South America

Top 10 Fun Things to do in Santiago Chile

10 Things to do in Santiago Chile

If you bite into a chili pepper, you’d better be prepared for a complex blend of heat, piquant spice, and an unforgettably edgy kick. The same goes for your first taste of Santiago, the vibrant capital of Chile, which is indeed shaped a bit like the skinny, pungent fruit whose name it evokes.

With its warm arid summers (November to March), a lively bar scene, and cuisine that has intrigued the likes of many internationally renowned chefs, Santiago has become a muy caliente destination. Sitting snug in a valley, surrounded by the snow-dusted Andes and the Chilean Coast Range, Santiago is about halfway between Chile’s northern and southern border, at the literal and figurative heart of the country.

Santiago is so rich and diverse, it would be impossible to experience it all in one visit—but we’ve put together a list of the 10 best things to do in Santiago Chile, so you can focus on hitting the highlights as you’re discovering this amazing destination. 

1. People watch at Plaza de Armas

All distances within Santiago are measured from Santiago’s Plaza de Armas, where locals gather for picnic lunches, to play chess, or gossip on palm-shaded benches. Plug into the square’s pulsating energy while indulging in some prime people-watching and admiring the grand architecture of the surrounding Catedral Metropolitana, the Palacio de la Real Audiencia (home of the National History Museum), and the Correo Central—possibly the poshest post office you’ll ever encounter.

  • Where is it? The Plaza de Armas is located in the heart of downtown Santiago. It is, in fact, the main square, and it is centrally located—close to most attractions you’ll want to see.
  • How to get there? Simply hop on the metro. Line 2 will take you there. Get off at Plaza de Armas station, which will lead you directly into the Plaza.
  • When to go? Avoid rush hour if you can, since the Santiago metro and public transport network both get quite busy in the morning and evening. Head to the Plaza de Armas midday. It’s always open.
  • How much time to visit? 1-3 hours.
  • Price range: Free—$

Insider tip: While you’re at the Plaza de Armas, make time to visit the surrounding historic buildings, including:

  • The Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral. Escape the heat and wander for an hour in this magnificent cathedral, which is open to visitors all day.
  • The Central Post Office. The facade is too beautiful to walk by without admiring it.
  • The Palacio de la Real Audiencia de Santiago. Over a century ago, Santiago’s Royal Palace was moved to the Palacio La Moneda. Today, the building is home to the National History Museum, which you can visit daily until 6 PM (except on Mondays), for less than a dollar.
Plaza de Armas in Santiago as the sun is setting
The Plaza de Armas is the best square in Santiago to relax and people watch

2. Pay a visit to the President at the Palacio la Moneda Santiago

The Palacio La Moneda is one of Chile’s most important buildings. As the name suggests, it was originally intended to be a coin mint, but today, it’s home to the president of Chile and three cabinet ministers. This impressive Neo-Classical structure also houses a cultural centre that hosts an array of interesting exhibitions.

  • Where is it? The Palacio la Moneda is located in the heart of downtown Santiago, a 12-minute walk away from the Plaza de Armas.
  • How to get there? Hop on the metro line 2 and get off at the La Moneda Station. When you exit the station, you’ll be on the side of the palace.
  • When to go? If you head to the Palacio la Moneda at 10 AM (11 AM on Saturdays), you can attend the Changing of the Guard ceremony, which includes horses and horns and is absolutely free. Exhibitions are open seven days a week from 9 AM and usually close at 7:30 PM, but you might want to double check if you have a particular exhibition in mind, as some may close earlier than others.
  • How much time to visit? Depending on what you intend to see or do at the Palacio La Moneda, it should take you between 30 minutes and 2 hours to visit.
  • Price range: Admission to the cultural exhibitions is 4.45 USD. The space can be visited daily without any reservations. 

Insider tip: You can visit the interior of the Palacio la Moneda. It’s free, but you need to book at least one week beforehand by email.

