Santiago de Chile: One-Day in Chile's Capital
Are you looking for the best things to see and do and top attractions in Santiago de Chile, Chile's capital? Even if you have only one day spare on your itinerary, it is still possible to see the city's highlights, and in this post we will also outline other possibilities for travelers with more time. Read our travel guide on the best things to do in Santiago de Chile, tips on how to get around, what to pack, where to stay, how to stay safe.
Santiago de Chile was for us a logical stop on our South American itinerary, and one of the last destinations in civilization we had visited before the great journey across Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia.
We arrived in Santiago only a couple of days before Christmas, and although the place did not boast with the holiday atmosphere except for a large artificial tree on Plaza de Armas and plenty of people in the streets doing last-minute shopping, we did not mind skipping Christmas that year at all, and instead we enjoyed a day in a large city where it is easy to see and do most of the best things in only one day when pressed for time.
Although Santiago de Chile is not a classic tourist destination with many top attractions, it is still a pleasant city, and the highlights here are pompous buildings, large plazas, and parks.
In case you have more time than only one day, great! Santiago de Chile can be your base for visiting its mountainous surroundings and for tasting delicious wine.
After arrival in Santiago, we experienced a cultural shock.
After more than six months we arrived in a city which reminded us a bit of Europe and Canada, where we spent the last year before our travels. Streets were clean, cars yielded to pedestrians, drivers were not honking their horns every minute, and generally, we could not believe that less than 24 hours ago we were in San Pedro de Atacama, in a dusty small town flooded with strayed dogs, where the way of life seemed to be completely different.
Sure, the city is that tidy only in the city center (when we were walking from our hostel to a bus terminal, we saw Santiago from a different perspective), but at least for a while, we felt like at home.
This post aims to provide you not only with tips on the best things to see and do in Santiago de Chile, but we will also provide you with travel ideas in case you have more time to explore the capital and its surroundings, and in this guide, you can also find information on what to pack, where to stay, tips on how to stay safe and when is the best time to visit the capital of Chile.
SANTIAGO DE CHILE: ONE DAY ITINERARY
To see the most from Santiago de Chile, be ready to spend all day walking around, but the good thing is you always can use metro to get from one point to another, or simply take it easy and not to stress about must-see places, grab a lunch, eat it in the park and simply enjoy your day in this dynamic city.
Start your day leisurely in a photogenic Quinta Normal Park (get there by metro, get off at Quinta Normal station), and walk around, to absorb the greenery within the city.
Right next to the park are two notable museums, and you can choose which one you want to visit.
You can go either to the National Museum of Natural History or to Museum of Memory and Human Rights.
The letter has been recently more popular, as it reveals true stories of people who fought the dictatorship, and how hard the journey from dictatorship to democracy for Chile was.
After visiting the museum, carry on to the city center.
You can either walk (approximately 2 kilometers) or take a metro from Quinta Normal Station to Santa Ana Station. From here it is not far to some of the city's highlights.
When walking around the city center, keep your eyes wide open as from time to time you can spot either Santiago's street art or a pretty building - it is impossible to mention them all, but Santiago with its large buildings in the city center is a bit similar to Buenos Aires when thinking about it retrospectively.
First, head to La Moneda, which is a presidential palace. You can admire the neoclassical house from outside, wait for the ceremony of changing guards or go even inside, but remember it is necessary to sign up for the tour at least one week in advance.
From the Palacio walk via Santiago's business and shopping district (Paseo Ahumada) to the most important square in the city, Plaza de Armas. The square is large and combines beautiful architecture, green palms, fountain, shade, and in general, it is a favorite place among locals to hang out, and play chess.
Two most important structures on the square are Metropolitan Cathedral and Royal Court Palace.
From Plaza de Armas, you can take a short walk to Mercado Central, the most important market in the city, where you can buy some stuff, observe the atmosphere, and try a traditional Chilean drink - Mote con huesillo.
Then take a short metro ride to Santa Lucia Hill (Santa Lucia Station).
Visiting the hill with a stunning, perfectly-manicured park and a viewpoint over the city is a great budget-friendly activity as there is no entrance fee. After you have enough views, head to Barrio Bellavista district which is known for street art, artsy atmosphere and hipster restaurants, and coffee shops.
In the same district, you will also find La Chascona, a former house of Chile's famous writer Pablo Neruda which was turned into a museum of artifacts Neruda had collected during his life.
For the late afternoon, you can decide among two attractions - one of the highlights in Santiago de Chile is San Cristobal Hill where you will find yet another park and perfect views of the city's skyline.
To get to the top, you can either walk (it will take you one hour), hop on a cable car, or you can do a bit more adrenaline bike tour at the sunset.
Another way how to finish the amazing day in Chile's capital is to visit Sky Costanera, the highest viewpoint in South America. An elevator will take you 300 meters high, and you will get great vistas from the observation platform.
As many people head to Sky Costanera around sunset or after dark when the city is lit up, it might be a good idea to reserve your tickets in advance.
Sometimes, we find better to take a sightseeing city tour to get to know the city better and to get an insight from a local guide, but we did not feel it was necessary in Santiago de Chile.
MORE THINGS TO DO IN SANTIAGO DE CHILE
If you are not pressed for time and can stay longer in Santiago de Chile, you can explore districts a little bit further away from the city center, but also other worthwhile places such as Valparaiso, vineyards or mountains which are easily accessible from the city.
Head to the Mountains | Santiago de Chile is surrounded by mountainous landscape, and if you want to get a sample of the beauty you can expect in Patagonia, you should not miss the one-day trip. There are several places you can go to see snow-capped peaks and frozen lagoons, but getting there by public transport can be quite complicated, so you can consider taking a tour, in case you do not travel around Chile by rental car.
