Santiago, the capital of Chile, is an eclectic mix of architectural styles. We spent five days in the city and filled our time with a variety of activities as there is an endless list of things to do in Santiago Chile. Below are our highlights and recommendations.
We opted to discover the city with the hop-on-hop-off bus from Turistik, selecting the two-day Discover Santiago option. This was a perfect introduction to the city that provided us with transportation, a city tour of Santiago in English, and the flexibility to spend time seeing the sites that interested us. (More on this below.) It’s one of the better hop-on-hop-off bus tours we have taken.
Table of contents
- 1 Things To Do in Santiago Chile
- 1.1 • Watch the sunset from the top of Sky Costanera
- 1.2 • Stare in wonder at the statue of Neptune on San Lucía Hill
- 1.3 • Admire architecture at Plaza de Armas
- 1.4 • Enter the Metropolitan Cathedral
- 1.5 • Explore the Pre-Colombian Art Museum
- 1.6 • Tour La Moneda Palace – the seat of the Chilean government
- 1.7 • Contemplate the exhibits at Bellas Artes
- 1.8 • Ride a cable car or funicular to the top of San Cristobal Hill
- 1.9 • Stroll through the Lastarría neighbourhood
- 1.10 • Discover birds and a rose garden at Araucano Park
- 1.11 • Take a day trip outside the city
- 1.12 • Go shopping
- 1.13 • See Friends
- 2 Where to Stay in Santiago Chile
- 3 Getting Around in Santiago
- 4 Pro Tips: Know Before Visiting Santiago Chile
- 5 Please Share
- 6 Which do you believe are the best things to do in Santiago Chile?
Things To Do in Santiago Chile
• Watch the sunset from the top of Sky Costanera
Standing tall at 300 metres, Sky Costanera, the tallest building in Latin America, is only 28 metres shorter than the Sky Tower in Auckland New Zealand (the tallest free-standing structure in the Southern Hemisphere). Taking a 50-second elevator ride, we headed up to the observation deck about an hour before sunset. This is definitely one of the best things to do in Santiago.
Costanera Center is stop number 10 on the hop-on-hop-off bus.
• Stare in wonder at the statue of Neptune on San Lucía Hill
Photos just don’t do justice to this huge fountain dedicated to Neptune, the Roman god of the sea. Seemingly out of place in the centre of a city, as we entered through the ornate iron gates and walked along the lush path leading up the hill we were transported from the hustle and bustle of the big city.
San Lucía is a hill with a long history as it was a volcano 15 million years ago. More recently, it was the starting point for the founding of the city of Santiago in 1540 by the Spaniards.
San Lucía Hill is stop number 8 on the Santiago hop-on-hop-off bus.
• Admire architecture at Plaza de Armas
Not an original name, there is a Plaza de Armas in just about every Chilean city we visited. This is because when the Spanish arrived they started their city construction at Plaza de Armas with a cathedral, a Cabildo (government building), and a central park. Today it is still the centre of town life, used for ceremony, and loaded with historic architecture.
Plaza de Armas is stop number 5 on the hop-on-hop-off bus tour.
• Enter the Metropolitan Cathedral
Located on Plaza de Armas, the Metropolitan Cathedral is recognized as one of the main Catholic symbols in Chile. Construction began in 1544, with the final refurbishments in 1899, resulting in a mix of architectural styles that are dominated by Neo-Renaissance. Be sure to enter this impressive cathedral.
• Explore the Pre-Colombian Art Museum
The Pre-Colombian Art Museum is one of the more unusual museums we have visited as we make our way across South America. It features artworks of American indigenous populations predating the 16th century. The neoclassical building that houses the museum is also a masterpiece. Built in the early 1800s as the Royal Customs House, it was destroyed by fire in the last century, and repaired to house the museum.
