for you or throw in a few extra to keep you happy.
Want a cheap place to eat? There are tons of vendors and ethnic restaurants at La Vega Central.
15. Things To Do In Santiago Chile | Amble Through The Cementario General
The huge tract of land that makes up the Cementario General de Santiago has been around since the 1800s and is filled with over 2 million graves. Row upon row of stacked graves make for a fascinating stroll. Own a plot on the bottom row? They’re a bit more expensive but you can add as many bodies as you want! All the other plots (or cupboards!)? You can only add another body after 5 years when there are no human remains left.
The Cementario General de Santiago is also lined with mausoleums of many dignified and important people. Look for the memorial to former President Salvador Allende. Bring a picnic. You could spend a lot of time exploring!
Those are my top 15 picks for the best things to do in Santiago Chile! I hope you get to explore Santiago. Let me know what else you would add to the list.