With a skyline boasting snow-capped mountains and stunning colonial architecture, Santiago’s landscape is as rich as its history. Home to over 40% of the country’s population, Santiago is an authentic experience of Chilean culture. Perfect for travelers who love the outdoors as well as cosmopolitan living, the capital city is a blend of parks, fine dining, and partying. We’ve narrowed down the best sights to see and things to do, to ensure that your 24 hours in Santiago are unforgettable.
Guest post by Grace Brennan
What’s the best time to visit Santiago?
Although Santiago experiences a year-round warm climate, the shoulder season (the periods before and after peak season) is the best time to visit. September-November and March-May have plenty of sunshine and fewer crowds. Fall is especially good for wine-lovers, as harvest festivals take place across various wineries. The rainfall is higher towards the end of September, but snow levels on the Andes rise, giving Santiago an even more spectacular mountainous backdrop.
For all the culture buffs, make sure you visit in January when the Santiago a Mil International Festival takes place. Celebrating contemporary arts, the festival is a flurry of color, sound and expression.
A few facts about Santiago
Santiago is the capital city of Chile and is centrally located in the Santiago Basin, encompassed by mountains. Because of the city’s natural surroundings and geographical position, it’s possible for visitors to go both skiing and to the beach in one day. Spanish is the national language and is particularly colloquial and fast compared to other Latin American countries. It’s certainly worth knowing some Spanish before you arrive, as people are not likely to speak English. The Chilean peso is the local currency and if you’re not familiar with South America, the high denominations may take some adjusting to.
One Day in Santiago Itinerary
Top things to do in Santiago, Chile
Follow this guide and make the best of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do on your one day in Santiago.
Take in the view at Cerro San Cristóbal
This 1800-acre hectare park is the largest green space in Santiago and provides breathtaking panoramic views of the city. Venture up the 2,820-foot hill just before sunset to watch the light fade over the silhouetted skyline. With the mountains towering in the background, it’s a true spectacle.
At the top stands a towering, white statue of Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepción, a shrine to the Virgin Mary, and an especially revered site in Chile. Pope John Paul II held mass here in 1984. Along the hillside is also the National Zoo (Zoológico Nacional) and the Botanical Gardens (Jardín Botánico Mapulemu).
To ensure you get the clearest views (and photos), head to Cerro San Cristóbal after it has rained and the moisture lowers the smog in the air. Active travelers can hike to the lookout point — it takes around 45 minutes and is clearly signposted. Alternatively, there’s a gondola that departs from Bellavista and is a fantastic way to see the scenery without breaking a sweat.
Explore Plaza de Armas
You’re likely to hear Plaza de Armas before you see it. The square is the heart of the city in Santiago and is bustling with musicians, restaurants and attractions. Spend some time exploring the area — the Central Post Office and National History Museum are all within walking distance, or admire the intricate decor of the Metropolitan Cathedral. Lined with palm trees at the entrance, the church is open to the public throughout the day and is free to enter. Alternatively, relax on a bench, soak up the warm sunshine and watch the busy world go by.
Although Plaza de Armas translates as “the square of weapons”, the area is not violent. The name dates back to colonialism when the square was intended to be an assembly point for citizens if an attack occurred.
Reflect and remember at Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos
The Museum of Memory and Human Rights commemorates people killed or displaced in Chile from 1973 to 1990. The brutal military dictatorship shook the country and is an emotional subject for many residents of Santiago. Through a collection of various testimonies, the museum tells history from the perspective of the victims and their families, while promoting ideas of acceptance and peace to ensure crimes of the past are never committed again. The museum is a shocking and humbling journey but is extremely powerful in its effort to depict the country Chile was, and the country it is today. Admission is free.
Go sky high at Gran Torre Santiago
A symbol of modernity in Chile, standing 984 feet tall, Gran Torre is the tallest skyscraper in Latin America. Impossible to miss among the Santiago skyline, the narrow building is coated with reflective panels that mirror the clear skies during the day and the city lights at night. The tower was designed by César Pelli, an Argentinian architect, and considering the fact that Chile endures some of the strongest earthquakes on the planet, the engineering is remarkable. Zoom up to the 61st and 62nd floor where the Sky Costanera observation deck has a 360-degree scope across Santiago’s landscape. From the urban jungle to the looming mountain peaks, the view is phenomenal. Tickets for viewing platform can be bought at the entrance of Gran Torre and are valid for up to a year.
Wander around La Moneda Palace
In Plaza de la Ciudadania, La Moneda Palace is home to Chile’s Presidential offices. The grand building is significant in understanding much of Chile’s turbulent past and was originally erected to be a coin mint. The palace was later the stage for Pinochet’s coup against President Salvador Allende. Nowadays the palace focuses on national progress and has a cultural center that contains an exhibition and two art galleries. It also hosts events like book talks and educational workshops.
Stroll around the courtyards and marvel at the beautiful neoclassical design or watch the changing of the guard ceremony which takes place on alternate days at 10 am (11 am on Sundays). Visitors can take guided tours but they must be scheduled in advance.
Tuck into empanadas
Empanadas, the tasty golden treats are a staple of the diet in Chile and an absolute must-try for any visitor. A traditional pino filling contains beef, raisins, onions and black olives, topped with eggs and encased in a thick, flaky pastry parcel. The delicious snacks can be bought from street vendors, or are homemade for parties and large events. Typically enjoyed with a glass of red wine, the best time to dive into empanadas is in September, when Chile celebrates its independence from Spain, and fondas (inns) rustle up a range of the savory bites for Fiestas Patrias. If you’re not in Santiago around the festivities, check out Rosalia in La Barneachea for some truly mouthwatering empanadas.
Where to stay in Santiago?
The north of the city tends to be a little more residential and quiet, while the east is more expensive. Generally, tourists stay in Santiago Central in the center, close to popular city attractions and restaurants, with great nightlife and public transportation. Bellavista, Santa Lucia, and Barria Lastarria are all safe, fun areas to stay we. Below are recommended properties in each of the neighborhoods.
In the heart of Lastarria, this Airbnb Aparthotel is close to Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral and comes with a fully equipped kitchen.
La Chimba hostel is ideal for large groups and is only five minutes away from a metro station. Located in Barrio Bellavista, guests can enjoy a variety of restaurants and bars in the area, or simply relax in the hostel’s chilled atmosphere.
This charming studio apartment situated in Lastarria, has a whole host of museums nearby. The apartment also has a balcony overlooking Cerro San Cristóbal, wonderful to spend warm nights on, reflecting on your day.
Extra tips for visiting Santiago?
– Chile is one of the safest countries in South America, however travelers should still take care when exploring the country. Pay attention to your belongings in busy locations, and try not to carry expensive/irreplaceable items around with you. If you’re taking a taxi, check the driver is registered with the city and agree to a price in advance; taxis have been known to overcharge foreigners in Santiago.
– Santiago is easy to reach via plane. Fly into Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport. If you’re arriving by bus, there are multiple different terminals across the city depending which route you take. Remember to check the name of the bus station in advance and plan your onward journey accordingly.
– Santiago is lucky enough to have one of the most advanced metro systems in South America. There are 5 lines, all color-coded on the maps and all relatively easy to navigate. Travelers can purchase individual tickets or a ‘Bip!’ card from any metro station to add credit as needed.
– Make your trip to Santiago even more exciting! Check out Tripadvisor for all the activities and organized tours in Santiago or around the area. Make sure to purchase your tickets to all the attractions right away to skip the queues.
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