• Tour La Moneda Palace – the seat of the Chilean government
La Moneda Palace is a piece of Chilean history that is now a World Heritage Site. A stunning example of neoclassical architecture, it holds the seat of the President of the Republic of Chile, as well as the offices of three cabinet ministers. La Moneda holds a place in Chile’s history having originally served as a mint, later as home to presidents, then the seat of power. It was damaged on September 11, 1973 when military forces staged a coup, a day that ended with the announcement of the death of the president (a controversial event that has been officially labelled a suicide).
Daily tours are available in both Spanish and English but must be booked in advance. The interior is an understated elegance, a striking example of what I believe a top government building should look like.
La Moneda is on Constitution Square. Here you will also find the Palacio de la Moneda Cultural Center and the Santiago Stock Exchange.
Constitution Square is stop number 6 on the hop-on-hop-off bus.
• Contemplate the exhibits at Bellas Artes
Bellas Artes is the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts. Established in 1880, it’s the oldest art museum in South America. For me, it was the building itself that made the visit worthwhile, in addition to the over 3,000 works in the museum.
• Ride a cable car or funicular to the top of San Cristobal Hill
We did both! We took the cable car to the top, and the funicular back down. However, the real magic is at the top. Despite the drizzle that decided to turn to rain by the time we got to the top, the views of the city are spectacular. Also at the top is a huge statue of the Virgin Mary, a small church, and the path with seven crosses called “Camino de las siete palabras”, which translates to “Way of the seven words.”
San Cristobal Hill peaks at 860 metres (2821 feet) above sea level. It is a part of Metropolitan Park, Chile’s largest urban park.
Note: While the funicular is open daily, the cable car is closed on Mondays. If you purchased the Hop-on Hop-off Plus (two-day pass), both rides are included and you will want to start from stop number 2 on a Tuesday to Sunday.
• Stroll through the Lastarría neighbourhood
The popular bohemian Lastarría neighbourhood is both a local and tourist hang out. Whether it’s cultural activities, festivals, restaurants, or the nightlife, there seems to be something for everyone to enjoy. We were directed here more than once, the first time when we were seeking a reserve wine for a gift, and the second time to eat at Wonderland Cafe. Designed with Lewis Carroll’s book in mind, this place features “drink me” treats that are massive in size. I had a “Madhatter”.
• Discover birds and a rose garden at Araucano Park
The lush green 22 hectares of Araucano Park is the ideal spot to relax.
It’s at hop-on-hop-off bus stop number 13.
• Take a day trip outside the city
While there are plenty of interesting and fun things to do in Santiago itself, the surrounding area is also filled with treasures. We spent three nights in the Viña del Mar and Valparaiso area (where we took a cooking class and enjoyed some of the world’s best street art), but many people visit both cities on a day trip. Other popular excursions include winery tours, Andes mountain hikes, and a visit to the home of Chile’s Nobel award-winning poet, Pablo Neruda.
• Go shopping
I will admit, shopping is not on my things to do in Santiago list, which is why it is last on this list. However, if I were a shopper it would be. At the base of Sky Costanera is a five-story modern shopping mall (Costanera Center) that we had to walk through to get to the tower’s entrance. While it looks complete, with everything one could imagine, it is the Parque Arauco Mall that earned spot number 1 on the Turistik Santiago Hop-on Hop-off bus.
If you are looking for something special to purchase, consider Lapislázuil, a semi-precious blue stone that is found only in Chile and Afghanistan.
• See Friends
On a personal note, for us, the real highlight of our time in Santiago was catching up with our former exchange student and meeting her delightful family.
Where to Stay in Santiago Chile
Like most major cities around the world, there are plenty of Santiago accommodation options. Despite the vast number of choices, we think we found the best choice on our second visit to the city. We slept in luxurious beds and woke to a delicious breakfast at the NH Collections Santiago Plaza. If that wasn’t enough, we had a high floor room with fabulous views of the city, and the hotel is across the street from Costanera Center. We were close to great restaurants and near a metro station. Of course, everything was immaculate, we had all the amenities we could want, and they could arrange for anything we needed.
