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Santiago has so many sights and activities worth seeing and doing that it's hard to limit the recommendations to only 30 items. I first got the idea to make this list for Santiago after reading Jeff Barry’s great article, 30 things to do when visiting Buenos Aires. So here’s my list of things to do in Santiago, Chile. I don't feel that it is complete by any means, but these are the things that I really love about Santiago. If you see a link, click on it to read an article that I’ve written with all the info you'll need. For those without links, info can generally be found in standard travel literature or researched easily on the internet. My goal is to write a full review of every item on this list, including all relevant tourist information, and I will be adding to it over time. If you don't have time to read this list now, feel free to print it out and bring it with you to Santiago.
Cerro San Cristóbal: Although it’s almost exclusively a tourist site, there is really no view of the entire city that compares to the panorama at the top of this hill. Take a ride up in the funicular from Bellavista and make sure you visit the statue at the peak. Go a half an hour before sunset on a clear day and watch night fall over the city. You will be amazed.
Plaza de Armas: In the main pedestrian plaza of the city you’ll see tons of street entertainment, art for sale, and get a good look at the faces of Santiago. The chess club of Chile almost always meets here during the days (pretty much every time I’ve been) and I’ve seen public dance displays on weekends. Check out the Cathedral of Santiago here, it’s probably the biggest one in Chile.
Bandera: 30 used clothing stores all on one street. Find anything from used leather jackets to bridal gowns to little league uniforms.
Jazz: There are 4 or 5 jazz clubs in Santiago, 3 of which are in Bellavista. The most famous, however, is Club de Jazz, Santiago, located a short walk from Plaza Ñuñoa (open Thu-Sat). You can find live jazz Wednesday thru Saturday.
La Chascona: One of the 3 homes of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, the place is decorated with an incredible collection of anything you can imagine from all over the world and is also host to his Nobel Prize. There are rooms designed to create the feeling that you are on a ship, and there are some great views of the city. Check out his Nobel Prize here too. Neruda’s other two houses aren’t too far from Santiago (one in Valparaiso, the other in Isla Negra) and all are worth seeing if you have time (there are tours that take you to all 3 if interested).
Villa Grimaldi: This enclosed plot of land was used as a torture center under Dictator Augusto Pinochet from 1974 – 1978. The political tortures in Chile haven’t been publicized enough to the outside world and this memorial site holds both history and memory. You need to go on a tour of this place if you want to learn about the history of the 1973 military coup and dictatorship in Chile and its violations of human rights. The tour I went on was guided by a survivor of the camp itself, and was extremely emotional. Unfortunately, I don’t have contact info for tours guided by survivors in English, but I know they exist and I will get the info up as soon as I have it.
La Moneda: The courtyard of the Presidential house of Chile is very easy to enter and there are awesome sculptures by Chilean artists worth seeing. Tours of the inside of the building need to be planned in advance. Be sure to toss a coin into the fountain and make a wish.
Cerro Santa Lucia: Right in Santiago Centro, this hill takes 15-20 minutes to climb and provides another sweet view of the city. There are various murals, statues, lookouts and ponds hidden all over the Cerro, and multiple ways to get to the peak (just keep going up).
Fútbol: If you like sports, or even if you don’t, going to a Chilean league game or seeing “La Roja”, Chile’s national selection, is an experience worth having. Crowds can get pretty rowdy, and I wouldn’t recommend sitting in “la barra” where the crowds chant and jump nearly the entire game. The most popular teams are Universidad de Chile, Colo-Colo, and Universidad Catolica (the teams use the names of the universities, but have no current relation).
Skiing and Snowboarding: – How many global cities are only an hour away from high quality ski resorts? Well Santiago is. Check out one of the biggest resorts in South America, Valle Nevado, or one of the smaller ones such as Farellones or La Parva, all within an hour and a half from the city.
Mercado Central: After walking around the fish market of Santiago, have a meal at one of the restaurants. Although touristy and a bit overpriced, you’ll find the most exquisite seafood in the city, including crabs the size of a basketball. While you’re here, check out La Vega Central, the biggest fruit market in Chile (a whole city block), just across the river from Mercado Central.
Have a Terremoto at La Piojera: – The terremoto (translation: earthquake) is a Santiago staple “copete” (drink) that every traveler needs to try. What is it? A mix of wine, pisco (a domestic liquor made from grapes), pineapple ice cream, and a hint of grenadine. Make sure to mix well and you will walk out feeling like a tremor just hit you. La Piojera is only a minute’s walk from Mercado Central.
Giratorio: – If you haven’t had enough panoramic views of the city at Cerros San Cristóbal and Santa Lucía, have dinner at this restaurant on the top floor of a 20-something story building. You’ll eat on a rotating platform that allows you to view all points of the city throughout the course of an hour and 15 minutes. Pricier than most, but eating with the view is worth it. Metro: Los Leones.
Sushi: While I’m not too keen on Chilean food itself, the countless sushi restaurants in the city never let me down. You do have to be careful however, as Chilean sushi comes with cream cheese on just about everything (although it can be requested without). Try “Too Much” near Metro Tobalaba. They have an all you can eat special (really tasty) for 5.000 pesos ($10 US) and a really interesting drink called Wasabi Sour, which seems to be a Pisco Sour with some wasabi inside. Too Much, Santiago.
