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A sprawling port town, Valparaíso (or Valpo to the locals and people too lazy to say Valparaíso) is perhaps best known for having over 40 cerros all around the central, well, centre, a.k.a. the plan, and perhaps not so well known for having a surprising amount of British influence, both architecturally and culturally.
However, while most people who visit Valparaíso, Santiago’s supposedly hipper younger brother (the jury’s out on that statement, in my opinion), are perfectly happy to confine themselves to the two most popular of Valpo’s hills—Cerros Alegre and Concepción, respectively—Valparaíso actually has plenty more to offer both on and beyond these hilltops, from the world-famous street art that brighten up the entire city to quirky wine tours, literary landmarks and, um, cemeteries. Yes, really.
Anyway, if you’re considering spending a weekend on the Chilean coast, here are # cool and colourful things to do in Valparaíso, Chile.
COOL + COLOURFUL THINGS TO DO IN VALPARAÍSO, CHILE
TAKE A FREE WALKING TOUR
If you’re wondering what to do in Valparaíso, Chile on a limited timeframe, then a free walking tour is the way forward. There are plenty of companies offering free walking tours in Valparaíso, Chile; however, I chose to play it safe and take the ‘Highlights’ tour with Tours4Tips (the same company I’d used in Santiago). If you’re feeling nervous about using the public transport or just need a way to get your bearings in Valpo (which is, to be fair, a confusing city to navigate), this tour is ideal. And, you can check plenty of the main sights off your Valparaíso bucket list.
While any tips are optional, obviously, the guides recommend giving anything between 5000 and 10000 Chilean pesos at the end.
If you want to do some shopping in Valparaíso, make sure you buy local products.
Just a few hours wandering around Valparaíso and you’ll have stumbled across plenty of tiny shops, boutiques and art galleries that are perfect for window shopping; however, if you’re like me and actively need someone to tell you where to go in Valparaíso, here are my best suggestions if you’re looking to invest in locally designed and crafted art and products in Valparaíso.
For original art, Cerro Alegre’s Bahía Utópica was uber cool and featured pieces by famed street artists as well as the ubiquitous designs of French artist Loro Coirón. If your budget doesn’t stretch to original pieces, you can pick up postcards for as little as 500 Chilean pesos there too.
Just down the road, and if you’re working with a larger budget, visit Bazar La Pasión, which sells clothes, quirky rucksacks and all kinds of other high-class knickknacks. For a more local feel, and stickers of psychedelic cats, then Calle Cumming’s El ArteSana is a good shout, as is the market which is seemingly permanently plonked in front of the palace on Plaza Sotomayor.
Finally, for books, head to the petite Concreto Azul Libros, also on Calle Cumming.
RIDE THE ASCENSORES
Valparaíso is well-known as the city of cerros (a.k.a. hills), so using the ascensores is something you can’t really avoid when you visit. Unless you enjoy huffing and puffing up steps, that is. However, while there are a number of funiculars in Valparaíso, a good deal are closed for maintenance and will be for the foreseeable future.
However, many remain operational, and if you only get chance to ride one, then it has to be the Ascensor Reina Victoria which is situated on one of the best streets in Valpo, right next to a craft ale pub, and will leave you in a strategic spot from which to explore Cerro Alegre (one of the best neighbourhoods in Valparaíso). Each trip costs just 100 Chilean pesos.
For something a little different, try visiting Valparaíso’s Ascensor Polanco, which cuts straight through one of Valparaíso’s hills. You could once see the exposed cliff while you were riding up, but the actual elevator has since been closed off and now resembles one that you’d find in any tower block. Even so, the lengthy tunnel you have to traverse to get there in the first place is supposedly pretty cool.
SNOOP AROUND PABLO NERUDA’S HOUSE
Full disclosure: I took part in zero snooping of Pablo Neruda’s house while in Valparaíso, Chile, simply because I wanted to spend the (slightly pricey) 7000 Chilean pesos entry fee on food and coffee instead. Also, and say it quietly, I’m not a huge Neruda fan.
Having said that, stopping by La Sebastiana while in Valpo comes highly recommended, not least for the view from the gardens and the strategic location on Cerro Bellavista. I was advised that a visit takes around 45 minutes, but that you can spend as much time as you like in the garden soaking up the sun and the view. Maybe take a book of Neruda poems to enjoy post-visit in the garden, then?
DO A SELF-GUIDED STREET ART TOUR
Valparaíso is a street art lover’s playground, and even for non-street art fans, these enormous, colourful murals should top anyone’s ‘What to see in Valparaíso, Chile’ list, although some of them look a little worse for wear (especially down in the plan, or non-cerro part of Valpo). While the walking tour mentioned above will certainly give you a taste of the street art on offer atop Cerros Alegre and Concepción, some more wandering will turn up plenty of murals that will satisfy your Instagram-addicted soul. Throw in a visit to the (apparently only OK) Museo a Cielo Abierto, just below Neruda’s house on Cerro Bellavista, and, finally, stroll through the plan searching for the coolest pieces too.