We wanted to do both independently, but unfortunately we did not plan it well, so only late we found out we won't get to the mountains in one day.
In case you are visiting Santiago de Chile during winter, you can for sure visit one of the ski resorts in case you are into skiing or snowboarding.
Vineyards | In only one day in Santiago, you will have probably time to drink one glass of wine in a restaurant, but as Chilean wines have a great reputation, there is hardly a better place to get a bit deeper, taste more wines and travel around vineyards, than in Santiago.
The wine tour is for everyone who loves this alcoholic drink and wants to know more about the process.
Valparaiso | If possible, reserve at least one day for visiting Valparaiso, an artistic city close to Santiago, which is famous for the vibe, perfect views over the bay, street art, quirky coffee shops, lovely Paseos, and of course, for Chile's most famous writer, Pablo Neruda.
We decided not to spend a night in Valparaiso and took the one-day trip from the capital instead, but in case you prefer spending your time in coffee houses, and simply soak up the atmosphere, Valparaiso might be exactly the city you are looking for.
It is possible to get to Valparaiso from Santiago by bus, you can read more detailed information about transport options and things to do in Valparaiso in our more detailed post on this destination, but you can also take a popular, one-day tour.
WHERE TO STAY IN SANTIAGO DE CHILE
Santiago de Chile has many accommodation options for every budget category, although prices are a bit higher than in other South American destinations.
You can easily find a room in the hotel center, but most of the suburbs are well accessible by metro, in case rooms in the heart of Santiago are sold out.
We've handpicked three best hotels in Santiago de Chile for every type of traveler.
Budget | Chile Lindo Hostel - We stayed in this hostel as everything else was sold out before Christmas, and we were pleasantly surprised by the equipment, clean rooms, and laidback atmosphere. The best pick in Santiago for travelers on a budget.
Mid-range | Abracadabra B&B - Only ten minutes walk from the city center is this stylish bed and breakfast featuring airy rooms with wooden decor, fantastic breakfast, and home-like atmosphere.
Luxury | The Singular Santiago - The exceptional hotel right in the city center offers beautifully-appointed rooms, great services, outdoor swimming pool, and tasty breakfast.
Alternatively, search for your accommodation via Hostelworld.
HOW TO GET AROUND SANTIAGO DE CHILE
Santiago de Chile has a reliable metro system which covers the most important sights tourists on their first-time visit want to see, and during our time in the city, we did not have to combine metro with bus services, although it should be pretty easy as well.
To use the metro, you must buy rechargeable Bip! card which costs CLP 1550, and then you have to charge the card for single rides - one ride costs CLP 750, so make sure you won't overcharge it in case your time in Santiago is limited.
HOW TO GET TO SANTIAGO DE CHILE
Santiago de Chile, as the capital of the country, is well-accessible from all corners of Chile, but distances are often huge, and you should know that when traveling by bus, you might sometimes board overnight buses and you should always remember to incorporate travel times in your itinerary.
In Chile we experienced the longest bus journey in South America, it took us 22 hours for getting from San Pedro de Atacama to Santiago de Chile.
Buses are comfortable and on time, when we compare the experience with other countries on the continent.
When traveling on a strict itinerary or you simply find traveling by bus too time-consuming and uncomfortable, there is an option to take either domestic or international flights to or from Santiago de Chile.
When looking for flight tickets you can search Skyscanner to find the best price.
The cheapest way how to get from the airport to the city or vice versa is to take a frequent Centropuerto bus (there are other companies as well) which runs between the airport and metro stations such as Pajaritos, Las Rejas, Los Heroes, Estacion Central, and others.
The hassle-free, but more expensive way how to travel between the airport and your hotel is by taxi.
Another way, how to get to Santiago de Chile, is by rental car.
SAFETY IN SANTIAGO DE CHILE
When walking around the streets of Santiago, you might feel safe.
And it's true. Santiago is very safe for tourists.
But at the end of the day, it is not very different from other big cities in South America, and you need to take the usual gringo precautions.
In Santiago, your biggest concern should be pickpockets which are often opportunistic.
That means you must always watch your belongings, especially in the crowded, tourist places with a high concentration of people. Of course, Santiago de Chile has also less safe districts, but you should never visit them unless you prefer to discover off the beaten path.
Generally, do not wander off to dark and abandoned alleyways, and always pay attention to your surroundings - but when traveling extensively, this is what you should be doing automatically.
To keep your belongings safe, leave them in your hotel room, and take only what is necessary.
We found pretty useful to wear travel pouch when in larger cities.
If there is one thing you should be aware particularly, it would have been scams.
We met a guy who experienced himself the most notorious scam. A man spilled mustard all over him and tried to rob him while pretending he is helping to clean the guy.
Luckily, he knew about this scam and did not let that guy too get too close to him.
WHEN TO VISIT SANTIAGO DE CHILE
The great thing about Santiago de Chile is that the city is an all-year-round destination.
Except for winter, between May and September, when you can experience lower temperatures, grey skies, smog and more rainfall (on the other hand, it snows in the ski resorts), you can expect pleasant temperatures and sunny days (with occasional rain).
The main season is from November to April when the city is flooded with both foreign and local visitors, and except for the crowds, expect higher prices.
On the other hand, this time of the year is also best to visit Chile's highlight, Patagonia, so it is totally understandable the capital receives its share of visitors.
Here are 5 things to pack for your trip to Santiago.
TRAVEL INSURANCE - SIMPLE & FLEXIBLE
We never leave our home without travel insurance which is designed to help cover your expenses if something goes wrong on your trip. World Nomads Travel Insurance has been designed by travelers for travelers, to cover your trip essentials.
Travel smarter and safer!