The capital of Chile might just be one of the most beautiful cities in South America. Surrounded by the Andes mountains, Santiago is bursting with natural beauty, rich history, and colorful culture. If you have a few days to spare, Santiago is a city full of adventures of all kinds, offering a little something for everyone. You can go sightseeing, hike up into the Andes, enjoy a wine tasting in one of the Chilean vineyards, or experience the vibrant nightlife the city has. Here are 10 of my favorite things to do while visiting Santiago.
1. Explore the Plaza de Armas
This is the best place to begin your time in Santiago. Designed to be the main plaza, this area has been the city center since its founding in 1541. Where there used to be gallows during the colonization of Chile now stands a beautiful fountain in memory of Simón Bolívar, the Liberator of many South American nations. The area around the fountain is dotted with tall palm trees and benches for visitors to sit and enjoy all the sights and sounds the square has to offer.
Like in most big-city hubs, you’ll find street performers of all kinds looking to entertain tourists. I think it’s entertaining to have a wander around all the performers in the square, you’ll find everything from break dancing to clown shows.
There are several historical and cultural landmarks around the perimeter of the plaza including the Metropolitan Cathedral, Royal Court Palace, and the Central Post Office. With so much to see and do, you could easily spend the whole day just experiencing all the Plaza de Armas has to offer.
2. Climb Santa Lucia Hill
If you’re walking around the plaza hasn’t tired you out yet, just a few blocks away is one of the best things to do in Santiago. The large park is full of history; it’s the very place where the city was founded by the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia in 1541. At the entrance to the park is another gorgeous fountain, the Neptune Fountain. From here some several trails and staircases will take you up to the top of the hill where stunning views of Santiago and the surrounding mountains await.
Also at the top of the hill is Santiago’s historic center, El Castillo Hidalgo. The castle was built in 1816 by the order of the last Spanish governor of the city. It was built as a defense fortress, but now it is a venue for weddings, parties, graduations, galas, and other important events. You can take a tour of the castle and enjoy panoramic views on the now roofed in terrace.
3. Enjoy the Views from San Cristobal Hill
While we’re on the topic of hills, I may as well tell you about the best viewpoint in the city. San Cristobal is a bit higher up than Santa Lucia, and the views from the top are stunning. This hill is part of the Metropolitan Park, the biggest park in Santiago. At the top, you’ll find a sanctuary to the Immaculate Conception which features a 72 feet tall statue of the Virgin Mary. On the hill is also a beautiful Japanese garden and some swimming pools that are open in the summer.
There’s a couple of ways you can get up the hill. I prefer the scenic ride in the cable car! It makes the journey a lot easier (and quicker) plus you get to enjoy the views on the way up. Or you can always just hike up the hill. Walking will take you about an hour, depending on your pace, but you’ll be treated to the views of the city and the fresh Chilean air.
4. Watch the Changing of the Guard at La Moneda
As Santiago is the capital city of Chile, of course, the office of the President stands here. La Moneda means “the coin” and this is because the building was once the official mint of Chile. It is a beautiful neoclassical building that was built in 1805 but has suffered plenty of damage during its history.
The palace is the site of the death of Chilean president Salvador Allende. In the 70s the palace was bombed by the Chilean air force when he refused to leave, and he died later the same day. The official story names his death as suicide, but most people believe it was an assassination.
You can take a tour of La Moneda, but you have to book a reservation at least 7 days in advance. If you can’t get a tour, you should still stop by and watch the changing of the guard. It happens every other morning at 10, or 11 on Saturdays.
5. Take a Day Trip to Cajon del Maipo
There are honestly so many things to do in Santiago that I need a much bigger list. Seriously, I haven’t even touched on the food and drink or even the festivals that seem to always be happening in the city. But despite all that, you really should try to set aside a day to visit Cajon del Maipo, it’s the perfect choice to spend a refreshing day enjoying the beautiful nature in Chile.
This canyon in the Andes offers stunning scenery and hiking trails of varying difficulty. One trail will even lead you to a reservoir that’s 8,200 feet above sea level! If hiking isn’t necessarily your thing or you feel a bit more adventurous, you can also try zip lining, white water rafting, or horseback riding.
But the best bit about Cajon del Maipo is the hot water springs. After a hard day of hiking, rafting, or zip-lining, there’s nothing better than a warm soak in the natural springs. Bring your swimsuit!
6. Go to the Sky Costanera and get Amazing 360 panoramic views of the City
Check out the Costanera Center for shopping. It’s a giant mall with many salons, stores, and dining options. At the very top, there is the Sky Costanera. It is an observation deck on the top of the skyscraper almost 1,000 ft. up. Sky Costanera is the highest viewpoint in all of South America. If you come up here know that it’s indoors and has floor to ceiling windows. It gets crowded before sunset so go about an hour early to secure your spot. I went during the day and it was so clear that you could see for miles, and see just how big Santiago is. The building is open from 10am-9pm and costs 22 USD. It’s a little expensive, but worth the view. Again, I suggest going an hour before sunset to see both the day and the night scene. The Sky Costanera was one of my favorite things to do in San Tiago, you couldn’t beat the views, even if stuck behind a window!
7. Take a Day Trip to Valparaiso and Vina Del Mar.
There is a tour I booked on Viator.com that combines the two. It’s great to get outside of the very large metropolitan city of San Tiago and explore other Chilean cities, especially the coastal ones. You will check out the beaches, fish markets, see one of the original Moai statues from Easter Island, check out historical buildings, walk around the cities, see non-stop street art, and have a lovely little lunch with amazing views at La Mirador. There is also a lot of really cool street art you will see. Bring good walking shoes as there is a lot of walking and a lot of hills, but it’s fine. You’ll love it.
8. Take a Trip out to Wine Country, to one of the Many Vineyards.
Chile is famous for its wine. It’s delicious. Chile is one of the biggest wine exporters in the world. No trip to Chile would be complete without visiting a vineyard. There are so many vineyards you can visit and you can do a tasting, shop for wines, and just sit and enjoy the sunshine, while sipping some Chilean wine. You can eat lunch at the vineyards, along with taking a tour through them to see the many gardens, plants, and beautiful architecture. Veramonte, in the Casablanca Valley is stunning and the one we had the pleasure to stop at. You can enjoy this tour combined with the above tour to Valparaiso and Vina Del Mar.
9. Get Lunch and a Few Beers at Barrio Bellavista.
After going to San Cristóbal Hill, take the funicular down and walk to Bellavista. Bellavista is a neighborhood in Santiago known for its numerous restaurants, boutiques, bars, and clubs. It’s known to be the “Bohemian Quarter”, and very artsy and hipster. You can get lunch here and get some great souvenirs and gifts. You can also get some great authentic arts and crafts. If you head here in the evening, plan for live music, a crowd, and lots of drinking. It’s very lively at night. Patio Bellavista that is.
10. Stay at the New Novotel Providencia
This Novotel’s Location is just the very best. You can walk to the Costanera Center for shopping and the sky deck. It’s near to many shops and restaurants. It is close to all of the tourist attractions as well. Gabby and I either walked to the tourist attractions, or got cheap Ubers, they are much cheaper than taxis. The hotel is colorful, new, and super clean. It has a great little restaurant and café. It has a lovely outdoor patio you can eat as well. The breakfast and dinner was just lovely. The view is great. I got some beautiful sunset photos from this hotel. The rooms were spacious, brand new, and well cleaned. I would recommend this hotel over and over again. You just can’t get a better location than this in Santiago. It also has an indoor pool and gym with new equipment. There are two Novotel’s, so make sure you pay attention when booking and go for this one for the location