Related Post: A Street Art Guide to Valparaíso, Chile (COMING SOON)
DRINK ALL THE COFFEE
I love finding the coolest cafés and coffee shops in basically every place I visit and in Valparaíso, I was no different. It definitely took some trial and error, but I came to the conclusion that Café Astillero is the place to go for a great coffee at reasonable prices. Plus, they serve possibly the best apple pie and ice cream I’ve ever tried.
GRAB LUNCH WITH A VIEW
DIN_399, up on Cerro Panteón, was the place I liked the best for a leisurely and (reasonably) affordable lunch in Valparaíso. For 6900 Chilean pesos, you get a starter, main, pudding and coffee and for 3000 more, you can treat yourself to a glass of house wine too. Honestly, it’s not the most budget friendly place but it’s sooo worth going. Just walk straight up Calle Cumming and keep following that road until you hit upon your destination.
Even if you’re not that hungry, drag yourself up there with a book and enjoy a glass of wine overlooking the genuinely impressive view down over Valpo.
Related Post: Where to Eat + Drink in Valparaíso, Chile
TOUR THE DISSIDENT’S CEMETERY
After you’ve finished with your leisurely lunch at DIN_399 up on Cerro Panteón, consider taking a tiny detour into the neighbouring cemeteries (especially Cementerio de Disidentes, a.k.a. Dissident’s Cemetery, where many non-Catholics of British, US and German heritage are buried). A good place to kill (ba bum tsh) half an hour or so, I actually didn’t stop off at one of the top tourist attractions in Valparaíso, Chile despite everyone telling me it was worth a visit.
So, don’t be like me and do indulge in the bizarrely Chilean pastime of wandering aimlessly round burial grounds.
RIDE A BIKE ROUND A VINEYARD
If you’re keen to escape the chaos of Valpo’s downtown and sample some of the country’s best-known booze—that would be wine, not pisco—consider taking one of La Bicicleta Verde’s quirky bike and wine tours from Valparaíso, Chile. From the brains behind the Tours4Tips company, this particular vineyard tour involves a taxi ride from the centre of Valpo over to the Casablanca wine-producing region and the Kingston Family Vineyard. If you’re like me and far too lazy to actually plan anything like this yourself, it’s more than worth paying to have a guide (shout out to Camilo!) ferry you there and show you around.
First, you’ll get shown the tiny premises of the family-run boutique vineyard before hopping on a bike to pedal through the vines themselves, stopping for a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and explanations of the wine-making process as you go. After that, the wine-tasting begins in earnest as you try three reds from the Kingston brand, accompanied by a sizeable sandwich and some bread and cheese to nibble on.
While I was invited to take part on this tour, which normally costs $100 per person, I wholeheartedly recommend it to those wanting to treat themselves to a cool Valparaíso experience!
SAMPLE THE LOCAL DELICACIES
OK, the obvious one would be wine (see above), but the Valparaíso region is also known for a number of other Chilean favourites, such as borgoña wine, the hefty plates of chorrillana (chips, meat, eggs and sometimes onion), as well as ubiquitous prawn and cheese empanadas. I think I gained a kilo of empanada weight alone in Valpo.
Related Post: Eat Your Way Around Chile With These Traditional Chilean Dishes (COMING SOON)
MAKE A WISH IN HORCÓN
Shout out goes to Chilean-American travel blogger Andrea over at Where She Goes Today for bringing this tiny spot, just down the coast from Valparaíso, to my attention. As usual, I was full of good intentions to go tons of day trips from Valparaíso, Chile, with the colourful wishing bridge in Horcón being top of my list, buuuut the flojera overcame me and I didn’t venture out of Valpo the entire time I was there.
A tiny bridge alongside the sea, the multicoloured appearance comes thanks to hundreds of ribbons tied to the frame by visitors, each one bearing a wish. If you’re into that writing things into existence life, this is the place to be in Chile.
GO TO THE BEACH
Unless you’re like me and hate beaches, then heading up the coast to the beaches near Valparaíso, Chile, a.k.a. Concón, Reñaca or Viña del Mar, makes for an ideal Valparaíso day trip. However, take into consideration that Valpo can be significantly cooler and more overcast than Santiago and plan accordingly.
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GET A NEW PERSPECTIVE
Finally, instead of seeing Valpo from above, why not see it from beyond?
OK, I’ll stop talking in riddles: take a Valparaíso boat tour out into the bay around Valparaíso port and enjoy a perspective on the city that most people never bother to experience—from the water. Each trip lasts around 45 minutes and costs just 3000 Chilean pesos per person.
HOW TO GET TO VALPARAÍSO FROM SANTIAGO
Ready to plan your trip after reading all about the fun things to do in Valparaíso, Chile and all the Valparaíso tours and day trips on offer? Luckily, getting to Valpo from Santiago is super easy. Simply take the metro (using your Bip! card) down to the Pajaritos Station on Line 1. Once there, head to the Turbus desk and ask for an open return to Valpo, which will cost just under 10000 Chilean pesos. The vendor will point you in the direction of the bus, and the journey only takes around one hour and forty-five minutes total.
What did you think to these top things to do in Valparaíso, Chile? Did I miss anything out? Let me know in the comments!