Santiago de Chile – Itinerary & City Guide
1. Palacio de la Moneda
2. Plaza de Armas
3. Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral
4. Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino
5. Mercado Central
6. Parque Forestal
7. Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
8. Cerro San Cristóbal
9. Sky Costanera
10. Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos
Arriving at the airport of Santiago de Chile, located far out of the Chilean capital, a budget-friendly option to get into the city is to take the local Centropuerto bus.
Once you have arrived in Santiago, you are ready to start your sightseeing in the city with the stunningly panoramic views of the snowcapped Andes Mountains.
So what are the must-see places in the city you will want to include in your itinerary to make the most of your stay in Santiago de Chile?
Where to stay in Santiago de Chile? Hotel Barrio Yungay with a quiet location, garden and a terrace, RQ Santiago with an excellent location, pool & breakfast, Hotel Montecarlo Santiago with panoramic views in the heart of Santiago.
We have chosen to stay in Barrio Yungay, a renovated neighbourhood with houses dating from the 19th century. It became a prominent and fashionable residential quarter for the Santiago upper class.
What today makes Barrio Yungay stand out is that the houses are very well preserved. It is a historic neighbourhood where the houses to a great extent have remained intact or undergone renovation. Due to these comprehensive renovations in recent years, it today appears as a very attractive and popular part of the city, with citizens and tourists alike, featuring both the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Memory and Human Rights. The two first museums are located right inside the vast Quinta Normal Park.
The historic heritage has become the perfect frame for cultural activities, theatres and various other initiatives. The neighbourhood obviously appeals to people with its charming architecture and green parks.
One of the must-sees in Santiago city is the Palacio de la Moneda, or Palace of the Mint, seat of the Chilean President. It includes the offices of three cabinet ministers and occupies several blocks in the Civic District.
Originally, the building was constructed to house the National Mint, hence the name (mint/coin being ‘moneda’ in Spanish). The architect behind the Palace was the Italian architect Joaquín Toesca, and the building was erected in the period between 1784 and 1805. Only in 1846 did it become the seat of government.
In 1973, the Palace became the scene of a military coup, when General Pinochet stormed the governmental building, an action which cost the lives of a great number of Chileans. During the coup La Moneda was bombed as the president Salvador Allende refused to resign, a decision that cost him his life.
Not until 1981 was the building re-established as a palace in the original neoclassical style. La Moneda still serves as the seat of the president, although he does not reside here any longer.
Today, La Moneda is one of the most fascinating architectural buildings in Santiago, one of the most iconic landmarks in the city, which you can visit to gain insight into the culture and history of Chile. You may get the opportunity to see several patios here, among others the Patio de los Naranjos (‘patio of orange trees’). La Moneda also features a number of remarkable and magnificent rooms and halls. You can also attend the changing of the guard, which some days takes place here in the morning.
A Cultural Centre with exhibitions by Chilean artists has as well been established here by the Chilean government.
The conventional historic center is located in the quarter around Plaza de Armas, where you will find Santiago City Hall, the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Central Post Office, the Court Houses as well as the Museo Histórico Nacional and the Museo de Arte Sagrado.
Like in many other colonial cities in South America, the colonial Plaza de Armas still exists! This used to be the ‘armed’ square, surrounded by governmental buildings, cathedrals and other significant structures, where the population could gather and be protected.
Excavations under the city have shown that there used to be an Inca village located here. Plaza de Armas was in the 1500s location of a garrison town with a market square and a number of administrative buildings. An equestrian monument of Santiago’s founder, the conquistador Pedro de Valdivia, has in commemoration of him been raised in the very plaza.
Since the 1860s Plaza de Armas har developed into a city garden and lush main square with trees and flowers. Recently, a stretch of esplanade has been added to the square for cultural activities, and it is therefore today a welcome spot and the attractive centrepiece in the bustling city of Santiago. Beautiful palm trees as well as a number of green beds dot the square to make it appear quite park-like. People come here to play chess or view the local Chilean Cueca dance.
On a sunny day there is no need for jackets or other warm clothing here, not even during the coldest winter month!
It is really all kinds of people who pass through the beautiful plaza. Elegantly dressed business people on their way to work and elderly people coming to socialise mixed with the occasional tourists intrigued to experience the heart of the metropolis. A perfect spot to soak up the atmosphere!
The square is neat, clean and orderly. Homeless people may occupy a couple of benches, while having a friendly chat with patrolling police officers – and harmonically integrating with the multitude of other people in the square. It is really the plaza for everyone in the city.
While being at Plaza de Armas, don’t miss out on the beautiful Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral flanking the square. The neoclassical cathedral with free entry is the seat of the Archbishop of Santiago de Chile and was designed by the Italian architect Gioacchino Toesca.
Allow yourself some minutes of tranquility from Santiago’s hustle and bustle, and enter the small cathedral to enjoy the splendour and the eye-catching and sumptuous baroque details. The construction dates back to around 1600 and was planned by Santiago’s founder, Pedro de Valdivia, who established a stunning place of worship here back in colonial times.
Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral has over the years been influenced by many architectural styles. Due to its location above the Atacama Fault System, Santiago frequently experiences earthquakes. Multiple times during the last centuries has the cathedral been devastated by earthquakes. This has over the years led to a number of restorations and rebuilding in the styles that were popular at the different times. Also the two towers of the cathedral were added long after the initial construction.
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The Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, is a fine museum just round the corner from Plaza de Armas. It showcases around 3,000 pre-Columbian artworks and other artifacts from Latin America.
The museum was founded by the Chilean architect Sergio Larraín García-Moreno and first opened in central Santiago in 1981 in the impressive Palacio de la Real Aduana from beginning of the 1800s. The exhibitions feature pre-Columbian cultures from Mesoamerica, Intermediate / Isthmo-Colombian, Amazonia, Pan-Caribbean, as well as ancient Andean culture. Come here to discover authentic pre-Columbian artworks!
Continuing in a northerly direction of Santiago city, you will arrive at the Mercado Central – a huge indoor market, primarily a fish market. Hadn’t you already known about this place, the existence of this huge indoor market right in the city of Santiago may really come as a surprise to you.
The historic Mercado Central opened in 1872 in Santiago de Chile and had as an iconic feature a characteristic cast-iron roof consisting of a central pyramidal roof and a domed tower. The structure replaced the former Plaza del Abasto, which disappeared in a devastating fire in 1864.
Taking a look around the cold market hall, your attention will be caught by an abundance of beautiful fish wherever you turn – and you will sense their delicate, subtle fresh seaside smell. If you like fish (and have your own kitchen in Santiago de Chile), you will definitely want to buy and prepare some of the absolutely delicious-looking fresh fish for dinner!
There is a good mixture of the most spectacular species of freshly caught fish and shellfish. Reineta or queensfish, which is endemic to Chile, or the outlandish piure which is a marine animal with deep-red flesh. On the sea bottom it looks like a rock, but it reveals a colourful inside when it is opened.
You will also find tollo, a species of velvet catfish, which is also endemic to Chile together with the Falkland mullet, robalo. Such pretty exotic species can be found among swordfish, hake and salmon – species that are definitely more common in other parts of the world. Also octopus, clams and sea urchins are readily available at the Mercado Central.
To complement the sale of fish and shellfish, a number of restaurants are located inside the market hall, offering a wide selection of …. fish and shellfish! Also a few suppliers of Andean knitwear and woven tissues have found their way to the building!
A stroll in the nearby Parque Forestal is spring-like even in winter. It is an urban park in the historic part of Santiago along the Mapocho River. The park structure is perfect for a longer walk since it at its eastern end is extended by a long narrow stretch of greenery, the Parque Balmaceda. You may actually continue several kilometres in green surroundings all along the river! It is an interesting and enjoyable garden in the city of Santiago to chill in for an hour or two!
In some respects Santiago city is similar to other big cities in the world, and in other respects it is absolutely in a class of its own. The Andean metropolis is beautiful with the snowcapped high Andes Mountains in the background, visible even from central Santiago.
The National Museum of Fine Arts, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, has an excellent central location inside the Parque Forestal.
This museum, now with free entry, is also referred to as the Museum of Contemporary Art and features Chilean and South American art from the 19th century up until today. It was established back in 1880, but had a limited number of items during the first years. It was not until 1990 that the current national museum was established as a unified art collection of all the various collections previously existing in a number of separate galleries in Santiago.
Among the great painters you will find the Peruvian painter José Gil de Castro, who later became a Chilean citizen, and the distinguished Chilean expressionist painter Israel Roa.
Cerro San Cristóbal is a hill covering quite a vast area in northern Santiago. With its 300 metres above the city, it is the second highest point in Santiago de Chile, after Cerro Renca. Its original, indigenous name was Tupahue, but the hill was renamed by the Spanish conquistadors. Cerro San Cristóbal is also the location of Santiago’s largest park, the Metropolitan Park.
An option is also to hike all the way to the sanctuary with the 22-metre statue of the Virgin Mary atop the hill.
For outstanding panoramic views of Santiago, visit the Sky Costanera, which will provide you wide an exceptional 360-degree experience of the city and the surrounding Andes Mountain range. The skyscraper, also known as Gran Torre Santiago, stands as a huge rocket waiting to be launched in the mountainous Chilean landscape.
Designed by the Argentine architect César Pelli in collaboration with the Chilean architects Alemparte Barreda & Asociados and the Canadian company Watt International, the huge structure has in a short time become one of the top sights in Santiago de Chile.
Although initiated already in 2006 and projected to be accomplished in 2010, the construction was not entirely completed until 2013 – after being a bit delayed due to the international financial crisis in 2008-2009. In 2015, the observation deck, Sky Costanera, was opened to the public.
The observatory is with its height of 300 metres officially the highest in South America! From the viewpoint located on the 62nd floor you can both enjoy the scenic surroundings, Santiago’s cityscape and the picturesque sunset!
If you stay in Barrio Yungay you have easy access to the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, situated near the Quinta Normal Park. It opened in Santiago city in 2010 with the aim of drawing attention to human rights violations committed in Chile by the state under the dictatorship of General Pinochet between 1973 and 1990.
The museum was inaugurated on the occasion of the bicentenary of Chile’s independence and commemorates the victims of the violations, showing them and their families respect.
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