Last updated 3 February 2021
Santiago lies in the Santiago basin, at the foot of the Andes, just across the border from Argentina. It’s Chile’s capital city and the fifth largest city in South America, with a population of over 6 million people. Despite this, it has a relatively relaxed and understated vibe, which combined with friendly locals, makes Santiago an easy city to visit. There’s a lot to see and experience in Santiago, and here’s a few ideas to get you started.
For the best city views over Santiago, go up Cerro Santa Lucía or Cerro San Cristobal—both have beautiful outlooks over the city with the Andes as a backdrop. Go in the early morning or near sunset or immediately after it rains – Santiago can be a bit smoggy so take advantage of the clean, clear sky.
There’s lots to see at Cerro Santa Lucía. It’s a pleasant walk up to the top with an old fort and interesting facades, stairways and fountains. On the other hand, Cerro San Cristobal has the bonus of a funicular ride, if you don’t want to walk the whole way. Stop off at the zoo or children’s playground on the way. Near the top, you’ll find the statue of the Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepción. At 14m high, it towers over the park and the benches at the summit, which function as an outdoor church.
Chile’s sandwiches are an institution. Huge and loaded with meat, they truly are a staple of Chilean cuisine. While they are all delicious, the El Chacarero is unique. Churrasco-style slices of steak are piled onto the bread along with sliced tomato, then topped with green beans and spicy green ají peppers. Enjoy your sandwich with a cold beer and a view if you can, watching the world go by as you eat.
If you want something a bit simpler, a trip to Chile isn’t complete without trying the completo. A Chilean hot dog, the completo adds large helpings of sauerkraut, chopped tomatoes and mayonnaise to the sausage and fresh bun.
While Valparaíso is definitely Chile’s champion of street art, there’s lots to see in Santiago too. While you'll find steet art dotted all around the central city, Barrio Bellavista is Santiago's most colourful area, with a huge range of murals - some painted by professionals and others by talented amateurs. Many shop owners have commissioned art on their buildings in the hope that passersby will stop to admire the paintings and then be enticed into the shop.
While Barrio Bellavista gives you a great taste of Santiago street art, San Miguel is where you'll find the real gems. The huge murals in San Miguel were initiated by the Chilean government in 2010 in an effort to add some colour to a lower socioeconomic neighbourhood. The result is an open-air gallery of over 40 murals (all approved by the residents). Take a tour to get the best out of your trip to San Miguel, which isn't particularly accessible for tourists.
Considered the historical centre of Santiago, the Plaza de Armas is an important square to modern day Chile. Lined with palm trees, the square is surrounded by many historic buildings, such as the beautiful Metropolitan Cathedral, the Central Post Office and the Royal Court Palace. Within the square, locals gather to relax and painters sell their work, but in general it is a highly multicultural area. There are also many monuments, one of which is dedicated to Pedro de Valdivia, the founder of the city and conqueror of Chile. To get a taste of Santiago, the Plaza de Armas is a good place to start.
The city's Bohemian quarter, Barrio Bellavista has already been mentioned a couple of times on this list. It's a pleasant place to stroll through filled with light and colour and a number of restaurants and bars. There's a range of dinner choices with outdoor seating and the nightlife is particularly good.
As well as Cerro San Cristobal, be sure to visit La Chascona, the former home of Pablo Neruda. Now a museum, La Chascona is dedicated to the life and work of Chile’s Nobel prize-winning poet.
Quite simply, just go here for the views. Sky Costanera is the tallest building in Latin America and offers panoramic views of Santiago. At 300m above the ground, you get an exceptional view of the city splayed out at your feet, as well as the Andes mountains in the distance. Try and go on a clear day - as we've mentioned before (and you can see from the pictures), Santiago's skies can get a bit hazy!
There are many notable markets in Santiago. Start in the Mercado Central in the middle of the city. A historical landmark and ranked the fifth best market in the world by the National Geographic in 2012, it's famous for its seafood and pisco sours.
It's also worth visiting a few of Santiago's ferias (street markets), even though they can by a bit touristy. Strolling through the stalls and admire the crafts, including the famous alpaca wool ponchos, can give you a small window into a part of Chile's culture.
If you have the time, escape the city for a day and head to the mountains. It's a short drive up the mountains to Cajon del Maipo and El Yeso Dam, but it's a different world when you get there. You'll find yourselves in the middle of the Andes, surrounded by blue skies and snow-capped mountains, with a stunning lake at your feet.
In winter, enjoy playing in the snow and admiring the beautiful winter landscape. In summer, have a picnic at the lake, hike up the mountain or visit a glacier. Rest assured, with scenery like this you won't be disappointed, no matter what you choose to do.