Updated: Sep 6
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The capital and the largest city of Chile, the metropolitan area of Santiago is bursting at the seams with nearly seven million residents. Nearly every point of the city boasts a view of the Andes Mountains, which are close enough to go skiing, hiking, and rafting if you’re the outdoorsy type. Santiago is also about an hour away from the Pacific Ocean, so it’s a great jump-off point in general for wandering tourists. The city is lined with hills and parks and decorated with neoclassical, neo-gothic, and art deco themes. From art galleries to museums, here are some of the top things you can do in Santiago, Chile.
San Cristobal Hill
San Cristobal Hill offers panoramic views of Santiago and The Andes. Located in the Metropolitan Park, the 3,000-foot-tall hill displays a statue depicting Virgin Mary at the summit. The statue, named Statue of the Immaculate Conception on San Cristobal Hill, is 46-feet-tall and rests on the Sanctuary of Immaculate Conception, a primary worship place for the Catholic Church. Those who wish to hike to the top will peak in about 2 hours, but if hiking isn’t for you, there’s always the funicular rail train option. If you're looking for more fun, halfway up the hill is the National Zoo of Chile and a wine museum.
Santa Lucia Hill
Once dubbed Huelen Hill by its Mapuche inhabitants, Santa Lucia Hill was transformed into a lookout point after its capture by Spaniards. Both sides of the hill were adorned with forts, but the only one remaining is Fort Hidalgo. Every day, the restored fort’s cannon fires a shot at exactly noon. A remodel took place in the late 1900s, when Mayor Benjamín Vicuna Mackenna decided to urbanize Santa Lucia Hill, adding trees, public squares, statues, and fountains. The most notable part of the restoration is the marvelous yellow and white entrance point.
La Moneda Palace
Designed by architect Joaquín Toesca, the La Moneda Palace used to be a coin mint. Since 1922, the neoclassical building has served as the president’s seat as well as the offices of several other government officials. A tragedy occurred in 1973, when a Military Coup bombing left President Salvador Allend dead. As at attempt to restore its reputation, the building offers tours and holds a changing-of-the-guard ceremony every other day.
Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas translates to Square of Weapons – an open city block surrounded by important government buildings. Spanish conquistadors designed the square this way to protect citizens in case of an attack. Those who visit today can tour the beautiful Metropolitan Cathedral, the Central Post Office, and the National History Museum of Chile - a building housed in what used to be the Royal Palace.
There are many markets in Santiago, but the Central Market is by far the most famous. Conveniently located in the city center, it's housed in a cast-iron building with vaulted ceilings. Full of restaurants and vendors alike, it’s said to have the best seafood in all of Santiago. Though it sells other meats, most people visit for fish, scallops, oysters and other varieties of shellfish. Chile’s proximity to the coast helps supply its abundance of seafood.
Mentioned in the Plaza de Armas slide, the Metropolitan Cathedral is the seat of the archbishop and the main cathedral of Chile’s Catholic Church. Its neoclassical design boasts dramatic columns and baroque details such as frescos and other exuberant features. Though the cathedral was built in the 1600s, it’s been altered over the years due to earthquake damage. The structure as it's known today was completed in 1799.
Gran Torre Santiago
At 980 feet and 64 stories tall, Gran Torre Santiago is the second tallest skyscraper in Latin America. Here, you’re granted a birds-eye view of the city. Its obelisk-style architecture contains faceted glass walls that thin as they rise, and at night, the tower glows to illuminate the historic cityscape. Not completed until 2013, the tower ended up costing $1 billion - $600 million more than was planned.
La Chascona is famously known as Pablo Neruda’s former home. The Chilean poet spent time in this house with his secret lover and future wife, Matilde Urrutia. What makes the house so interesting is its quirky design and array of art Neruda collected in his lifetime. Though the house is small, it’s full of memorabilia from the poet’s life. If you’re not a fan of the poet himself, perhaps the interesting structure of the house will be enough to lure you in.
Just 28 miles from Santiago, Valle Nevado is a premier ski resort in the Andes Mountains. One cable car, five chairlifts, and numerous other modes of transport guide skiers over the area’s 2,224 acres of space. After hitting the slopes, the resort itself offers eight restaurants to dine in and three hotels to rest in. A good option for families, the slopes include beginner’s runs all the way up to expert runs.
Nature is abundant in and around Santiago, and it’s made evident once again when you visit Maipo Canyon. Full of rivers, lakes, forests, and valleys, the canyon is a popular place to hike, raft, fish, and even bungee-jump. By trekking into the El Morado National Mountain, you can even see a glacier. The El Morado Glacier leads into a snowy valley that’s truly a sight to see. Another famed area in the canyon is the El Yeso reservoir, an area encompassed with a large body of picturesque water and awe-inspiring snowy mountains. If you're looking to make the most of your time, you can book a tour based off your specific interests.
Visit the Museums
There are a few museums in Santiago that deserve recognition. The one pictured above is the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, a great stop to educate yourself on Chile's past as a dictatorship with fierce politics. It honors victims from this harsh era in the form of documents and testimonies.
The Chilean National Museum of Natural History is home to the world's oldest mummies, which are 2,000 years older than those in Egypt. It also covers Chilean archeology, biogeography, and the country's vast collection of mollusks.
Founded in 1880, the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts houses one of the largest collections of Chilean and South American art. Designed by Emile Jéquier to resemble Petit Palais in Paris, the building is a work of art itself.
One really impressive, yet affordable hotel I found was the ICON Hotel. Its views of the Andes Mountains and updated rooms are unrivaled in other budget friendly hotels, The Sheraton Santiago Hotel has mid-tier pricing with amenities including a poolside bar, four restaurants, and a coffee shop with international cuisine. A trusted name in lodging, the Ritz-Carlton is a luxury option with great individual rooms as well as family suites.
Santiago, Chile is without a doubt a spot for the adventurous type. From canyons to ski resorts and hills great for hiking, it's a fantastic place to let loose your outdoorsy nature or even develop a new one. Also, you can't beat those gorgeous views of the Andes Mountains.