There actually are many cool things to do in Santiago, Chile.
Though to be fair this city doesn’t have the dramatic beauty of other capitals of South America, it undoubtedly is a charming city, full of life, and if you go to Chile you definitely should not skip it.
Since it doesn’t get that many tourists, Santiago has retained its local flavor, so it is a great place to get acquainted with the Chilean way of life and culture. This is the heart of the country, the place where Chileans go to protest against the government and to get the best business opportunities.
To top this off, Santiago has a great food scene, with a bunch of excellent restaurants; and a vibrant nightlife.
In other words, it would be a pity not to go, even for just a couple of days.
In this post, I highlight the best of Santiago and share a few tips to help you plan your trip and make the most of it.
22 Cool Things To Do In Santiago, Chile
Take a walking tour
One of the coolest things to do in Santiago, Chile is going on a walking tour to learn about the city’s history and culture. There are regular free walking tours departing twice a day from a meeting point right outside the Cathedral. I have taken one, and while it was ok, the group was very large which made following the guide hard at times. Besides this really isn’t a free tour as you are literally required to tip the guide a conspicuous sum at the end of the tour anyways.
The following are some better walking tour options for Santiago
- Welcome to Santiago private tour with a local – a very good, budget friendly tour that takes you to the historical heart of the city.
- Santiago the essentials city tour – another very good tour that aims at highlighting the eclectic character of the Chilean capital.
Hang out in Plaza de Armas
One of the things you really should not miss is hanging out in Plaza de Armas. This is the historical heart of the city. It’s a large square that was first built in 1541 for public events – and it is often still used for the main reason. At the center of the square you will find palm trees and benches, which make it perfect – especially in the summer – to sit and practice some good people’s watching.
Surrounding the square there are important landmarks such as the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Central Post Office and the Royal Court Palace.
Join a bike tour
A bike tour is among the most fun things to do to discover its most interesting sights and hidden gems. They usually take you to the nicest urban parks, stop at local landmarks and go into the coolest “barrios.” Tours normally last around 3 hours and there are various routes you can pick, depending on your tastes and interests.
The following is a selection of the best bike tours to discover Santiago:
- Santiago Markets and Local Life Bike Tour – a lovely bike tour that goes to the bohemian Barrio Bellavista and all the way to the Central Market.
- Panoramic or cultural bike tour – you have the option to go on a very panoramic route or pick to see the best landmarks of the city.
- Full day bike sightseeing tour – perfect if you like the idea of spending the entire day biking. It goes to the best sights in the city.
Enjoy street art
Street art is quite a big thing in Chile. Valparaiso is generally thought to be the best place to visit for street art, but Santiago has some cool murals thanks to the work of artists that stay active even during the years of the dictatorship – and one of the nicest things to do in Santiago is looking around for street art.
The most famous pieces were painted by Inti, an artist from Valparaiso, in 2013 next to Bellas Artes Metro Station. One represents Ekeko, the Andean god of abundance.
Learn about the stray dogs
Stray dogs are unfortunately a common sight in Central and South America. In most countries, they are not really taken care of and end up being a safety concern as they often go around in packs in search of food or shelter, and can attack others.
In Santiago, stray dogs are considered to be very much part of the local community. Known as quiltro, they are taken care of by local organizations and private individuals. I recommend looking for organizations that take care of strays, offering help – usually money goes a long way as it helps finance sterilizations.
Visit Santiago Human Rights Museum
I appreciate not all of you are human rights lawyers like I am, but I strongly recommend visiting Santiago Human Rights Museum. Locally known as Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, this is where you should go to learn about the most recent history of the country and its difficult past.
The museum is quite big, with an excellent exhibit where you can swiftly walk around. It’s so good that you can spend hours wandering around without realizing.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The museum is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. It is closed on 1 January, 1 May, 18 and 19 September and 25 December. There is no admission fee. You can get an audio-guide for around $2.50 USD. You can even join a free guided tour. Book it in advance here.
Go to the Central Market
Trying local food is one of the nicest things to do in Santiago, and the Mercado Central is the place you must visit to get a good idea of local flavors and to have a delicious lunch. You will find a very good selection of seafood. You can even go on a market food tour.
These are some very good market tours you can join:
- Santiago markets small group bike tour – it goes to several markets and you get a guide taking you around, as well as snacks and fresh squeezed juice.
- Walking Sights Tour: Food Tastings and Markets – this tour goes to the markets but has a bigger focus on sampling local food.
- Santiago food safari – the name says it all. It’s a morning tour, and it also goes to the most bohemian parts of the city.
GOOD TO KNOW: Empanadas – pastries typically stuffed with a kind of meat – are quite the snack in Santiago, and you definitely need to try one. The best are at Emporio Zunino, on the corner of Avenida San Pablo and Paseo Puente.
For more local specialties, head to Fuente Alemana for the greasiest, tastiest meat sandwich you may have in your life.
