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Is it worth visiting Santiago, Chile? Is it expensive in Santiago? These are two common questions travellers ask themselves when they plan a trip to the skinny South American country. I definitely did.
The answer to the latter? Yes, the prices in Santiago de Chile are higher than Valpo, for example, but lower than in Patagonia.
The answer to the former? Well, let’s just say I silently cursed everyone who told me to split my month in Chile evenly between Santiago de Chile, the underrated and much maligned capital, and Valparaíso, the apparently cool and quirky, street art lover’s paradise of a town. After all, just a few days into my fortnight in Valpo, I was itching to get back to the Santiago tourist attractions. That’s not to say Valpo wasn’t cool (it definitely had its highlights), but it just didn’t really do it for me (it’s the Marmite of Chilean destinations, after all).
On the other hand, two weeks in Santiago didn’t feel like nearly enough and I know that’s a non-too common opinion. While I won’t compare it in scope and size to Mexico City, Santiago definitely does (or at least it did for me) leave you with that all too familiar ‘I barely scratched the surface’ feeling and while most complaints levelled at the Chilean capital talk about cost or the fact that it feels ‘sanitised’ in comparison to other Latin American capitals, I disagree.
In fact, there are actually plenty of affordable, budget-friendly and even free things to do in Santiago, Chile and the notion that a place could be too ‘sanitised’ or ‘European’ for a certain region of the world reflects a highly-problematic mindset that I won’t get into here.
Anyway, what I’m saying is that if you’ve (correctly) decided that Santiago more than merits your time and attention and are therefore wondering what to do in Santiago, Chile, you’re in the right place—here are not just the top ten things to do in Santiago de Chile, but the top twenty.
THINGS TO DO IN SANTIAGO, CHILE
EAT ICE CREAM IN BARRIO ITALIA
Santiago’s Barrio Italia is one of the fancier neighbourhoods in the city (and perhaps the best place to stay in Santiago, Chile too), lined with bars, restaurants, cafés and, randomly, lots of quirky furniture stores, making it an ideal afternoon destination in and of itself.
Off the main streets though, there are also several arcades to explore, filled with art supply stores, mate tea shops and, in my opinion, the best ice cream stall in the city. Xoco Por Ti (Avenida Italia 1439) specialises in chocolate in all forms, including hot chocolate, but because the city is hot as fuck in February, I wisely went for a three-scoop chocolate ice cream for 3000 Chilean pesos—white chocolate and cardamom, 70% Ecuadorian (I think) and an 80% Peruvian scoop.
You should also give Emporio La Rosa (Merced 291) a try, given that it is a world-famous ice cream shop, but honestly, it was pricier than Xoco Por Ti and not as good in my opinion. However, if you’re not a chocaholic, Emporio La Rosa de have a ton of interesting, non-chocolate flavour combinations.
TRY SOME CLASSIC CHILEAN SANDWICHES
Chile is big on sandwiches. They might even rival Mexico City for stuffing things in bread, so you won’t be short on options when it comes to lunch. However, if you only try one iconic Chilean sandwich while in Santiago, make it an iconic chacarero. These towering sandwiches stack skirt steak with chunky slices of tomato, a generous handful of green beans, green chili (which, contrary to what Chileans told me, is not at all spicy but does add a nice depth of flavour) and a quite frankly obscene (read: delicious) dollop of mayo.
Sold? Head to the traditional La Fuente Alemana (Avenida O’Higgins 58) and take a seat at the bar to order your chacarero. It’s a people watchers paradise. Alternatively, if you want a cheaper (and honestly, slightly saltier) version, pop down the road to La Terraza (Avenida Vicuña Mackenna 24), which is open late.
Just don’t do what I did and buy a sandwich there at 1am, head home to eat it before falling asleep and missing your early morning flight.
Related Post: Classic Chilean Dishes to Try in Chile (COMING SOON)
Every big city has great cafes, and while I’ve detailed a wider selection of both cafes and restaurants in Santiago, Chile in other posts, one you should visit just for novelty alone is the Friends-themed café, Central Friends (Los Militares 5890) out in Providencia. Styled to look like Central Perk, they have the iconic sofa and enormous lattes
If you’d prefer somewhere more central, I developed an obsession with Café Triciclo (Vicuña MacKenna 38) a suitably hipster spot with suitably hipster (and sometimes sulky) baristas. Their triple chocolate cheesecake and brownies are delicious, and you can work happily there for hours in peace.
Related Post: Where + What to Eat + Drink in Santiago, Chile (COMING SOON)
SAMPLE SOME FAMOUS CHILEAN DRINKS
Much as you shouldn’t leave Chile without trying a chacarero (unless you’re, you know, vegetarian), you have to try a terremoto. Translation to ‘earthquake’ these darkly-named drinks made from pipeño (a type of white wine), grenadine and topped with a scoop of pineapple ice cream will leave you just as weak at the knees as an actual terremoto. La Piojera (Aillavilú 1030) is the typical (and touristy) place to try them, but the clientele is also very local at times and, oh man, they are not averse to staring at you intently without breaking eye contact. So, if you prefer your alcohol without a side of objectification, search for somewhere else to try the terremoto. Most places will serve them!
