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Santiago Travel Guide, Tours & Things to Do, Chile

Only got a couple of days to get to know a new city? Our Big Five City Guides can help. We break each destination down into culture, history, dining, shopping and relaxation must-sees and dos.
Santiago travel guide
Santiago travel guide

Santiago is often regarded by travellers as simply an air travel ‘hub’ — a place you’re forced to go through to get to somewhere else in South America.

You get off one plane, you get on another. You get the picture. However, those who escape the austere confines of the airport and reach the city proper will discover a dynamic destination that has a whole lot to offer visitors. With the majestic Andes Mountains as a backdrop, the capital of Chile consists of a historic centre punctuated with grand Neoclassical architecture, and a series of vibrant and very distinctive neighbourhoods.

Whatever you do, don’t miss the spectacular changing of the guard ceremony at the presidential offices. It’s more a full scale parade than a ceremony!

This Santiago travel guide is packed with ideas for things to see and do. Enjoy your visit.

Santiago travel guide
Santiago travel guide: Fountain of Neptune

Popular Santiago tours and experiences

Top cultural activities in Santiago

The centre of Santiago is a captivating blend of the old and the new.

The city was established by Spanish conquistadors way back in 1541. Multiple earthquakes have made short work of many of the original colonial buildings, but there are more than enough surviving monuments to keep the most voracious of tourists happy.

Pay a visit to the magnificent Palacio de la Moneda — the Presidential offices and former mint. The wonderful changing of the guard ceremony takes place here every other day, and includes toe-tapping numbers from an accompanying military band. I bet the President loves to sit in his office and hum along.

Santiago travel guide
Santiago travel guide: Palacio de la Moneda

Nearby, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts) is a superb example of 19th century beaux-arts architecture. There are regular special exhibitions in addition to the permanent collection of Chilean art. Check the website for details.

Board the historic time capsule that is the creaking 1920s funicular in Barrio Bellavista (the bohemian quarter) for the short journey to the top of Cerro San Cristobal, which is adorned by a giant statue of the Virgin Mary. Up here, you’ll get awesome views of the city and Andes, and an appreciation of just how big Santiago is (the city has a population of around six million people).

Santiago travel guide
Santiago travel guide: Virgin Mary, Cerro San Cristobal

Awesome views can also be had from Sky Costanera — the observation deck of the Gran Torre Santiago (Great Santiago Tower). The deck is situated at a giddying height of 300 metres.

Santiago for history lovers

There are plenty of historical must-sees in Santiago.

Visit the oldest surviving colonial building in town — the La iglesia de San Francisco (San Francisco Church), which dates back to the late 1500s. Then take a stroll down the gorgeous cobbled Barrio Londres.

Over in the historic Plaza de Armas, the centre of life in the city since it was established, you can also visit the Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago (Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago) or the Palacio de la Real Audiencia de Santiago (Royal Court Palace). The latter houses the excellent Museo Histórico Nacional (National History Museum of Chile). Peruse the colourful works of the various artists hard at it in the square out the front.

Santiago travel guide
Santiago travel guide: Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago. Image: Bigstock

History buffs may also want to visit the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights ), which commemorates the victims of human rights abuses under the infamous rule of Augusto Pinochet from 1973 and 1990.

Great places to eat in Santiago

Following your visit to Cerro San Cristobal, descend to Barrio Bellavista and explore the neighbourhood’s marvellous jumble of cafes and galleries.

Now we’re talking. It reminds me of Melbourne’s Brunswick or Collingwood, or perhaps Sydney’s Paddington or Marrickville — with a Latin twist!

Santiago travel guide
Santiago travel guide: Barrio Bellavista

Grunge chic is all the go here. Definitely check out trendy Patio Bellavista — a revitalised development of civic squares, cafes, restaurants and boutiques. You can’t go wrong. It’s also a great spot for live music in the evening. For a quick snack, try a completo — which literally means ‘hotdog with the lot’.

Santiago travel guide
Santiago travel guide: Eat or drink at Patio Bellavista.

Foodies and wine lovers should also explore Barrio Lastarria — home to a plethora of wine bars. De-cork a local carmenere — a smooth and richly coloured red, known for its aroma of raspberries, black currants, and peppercorns.

Where to shop in Santiago

Santiago is awash with designer label boutiques and luxury car showrooms.

Those with cash to splash should head for Avenue Alonso de Cordova in Vitacura. Very Toorak/Double Bay, darling.

For a more organic shopping experience, visit the Mercado Central de Santiago (Central Market). The market first opened back in 1872. Today it’s largely a seafood market and the central plaza has a great (if slightly whiffy) selection of seafood restaurants and cafes.

Santiago travel guide
Santiago travel guide: Central Market

Ways to relax in Santiago

There’s not a blade of grass out of place in central Santiago, thanks to a strong municipal program of maintenance and improvement.

The city has a huge number of parks and gardens, many of which feature engaging modern sculptures. Take your pick of the green spaces and enjoy a spot of urban R&R.

One of the best options is the long thin Parque Forestal, which runs alongside the Mapocho River. It’s a great location for some people-watching around lunchtime. The river (which is more like a concrete canal) flows best from September to November. When the water level is low, the walls of the channel play a civic role; they’re covered in political graffiti.

Santiago travel guide
Image: Termas Valle de Colina

To escape the confines of the city for a day and relax and rejuvenate at the same time, book a tour to the Termas Valle de Colina (Colina Hot Springs) in the Andes, 140 kilometres from Santiago. The outdoor stepped pools have been formed by calcified sediment from the thermal spring. Soak up the arid beauty of the setting as your cares drift away.

For more inspiration, visit www.chile.travel.

Browse our range of Santiago tours and experiences here.

Do you have any tips to add to our Santiago travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Bigstock

Adam Ford

About the writer

Adam Ford is editor of Top Oz Tours and Travel Ideas, and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger, and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa, and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.

 

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