Salsa Dancing: There are live Salsa shows as well as some dance clubs with live bands in Santiago. Check out Havana Salsa (address: Dominica 142) for shows or Ilé Havana (on Bucharest, a short walk from Metro Los Leones) for live music and dancing. Yes, they like to exploit the name Havana.
Emporio La Rosa: The best ice cream in Santiago. Have one while wandering around the neighborhood of Lastarria/Bellas Artes. Close to Plaza Italia. Address: Merced 291.
Republica: This street is lined with tons of small universities and stately manors that house specific schools of major ones. Go on a school day in the afternoon to check out the Chilean college scene. Many of the buildings on this street are old mansions converted into schools. The Savlador Allende Solidarity Museum, a collection of art confiscated and hidden during the dictatorship, can also be found here. Metro: Republica.
Quinta Normal: You could call it Santiago’s museum district, a huge park on the east end of Santiago Centro. I don’t know the exact number, but I would guess there are between 5 and 10 museums in the park and you could spend a whole day here. Some museums include: Museum of Visual Arts, The Train Museum, and The Artequin, which displays remakes of the world’s masterpieces, such as Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Most museums close around 5 or 6.
Plaza Ñuñoa: Great for a night out with an ambience completely different from the hustle of El Centro and Providencia. Safe neighborhood, tons of bars and restaurants, a rock club (Batuta), a university theater, a jazz club, and a cool lit up fountain.
Lastarria: One of the more bohemian streets in Santiago, go for a stroll at night and pick from one of the many restaurants or cafés to eat at. During the day/evening, there are a few street vendors that cater to the more sophisticated crowd, like the guy who sells original prints of historic Chilean newspaper editions (including the first report of the 1973 military coup). You can also head towards Museo Bellas Artes from here and there are even more mid-upper range restaurants, cafés and bars to chose from. There’s also an art theater that plays principally foreign films on Lastarria.
Museo Bellas Artes and Museo de Arte Contemporaneo: Museo Bellas Artes is Santiago’s flagship museum and for good reason. I had avoided going in for my first four months here because I thought it would typical art that I don’t really care for. Turns out that Chile has an amazing Contemporary art scene and Museo Bellas Artes hosts some of the best works in the country. The Museo de Arte Contemporaneo is adjacent to Bellas Artes and is basically an extension of the latter. Admission is free on Sundays, plus when you’re done, you can check out…
Barrio Bellas Artes and Parque Forestal on Sundays: Every decent-weathered Sunday, hundreds to thousands of Chileans come out to the section of Parque Forestal right around Museo Bellas Artes to enjoy the life in Santiago. There’s tons of used clothes and art for sale, people playing music and break dancing, jugglers, great street entertainment that you can understand without speaking Spanish, and more. You really can’t go to Santiago without seeing this.
Facultad de Arquitectura y Urbanismo, Universidad de Chile: This awesome open art display by the students of the school of design at the national university never ceases to amaze me. I studied here for six months and saw sweet new art every week.
Parque Arauco: If you want to see where the upper echelon of Santiago buys its clothes, check out some of the department stores at this huge indoor/outdoor mall. Has a year-round ice-skating rink, a Nike store, an Apple store and live music Saturday evenings. My favorite store here is Zoo Concept, which has awesome shoes and odds and ends. For even classier shopping, head to Portal La Dehesa.
Museo Ralli: One of the smaller museums I’ve been to in Chile and also perhaps my favorite. The museum hosts modern art from all over ibero-america and has works that really impressed me. My personal highlight was stumbling upon the six to eight original sculptures by Salvador Dalí. Awesome. You can get there by metro, then bus, then walking, but I would just get to Metro Escuela Militar and then take a taxi to the address: Alonso de Sotomayor 4110. Map. Hours: November to April, Tue-Sat, 11:00am to 5:00pm. May to October, Tue-Sat, 10:30am to 4pm. Call (56) 2 2064224 to confirm hours as they aren’t always fixed.
Cementario General: All but two of Chile’s presidents (Liberator Bernardo O’Higgins and Dictator Augusto Pinochet) are buried here. Each president’s tomb varies between 2 and 3 stories in height and is quite impressive. If you liked the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, you’ll love this one. Metro: Cementarios.
Bellavista: The ultimate nightlife sector of Santiago is also very centrally located. Tons of bars (for drinking), discotecas (for dancing and drinking), and restaurants (for eating, and of course, drinking). There is also plenty to do here during the day, but be on your guard at night as there are many drunks and people looking to take advantage of outsiders.
Sanhattan/El Golf: Get off the metro at stops Tobalaba or El Golf to see the modern second financial center of Santiago. There is some great architecture here and awesome sculptures all around, including a series of painted horses down the main drag, Apoquindo.
Sculpture Park: Along the banks of the not so beautiful Mapocho River running through Santiago lies a tranquil park with about 30 sculptures made by Chilean artists. This is a gem of the city that I have never seen talked about in English guides to Santiago. Make sure to check out the concerts in the park in summer months (January-March). Getting there: From metro Pedro de Valdivia, walk north on Pedro de Valdivia to the other side of the river and it’ll be on your right hand side. Map. Ask anyone for “Parque de Esculturas” if you feel lost.
Winery Tours: Chile is known for a lot of things, but I think wine is that which I was most aware of before coming here. Viña Concha y Toro offers tours all seasons, but I've heard about much better tours (Concha y Toro is the only one I've been on). Some tours let you actually pick grapes and participate in the wine making process while at others you only get to do the tasting, so research carefully.