Santiago City Guide
Situated between the grasslands, the mountain and the desert, Santiago is just as diverse as the natural landscape that surrounds it. In the Chilean capital, modern high-rises sit side by side with ornate Baroque houses; innovative restaurants coexist with rustic, traditional markets and leafy oases sprout between densely built-up neighbourhoods – and all of this is just waiting to be explored.
Sightseeing in Santiago – art, history and landmarks
A starting point for sightseeing for many travellers is Plaza de Armaz. In this inner-city square noble Colonial-era residences and administrative buildings stand against a backdrop of shiny steel and glass towers – it's a city of beautiful contrasts. On a sweltering summer day, you can linger under the palms or grab a drink at one of the open-air cafés.
The impressive period architecture in the surrounding area is worthy of your time. Go for a stroll by La Moneda Palace, a former mint that now houses the presidency of Chile, then peek into the hushed Metropolitan Cathedral that is covered with frescoes, and finally, check out the Neo-Baroque Correo Central, where the central post office is headquartered.
Not far from the Plaza, the National Historical Museum occupies the house of an 18th-century merchant. You can delve deep into the past of the nation here, learning about the native civilizations and the European conquistadors who took over them. If you are more interested in the former, the nearby Museum of Pre-Columbian Art holds a precious collection of Native American artwork, artefacts and handicrafts spanning centuries.
And if you prefer modern art, head to the Estación Mapocho. This classic early 20th-century train station with a pale terracotta façade now functions as a cultural and conference centre. Music concerts, events and art shows are held in its vast exhibition space. After you have satiated your appetite for culture, you can grab a bite at the on-site restaurants or from the café.
For a taste of traditional food head to the Mercado Central. This indoor market is a celebration of the mind-blowing abundance of fish and seafood available in coastal Chile. Besides the numerous stalls there are also lots of eateries serving traditionally prepared fare, so take your pick and enjoy!
Both dictators and poets shaped Chile's modern history, and Santiago is a good place to learn about both. Visit the Museum of Human Rights, which commemorates the victims of General Pinochet's regime, and take a chance to potter about La Chascona, a quaint little house that was once the residence of poet Pablo Neruda and his mistress.
Santiago is a modern city but many areas and districts have retained their traditional atmosphere. One such place is the Paris-Londres quarter with its narrow, winding streets and elegant 19th and 20th-century residential blocks and houses. Take a stroll around the serene neighbourhood for a chance to admire the architecture and escape the hustle and bustle.
For a little more action visit the Bellavista, which is considered by many to be the most bohemian and artistic quarter in Santiago. Colourful, low-rise homes, open-air eateries, cafés, nightclubs and shops make it a great area to explore. There's also an excellent choice of quirky shopping offers at the local market and in the numerous stores selling antiques and handicrafts.
A city of many green areas
Santiago enjoys warm and sunny weather throughout the year, so you will be tempted to spend most of your time outdoors. Luckily, the city has plenty of green spaces. The most iconic of all is the Cerro Santa Lucia that was laid out in the 19th century. It's gorgeous Baroque-style fountains, statues and staircases leading onto observation terraces surrounded by greenery make it a very romantic spot, and not surprisingly many weddings are held here.
The Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Contemporary Art are to be found located on the narrow leafy strip of Parque Forestal, which meanders along the Mapocho River. Both venues offer great insight into local and South American art in general. From here follow the river to the north-east to Parque de las Esculturas. This little oasis filled with exotic plants and contemporary sculptures by international artists is an open-air art museum of sorts.
The largest and most entertaining urban oasis of all, however, is Parque Metropolitano where hectares of mountainside forest are dotted with an abundance of attractions. You can visit the Botanical Garden and the Municipal Zoo, home to exotic species native to South America, or spend some time at the Winery Museum. In summer, you can also go for a swim with the locals at one of the two open-air pools. If you are travelling with kids, take them to the Children's Park.
Finally, make sure to take the quaint historic funicular or the modern cable car to the top of the park. The views from the Cerro San Cristóbal mountaintop are just spectacular, and so is the monumental statue of the Virgin Mary.