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 place to visit, full of life, and if you go to Chile you definitely should not skip it.
Since it doesn’t get so many tourists compared to other places in the country, 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 locals go to protest against the government and to get the best business opportunities.
To top this off, Santiago has a great food scene and excellent restaurants; and a vibrant nightlife.
In other words, it would be a pity not to go, even for just a couple of days. Curious to find out more? Continue reading!
The Best 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 free walking tours departing twice a day from a meeting point right outside the Cathedral that will take you around the historical center. They are a good introduction to the the city, the main attractions of the historic center such as Plaza de Armas, La Moneda Palace etc. The guide will tell you about the street dogs, the street art, and mention Santiago’s incredible diversity, a result of the constant wave of migration from other countries in South America,
I have taken this tour, it lasted around two hours – except when I took it the group was very large which made following the guide hard at times and the group moved slower than I normally like.
There also are free walking tours of the Yunguay district, a more local part of the Chilean capital. This tour goes to the market too.
As I have said, the tours are free – but you are expected to tip the guide at the end – an amount that you can choose, really, but the expectation remains. Since the group can be very large, and you still have to pay something, you may cut to the chase and simply join a small group guided tour instead.
You could consider this Welcome to Santiago private tour with a local – a very good, budget friendly tour that takes you to the historical heart of the city.
Hang out in Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas 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 are important landmarks such as the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Central Post Office and the Royal Court Palace.
Go to La Moneda Palace
Palacio La Moneda, located right by Plaza de Armas, owes its name to the fact that it used to be the mint. It now 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 to visit the few rooms that are open to the public, but you have to book it in advance on the official site or ask your hotel to do that for you.
I wouldn’t plan your time in town around it, but if you happen to be there, one of the best 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.
Join a bike tour
A bike tour is a great way to discover the most interesting sights and hidden gems of Santiago. Tours usually take you to the nicest urban parks, stop at local landmarks and go into the coolest “barrios.” They normally last around 3 hours and there are various routes you can pick, depending on your tastes and interests.
The following are 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 (the best area in Santiago for nightlife) and all the way to the Central Market.
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 thought to be the best place in Chile for street art, but Santiago has some cool murals thanks to the work of artists that stayed 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 other dogs.
In Santiago, stray dogs are considered to be very much part of the local community. Known as quiltros, 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 TNR (trap, neuter and release) programs.
Visit Santiago Human Rights Museum
I appreciate not all of you are (former) human rights lawyers like I am, but I strongly recommend visiting Santiago Human Rights Museum in any case. The Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos is a great place 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 and lots of panels, documents, material to read. It’s so good that you can spend hours wandering around without realizing – it’s what actually happened to me!
The museum is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10:00 am to 7:30 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 a small fee.
Go to the Central Market
Trying local food is one of the nicest things to do in Santiago, and the Mercado Central is the best place to get a good idea of local flavors and to have a delicious lunch. You will find a very good selection of fish and seafood. You can even go on a market food tour.
These are some very good markets 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.
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 an Italiano, Santiago’s version of the American hotdog. It won’t remind you of a sandwich you may have in Italy in terms of flavor, but 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 soccer matches.
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 Lastarría neighborhood in Northeast 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, on top of an extinct volcano.
Inside the park you will find Castillo Hidalgo, a castle that was built in the early 19th century as a protection to the city, and a gorgeous yellow fountain with a stone terrace.
The top is a mere 69 meters (230 feet) but there is an observation area and the view from there is amazing. To get there you’ll have to follow a trail and go up some stairs – but it’s nothing too challenging.
The park is free to visit and open daily from 9:00 am to 6:30 pm.
Wander around Barrio Lastarría
If you decide to walk up Cerro Santa Lucía, you may as well take the opportunity to explore the Barrio Lastarría, one of the nicest neighborhoods in Santiago. It’s packed with nice galleries, independent cafés small boutique shops, street art and green spaces and the overall vibe is quite relaxed – which is not easy to come by in such a lively city.
Check out Santiago’s Bahá’í Temple
For more unique things to do in Santiago, Chile, you may want to check out Santiago’s Bahá’í Temple, located a bit outside the center of town. The building is truly special, and the views once you get there are stunning. There is a pool in front of it, which will provide many good photo opportunities.
The temple is open and open Tuesday to Sunday from 9:30 am to 12:45 pm and from 2:30 pm to 6:00 pm. To get there, take the bus to the entrance and then walk all the way to the temple (it should take you around 45 minutes along an easy to follow trail, which however has little to no shade so it may be a bit challenging in the heat of the summer) or hop on the shuttle for a small fee.
Hang out on San Cristobal Hill
For more views of the city, ride the cable car for a small fee (it’s a bit more expensive on weekends) to Cerro San Cristobal, part of the Metropolitan Park, the largest un Santiago. Inside, you will find a sanctuary to the Immaculate Conception and outside a Virgin Mary statue that stands 22 meters tall. Cerro San Cristobal is also home to Santiago Zoo, a Japanese garden, nice walking trails and – my personal favorite – a massive swimming pool, the Piscina Tupahue.