3. Muse around in the Santiago museums

Santiago boasts a number of world-class museums and cultural centres. You could, of course, spend your whole trip visiting them—or choose just a few that are sure to please you. Here are our two top picks.

The Museo de la Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos

If you only visit one museum, make it the Museo de la Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos (the Museum of Memory and Human Rights). Housed within a modern copper-covered monolith, the museum, which opened in 2010, focuses on human rights violations under the late 20th century dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. It’s fascinating to discover the various objects, documents and archives, along with an innovative sight and sound exhibit as you learn about the military coup, the repression, the resistance movement, the exile, and other key moments in Chile’s history.

  • Where is it? The Museo de la Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos is located next to the Parque Quinta Normal, at Matucana 501 in Santiago, Region Metropolitana.
  • How to get there? Take the metro line 5 down to the Quinta Normal Station. You’ll be right in front of the museum when you exit the station.
  • When to go? Museum opening hours are Tuesday through Sunday, from 10 AM to 6 PM.
  • How much time to visit? 2-3 hours.
  • Price range: Free—$. Admission to the museum is free, but audio guides are $3.

Insider tip: Before you visit the exhibition, remember that the museum’s mission is to dignify the victims and their families and promote respect and tolerance—so that events such as the ones that forged Chile’s history never happen again. It won’t be light entertainment, but it definitely provides eye-opening insight into the local culture.

La Chascona House, Aka the Pablo Neruda House

Nobel Prize Winning Poet Pablo Neruda is world-renowned for his love poems and political writings. La Chascona House is one of the late author’s three homes and is well worth the detour, thanks to its unusual architecture and bright, vibrant colours. The visit includes details about Neruda and his life, as well as interesting facts about the house’s history.

  • Where is it? La Chascona House is located at Fernando Marquez de la Plata 0192, Barrio Bellavista in Providencia, Santiago.
  • How to get there? It’s a 25-minute walk from Plaza de Armas, but you can also take the metro line 5 down to Baquedano station for a shorter, 13-minute walk to the house.
  • When to go? Opening hours vary according to the season:
    • From March to December, la Chascona House is open Tuesday through Sunday, from 10 AM to 6 PM.
    • In January and February, opening days are the same, but the venue closes at 7 PM.
  • How much time to visit? 1-2 hours.
  • Price range: Admission is $10.30 per person.

Insider tip: Don’t miss the home’s gardens, a lovely oasis and breath of fresh air in the middle of Santiago.

4. Check out the fauna & flora at Cerro San Cristobal

For kiss-the-sky vistas, head to Cerro San Cristóbal, a 722-hectare park which peaks at more than 850 metres high. Santiago’s most expansive green space encompasses a botanical garden, zoo, swimming pools and a towering white statue of the Virgin Mary. You can hike up the 300-metre hill (a 45-minute walk), or simply take the funicular, which makes two stops on the ascent—midway at the zoo and at the summit. When you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of Santiago and the perfect spot to sit down, sip a cool drink, and enjoy a well-deserved break.

  • Where is it? To catch the funicular, head to Manuel Mackenna 448-452, Providencia, Region Metropolitana. If you’re planning to hike, you can use one of the many entries around the mountain to start your ascent.
  • How to get there? From Pablo Neruda’s La Chascona House, it’s a few steps on foot only. If you’re coming from downtown, you’ll want to take the metro line 5 down to Baquedano Station and walk 10 minutes.
  • When to go? Your best bet is to visit Cerro San Cristobal on a regular weekday to avoid the weekend and holiday surcharge. Opening hours are:
    • Winter schedule (March to September): Tuesday through Sunday and holidays: 10 AM to 6:45 PM. Same closing time on Mondays, but the venue opens at 1 PM.
    • Summer schedule (October to April): Tuesday through Sunday and holidays: 10 AM to 7:45 PM. As per Mondays, opening hours are 1 PM to 8 PM.
  • How much time to visit? 3-4 hours.
  • Price range: Prices for the funicular vary, depending on where you stop along the way. That being said, they’re quite affordable, ranging from some 0.74 to 3.83 USD.
    • From bottom to the Zoo Station: Admission is 800 Chilean pesos for adults and 500 for kids and seniors on regular weekdays. On weekends and holidays, the price goes up to 1000 for adults and 650 for children and seniors.
    • From bottom to the summit: Admission is 2000 Chilean pesos for adults and 1500 for kids and seniors on regular weekdays. On weekends and holidays, the price goes up to 2600 for adults and 1950 for children and seniors.