If you’re not a fan of five-star luxury, or just prefer to spend a little less on accommodations, these are the recommendations from a local friend.
⇒ Park Plaza Apartments (Aparthotel)
Getting Around in Santiago
• Santiago hop-on-hop-off bus
The Turistik hop-on-hop-off bus tour is how we got around the first two days. It’s a perfect introduction to the city, and an easy way to tour. We took the two-day option, giving us enough time to see it all including the cable car up and the funicular down San Cristobal Hill. Best of all, the buses run every 30 minutes, we can get on and off the bus as many times as we choose, and we can go around as many times as our day will allow.
As the bus drove around the city, we listened to audio commentary through provided headsets (available in multiple languages including Spanish and English).
NOTE: At first we found it difficult to find the bus stops as they are not well signposted, However, the addresses of the stops are printed in the guide provided when you get your ticket.
• Guided Santiago Tours
One of the easiest ways to get around a city is to let someone else do the driving. Tours not only do this, but they also take you to the best spots and give you an interesting and informative background. Because we opted to do the Turistik hop-on-hop-off bus, we didn’t need to take any other tours. If we had, we would have looked at one of these:
Santiago has both taxis with metres and Remis where the price is negotiated in advance. If we needed to flag down a car, we always took metred taxis. However, from the airport, Remis is a good option as it has a fixed price regardless of traffic.
• Public transit
We found the public transportation to be surprisingly clean, on-time, and easy to use. A BIP card is needed to use the buses or metro. Purchase a card and add money to it at any metro station or Bip Center (Centros bip!). You can use one card for the entire family.
You will need to use the card to get onto the buses or into the metro station. However, the payments are based on time of travel (pay more at peak times), rather than distance, so the card is not needed to exit.
• Drive (rent a car)
If you plan on driving while in Chile, we had great success with RentalCars.com. They found us the best prices, offered us options of companies to work with, and of cars. Everything went smooth as silk for the rental of our vehicles. (However, I strongly caution against using Europcar in Chile, as we used them in the Atacama desert and they deducted from our deposit an amount greater than the cost of the rental for two new shock absorbers, although only one was shot).
Mixed with public transit, hop-on-hop-off bus, or taxis, Santiago is an easy city to walk around.
Pro Tips: Know Before Visiting Santiago Chile
- The currency is the Chilean Peso (CLP). Typically only CLP or credit cards are accepted in restaurants, shops, and for entrance fees.
- Most museums in Santiago are closed on Mondays.
- It is customary to tip 10% in restaurants, and this amount is often added to your bill, labelled “propina.” If paying with credit, the server will often ask if you want the tip included, the assumption being that you will otherwise tip it in cash.
- While you can drink the tap water, it is not provided for free in restaurants.
- Neighbourhood safety is varied; therefore, you should check with your hotel before going out at night. Click here for more South America safety tips.
- If you are getting a taxi, and are not fluent enough in Spanish to negotiate your price, select one with a meter.
- If you drive, we recommend Maps.me. We found it to be more accurate than Google Maps in Chile (and Argentina), and Maps.me offers downloadable maps that work offline.
- Tours of La Moneda must be booked in advance, and in peak season can be booked out for weeks. Check their official website here.
- If you are visiting Santiago for multiple days, book the La Moneda tour for your first day as any presidential activity will change the dates to a future date. Our tour moved one day forward.
Click here to see our South American itinerary.
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Which do you believe are the best things to do in Santiago Chile?
Disclaimer: While you pay the same, we receive a small commission from many of the links of this page. It helps us pay for this page. In addition, we were media guests of Turistik and Sky Costanera. We are frequently provided with complimentary entrances, tours, accommodations, or sample items in order to gather information necessary to write our reviews. However, the opinions expressed here are strictly our own.