I’ve been living in Santiago for over a year now and I’ve learned to adore this city. Since I haven’t had much money to visit fancy places, I have a sort of master degree in Low Budget Awesomeness.
Santiago de Chile has a very interesting culture and its population is diverse. There are different political perspectives, social and economic activities, and the city structure is attached to a social stratification: the rich on the east and the poor on the west. My main focus on this article will be the city center, where many chileans merge.
So, despite the smog and the various activities in this city, I have managed to enjoy the little things, summarized, and made a list of places and things to do in Santiago de Chile:
Visit a free exhibition in the museum
Ok, there isn’t just one museum, there are plenty and most of them are free (yay!). But I’ll name my favorite ones. You can start by visiting the Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral, better known as the GAM, and check the free exhibition in the lower floor.
Also, a few blocks away, in the Parque Forestal, you should absolutely visit the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts, the building is beautiful and most of their art pieces are placed to amaze you. Also the government does a great job bringing very interesting exhibitions from around the world to the Centro Cultural La Moneda, where the presidential palace is located. I recently visited one about Egypt and I ADORED it.
Other institutions like the Universidad Católica or Telefónica usually have really cool cultural projects and exhibitions worth visiting. Just walk around the neighborhood and take notes from the billboards or just visit their websites.
Drink a Pisco Sour in Lastarria
I love this neighborhood and it is definitely my favorite in Santiago. It has this sexy bohemian vibe with all the artists, little bars, lights, trees. It’s pretty romantic at the beginning of the night. There are many restaurants and bars to visit here and they are all worth it. If you haven’t tried a Pisco Sour, this is definitely the drink to have the Lastarria experience.
Buy Fresh fruits in Mercado La Vega
This market kind of freaked me out the first time I went because the amount of people that visits this place and the variety of products and prices is astonishing. Honestly, I got lost the first 3 times I went there, the place is huge: 60.000 square meters. It is not fancy at all but you can find almost anything here.
My recommendation is to buy fruits and vegetables here, they are fresh, delicious and cheap. Most vendors are willing to give you samples of their fruits and trust me, this is an excellent marketing strategy because once you try it you’ll want to buy some. Since I get a little claustrophobic I avoid the Mercado La Vega on weekends, I suggest you to go on weekdays because it’s less crowded and still has great products.
Ice cream in Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas is the most important square in Santiago. It’s usually pretty crowded but it has its charm: beautiful palms, great artists drawing, funny clowns, splendid buildings and the best ice cream cone.
The first time I tried that ice cream I must confess that its cheapness got me very low expectations, just 590 pesos which is less than 1 american dollar. But, this huge ice cream cone and the experience of eating it while studying this place it’s definitely a must in Santiago de Chile.
Ride your bike to Costanera Center
I really enjoy to ride my bike in Santiago, the city is flat enough so you can ride almost anywhere. Since I live more to the west side of the city I love this bikeway that crosses the Parque Forestal, and follows the Mapocho River till the most important building in Santiago, the Costanera.
To take this path you should consider that you’ll be doing great workout on the go, because even if it looks flat you’ll be going uptown. But no worries, the people in the park, and the cool art beside the river, will distract you from exhaustion. Once you arrive to the Costanera you can park your bike right in front of the building and get yourself a special treat. You totally deserve some majar (cooked and sweetened milk) or a cinnabon.
My favorite part is the way back, because you get to enjoy better the city: its sounds, smell, colors. You’ll be going downtown, pedaling without much effort.
Picnic in the Cerro San Cristóbal
This hill in the middle of the city is a blessing. I love hiking it because it gets you away from traffic congestion, noises, and it has a peaceful summit you can reach in less than an hour. There are many routes, you could take the funicular, the road or the trekking path. I always suggest the last one.
If you reach the summit during summer season I recommend the chilean specialty: mote con huesillo. It’s a weird drink with peaches and wheat, very sweet, that will recover you from the hike. If you go during winter you’ll enjoy the Andes mountains covered in snow, it’s magnificent.
Check out the 360º view from the Cerro Santa Lucía
This cerro isn’t as high as the Cerro San Cristóbal, it’s quite small actually, but I find it beautiful and magical. There are several plants, old castle-like structures and many secret spots for unique experiences.
What I think makes this hill special is the view from the top. It differences from the San Cristóbal view because from this lower summit you actually get a 360º view of Santiago de Chile.
Study human behaviour on a Saturday afternoon
This point on the list may sound awkward but I actually love to walk around the city on a Saturday afternoon to observe people. I love the music shows in Paseo Ahumada, I’ve seen salsa dancers, cueca (traditional chilean dance) performances, peruvian musicians and great singers. Just be careful with your belongings, there are many pickpocketers and I learned this the hard way.
After Paseo Ahumada I love to walk around Providencia. In this neighborhood I’ve found excellent swing dancers, medieval fighters and even the chilean version of Power Puff Girls. It’s actually not weird to see people wearing costumes and dancing to the beat of drums in a park.
Walk through Paris, London and New York in less than 10 minutes
There are three charming streets you can walk and are very close to each other. Near San Francisco street you’ll find a particular stoned street called Paris and right at the corner you can turn right to London street. Then, at the Alameda, you can cross by the Universidad de Chile Subway and come out to New York street.
The quarter Paris-Londres was developed in 1923 by architects to resemble the Latin Quarter in Paris, it’s quite particular for chileans so many newlyweds come for photo shoots at this place.
I hope you like my list and please comment if you know about other special places I should visit here.