Insider tip: If you’re looking for a little calm or refreshment, check out the Japanese-Style Garden and the two outdoor swimming pools, which are open during the summer.

Cable car in San Cristobal hill, overlooking a panoramic view of Santiago de Chile
Taking a cable car up to the summit of Cerro San Cristobal is the best way to get panoramic views of Santiago

5. Promenade in the parks

When visiting a large city like Santiago, you may find yourself craving a quiet respite from the buzzy beat of the city streets. Thankfully, the Chilean capital is home to a host of rejuvenating green spaces, which appeal to locals and tourists alike. 

Parque Forestal Santiago

The Parque Forestal in Santiago is a great destination for an afternoon stroll. Located in the historical downtown area, this urban park was created on reclaimed land from the Mapocho River. For a one-hour walk, start at the Puente Cal y Canto metro station on the West hand side of the park and head towards the eastern side, where the park stretches into Parque Balmaceda along the river. 

  • Where is it? Parque Forestal is located in Santiago’s historical downtown.
  • How to get there? Take the metro line 2 or 3 and head down to the Puente Cal y Canto station, which will lead you to the western side of the park.
  • When to go? The park is open seven days a week—day and night—but the best time to visit Parque Forestal is during the daytime to fully appreciate the beauty of its surroundings.
  • How much time to visit? Plan 1-2 hours for your stroll through the park.
  • Price Range: Free

Insider tip: After visiting the Parque Forestal, you can stay in the neighbourhood and pay a visit to the Bellas Artes Museum—Santiago’s Fine Arts Museum—or the Mercado Central to sample some amazing fresh seafood. Both venues are located alongside the park.

Parque Quinta Normal

If you’ve already been to the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, you may remember Quinta Normal. This picturesque park features several playgrounds, as well as scenic paths for walking or biking. It is set around a lake, where you can rent pedal boats, and is home to four museums. If you work up an appetite along the way, you can sample local snacks thanks to food vendors located on site.

  • Where is it? Parque Quinta Normal is located at Avenida Matucana 520, between Portales and Santo Domingo.
  • How to get there? Hop on the metro line 5 and stop at Quinta Normal.
  • When to go? Weekdays are a quieter time to visit, as the park is less crowded—but Parque Quinta Normal is a vast green space and is large enough to accommodate everyone, so don’t refrain from going on a weekend if it’s more convenient.
  • How much time to visit? 2-4 hours.
  • Price range: Free

6. Munch on local dishes & shop at the local markets

Visiting the markets is one of the best ways to fuel up on local food and typical Chilean snacks. Not only do they offer great variety, but the markets are also less expensive than restaurants. So if you’re travelling on a budget, it’s an easy way to save without depriving yourself. 

Mercado Central Santiago

As its name indicates, the Mercado Central is Santiago’s central market. Beneath its vaulted ceiling, vendors serve up local products ranging from seafood to baked goods, empanadas, cheeses and more. As you nibble on native nosh, you can browse the shops for a special souvenir to take home. Discover traditional Chilean handicrafts and jewelry, including items inlaid with lapis lazuli, a bright blue gemstone that is mined in only a few places around the world, including Chile.

  • Where is it? The Mercado Central is located downtown, at San Pablo 967, Santiago, Region Metropolitana.
  • How to get there? If you’re strolling through Parque Forestal, you’ll pass by the market as you walk. If not, metro lines 2 and 3 will take you close—just get off at station Puente Cal y Canto.
  • When to go? The Mercado Central opening hours are:
    • Monday through Thursday from 6 AM to 5 PM
    • Friday from 6 AM to 8 PM
    • Saturday from 6 AM to 6 PM
    • Sunday from 6 AM to 5 PM
  • How much time to visit? 1-2 hours if you plan to eat and shop.
  • Price range: $-$$

Mercado Mastica

This open-air flea market features artisan food stands and intriguing microbreweries. The market takes place at Parque Bicentenario one weekend per month and offers a terrific opportunity to discover small independent producers.

