Surprising, cosmopolitan, energetic, sophisticated and worldly, Santiago is a city of syncopated cultural currents, madhouse parties, expansive museums and top-flight restaurants. No wonder 40% of Chileans call the leafy capital city home.
It's a wonderful place for strolling, and each neighborhood has its unique flavor and tone. Head out for the day to take in the museums, grand architecture and pedestrian malls of the Centro, before an afternoon picnic in one of the gorgeous hillside parks that punctuate the city's landscape. Nightlife takes off in the sidewalk eateries, cafes and beer halls of Barrios Brasil, Lastarria and Bellavista, while as you head east to well-heeled neighborhoods like Providencia and Las Condes, you'll find inviting restaurants and world-class hotels.
With a growing economy, renovated arts scene and plenty of eccentricity to spare, Santiago is an old-guard city on the cusp of a modern-day renaissance.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Santiago.
This striking cultural and performing-arts center – named for Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, the first Latin American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature – is an exciting addition to Santiago's art scene, with concerts and performances most days. Drop by to check out the rotating art exhibits on the bottom floor, the iconic architecture that vaults and cantilevers on the inside and looks like a giant rusty cheese grater from the street, the little plazas, murals, cafes and more.
The best views over Santiago are from the peaks and viewpoints of the Parque Metropolitano, better known as Cerro San Cristóbal. At 722 hectares, the park is Santiago's largest green space, but it's still decidedly urban: a funicular carries you between different landscaped sections on one side, while a teleférico (cable car) swoops you away on the other.
When poet Pablo Neruda needed a secret hideaway to spend time with his mistress Matilde Urrutia, he built La Chascona (loosely translated as 'Messy Hair'), the name inspired by her unruly curls. Neruda, of course, was a great lover of the sea, so the dining room is modeled on a ship's cabin and the living room on a lighthouse.
Chile's presidential offices are in the Palacio de la Moneda. The ornate neoclassical building was designed by Italian architect Joaquín Toesca in the late 18th century and was originally the official mint. The inner courtyards are generally open to the public; schedule a guided tour by filling out the online form a few days in advance.
More than just a graveyard, Santiago’s Cementerio General is a veritable city of tombs, many adorned with works by famous local sculptors. The names above the crypts read like a who’s who of Chilean history: its most tumultuous moments are attested to by Salvador Allende’s tomb and the Memorial del Detenido Desaparecido y del Ejecutado Político, a memorial to the ‘disappeared’ of Pinochet’s dictatorship.
Underground art takes on a new meaning in one of Santiago's newer cultural spaces: the Centro Cultural Palacio La Moneda beneath Plaza de la Ciudadanía. A glass-slab roof floods the vaultlike space with natural light, and ramps wind down through the central atrium past the Cineteca Nacional, a state-run art-house movie theater, to two large temporary exhibition spaces that house some of the biggest touring shows to visit Santiago.
This striking shell-shaped temple in the Andean foothills is a tranquil spot to relax – even for those who don't ascribe to the Baha'í faith – with an extensive area of native gardens and picnic tables overlooking the city (that is, on smog-free days!).
Opened in 2010, this striking museum isn't for the faint of heart: the exhibits expose the terrifying human rights violations and large-scale 'disappearances' that took place under Chile's military government between 1973 and 1990.
Exquisite pottery from most major pre-Columbian cultures is the backbone of Santiago's best museum, the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino. As well as dozens of intricately molded anthropomorphic vessels, star exhibits include hefty Maya stone columns, towering Mapuche totems and a fascinating Andean textile display.