Alternatively, opt for a Italiano, Santiago’s version of the American hotdog. It is not the flavor that resembles anything you may have in Italy – indeed, this hotdog with avocado, mayonnaise and tomato sauce ends up being of the colors of the Italian flag. If you can stomach it, definitely opt for the completo which comes with fries, sauce, trimmings and what not. Locals gorge on it when watching a soccer match.
Finally, make sure to try a pastel de choclo, a casserole of meat, chicken, onions, olives and boiled egg covered in mashed corn and baked till golden-brown – best served with a good glass of Chilean wine!
Walk up Santa Lucia Hill
Cerro Santa Lucia is a park located in the center of Santiago, that can be easily reached from Plaza de Armas. It is rumored that this is the exact location where the city was founded, in 1541 by Pedro de Valdivia.
Inside the park you will find Castillo Hidalgo, a castle that was built in the early 19th century as a protection to the city. Yet the best thing about it is the viewpoint from where you can get impressive views of Santiago.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The park is open every day from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm. There is no admission fee.
Hang out on San Cristobal Hill
For more views of the city, one of the best things to do in Santiago is riding the cable car to Cerro San Cristobal, part of the Metropolitan Park. Inside, you will find a sanctuary to the Immaculate Conception and outside a Virgin Mary statue that stands 22 meters tall.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The cable car is open on Mondays from 1:30 to 5:30 pm and Tuesdays to Sundays 11:30 am to 5:30 pm. The ride costs $5 USD.
This nighttime tour of Santiago goes all the way to San Cristobal Hill. It’s expensive but it also includes dinner and a hotel pick up.
Explore the Cementerio General de Santiago
The largest cemetery Latin America, Santiago’s main cemetery is actually a nice place to explore. It was first opened in 1821. You can visit on guided tours that last two hours and are in the range of $10 USD. If you are looking for something extra spooky, visit at night – tours are offered on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
Visit the Museo de Arte Precolombino
Santiago’s Museo de Arte Precolombino is a good place to learn more about the history of the country from ancient times and has an excellent exhibit of sculptures, jewelry and textiles.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Admission fee is $10 USD.
Pop into another museum
If you are a museum geek, you’ll be glad to know there are many more in Santiago. History geeks should head to the Museo Interactivo Mirador and the Casa Museo La Chascona, Pablo Neruda’s former house.
Quinta Normal Park is home to the National Museum of Natural History, the Railway Museum and the Museum of Science and Technology.
Near Parque Forestal you will find the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts, which first opened in 1880 and is one of South America’s best museum of arts, which has an extensive exhibit of both Chilean and international artists. It’s located in a gorgeous building where baroque, neoclassical and art nouveau are beautifully blended, and admission is free.
Admire the views from Costanera Center
For more impressive views of the city and its surroundings, one of the things to do in Santiago is going to the top of Costanera Center. With its 304 meters this is the tallest building in the country and offers 360 degrees views. It’s a great place to catch sunset.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The skyscraper is open from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm every day. The last elevator ride goes up at 9:00 pm. The ticket costs $20 USD and you can get it here.
Go to La Moneda Palace
Palacio La Moneda is the seat of the President of Chile. The building, which dates back to 1805, was designed by Joaquin Toesca, whose actual name was Gioacchino Toesca e Ricci (he was Italian). It was badly damaged during Pinochet’s military coup of 1973, when it was bombed by the army so that President Allende would give up his seat.
You can walk around the park that surrounds the palace or take a free guided tour, but you have to book it in advance. The best way to do so is to ask your hotel.
GOOD TO KNOW: I wouldn’t plan your time in town around it, but if you happen to be there, one of the most interesting and free things to do in Santiago is watching the ceremony of the Changing Of The Guard, which lasts 30 minutes and happens every two days at 10:00 on weekdays and 11:00 am on weekends.
I am sure you all know that Chile is one of the biggest wine producers in the world. It goes without saying that among the things to do in Santiago there’s going on a wine tasting tour like this one this one.
But there is more. Chile is also home to Pisco, a drink made of fermented grape juice that can be found here and in Peru – there even is a heated debate over who invented it, and who makes the best. If you want to have a say, the only way to do so is to try Pisco yourself. It’s served pretty much anywhere in town. You can try it plain or, if you are feeling fancy, have a Pisco Sour cocktail.
Finally, make sure to try a terremoto – literally meaning earthquake. It’s made with pipeño (a fortified wine) and pineapple ice cream. Portions are huge so you may as well say it counts for a meal. The best place to try it is La Piojera, close to the Mercado Central, popular among both tourists and locals.
Spend a day at Cajon del Maipo
One of the things to do in Santiago is to actually get out of town. Fortunately, there is no shortage of incredible places to visit that are within easy reach. Among the recommended ones there is Cajon del Maipo, a gorgeous mountain area where you can go hiking, rafting and more at just 25 km from Santiago. There even are some beautiful hot springs.
For guided tours of Canyon del Maipo, you may want to check these:
- Cajon del Maipo and Volcan San Jose hike – a perfect tour if you are in search of a bit of adventure.
- Maipo Canyon Volcano and hot spring tour – a more relaxing tour that takes you to the most scenic places in the region.
