After weeks of bouncing between Argentina and Chile to explore Patagonia, we finally made it to Chile’s lively capital. We only had a few days to spend exploring Santiago and feel that we only brushed the surface of the many great things this city has to offer. But we stayed busy trying to make the best of the time we had here, and had a great time experiencing the city. Here are ten great things to do in Santiago.
1. Wander the Markets
Santiago has many bustling markets that you could spend hours wandering through. We love visiting markets wherever we go to try unique foods, pick up souvenirs, and observe the bustle of daily life.
A popular market to visit is the Mercado Central. This market opened in the 1870s and has always been primarily known for the seafood. You can buy so many different kinds of fresh seafood to take home or grab a bite at a sit-down restaurant or simple food stall. With the rise in tourists visiting this spot, be aware that restaurants may upcharge and pressure you to eat at their stall. Vendors at Mercado Central also sell other goods including produce, basic home goods, handicrafts, and other souvenirs.
Another similar market in the area is La Vega. This market seemed a bit less touristy and there was an amazing array of produce, fresh meat and seafood, pastries, spices, home goods, and more. There were also spots to sit down and grab a bite.
Our last day, we stumbled upon the Santa Lucia artisan market. This little market had many stalls selling handicrafts, textiles, and other knick-knacks. We picked up several items and the prices seemed reasonable.
Outside of the couple markets mentioned in this post, there are many other markets and ferias set up in Santiago. We always love the unique vibe each market offers and hope that we can one day return here to experience more of them!
2. Visit the Parque Metropolitano and Climb Cerro San Cristóbal
Santiago has many beautiful parks, but we really enjoyed Parque Metropolitano because of the ample activities there. Both tourists and locals head to this park to hike, bike, and enjoy a bit of nature among the cityscape. The park also has a zoo, multiple gardens, pools, unique landmarks, etc.
One of the reasons visiting Parque Metropolitano is often on lists of great things to do in Santiago is because Cerro San Cristóbal is within the park. Sitting atop this peak offers great views of Santiago and the surrounding Andes on a clear day. The viewpoint can be reached by shuttle, hike or bike trails, the funicular, or the teleférico. Learn more about visiting the park and Cerro San Cristóbal here.
3. Take a City Tour
A great way to see the city and learn more about it is to take a tour. This is especially a great option if you have limited time in Santiago because you’ll have a knowledgeable guide showing you some of the city highlights in a short time span.
There are various biking tours and free walking tours that will take you on a guided excursion through the city. Some of these tour companies also offer varying itineraries, allowing attendees to pick tours with differing highlights, including markets, street art, historic points, and more. If you’d rather go at your own pace, check out these self-guided tours from GPSmyCity.
4. Visit the Plaza de Armas
During our travels through South America, we tried to see the Plaza de Armas in all the cities we visited. We always enjoy the pretty plaza setting, unique architecture, and seeing families, vendors, and tourists, go about their day.
The Plaza de Armas in Santiago was built in the mid-1500s. Today, the historic buildings surrounding the square sit among the much more modern buildings and towering skyscrapers. Once at the Plaza de Armas, visitors can stroll through the cathedral, visit the National History Museum, admire the work of local musicians and artists, wander the shops lining the square, and have a treat from one of the street vendors or cafés.
Santiago’s Plaza de Armas sits in the heart of the city nearby to many other attractions, so it is convenient and definitely worth the stop.
5. Admire the Street Art
As you wander the streets of Santiago, you’ll see quite a bit of incredible street art. While murals can be seen in many spots throughout Santiago, we really enjoyed the art in the Barrio Bellavista area. The walls of the businesses in the area are covered in vibrant colors and incredible murals. Barrio Bellavista has many restaurants, shops, and bars, and the street art really adds to the liveliness and uniqueness of this neighborhood.
Murals through Santiago are often being created and updated, so if you want to be sure to see the best of them, a street art tour as mentioned above can be a great way to make sure you catch the highlights.
6. Check out Events Occurring During your Visit
Being such a large city and major hub within South America, Santiago hosts many incredible events, including concerts, varying festivals, art shows, theater performances, holiday celebrations, and more. Check here to see if any events during your visit spark your interest.
We’re not sure what it was, but we ended up in the middle of an event at a park where there were tons of food stalls; vendors selling action figures, books, and other items; and people dressed in armor, cloaks, and other costumes. After many weeks spent passing our time exploring the mountains and outdoors, it was fun to just be in the middle of a busy park with others enjoying a unique event.
7. Expand Your Knowledge at a Museum
Santiago is home to many museums covering an array of topics. Visiting some of them is a great way to learn more about Chile’s history and culture.
The National History Museum mentioned above sits near the Plaza de Armas and is a popular museum to visit because it covers a wide range of topics, including the first inhabitants of Chile, colonization, religion, the industrial age, and much more. This museum is also free to enter!
Other popular history museums include Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, and the National Museum of Natural History. Museo de la Memoria focuses on telling the story of the terrible human rights violations under the Chilean military dictatorship of the mid to late 1900s. The National Museum of Natural History provides information on early indigenous communities, geography, and the plant and animal life of Chile.
There are also quite a few great art museums in Santiago, including the National Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Visual Arts, and Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, which also has many cool artifacts.
We really only brushed the surface of museum options in the city. If you Google museums in Santiago, you’ll also find many other options touching on other subjects, like railways, aerospace, science and technology, famous figures, and more. Whichever museum you pick, note that some only have displays provided in Spanish. Ask at the entrance regarding audio or visual aids in your language or guided museum tours if desired.
8. Visit a Winery
Chile produces some really great wine and is one of the world’s largest exporters. Many vineyards and wineries lie in the valleys surrounding Santiago, making this a great hub for those wishing to visit vineyards, learn more about the process of making wine, and have the opportunity to taste some of the delicious wines made here.
We did our wine tour from Valparaiso, but there are plenty of tour options that leave from Santiago as well. Tours vary in what they offer, such as transportation from your hotel, meals, the number of vineyards visited, tour duration etc. Many tours can be found online on sites such as Get Your Guide and Viator, but you can also ask locals, your accommodation staff, or reach out to the vineyard staff to see what they recommend.
9. Take in the Views from Sky Costanera
As you explore Santiago, you’ll likely see the towering Sky Costanera, or Gran Torre. This skyscraper is one of the tallest in the Southern Hemisphere and contains a shopping mall, office spaces, and even hotels.
The main reason visiting this building is one of the popular things to do in Santiago is the observation deck. Head up to the 61st and 62nd levels for sweeping views of the city and peaks that surround it. Try to go on a clear day, otherwise the peaks and distant edges of the city may be concealed by smog. Tickets can be purchased at Gran Torre before you ride the elevator up. We have also heard that you can buy them online beforehand. Prices start at around CLP 10,000 for an adult ticket.
10. Experience Santiago Night Life
After spending the day exploring the city, it’s always fun to hit the town for a night out. Santiago has a vibrant nightlife scene and offers a little something for everybody, whether you’re looking to grab a quick cocktail at a laid-back bar, hop from pub to pub, or party the night away at a club. Many nightlife hotspots offer not only great drinks, but live music, events and themes, dancing, tasty food, and more.
The hosts we were staying with during our visit in Santiago recommended heading to the Recoleta area and Barrio Bellavista to experience the nightlife because it is quite the bustling place and there are many bars within a close distance.