10 Top Ways to Explore Santiago de Chile Like a Local
With the incredible speed at which Chile is vaccinating its population, it is set to be Latin America’s ‘go-to’ destination this year! Since Santiago de Chile is going to be the ‘gateway to Chile’, we thought that we would share some helpful tips we learned the last time we traveled through Santiago for 4 days.
Here is a list of our top 10 ways to truly explore Santiago de Chile like a local:
In this article
- Buy a Bip Card
- Spark Your Creativity at GAM (Gabriela Mistral Center)
- Stroll around Santa Lucia Hill
- Try local sandwiches & ‘Borgoña’
- Visit Barrio Brasil & Barrio Yungay
- Where To Eat in Barrio Brasil & Barrio Yungay
- Explore the Museum of Memory and Human Rights
- Witness Vibrant Street Art in Santiago – Museo a Cielo Abierto
- San Cristobal Hill
- Visit the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art
Buy a Bip Card
Santiago’s metro is one of the best and most efficient in Latin America. To date, it has 7 lines in operation.
The three most popular neighborhoods among travelers in Santiago de Chile; Las Condes, Providencia, and Santiago Centro, are well connected by metro. If you are planning to stay in the Chilean capital, we recommend booking a hotel close to a metro station. You will find an abundance of choices in the above-mentioned neighborhoods.
Take a look at the most up to date version of Santiago’s metro map.
You can buy a Bip!, Santiago’s smart card, to use the public transportation which includes not only the metro but also the public ‘Transantiago’ busses.
The cards are available at all metro stations. Before traveling, simply load credit on the card according to how many rides you plan to take. Topping up the Bip card can be done online or at any automatic ticket booth in any station.
Spark Your Creativity at GAM (Gabriela Mistral Center)
This building bears the name of ‘Gabriela Mistral’ – a Chilean writer who was also the first Latin American author to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature (in 1945).
The cultural center, only a few meters away from the ‘Universidad Catolica’ metro station, is a space that is devoted to disseminate and promote performing arts and music. With its massive footprint (22.000 m²), the GAM not only hosts exhibitions and cultural events but is also a social meeting place.
The diversity of interests of the attendees, the architecture, and topics covered at GAM make it almost impossible to meticulously plan a visit as you will find yourself being distracted by one interesting thing after another as you make your way through the building. One thing is for sure, once you arrive you probably won’t ever want to leave.
Stroll around Santa Lucia Hill
Just walking distance from GAM, amid the hustle and bustle of the city, lies a beautiful oasis – Santa Lucia Hill. This is the place where Conquistador Pedro de Valdivia founded Santiago in 1541 (on Santa Lucia’s Day). Here you will find the oldest public promenades, originally from the Spanish-colonial period – lined with the statuary, fountains, and gardens of subsequent centuries. Walkways and stone steps lead you to the lookout point at the top that offers stunning 360˚ city views.
In January & February, many Santiaguinos leave to spend the school summer holidays outside the capital. This means that during these months, you will have fewer people in the city. In addition to that, you will have better odds of enjoying a clear, smog-free sky.
The best part about this visit is that admission is free.
Try local sandwiches & ‘Borgoña’
After your Santa Lucia Hill ascent, take a break in the artsy neighborhood of Lastarria. From here, it is an 8-minute walk to reach one of our favorite bars & bistros in the city – Liguria.
The first Liguria opened back in 1990, and since then much has changed. Today they have three additional branches, though, their essence remains intact. Regular guests of the establishment visit because they know that they can get tasty cocktails, a wide variety of Chilean wine, and craft beer served with delicious local homemade food in a bohemian and cozy atmosphere.
Locals love Liguria’s Mechada sandwich’. The ‘Mechada’ Chilean-style is a slow-cooked and shredded beef meat that is served as either a sandwich or main dish (with a side).
The menu has a few, rather sparse, vegetarian options as well 😉
To drink? Follow the Santiaguinos’ example and ask for a ‘Borgoña’ (a traditional cocktail made of red wine and strawberries). In summer the locals will order a pitcher in order to get the conversations started.
Visit Barrio Brasil & Barrio Yungay
Brasil and Yungay. You probably won’t find the names of these very traditional adjacent neighborhoods in any conventional travel guides for Santiago.
But, both are worth a visit and are easy to reach by looking for the ‘Cumming’ metro station.
If you picked a hotel in Las Condes, you will find more modern architecture while strolling around Brasil and Yungay. The architecture will transport you back to the 19th century when wealthy Santiaguinos lived here in their neo-gothic and neo-classic style houses.
It was only around 1940 that these neighborhoods experimented with a transformation into a more bohemian/cultural urban area when Santiago’s elite moved east to new neighborhoods such as Las Condes.
‘Avenida Brasil’ is full of late-night bars and restaurants with a casual twist and a personal touch.
Where To Eat in Barrio Brasil & Barrio Yungay
If you are a fan of craft beer, do yourself a favor and take a look at Intrinsical.cl – who make use of disruptive and sometimes unfathomable ingredients such as mussels from Valdivia.
For some delectable food, look no further than Agustinas Street, where a 3-story building from 1912 stands out. Originally built for the niece of the former president Balmaceda, this house has been beautifully restored by a Chilean-Australian couple that has converted it into a beautiful 17-room boutique hotel, Matilda.