Another typical combo you must try is the piscola, a.k.a. pisco with Coke. Every Tuesday in Bar Opera Catedral (José Miguel de la Barra 407), they offer piscola (and pisco sour) for just 1000 Chilean pesos during happy hour. Take advantage and get there early to find a table.
OR, TRY CRAFT BEER
If spirits and earthquakes don’t take your fancy, try some craft ale at Pepperland Bar (Santa Isabel 261) in Barrio Italia instead.
Related Post: Where to Eat + Drink in Valparaíso, Chile
VISIT THE MUSEO DE LA MEMORIA
As a rule, I’m not a museum gal (I’ve ranted about this before, keep up). However, I tend to make exceptions for Museos de la Memoria—I particularly love the temporary exhibitions at Mexico City’s Museo de la Memoria, for example. I was recommended Santiago’s Museo de la Memoria Chilena by several different people who all claimed it was one of the best museums in Santiago, but my laziness overtook me and I didn’t get chance to visit in the end. Let me know how it is?
VISIT THE CERROS
Again, I didn’t partake in climbing/cable car-ing up to either of Santiago’s famed cerros, Cerro Santa Lucía and Cerro San Cristóbal, because, did I mention that I went to Chile in the peak of summer? Even so, the views supposedly make the sweating worth it and the latter is definitely one of the top places to visit in Santiago, Chile.
SNOOP AROUND NERUDA’S HOUSE
Neruda actually has three houses-turned-museums in Chile, the flashy bastard. You’ve got Valpo’s La Sebastiana, the lesser-known Isla Negra in El Quisco, and, finally, La Chascona (Fernando Márquez de la Plata 192), one of the best-known Santiago, Chile points of interest . Located in the fancy-pants Providencia neighbourhood, the entry fee is 7000 Chilean pesos which seemed…a lot, especially for a casual Neruda fan like myself. My advice? If you love houses-turned-museums, Neruda, spending money on entry fees or all of the above, pay La Chascona a visit! I’d love to go at a later date.
CHECK OUT THE HISTORIC CENTRE
By the time I got to Chile, I was Plaza de Arma-ed out. However, I know how cool and impressive these plazas and historic centres can be if you’ve not been to, like, a thousand of them in the months prior, so for those of you wondering what to see in Santiago, Chile (in one fell swoop), you should definitely dedicate an hour to snapping some photos of the Santiago sights, monuments and buildings.
FIND THE STREET ART
I feel like much of Santiago tourism is driven by its reputation for great street art and while it might not rival that of nearby Valparaíso, there’s still plenty to be seen. One of the most popular places to see a ton of sky-high urban murals in one fell swoop is at the Museo Cielo Abierto (Avenida Departamental 1390), towards the south-west of the city. It’s a little far out, but can be reached on public transport (get off at Line Two’s Departamental stop), although given the sometimes-iffy nature of the neighbourhood, locals old me it’s probably best to head there with a friend.
If you don’t wanna schlep all the way to Museo Cielo Abierto though, you can always just wander around the centre.
Hot tip: you can catch a couple of INTI artworks outside the Metro Bellas Artes.
Related Post: Street Art Mexico: San Miguel de Allende Edition
TAKE A FREE WALKING TOUR
As in Valpo, I also took a free Tours4Tips walking tour of Santiago, opting for the Spanish-language version of their ‘Offbeat’ route. (If you speak Spanish, I always recommend taking the Spanish tours, as there are often far fewer people.) The particular route I took is a good way to hit many of the must-see in Santiago, Chile landmarks like the famed Central and La Vega markets, as well as the General Cemetery (Chileans love a cemetery), plus you’ll be taken on the metro system, making it great if you want a bit of hand-holding the first time you use the Santiago metro. Tip between 5 and 10 thousand Chilean pesos at the end.
Related Post: Things To Know Before You Go To Chile (COMING SOON)
EXPLORE PERSA BÍO BÍO
If you plan on visiting the underrated Persa Bío Bío flea market in Santiago, head there on a weekend and get there early. You’ll thank yourself later, as even though its spread across multiple blocks, it gets super, super busy. Shop for everything from used books to European vases, worthless bits of tat and one-of-a-kind antiques. Even if you’re just window shopping, seeing the various sections and taking a look at what’s on offer is one of the most fun things to do in Santiago, Chile. Visiting Persa Bío Bío was actually one of the coolest things I did in Santiago, although I didn’t have high hopes when we (me and Andrea from Where She Goes Today) first hopped off the metro (Franklin, Line Two/ Six) and were met with…nothing. However, you have to keep plowing on down the road and eventually you’ll hit the good stuff.