  • Where is it? The market is set in Parque Bicentenario at Bicentenario 3334-3554, Vitacura, Region Metropolitana.
  • How to get there? From downtown, the Bus line 502 will take you there. Simply get off at PC213-Avenida Vitacura, Esq. Alonso de Cordova.
  • When to go? Make sure the market is on by checking out their calendar.
  • How much time to visit? 2-3 hours.
  • Price range: $-$$

7. Drink like a local

Pisco is popular, but you can’t go wrong with Chilean wine. The country’s climate makes it one of the finest wine-growing regions in the world, so sampling the local vino is a particular pleasure when visiting Santiago. Here are two mouth-watering options to explore.

Viña Cousiño Macul

One of Chile’s oldest vineyards, Viña Cousiño Macul was founded in 1856. Today, it is still a family-run business, known for its typical fine Chilean wines. Set on the outskirts of Santiago, the attractive estate offers wine tours, wine tasting, and private tours of the vineyard.

  • Where is it? Viña Cousiño Macul is located at Av. Quilin 7100 Peñalolén, Santiago.
  • How to get there? If you’re leaving from downtown, take the metro line 3 to the Fernando Castillo Velasco station, where you can catch the bus line 418 to PD460-Avenida Tobalaba / Esq. Avenida Quilín.
  • When to go? Depending on the day, different tours may or may not be available. Check out the various tours and their schedules and choose your favourite.
  • How much time to visit? From downtown Santiago, allow approximately 50 minutes to get to Viña Cousiño Macul. Add 2-4 hours to sample the wines and tour the vineyard.
  • Price range: Depending on the tour, you’ll need to budget between $22 and $95 per person.

Maipo Valley Wine Tours

Less quaint but definitely more adventurous, Maipo Valley offers wine tours…and so much more. Their seventeen different tours feature horseback riding, biking, walking—and even a minibus if you want to take it easy. Their Santiago-based office provides a free shuttle or pick up from your accommodation to the wine valley, which is less than an hour away from downtown.

  • Where is it? The Maipo Valley Wine Tours office is located at Calle Londres 70, Santiago, Region Metropolitana.
  • How to get there? It’s a 12-minute walk from Plaza de Armas—or you can take the metro down to Universidad de Chile station.
  • When to go? Check out the Maipo Valley Wine Tours website to get a description of the various tours and tour schedules.
  • How much time to visit? Four to eight hours, depending on whether you opt for a half-day or full-day tour.
  • Price range: $$$

8. Party in Bella Vista

Santiago has an active nightlife scene, and between high-end nightclubs and dive bars, there’s bound to be a venue to whet your appetite. One of the best neighbourhoods to dance the night away is Bella Vista. Located just north of the Mapocho River, it’s a vibrant district filled with bars, restaurants, clubs, and see-and-be-seen terrasses lining the sidewalks. To experience typical Chilean nightlife, we recommend heading to the Salsoteca Maestra Vida.

Salsoteca Maestra Vida Santiago

This authentic salsa dance club features hip-swivelling Latin music, reasonably priced drinks and especially delicious mojitos. Feeling nervous about busting a move with your two left feet? Not to worry, this Chilean salsoteca offers beginner salsa lessons for a small fee ($5), which includes a drink to help calm the nerves.

