Looking for unique things to do in Santiago? Check out these hidden gems
Fringed by misty Andean foothills, Santiago has always been a place where the things-to-do list starts with adventure. This unique city is an easy drive from both ancient forests and Pacific beaches, but it’s a destination in its own right. Skyscrapers like Gran Torre Santiago, Latin America’s tallest building, reflect Chile’s buoyant economy, and trendy districts like Providencia showcase chefs who are elevating classic local ingredients with techniques learned abroad. Santiago’s contemporary art galleries are hidden gems, and the local wine industry is expanding its range beyond the Cab Savs that put Chilean wines onto shelves all over the world.
Still, Santiago looks back as well as forward. Nearly five centuries of European civilization gave the city its baroque and neoclassical landmarks, from the lavish Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela to La Moneda presidential palace. Displaced but not forgotten, the achievements of older civilizations are on show at the Museum of Pre-Colombian Art. Closer to the present, you’ll find poet Pablo Neruda’s art and kitschy travel souvenirs at his old love nest, La Chascona. Today, Neruda’s spirit lives on in Bellavista’s bohemian bars and clubs, where couples flirt till dawn.
Reasons to go:
- Chilean wine: Wine bars in districts like Providencia and Bellavista serve award-winning New World vintages by the glass. You can get merry with first-class Cabernets and Cabernet blends, but for something unique to Chile, try Carménère, the country’s signature grape. Want to see the winemaking process up close? Plan a tour to Concha y Toro, one of the world’s largest wineries.
- Completos and terremotos: When hunger strikes, order a completo, a Great Dane of a hot dog smothered with sauerkraut, mashed avocado, chopped tomatoes, mayonnaise, and mustard. This popular hangover cure is often preceded by one or more terremotos, or earthquakes—a generously poured cocktail of sweet white wine, pineapple ice cream, and bitters. For an extra kick, spike yours as the locals do with a shot of pisco.
- Parks and viewpoints: Spring and fall colors, picnic spots, and selfie-friendly sculptures draw visitors to Parque Forestal, which curves alongside the Mapocho River. For one of the world’s great city views, ride the funicular up the steep wooded slopes of San Cristóbal Hill, crowned by a bright white statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On a clear winter’s day, the snowcapped Andes fill the horizon.
- One-of-a-kind markets: Made in Britain and assembled in Chile in the 1870s, the wrought-iron Central Market is packed with produce and seafood stalls, as well as restaurants serving local favorites like locos (sea snails). For another unique experience, take a stroll through Santiago’s Persa Bio-Bío, a sprawling flea market with snack bars, street musicians, and vendors selling everything from antique maps to vintage silver.
- Street art: Some of Santiago’s most exciting contemporary art is found not in galleries but on walls, roller shutters, and alleyways. Bellavista in particular is richly decorated with psychedelic dreamscapes, portraits of political heroes, and anime-style characters and caricatures.
When to go
Unless you’re here to ski, there isn’t a bad time to visit Santiago. Summers are dry, with average temperatures hovering in the mid-80s, dropping into the pleasant early 50s at night. It’s rare to have a sustained wet spell, even in winter, and you’re unlikely to see snow unless you climb into the Andes.
If you’re here in fall, look out for parties and tastings that mark the wine harvest, or vendimia. Events are held in city parks and plazas and on nearby wine estates. Film buffs should consider coming in August, to coincide with the weeklong Santiago International Film Festival. Folk dancing, fireworks, and lots of empanadas are key elements in the Fiestas Patrias, held September 18 and 19, which celebrate Chile’s independence from Spain.
Santiago has an extensive subway network, making it easy to get around. For any kind of public transport, the best way to pay is with a bip! travelcard, which can be loaded and reloaded with credit at transit station ticket booths and self-service terminals.
Ready to visit Santiago? Check out our area hotels to find your ideal base for exploring.
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