ENJOY THE PARKS
I particularly enjoyed the Parque Forestal, which neatly brings together some of Santiago’s coolest neighbourhoods like Barrio Italia (kind of), Lastarrias, Providencia and the centre (again, sort of). However, it might also be worth checking out Parque Bustamante (which has a bookstore-cum-café at its core), as well as the slightly more far flung (but still relatively easily accessible) Parque Bicentenario.
FIND THE FLAMINGOS
Speaking of Parque Bicentenario, if you want to see real live flamingos alongside some terrifyingly huge koi fish, then you have to stop by. This expansive park is ideal for families, picnicking, sunbathing and generally just hanging out. Except, and unlike in the UK, you can’t take a few cans of beer and enjoy them less and less as the day wears on because they turned lukewarm, as drinking in public in Chile is illegal.
WANDER THROUGH…A CEMETERY?
As mentioned in the free walking tour entry, Chileans love a good cemetery. In fact, our tour guide told us that it was pretty normal to just go and hang out in Santiago’s Cementerio General (Prof. Zañartu 951) as you would in a park. Make a day of it! So, do as the Chileans do, hop off at the Cementerios (Line Two) metro stop and enjoy a day amongst the dead.
EXPLORE A VINEYARD BY BIKE
I was lucky enough to receive a complementary vineyard by bike tour courtesy of La Bicicleta Verde while in Santiago, and while it might stretch your daily budget somewhat (it’s possibly the most expensive activity in this guide at $57 for the two-hour tour and tasting), it was also very cool and makes for one of the best day trips from Santiago, Chile, in my mind. Well, half-day trip, at least.
You simply make your way over to the Cousiño Macul vineyard (Avenida Quilín 7100) where the guide will be waiting for you, hop on your bike and ride amongst the vines, stopping for talks and tastings along the way. The only thing I would have liked more of in this tour was food! The bread just didn’t completely do it for me after a solid chunk of exercise in the Santiago heat.
Having said that, the view over the vineyard with the city in the background is absolutely arresting and easily one of the top things to see in Santiago, Chile.
THRIFT DOWN CALLE BANDERA
I am no ~fashionista~ so I didn’t actually end up taking myself off to thrift down Calle Bandera, the famed Santiago stretch full of stores that are bursting at the seams with used clothes and all manner of other accoutrements. However, if you’ve got a few hours to spare and luggage space to fill, browsing Bandera Thrift might not be a bad idea when in Santiago.
HUNT FOR USED BOOKS
I was hoping for more when it came to used book hunting in Santiago, but there are still a few spots worth checking out if you like musty tomes and going over your baggage allowance thanks to books. The first is El Cid Campeador (Merced 345) in Lastarrias, a store with a very traditional ‘old used book vibe’—think stacks of books in no discernible order and many copies literally falling apart. Perhaps not good for purchasing, but worth a good browse. The other place I can recommend was Persa Bío Bío. There were SO MANY great used book stalls and I ended up (very uncharacteristically) buying an anthology of love poems called Poesías de amor hispanoamericanas.
I’ve also read that Librería Literata, the Feria Chilean del Libro and the Feria Permanente del Libro Usado are good spots, but I couldn’t find them for the life of me.
Related Post: Must-Read Books About Chile (COMING SOON)
BROWSE THE HIPSTER STORES
There is no shortage of hipster stores in Santiago, especially around the Barrios Italia and Lastarrias. In the former you should wander around the furniture stores and pop into the arcades (where you can find the Xoco Por Ti ice cream store, plus other spots selling mate tea and china plates), whereas in Lastarrias the hipster shopping world is your oyster. Plop! Galería (honestly) (Merced 349) is one quirky option for things that probably (certainly) aren’t worth what you pay for them but you still want it all anyway.
BUY STICKERS IN BARRIO LASTARRIAS
Finally, on the popular Paseo Barrio Lastarrias, there’s typically a small stall with huffy vendors selling large stickers for 1000 Chilean pesos a pop. Ignore the rudeness and buy them all, because they’re amazing(ly overpriced). But still worth it.
Finally, here’s a very brief, mini Santiago travel guide tip-cum-advice section that should help if you want to visit Santiago.
As mentioned above, the Santiago weather (especially in February when I was there) can be brutal. Keep hydrated, and, for the love of god, wear suncream!
Getting to and from the Santiago, Chile airport is actually very straightforward. Sure, you can use Uber but a cheaper option is public transport. When you arrive to the Santiago airport, there are huge Centropuerto coaches that can drop you off at one of the metro stations (either Pajaritos, which is further out, or the more central Los Héroes). They cost around 2000 Chilean pesos one way. Once at the metro station, buy a Bip! Metro card for 1500 Chilean pesos, top it up, and head to whichever station is closest to your accommodation.
Finally, the time in Santiago, Chile is GMT-3. You’re welcome.
Have you been to Santiago, Chile? Are these the best things to do in Santiago de Chile? Let me know in the comments!