Have you ever thought of planning a trip to Chile? Even among adventurous travelers, Chile is often overlooked for more popular countries like Peru, Brazil, or Argentina. If you’ve made it to this post, you’re smarter than that – you want to know how to visit Santiago, and I’m here to help.
Santiago is the capital of Chile, the biggest city which is home to 7 million people. It is in the interior, away from the Pacific Coast, and near the Andes on Chile’s western border. It’s a great base for exploring more of Chile or making a stop on a multi-city tour of South America.
I spent five days in Santiago in early 2019, traveling with friends and fellow travel bloggers. We explored the best Santiago has to offer, including top neighborhoods, fascinating museums, and strolling through the city’s green spaces. In this post you’ll find everything you need to know to plan a three-day itinerary in Santiago, and I’m happy to answer any questions you have in the comments.
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The Best Things to See & Do in Santiago
- The Best Things to See & Do in Santiago
- Where to Stay in Santiago
- Getting Around Santiago
- A 3-Day Itinerary for Santiago
Obviously, this list isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list of everything you can do in Santiago – it’s a select list of what I think you shouldn’t miss.
Plaza de Arma
The Plaza de Armas is the central square in Santiago. It has a very European vibe, a symmetrical set of paths and benches with palms and leafy trees that provide shade to different areas throughout the day. Around the square, there are administrative buildings, restaurants and cafes, and the Metropolitan Cathedral. You can also stop at the STGO letters for a selfie.
The Metropolitan Cathedral is the most auspicious building on the Plaza de Armas, and it’s worth a stop in even if you aren’t a practicing religious person. The Metropolitan Cathedral is much like European cathedrals, with a beautifully painted ceiling, statues, and alcoves throughout the church.
The Cathedral is a vital part of life for many Santiaguinos and it’s one of the top sights in the city. The Metropolitan Cathedral is open to the public and free. If there’s a mass going on, you can only access the side aisles of the cathedral and should be respectful and quiet.
San Cristóbal Hill
San Cristóbal Hill is the biggest hill in central Santiago; it’s easy to walk here and explore the hill for a whole day if you choose to. Some of the most popular spots in the city are on San Cristóbal Hill, including the popular funicular which takes you up and down the hill. You can visit the Chilean National Zoo and a Japanese-style garden which are also on the hill. It can get quite hot on San Cristóbal Hill in the afternoons, so this is a great place to start the day, or to watch sunset.
Riding the funicular up San Cristóbal Hill is an easy way to get a panoramic view of Santiago, too. You’ll need to queue up at the bottom of the hill to access the funicular, and tickets are 1500 CLP ($2.25) per person one way.
Also on San Cristóbal Hill, you can visit the Sanctuary and statue of the Immaculate Conception. This open-air church is nearby the statue to the Virgin Mary which is visible atop the hill from around Santiago.
Santa Lucía Hill
Santa Lucía Hill is the other hill in the Santiago area; it’s actually an ancient, dormant volcano! This is an easy hill to walk up from several sides, and there are good views and some fascinating buildings atop the hill. You can climb to the tower at the fort atop the hill, or sit in the shade near the Neptune fountain listening to the water playing. There’s also a Japanese garden.
It can also get pretty warm on Santa Lucía Hill too, so plan accordingly if you’re going to climb the hill.
La Moneda Palace
La Moneda is the presidential palace which was rebuilt after the previous one was bombed in the 1973 coup. The building is a neoclassical-style building with a plaza on one side and a massive water pool on the other. Underneath the pool, you can visit the cultural center, which houses exhibits on Chilean and South American history. If you don’t want to pay to go inside La Moneda, it’s worth walking around as part of a stroll through central Santiago.
Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino
The Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino isn’t large, but it’s filled with the most extensive collection of Southern and Central American indigenous art I’ve ever seen. The exhibits are also presented in a respectful and elegant way; it treats these pieces as art despite their diversity and age.
My favorite exhibit by far was Chile ante Chile (Chile Before Chile) which is located on the underground floor. The low lighting and glass cases create a somber ambiance that underscores how these artifacts tell the stories of Chile. The upper level has a series of galleries from different regions of the Americas, which demonstrate the different materials and styles of craft. There’s also an open court with some special exhibits off to the side, including one for children and families.
Admission is 7000 CLP ($10.60) for non-Chilean nationals.
