Santiago may not have the same hype as Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro, but this charming capital is full of wonderful surprises. Easily one of the most, if not the most, organised cities in South America, Santiago will win you over with its remarkable location tucked against the towering Andes, its rich history, and the blend of colonial, indigenous and modern architecture. Here are 10 amazing attractions in Santiago that you simply cannot miss.
Plaza de Armas is one of the top attractions in Santiago / Photo by Daytours4u
1. PLAZA DE ARMAS
Santiago’s main square is Plaza de Armas, situated right in the heart of the city. The bustling plaza is bordered by the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Central Post Office, City Hall and the National History Museum. The square is always buzzing with activity and it is a stone’s throw away from many museums, restaurants and other interesting tourist hotspots. Explore the area with our half-day City Tour.
2. LA MONEDA PALACE
The impressive La Moneda Palace, the seat of the President of Chile, is an architectural attraction in and of itself, with its neoclassical design and immaculate grounds. It also holds an important part of Chile’s history, being a key battleground during the 1973 military coup. You can take a free tour of the palace, or visit the Cultural Centre located underneath where there are a number of exhibition spaces.
Learn about Chile’s political history at La Moneda Palace / Photo by Daytours4u
3. SANTA LUCIA HILL
Santa Lucia Hill is a peaceful refuge in the city. Stroll up the hill through the beautifully kept park, popular for a romantic picnic, and climb up to the Torre Mirador (Tower Lookout) for incredible 360 degree views of Santiago. You can also uncover the old fort on the way up; once a key defensive location for the city. The canons today are fired to keep time, at noon every day – don’t get a fright when you hear it go off!
4. NATIONAL FINE ARTS MUSEUM
Situated next to the scenic Parque Forestal is the stunning National Fine Arts Museum (or Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes). The museum holds a great permanent collection of Chilean artists from colonial times up to the present, as well as interesting temporary exhibits showcasing local and international artists. The building is an attraction in its own right, with a glass ceiling filtering sunlight into the museum’s main hall.
5. MERCADO CENTRAL
One of the top culinary attractions in the city is the bustling Mercado Central, a large fish market. You can get all manner of fresh fish and seafood here, caught off Chile’s long coastline, or choose to eat in one of the many great seafood restaurants in and around the market. Just across the way you’ll find La Vega Central, a fresh fruit and vegetable market, if you’re looking for something to go with your fish.
To really get a sense of Santiago’s dramatic location, head up into the hills / Photo by Daytours4u
6. SAN CRISTOBAL HILL
The best view in the city is from San Cristobal Hill. This hill in the north of Santiago is covered by the sprawling Parque Metropolitano (Metropolitan Park). The main attraction, however, is the view. If you’re feeling active, walk up to the top (300m in vertical height), otherwise take the funicular for a scenic ride up. You’ll also find plenty of attractions on the hill, including a zoo, public pools, a Japanese-style garden, a chapel, and an amphitheatre.
7. CHILEAN MUSEUM OF PRE-COLUMBIAN ART
Santiago has many interesting museums including the National History Museum and the Museum of Memory and Human Rights. One of the top museums to visit is the Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art (Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino). Just around the corner from Plaza de Armas, this museum houses ten-thousand years of history from across Latin America, tracing the Pre-Columbian era with its impressive collection of artefacts and art.
8. BELLAVISTA NEIGHBOURHOOD
This bohemian neighbourhood is one of the most popular in the city as it’s in the heart of all the action and is close to many tourist attractions, including the entry point to San Cristobal Hill. Wander down the colourful streets decorated by street art, and browse the shops and artisan stalls. Bellavista is also a foodie heaven with endless restaurants to choose from. Of course what really makes it famous is the nightlife. You’ll find a party here every night of the week. You can sample the wonders of Bellavista with our Cultural Tour.
The bohemian neighbourhood of Bellavista is packed with restaurants, cafés and bars / Photo by Daytours4u
9. CAFÉ CON PIERNAS
One of the most unique attractions in Santiago has to be the Café con Piernas – literally translated as “coffee with legs.” Santiago is famous for this style of coffee shop where the coffee is served by waitresses in short skirts and heels. There are more risque versions where waitresses wear bikinis or lingeries, but the common chains like Cafe Haiti and Cafe Caribe are a bit more conservative. This B-Side Tour of Santiago stops off at one if you want to experience this phenomenon unique to the Chilean capital.
10. LA CHASCONA
Another top attraction in Santiago is La Chascona, one of Pablo Neruda’s houses. Chile’s most famous poet built this house as a hideaway for his mistress, Matilde Urrutia. He named it after her wild, curly hair. Like his other houses, La Chascona has the distinctly quirky feel of Neruda, as well as his love for the sea. Situated in the Bellavista neighbourhood, you can take a tour of the house any day of the week except Mondays.
By: Nicole Eberhard, travel writer and avid explorer, with a Masters in English Literature.