What are the best places to visit in Santiago de Chile? Well, there are very few of them. I have a better proposition for your itinerary: stay in one of the best hotels in Santiago and explore the area on day trips from the capital. No need to google everything, I got it covered. The 9 top must-see places in Santiago and surroundings, including maps and my personal tips...and one tip of where NOT to go, to save your time.
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The first thing you’ll see when your plane land in Chile? Mountain vistas, slopes covered in snow, and skyscraper jungle. Don’t be mistaken, I’m not saying Santiago is not worth visiting, I merely state, Chile is full of amazing places and thrilling adventures (climbing the Villarrica volcano for instance) and it would be a shame to get stuck in the city. Because the capitals may have a different atmosphere, however, it’s usually the same everywhere: churches, cathedrals, museums, parks, hotels, and restaurants. But it’s the setting, which is always unique.
As there’s also the biggest international airport in Chile, it’s quite a good chance you’ll end up there anyway. So, what IS worth seeing in Santiago? I would say a 3-hour window to explore the best places to visit in Santiago is enough.
Neo-classical cathedral guarding the main square Plaza de Armas, surrounded by skyscrapers was founded around 1600, after the Spanish Conquista in the 1500s. However, due to frequent earthquakes, it wasn’t finished until the end of the 19th century, when the last touches completed the rich interior decoration. It’s also referred to as the darkest cathedral in the world...see for yourself.
A 19th-century royal palace turned into a museum of Chilean history and culture is right next to the cathedral. It’s not big and it’s not outstanding, but it’s an interesting stop on your journey through Santiago. Don’t expect any guides or leaflets in English. In Chile, you need to rely on your poor knowledge of Spanish, or a translator app. On the other side, admission is free.
For any art enthusiast, the National Museum of Fine Arts is a must. The colossal 1910 building houses mostly contemporary art from Chilean and international artists. The exhibition is rather eclectic, and all descriptions are in Spanish (as customary), but the building itself is very photogenic. Moreover, it’s on your way to San Cristobal viewing point and it’s free as well.
Accommodation Tip: Across the street from the museum, you’ll find Hotel Ismael with a splendid park view and very warm, welcoming staff. And swear, there’s not a single link to Moby Dick.
Cross the river near Plaza Baquedano and admire the colorful Bellavista district. It’s an artsy neighborhood full of hipster cafés, bars, bistros, and souvenir shops. When we walked the streets, it reminded me of the Bo-Kaap district in South Africa. Colorful houses tucked under the hill with colonial atmosphere, so similar and yet so different.
Anyhow, when walking through Bellavista, make sure to check out La Chascona, the former residence of Chile’s beloved poet Pablo Neruda. This avantgarde house contains some personal artifacts of the Nobel-winning writer as well as some of his books. Not bad, but if you’re interested in Neruda, I have something better in store for you further in the article.
The St. Christopher Hill towers 300 m (985 ft) above the rest of the capital and it’s a part of the Metropolitan Park in Santiago. If nothing else, you should see this in Santiago. It offers the best views of the city you can imagine.
You can either take a 45-minute walk up the hill or get up by the funicular railway. You know, I always encourage people to walk, but the funicular drive is exciting as it is. The funicular station is to be found on the north end of Pío Nono Street, behind the Santiago Zoo. It will take you to the statue of the Virgin Mary on top, then you’re free to explore the park on your own.
Tip: If possible, head to the hill early in the morning. Santiago has quite a smog problem and in the morning, the view is the clearest.
Where to stay: There is a nice boutique hotel right under the hill, only a few minutes from the funicular. The Aubrey Boutique Hotel offers an oasis of peace despite the perfect location in a funky hip Bellavista district.
Our Tips for Santiago de Chile and surrounding: Top Highlight: La Casa de Isla Negra Accommodation: Book your stay in Santiago, it’s a much more convenient location for day trips. Where to eat: Hard Rock Café, Santiago
Valparaíso is located approximately an hour and a half drive west of Santiago de Chile on the Pacific Coast. It’s a vibrant city with cliff houses of all colors. In fact, one of the oldest cities on the Americas continents! There is graffiti on every corner, and the whole city is intertwined by a funicular railroad. But that’s about it. It offers wonderful scenery, it’s nice to stroll the streets and fun to ride the funiculars, but don’t look for anything interesting in there.