The Parque Metropolitano is open Tuesday to Sunday. The cable car to reach Cerro San Cristobal runs from 10:00 am to 7:45 pm, Tuesday to Sunday. The funicular runs on the same days but until 6:45 pm. Piscina Tupahue is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:30 am to 6:00 pm.
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 $15 USD. If you are looking for something extra spooky, visit at night – tours are offered on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
Hang out in the Parque Bicentenario
Located east of Cerro San Cristobal in the Vitacura district, this is a nice park to simply hang out and get a bit of a local feel. You can go there for a run, much like the locals do, or to simply walk around and relax.
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.
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 in Santiago found in the Providencia district, at the base of Cerro San Cristóbal.
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 the Sky Costanera Center
For more impressive views of the city and its surroundings, one of the things to do in Santiago is going to the Sky Costanera Center, found at the Costanera shopping mall in the Gran Torre Santiago. With its 304 meters (that’s more than 997 feet) this is the tallest building in the country (and the second tallest in Latin America) and offers 360 degrees views. It’s a great place to catch sunset.
The skyscraper is open from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm every day. The last elevator ride goes up at 9:00 pm but make sure to double check on the official site as it changes seasonally. The price of tickets vary depending on which day you visit. You need to reserve your visit in advance and you can get tickets here.
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 just 50 km (31 miles) from Santiago. There even are some beautiful hot springs, a truly blue lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains: you get the idea.
If you have a car, getting to Cajon del Maipo is super easy. Otherwise, you are probably better off joining a guided tour. Most tours are a full day trip – up to 10 hours, and will include transportation in a minibus, food and snacks, and even Chilean wine.
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.
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 little over one hour drive from the capital on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, is scenic and artsy, very colorful and used to be the home of poet Pablo Neruda.
Locally known as Valpo, Valparaíso is a UNESCO World Heritage site where the main draw is street art. The most popular attractions is the area of Casa Aventura, close to which you can see set of stairs where the lyrics of Latinoamerica, Calle 13 most popular song, have been painted on each step.
If you have a chance, you should spend a night or two in Valparaíso. Santiago is massive and when a place is so big it may be intimidating to go out at night. Being a bit smaller, Valparaíso is more manageable – the nightlife there is great, with lots of rooftop bars and nice restaurants.
You can get to Valparaíso independently by bur or car or if you prefer you can join a guided tour that also includes transportation. 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.
Make sure to also read my post The Best Things To Do In Valparaíso In 3 Days.
And one to Viña del Mar
Most tours from Santiago to Valparaiso also go to the nearby Viña del Mar, another lovely coastal town, and since you can literally walk from one to the other you can definitely see them both. A popular destination for Chileans too, this is a place to go in search of nice beaches, museums and some quiet time.
For lovely views, take the funicular up one of the many hills. Spend the day simply walking around, popping inside a museum, gorging on street food, relaxing at the beach.
You can get to Viña by bus from Santiago, or on a guided tour. Most will stop in Valparaiso too and are full-day tours (10 hours or more) and will include transportation too. Here are my recommendations:
Valparaiso and Vina del Mar day tour – this tour is great value for money. It goes to the main attractions in Valpo and Vina.
Valparaiso, Vina del Mar and Casablanca day tour – this is actually the best reviewed tour. It’s a bit more expensive, but you also get wine tasting during the tour.
Highlights of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar – another popular day trip from Santiago that goes to both cities, with an included stop at the 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. You could go to the Casablanca Valley, a wine-producing region found northwest of the capital.
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! You can also use the opportunity to buy some bottles that you can bring home with you, at very reasonable prices.
I recommend this Concha y Toro wine tour and sommelier class – it’s a quite expensive option but the visit is in depth.
Another tour you may want to consider is this Casablanca Wine Tasting tour that goes to four wineries and lasts 8 full hours, so it is quite comprehensive too.
Go to Valle Nevado for the day
If you happen to visit Chile in the winter (from June to September), one of the best things to do in Santiago is skiing. You can easily reach a ski resort for a day on the slopes – just avoid the weekends as the slopes can get very busy. Valle Nevado is around one and a half hour drive. If you wish to ski, grab a day pass for the ski-lift system. You can also rent any equipment you may need for the day.
Valle Nevado is actually a lovely place to visit regardless of the season – you will find the area is packed with hiking trails and a fantastic spot to go biking and horse riding.
Getting to Valle Nevado is easy if you have a car – but remember there may be snow and ice on the ground so if you aren’t accustomed to driving in these conditions it’s not the best thing to do. If that’s the case, you can simply hop on a shuttle – you can book it here.
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.
The lake is located 150 km (little over 93 miles) from Santiago, and to reach it you drive along Los Caracoles, one of the most scenic, winding roads in South America (and an absolute nightmare if you are prone to motion sickness).
Getting to the Laguna del Inca is easy if you have a car. Thankfully, there’s the alternative for those who prefer not to drive – there are plenty of guided tours that include hotel pick up and drop off, lunch, snack and even drinks.
You could take this Andes Tour to Portillo Inca Lagoon with San Esteban Vineyard Empanada & Wine which also goes to a vineyard and includes wine tasting.
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 which also stop at Algarrobo, on the Pacific Ocean, and at Casablanca Valley for a wine tasting experience.
To book your day trip to Isla Negra from Santiago, click here.
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