Museo de la Memoria y Derechos Humanos
Santiago is home to many museums, and the Museo de la Memoria y Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights) is the other one I consider a must-visit if you’re making a trip. Be warned: this isn’t a museum that will necessarily make you feel cheery when you leave.
The Museo documents the victims of human rights violations during the Pinochet regime between 1973 and 1990, and as you might imagine, it’s heavy material. You’ll walk away with a much deeper understanding of a dark chapter in Chilean history, and the museum serves as a way of holding the country accountable to never let that happen again.
If you love food or local markets, the Vega markets – Vega Central and La Vega Chica – should definitely be on your list. Vega Central is a massive traditional market, full of food and goods stalls. You can buy fresh produce, meat cut by the butchers before your eyes, spices and ingredients, and a variety of homegoods. There’s also a small food market with a couple restaurants and a seating area.
La Vega Chica has more food vendors, if you’re willing to weave through the narrow walkways to choose one that catches your eye. Andrew Zimmern lists it among his top recommended food spots in Santiago, and I have to agree – this is a top place to find traditional, homestyle Chilean dishes.
My advice? Wander past the stalls, pick one that catches your eye, and point out what you want on the menu. Be prepared to try whatever arrives!
Chile is one of the great wine countries in the world, even if it doesn’t typically make the list with places like California and France. While they have different standards for winemaking and even some different varietals than you’ll find elsewhere in the world, Chile’s long narrow shape and diverse geography (mountainous to coastal) means they can produce many different types of wine in close proximity.
As such, it’s possible to enjoy a lot of different types of wine that are all made in Chile. The best bar by far is Bocanariz. You’ll need a reservation to get a table, but every server is a sommelier who can walk you through the different tasting flights and bottles available. They have tasting plates and a full menu as well, so you can sample some Chilean dishes or have dinner depending on your own itinerary (and how much wine you plan to drink!).
If you have the time or an extra day, consider booking a wine tour out of Santiago. The Little Wine Bus is a full-day tour that takes you to the Maipo Valley where you can try small and family vineyards and learn more about the vine-to-bottle process and Chilean wine regions.
La Piojera is considered one of Santiago’s best bars, though it’s not the ‘best’ in most of the categories people usually consider (cleanliness, ambiance, quality of drink).
What makes La Piojera special is that it’s the place to try Terremoto, the earthquake. This unusual cocktail has pipeño (fermented wine), piña (pienapple) ice cream, fernet, and grenadine, and is one of the weirdest things I’ve ever tasted. I’d call it a “Vegemite experience” – you either love it or you hate it!
Where to Stay in Santiago
As a major city, you have plenty of choices for accommodation in Santiago. As I was traveling with friends (and fellow travel bloggers), we opted for the flexibility of Airbnbs since we needed the space and wanted to keep the cost of traveling down. Below, I’ve detailed a few options that might work depending on your budget and plans.
Hotels in Santiago
Here are a few hotels that caught my eye in Santiago. All of these are under $200 per night, and I went for those that had some personality – and pools!
• Casa Bueras Boutique Hotel – Located in a great spot within easy walking distance of everything I think you need to see in Santiago. From $159 per night; Read reviews on TripAdvisor and book on Booking.com.
• ICON Hotel – This might be an accident, but I found rooms here as low as $107 per night – and you’ll have stunning views from this high-rise hotel. Read reviews on TripAdvisor and book on Booking.com.
Airbnbs in Santiago
I know there’s controversy around Airbnbs, but I personally prefer them. I do my best to stay with local hosts rather than companies listing their vacation rentals on the site. After staying in so many over the years, I’ve got a good eye for them. Here are some worth considering:
• Furnished Apartment Near Recoleta – This is the first flat we stayed in, and it was perfect for our group. The view was great, the apartment was spacious, and everything went smoothly. This host has a lot of other properties, so we booked a second one with him later in the trip – it was not good, so only book this one if you like it! I can’t vouch for any of his others! Sleeps 6, from $24 per night; book on Airbnb.
• Espacioso Loft Étnico en el Barrio Bellavista – I’m obsessed with Airbnb Plus, and this is the first one that catches my eye. It’s in Bellavista, right near one of the centers of nightlife. Sleeps 3, from $53 per night; book on Airbnb.
