Set on a wide plain near the foot of the Andes, Santiago boasts one of the most dazzling backdrops of any capital city on earth. The views onto the cordillera after a rainstorm clears the air are magnificent, especially in winter, when the snow-covered peaks rise behind the city like a giant white rampart against the blue sky.
Visit Santiago and you’ll find a rapidly expanding metropolis of around seven million people, and though long in the shadow of Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, Santiago has its own proud identity.
Santiago is divided into 32 autonomous comunas, most of them squat, flat suburbs stretching out from the centre. The historic centre, in contrast, is compact, manageable, and has a pleasant atmosphere. Part of the appeal comes from the fact that it’s so green: tall, luxuriant trees fill the main square, and there are numerous meticulously landscaped parks.
Top things to do in SantiagoIncreasingly becoming a destination in its own right – rather than simply the entry point into Chile – Santiago is a cultural, economic and historical hub, and the best place to get a handle on the country’s identity.
A list of what to do in Santiago is as varied and colourful as the country itself. Dipping into the city’s vibrant and constantly developing cultural scene and checking out its museums will really help you make the most of your time in this fascinating country.
- Plaza de ArmasGaze at the colonial architecture surrounding Santiago’s lively central plaza – or sit on a bench and take in the hustle and bustle.
- Museo Chileno de Arte PrecolombinoThis exquisite collection of artefacts from dozens of pre-Hispanic civilizations features fine tapestries, intricate ceramics and dazzling jewels.
- Mercado Central and Feria Municipal La VegaExplore the city’s two main markets and sample a selection of excellent fresh fish and seafood.
- Cerro San CristóbalRide the elevator to the top of this steep hill where, on a clear day, you have great views of the snowcapped Andes towering over the city.
- Andean skiingSkiers and snowboarders will delight in the world-class ski areas near Santiago, including the world-famous Portillo resort.
- Wine tourIf you run out of things to do in Santiago, then consider a wine tour, many of which are within easy reach of some of Chile’s oldest wineries, several of which offer tours and tastings.
- Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos HumanosAny Santiago travel guide worth their salt will usher you towards this museum, which is dedicated to remembering the victims of Chile’s dictatorship.
- Trekking around SantiagoIt doesn’t take long to reach at least the foothills of the surrounding mountains if you want a walk that’s a bit more challenging than Cerro San Cristóbal without leaving town.
- Museo ArqueológicoBased in a lovely old house it has an impressive collection of pre-Columbian pottery, petroglyphs and skulls, and an astonishing mummy from the Atacama Desert.
- Avenida BellavistaFound between Puente Pío Nono and Puente del Arzobispo, this market offers a string of workshops and salesrooms selling jewellery and other objects made of lapis lazuli.
Cultural attractionsOur city guide to Santiago wouldn’t be complete without a tick-list of cultural attractions. From art to architecture, via contemporary theatre and the odd book festival, Santiago has attractions to please even the most voracious culture vulture.
Palacio de La MonedaArchitecture buffs with love Santiago’s neoclassical presidential palace – still the official seat of government, which is one of Chile’s most famous buildings. There are four guided tours daily, lasting an hour.
Centro Cultural Palacio La MonedaWithin the palace, this flagship underground art gallery and cultural space has a huge modernist concrete central hall, which houses ever-changing exhibitions. It features an eclectic array of artwork, jewellery, pottery, textiles and photography from across Chile.
Catedral MetropolitanaFound on the west side of the Plaza de Armas, the Catedral Metropolitana is combination of Neoclassical and Baroque styles. It bears the mark of Joaquín Toesca, who was brought over from Italy in 1780 to oversee its completion.
Centro Gabriela MistralVisit Santiago’s most exciting cultural offering – a huge weathered steel edifice on the Alameda. GAM has a wide-ranging programme of contemporary theatre, dance, music, art and cinema.
Galeria Cultural CodelcoCopper is everywhere in the gleaming, appropriately burnished headquarters of the Corporacion Nacional del Cobre de Chile, the world’s largest producer of coppe. The small Galeria Cultural Codelco offers changing exhibitions.
Estación MapochoJust west of the Mercado Central is the immense stone-and-metal Estación Mapocho, built in 1912 to house the terminal of the Valparaíso–Santiago railway line. With the train service long discontinued, the station is now a cultural centre, housing exhibitions, plays and concerts.
Where to stay in SantiagoDeciding where to stay during trip to Santiago is relatively easy as there’s a plenty of accommodation to suit most budgets, though really inexpensive places are scarce. Most of the city’s low-cost rooms are small, simple and sparsely furnished, often without a window but usually fairly clean; the many hostels with dorms make a good alternative.
There are numerous good mid-range hotels and B&Bs, plus several top-end options. Prices don’t fluctuate much, though a few hotels charge more November–February.
The best hotels and hostels in Santiago
Plaza de Armas to the AlamedaAndes Hostel
Funky hostel with tidy four- and six-bed dorms, swish marble bathrooms, a roof terrace and a bar area with big-screen TV and a pool table.
Decent low-cost hotel offering a range of slightly old-fashioned rooms with TVs and private bathrooms; the older ones sometimes lack outside windows so unless pesos are really tight, opt for one in the newer annexe.
Barrio LastarriaAlthough this lively neighbourhood is focused more on restaurants and bars than hotels, there are a handful of choices and the location is excellent.
Wedged between Parque Forestal and the Alameda, this smart boutique hotel with 1920s Art Deco features, such as the original mosaic tiles, was the tallest building in Chile when built in the 1920s and the first to have a lift, which is still in use.