If you end up in Valparaíso anyway and you have a spare time, check these:
One of our day trips from Santiago was to Maipo Canyon. Want to see the most awe-inspiring views around Santiago? This is it. Even though it’s technically in Argentina, you can see the Aconcagua Mountain from there. With 6 959 m (22 831 ft) it’s the highest mountain in the Americas, and if it wouldn’t be of the Himalayas, it would be the highest mountain in the world.
Besides Aconcagua, there are many other 6K mountains, which makes this place ideal for hikes and climbing. It was the first time that I saw such a huge mountains face to face, and I was petrified. Imagine driving along the road at an altitude around 2 000 m (6 560 ft) and seeing a 4 000 m (13 123 ft) wall rising in front of you. That was a blast!
The first four days or so, I was down with a cold (from an extreme air-condition in the Air-France lounge). But hey, I couldn’t miss the Maipo Canyon! So, it was time for me to try out the Chilean pharmacy supply. I was surprised I managed to express myself in Spanish, but eventually, a got some pills to ease my suffering. It was some kind of heavy meds I’m sure wouldn’t be legit in Europe, but what the heck, it was magical. At one moment I felt like dying, then I took the pill, and I was as strong as an ox...until the meds wear off and it was time for another magic pill. Well, the morale of the story is: don’t worry about catching a cold on your vacation in Chile. They got it covered. :)
The hike to San Francisco Glacier was simply amazing. The starting point is at the parking lot in Baños Morales from where the trail will lead you to a laguna near the San Francisco Glacier with epic views on the peaks along the way. The path is well maintained and marked, so we had no trouble getting there. The first part of the trail is a bit steep but then it’s a piece of cake.
Now, this is the top experience for Pablo Neruda lovers. And just for them. Isla Negra is a coastal town around 80 km (52 mi) south from Valparaíso. It’s most famous for two things: great wine and Pablo Neruda. The wine part aside, Neruda’s house belongs among the best places to visit in Chile.
The poet’s house/museum La Casa de Isla Negra is an eclectic representation of the poet’s great mind. Honestly, I was stunned. It’s located at the most romantic place possible, with a view of the ocean cracking against the rocks on the shore. I bet even I would find inspiration at this place.
The house itself represents the two things Neruda loved deeply: seamanship and trains. So, one part of the house resembles a lighthouse, and the other part a wagon. Both are filled with various artifacts from his life. On top of that, every single thing inside the house or at the porch carries its own story. Like a bell linked to Neruda’s friends, or a log washed-up by the ocean, which he found on his afternoon walk.
I was so excited about this place, I can picture myself living at a similar place for my retirement, just watching the ocean, taking walks on the coast, and making the most out of every day. La Casa de Isla Negra is, by all means, number one of the places to visit around Santiago.
Ok, so this was my 9 tips for Santiago and surroundings. Another place you can see in all travel guides is Viña del Mar resort. I was like, alright, vineyards, Pacific coast...that sounds great. Well, no, it’s not. A great concrete jungle with pseudo-rich Chileans’ residences, that’s what it is. Literally nothing worth getting there, you can taste the great wine elsewhere. Not that I would enjoy tarnishing the place, just want to save your time for better experiences. Exploring Lakes District for instance. But again, the wine is awesome, be sure to try that somewhere around.
For the time of our visit, we booked a hotel in Valparaíso (about it later), and it wasn’t a good idea. It’s on the Pacific shoreline, so the setting was exquisite, and the service was decent. However, Santiago has the logistic advantage as it lies in the middle of the region. So, if you take my humble advice, stay in Santiago, and take day trips to the surroundings. You can get everywhere within an hour of driving.
The delicately restored historical building housing the Magnolia Hotel lies at the heart of Santiago. Stylish modern bedrooms complement the vintage aura of the rest of the hotel. And the rooftop bar? Say no more.
Do you like a combination of red, black and white? Great, Castillo Rojo, located in the Bellavista district right under the Cristóbal Hill is extravagant, luxurious, and extremely friendly.
If you’re a fan of classic, top-notch hotel chains, Singular Santiago is the best option. This five-star hotel has large rooms, a fitness center, and a rooftop bar with a pool. The breakfast is also renowned.
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