- Rafting in the Maipo Canyon – perfect for adrenaline seekers.
Take a day trip to Valparaiso
Valparaiso is a popular destination for day trips from Santiago, and it is easy to see why. This city, located at little over one hour drive from the capital, is incredibly scenic and artsy, very colorful and used to be the home of poet Pablo Neruda. You can get there independently or, for easy, on a guided tour. Most tours also go to the nearby Vina del Mar, another lovely sight.
These are the best day trip options:
- Valparaiso and Vina del Mar day tour – an excellent value for money tour that takes you to all the most scenic places in Valparaiso.
- Valparaiso, Vina del Mar and Casablanca day tour – a more expensive option that also includes wine tasting.
- Highlights of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar – another very good tour that also goes to the local beach.
Visit a winery
As I have said before, Chile is one of the biggest wine producers in the world so it goes without saying that one of the things to do in Santiago is visiting one of the nearby wineries. For this one, I actually recommend a guided tour – you may be drinking lots of wine and you certainly don’t want to drive or worry about public transportation after that!
The following are some excellent guided tours to local vineyards that can be booked online:
- Concha y Toro wine experience – a very good wine tour to one of the most popular local wineries.
- Concha y Toro wine tour and sommelier class – a more expensive option for a more in depth visit.
- Undarraga wine experience – another popular vineyard not far from Santiago.
Go to Valle Nevado for the day
If you happen to visit Santiago in the winter, you can easily reach a ski resort for a day on the slopes. Valle Nevado is at around one and a half hour drive. This is in fact a lovely place to visit, regardless of the season. You can even book a guided tour like this one to go there.
Oh and if you go in any other season, you will find the area is packed with hiking trails and a fantastic spot to go biking and horse riding.
GOOD TO KNOW: Another ski resort near Santiago is Farellones, which actually is the first ski resort ever opened in Chile.
Spend a day at Laguna del Inca
In Portillo, another mountain town not far from Santiago between the Andean Mountains and the Aconcagua Valley, the Laguna del Inca is a gorgeous spot for a day trip and to learn a bit more about the history of the Inca. The trip is perfect to catch views of Cerro Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America.
Go to Isla Negra
Pablo Neruda’s fans will want to visit the place where he spent his final years, in Isla Negra. A poet, a diplomat, and a Chilean senator, the Nobel Prize for Literature is one of Chile’s best known authors. The house where he lived in Isla Negra is now a museum dedicated to him. You can visit it on guided tours from Santiago such as this one, which also stop at Algarrobo, on the Pacific Ocean, and at Casablanca Valley for a wine tasting experience.
Practical Information To Plan Your Trip To Santiago, Chile
When to visit Santiago
The best time to visit Santiago is between October and March or April, ie between late spring and fall in the Southern Hemisphere. Keep in mind it may get very hot – but the weather is generally quite dry so it should not affect you too much. If you are keen on skiing, you may want to go in July or August, when it is winter and you can reach the nearby slopes.
Where to stay and eat in Santiago
There are some good places to stay in Santiago but you need to pick the location carefully for ease of access to the best attractions. The following are a few places you may want to consider:
- Hostal Che Lagarto is a great place in terms of rooms and services but not so much in terms of location. Clich here to book now or read reviews here
- CasAltura Boutique Hostel is a very good alternative, and is close to the central market. Click here to book now or read reviews here
- CasaSur Charming Hotel is a lovely family run place with cozy modern rooms. Click here to book now or read reviews here.
How to get from the airport to Santiago city center
Santiago International Airport is well connected to the city via either taxi or bus. The price of a taxi ride usually depends on traffic. The bus ride costs around $3 USD. Buses run every 10 minutes from the airport, from 6:00 am to 11:30 pm.
How to move around Santiago
Other than walking, the best way to move around Santiago is by metro. There are seven lines connecting the various parts of the city. You can also count on a very good bus system and on shared bikes, making use of the many bike lanes.
GOOD TO KNOW: If you happen to be there on a Sunday, one of the most fun things to do in Santiago is biking around. From 9:00 am to 2:00 pm roads are closed to traffic and locals take part in the CicloRecreoVía, which has the aim of promoting the use of bikes.
Santiago is a fairly safe city, where violent crimes are rare. You mainly have to watch out for things such as pickpocketing and bag snatching. Tourists are often the target of petty crime so do your best to disguise yourself and keep a low profile.
Other useful information
Make sure to get a good travel insurance for your trip to Chile. Get yours here.
Check out my post “Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.”
Further readings about Chile and Argentina
Traveling to Chile and Argentina? Make sure to read these other posts:
- 10 Amazing Places To Visit In Chile
- The Best Things To Do In Valparaiso
- A Complete Guide To San Pedro De Atacama
- 25 Cool Things To Do In Buenos Aires
- A Guide To Where To Stay In Buenos Aires
- 25 Absolutely Amazing Things To Do In Argentina
- 13 Fantastic Wineries In Mendoza
- The Most Fun Things To Do In Mendoza
- 15 Incredible Hikes In Patagonia
- 30 Things To Know Before Traveling To Patagonia