• Sophisticated Condo in the Center of Santiago – This is a great affordable option in the heart of Santiago’s business core and near most of the major sights. Sleeps 2, from $21 per night; book on Airbnb.
Getting Around Santiago
Getting around Santiago is downright easy, between the transit system and the technology we now have available.
Public Transit in Santiago
For public transit in Santiago, you have two main options: the Metro de Santiago and the micros (buses). These two are a single transit system, which is handy because you can transfer between them. There are five metro lines and dozens of bus routes, so it’s possible to get almost anywhere within central Santiago using public transit.
The cheapest way to use public transit is with a Tarjeta bip! (beep card). The card costs 1550 CLP (about $2.50) and you can reload in denominations of 750 CLP (around $1.15); most rides are around 660 CLP (around $1).
Unfortunately, the airport is not part of the transantiago (Santiago transit system), you can easily book an airport transfer from other companies like TransVIP (which is what friends and I used).
Other Transit Options
You can definitely catch Ubers or Taxis if you need to get somewhere that isn’t easily accessed on the Santiago Metro. There are also airport transfer companies which you can arrange in advance or book to get to/from Santiago International Airport.
There’s also a number of bus companies that provide transport between major cities throughout Chile. These are called interurbanos, or intercity busses.
A 3-Day Itinerary for Santiago
Now you’re all set! You can put together the activities and sights you’re keen on, plus use transit to get around. Below I’ve detailed how I would put these together into a three-day Santiago itinerary.
Day 1: Exploring Santiago’s Best
Start the morning at one of the cafes or restaurants surrounding Plaza de Armas, in the heart of the city. You can sip coffee and people-watch as the city wakes up. Afterward, walk to the Metropolitan Cathedral for a quick look at the sanctuary and the classical art. From there, it’s a short walk to La Moneda, the presidential palace. You can go into the cultural center if you want to spend the remainder of the morning there. If you haven’t yet, be sure to call Bocanáriz to set a dinner reservation.
After lunch, head to Santa Lucía Hill and climb to the top. Be sure to bring water and a hat to protect yourself from the sun. From here you’ll get a good view of the surrounding area and start to get more oriented to the city as a whole. Once you descend back to street level, head into the Lastarria neighborhood to the west of the Hill. You could enjoy a Pisco sour at Chipe Libre or try the city’s most popular ice cream at Heladería Emporio La Rosa.
Head to Bocanáriz for your reserved dining time. Enjoy Chilean wine, then a walk back to your hotel or Airbnb through the streets, which are usually quiet and peaceful after sundown.
Day 2: Wine Tasting Tour
Assuming you enjoyed last night’s wine, I recommend booking your spot on the Little Wine Bus to the Maipo Valley. This is a full-day tour (from around 9am to 6pm), so it takes most of the day.
You’ll set out from Santiago on the provided transport, and start the day with brunch at an artist’s garden. On our tour, we visited about 5-6 wineries, and had lunch at a small family restaurant and B&B, and ended the day at the guide’s home where he distills his own pipeño. (What’s pipeño? Read more here.)
Back in Santiago after the tour, you might do dinner at Sarita Colonia. I didn’t eat here during my trip, and some reviews say it is a bit overpriced, but it’s got a fun menu and good cocktails (if you need one last drink for the day!).
Day 3: Chilean Culture & Santiago Sights
Start your final day in one of Santiago’s museums. I recommend the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino as you can do it within a few hours and it offers a lot of context on Chile and its cultural heritage.
For lunch, head to Vega Chica, the food market in Recoleta neighborhood. There are plenty of choices, but this is a great chance to try pasteles de choclo or porotos con riendas which are both offered at many restaurants in the market. You can then walk along the Río Mapocho toward the Belles Artes museum and Bellavista neighborhood.
For the last few hours of daylight, ascend San Cristóbal Hill using the funicular to see the city and sights atop the hill. Once the sun goes down, head back down and eat dinner on your way to La Piojera for a terremoto. (What’s terremoto? Find out here.) After one, you won’t want to do anything else for the night, and can call your trip to Santiago a success!
Valerie Stimac Bailey of Valerie & Valise grew up in Alaska, so it’s no surprise she loves sharing stories from there and the rest of the American West. On her blog, you can find resources to have unforgettable experiences throughout the western U.S. including California, Hawaii, and yes, The Last Frontier.