  • Where is it? La Salsoteca Maestra Vida is located at Pio Nono 380, Barrio Bellavista, Recoleta, Santiago.
  • How to get there? The closest metro station is Baquedano (line 5).
  • When to go? The club is open every day except Mondays and doors open at 11 PM—aside from Saturdays, when it opens at 11:30 PM. We recommend booking a salsa lesson on Thursday, Friday or Sunday to get the full experience.
  • How much time to visit? Plan to spend at least two to four hours at the Salsoteca… and allow a stress-free morning the day after to recover!
  • Price range: $$

9. Cheer on the athletes at a futbol game!

Futbol—or soccer, as we know it—is one of the world’s most popular sports, and in Chile, it’s practically a religion. Catch a match and share the enthusiasm with passionate fans, cheering on one of the six country’s famous teams, including the “Big Three”: Colo-Colo, La “U” or La Catolica!

Root for La “U” at the Estadio Nacional

La Universidad de Chile’s La “U” Team rents out the National Stadium (known by the locals as el Estadio Nacional), which can welcome up to 50,000 people for its home games. 

  • Where is it? Avenida Grecia 2001, Ñuñoa, Santiago
  • How to get there? Take the Metro line 2 down to the station Parque O’Higgins…and follow the crowds.

Side with Colo-Colo at the Estadio Monumental

Colo-Colo plays at the Estadio Monumental Santiago, a vast stadium that can accommodate some 47,000 fans.

  • Where is it? Avenida Marathon 5300, Macul, Santiago
  • How to get there? Take the Metro line 5 down to the station Pedrero…and follow the crowds.

Encourage La Catolica at San Carlos de Apoquindo

La Universidad Catolica Santiago’s team La Catolica plays at San Carlos de Apoquindo, a venue that can greet up to 30,000 cheering fans.

  • Where is it? Avenida Las Flores 13,000, Santiago
  • How to get there? Take the Metro line 1 down to the station Los Dominicos, followed by the #C02 bus which stops at the stadium.

Insider tips:

  • Whatever game you choose to attend, leave ahead of time, as futbol is extremely popular and you’ll be facing huge crowds converging towards the stadiums.
  • Buying tickets in person directly at the stadium is your safest best—and ideally several days in advance if one of the Big Three is playing against another Big Three. The process may sound complicated, but trust us—it’s easier than trying to purchase your tickets online.

10. Take a day trip to the coast 

Once you’ve seen the city, you might want to take a day trip from Santiago to the coast to bask on the beautiful beaches. Two breathtaking destinations come to mind: Valparaiso (yes, it’s called paradise) and Viña del Mar.

Day Trip to Valparaiso

See the sea with a journey to Valparaiso, one of Chile’s loveliest ports, famed for its rainbow palette of cliff top homes and historic funiculars. This world heritage city has charming narrow streets with endless staircases and numerous lookouts offering perfect panoramic views

  • Where is it? Valparaiso is located on the coast of Chile.
  • How to get there? The bus from Santiago to Valparaiso takes about an hour and a half, with departures every 20 minutes.
  • When to go? Any day is a good day to visit this quaint city.
  • How much time to visit? Plan a full day to get the most out of your visit to Valparaiso.
  • Price range: Bus tickets are between $7 and $10 per person.

Visit Viña del Mar

Located close to Valparaiso, Viña del Mar is a resort town best known for its exquisite gardens, fabulous beaches and towering buildings. To get the most out of your day trip to Viña del Mar, we suggest lounging on the beach and then visiting the national botanical gardens afterwards to chill out and cool off.

  • Where is it? Viña del Mar is on the coast of Chile, just a little further North than Valparaiso.
  • How to get there? The bus from Santiago to Viña del Mar takes about two hours, with departures every 20 minutes.
  • When to go? Anytime you wish and the weather allows.
  • How much time to visit? You’ll want to plan a full day out in Viña del Mar.
  • Price range: Bus tickets are between $7 and $11 per person.

That sums up our top 10 best things to do in Santiago. Have we left out anything? Share your favourite spots by commenting below! Oh—and psst! Busbud can get you to many Chilean cities, from smaller villages to bigger cities to remote locations, at a fraction of flying or renting a car. Check out our coverage of the country.

This post was written by Amy Laughinghouse, a UK-based freelance writer and photographer. Read more about Amy’s adventures on her website, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.