Location is the USP here: the hotel overlooks Cerro Santa Lucia, and the Alameda is a couple of blocks away. The building has an unusual modernist shape, and the small rooms could do with a freshen up, but overall it’s a decent choice.
The western neighbourhoodsBohemian Barrio Brasil, north of the Alameda, is a popular choice thanks to its supply of cool cafés, restaurants and bars.
This restored early twentieth-century townhouse is a cut above most other hostels, with beautiful, airy rooms (shared or en suite) that put many mid-range hotels to shame, as well as a bar, terrace and pool table.
This popular and sociable hostel has clean and economical private rooms, three- to ten-bed dorms, a TV lounge and a patio. The cheerful staff members host regular barbecues.
ProvidenciaAs the glitzy commercial heart of Santiago, Providencia, well served by metro line #1 is worth considering as a base.
Run by a very welcoming Franco/Chilean family, this intimate and peaceful boutique B&B has tasteful en-suite doubles, an artwork-filled lounge, a small outdoor pool and a sauna. Super online discounts and an excellent breakfast.
This small hotel, on a quiet street in central Providencia, is a good choice. The rooms are comfortable and good value, though the decor is a bit twee; all come with private bathrooms, TVs and fridges.
Las CondesLas Condes – and, in particular, Sanhattan – is Santiago’s burgeoning luxury hotel neighbourhood, with large shopping centres and art galleries nearby.
One of Santiago’s top five-stars, Sanhattan’s Ritz-Carlton has classically styled en suites, attentive but not overbearing service, excellent restaurants and bars, and a fifteenth-floor swimming pool, gym and spa sheltered from the elements by a glass dome.
In an eye-catching skyscraper, The W is a glamorous, achingly hip hotel. Highlights include the über-modern en suites with floor-to-ceiling windows, and the rooftop (21st-floor) pool and bar with superlative views. Service, however, can be inconsistent.
Where to eat out in SantiagoVisit Santiago and you’ll quickly realise it has a wide range of places to eat, from humble picadas serving traditional favourites to slick modern restaurants offering cuisines such as Japanese, Southeast Asian, Spanish, Peruvian, French and Italian.
Some are modestly priced but most are fairly expensive, although at lunchtime many offer a good-value fixed-price menú del día or menú ejecutivo. In most places there’s no need to book.
The best restaurants in SantiagoMost of Santiago’s restaurants are concentrated along the Alameda, around Plaza de Armas, or in Barrio Lastarria, Bellavista, Barrio Brasil, Providencia and Las Condes, where Isidora Goyenechea is lined with options. Santiago city guides in the know will tell you that there are some imaginative places springing up around Plaza Ñuñoa in the southeast part of town, and in pricey Vitacura.
Plaza de ArmasA hectic Peruvian joint serving sizeable portions of ceviche, fried chicken, seafood and lomosaltado (a heaped plate of beef, onions, tomatoes, chips and rice).
Bar de la Unión
Old wooden floors, shelves of dusty wine bottles and animated, garrulous old men make this an atmospheric place to pop in for a cheap glass of wine or a leisurely meal.
The western neighbourhoodsInteresting, offbeat cafés, restaurants and bars are springing up all the time in Barrio Brasil, with seafood a particular speciality.
The much-missed travelling gastronome Anthony Bourdain said the best food he ate in Chile was at El Hoyo, and the hearty, pork-focused dishes don’t disappoint. Specialities include pernil (leg of pork) and arrollado (rolled pork).
This seafood restaurant has been serving king crab, lobster, squid and more since 1945. The house speciality is baked razor clams in cheese sauce. Sadly the waiting staff can be a bit slack.
Barrio Lastarria and aroundReservations are recommended here in the evenings, as many of the restaurants have fewer than ten tables. Parking is easy, and the barrio is very close to the Universidad Católica metro stop.
With more than three hundred wine labels in its cellar, this restaurant seeks to introduce you to new tipples and the ideal food to pair with it. Its most popular wine tasting options are the vuelos of three glasses, each a different blend.
This fun Santiago institution feels a bit like a Germanic take on an American-style diner. Grab a seat at the counter, order a draught beer and watch your vast lomito beef sandwich, churrasco or other artery-clogging meal being prepared before you.
BellavistaBellavista – particularly Calle Constitución, which runs parallel with the area’s main drag, Pio Nono – is at the heart of Santiago’s eating-out scene.
Graffiti-covered walls, soft live guitar music, amiable waiters, excellent, wallet-friendly Chilean food including pastel de choclo, and frequent free aperitifs make this restaurant a standout.
This cool sanguchería turns sandwich-making into an art form: varieties include teriyaki chicken, suckling pig, fried merluza (hake) and the chivito, Uruguay’s take on the steak sandwich.
Providencia and ÑuñoaConveniently located on metro line 1, Providencia offers many lunch and dinner options. Nearby, though less accessible, Ñuñoa has trendier restaurants, often with good music thrown in.
This exemplary Chilean/French bistro and salon de thé has an ever-changing menu marked up on chalkboards. Dishes could include country pâté, coq au vin and tarte tatin.
The best vegetarian restaurant in Santiago, with a mouthwatering range of inventive, seasonal dishes; asparagus and ricotta strudel, paneer tikka masala and vegetable quesadillas all feature. The freshly squeezed juices and artisan beers are also great.
Las Condes and VitacuraAs you’d expect in these exclusive neighbourhoods, restaurants are often more about money than taste, but those reviewed here are well worth the extra outlay.
A short walk from Los Dominicos craft market, this restaurant combines attentive service, a creative cocktail menu and refined Italian cuisine, including a particularly memorable seafood risotto.
Simple, traditional restaurant with pavement seating, serving daily specials such as spicy chicken, plus a range of wine and cocktails.
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