For non-guests, they offer a very good valued 3-course dinner that includes a glass of wine every evening. An intimate experience is guaranteed by the limited capacity of only 10 diners.
If you fancy a cup of coffee and a dessert, then La Huerfana is a great option that was conceived by three women that wanted to make use of strictly organic ingredients.
Another option for vegans is the cozy Veg & Bake.
Only 2 blocks separate Barrio Brasil from Barrio Yungay. The latter being our choice when wanting to experience a quiet walk while contemplating daily life in the Chilean capital.
Fine French cuisine is served at ‘Peluqueria Francesa’ in a historic building – a former hairdressing salon run by a Frenchman from 1868 until the 1990s.
Today, under the leadership of the grandson of its original owner, it is one of the city’s more innovative dining experiences. This quirky café resto-bar, with its myriad of antiques, has a turn-of-the-century charm that attracts local hipsters with its fine French tapas and dishes. Please note that on weekend evenings the ‘Peluqueria’ gets exceptionally crowded.
Explore the Museum of Memory and Human Rights
A short 7-minute walk separates the main square of Barrio Yungay from this museum.
From 1973 through 1990, an authoritarian regime ruled Chile. The ‘Museo de la Memoria y Derechos Humanos’ was created in 2010 to reflect on and remember the human rights abuse suffered under the Chilean dictator Pinochet.
The three-story building is architecturally stunning, both inside and out. But most importantly, the stories within it are crucial to understanding today’s Chilean society.
Witness Vibrant Street Art in Santiago – Museo a Cielo Abierto
According to National Geographic, Santiago is one of the best places in the world for street art and graffiti.
‘Museo a Cielo Abierto’ (Open Sky Street Art Museum), with its 4.000m² open-air area, is Chile’s largest exhibition for urban art. Imposing graffiti adorns the low-income apartments, rejuvenating the neighborhood of San Miguel, and breathing new life into it as part of a public cultural project.
And guess what? You can also reach it via metro by looking for the ‘Departamental’ station.
If you are into all things vintage, be sure to pick a Sunday for your visit. That way you can combine art with a visit to the flea market. Furthermore, the community organizes free cultural activities on Sundays.
Markets, which in Chile are locally known as ‘ferias’, certainly are in abundance.
Four kilometers from ‘Museo a Cielo Abierto’ you will find ‘El Persa del Bio Bio’, a place to experience authentic everyday Chilean life. At ‘El Persa’ you will be able to find everything from vegetables, fruits, second-hand clothes, spare parts, and even a section for memorabilia.
Those looking for vintage items and antiques should skip the ‘new market’ and head straight to the corner of Placer Street 637 and Victor Manuel Street and look for Galpon 7 & Sector 5.
San Cristobal Hill
Not only foreign travelers visit this landmark of Santiago. Photography geeks also take the cable car for the opportunity to take advantage of the clear days and the breathtaking views of the city and snow-capped Andean Mountain Range as a backdrop.
Santiago’s location makes it quite susceptible to smog, which can sometimes get in the way of the perfect pic. Check this link to keep an eye on the air quality in advance.
You can get there by taking the funicular up to the final station called ‘Cumbre’*. As you make your way outside you will find yourself at the lookout point at the foot of the Virgin Mary.
Once you have taken your panoramic shots of Santiago (from the lookout point), you can get in the cable car that covers 2 kilometers in 15 minutes. The final station called ‘Pedro de Valdivia’ is just a 16-minute walk from the metro station of the same name.
* Active travelers could walk uphill to the Virgin Mary along a well-marked paved road instead of taking the funicular. This translates to about a 1-hour walk.
The walk starts at Pio Nono Street in the neighborhood of Bellavista. Local artists/muralists have given color to the trails during the lockdown. See our picture below. There is no way to get lost 😉
Our tip before beginning your walk is to stock up on some carbohydrates (and calories) at Patio Bellavista. A sort of gastronomic and cultural center, you will find many bars, restaurants, tapas, ice cream shops, and cafés here.
Visit the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art
This museum in Santiago’s city center is in our opinion a ‘must-see’ for all Chileans and visitors alike. We have to admit, we could not visit all the exhibition rooms in the 3 hours we were there. Therefore, we set some priorities:
- The collection ‘Chile before Chile’ gives you an insight into the achievements of the pre-Columbian Chilean cultures. Our tip: visit the museum before you head to San Pedro de Atacama. The wealth of information and maps at this permanent exhibition will make the understanding and chronological mapping of this area of Chile much easier.
- The second was a temporary exhibition that displays the fascinating works of Sheila Hicks. The works on the archaeological textiles from the museum’s collection were juxtaposed to express the relation between the Andean influence and the artist’s different aesthetic expressions.
Listening to Sheila Hicks and her inspiration taken from women’s weaving techniques from different cultures worldwide on a screen gave this visit a very personal touch.
- Last but not least, this museum has a small coffee shop which we recommend visiting. Believe me, you’ll need some rest for your legs after visiting the two exhibition rooms we listed above.
If you want to contribute to the museum and local artists we suggest taking a look at the adjacent shop. It offers a bunch of amazing photo books as well as authentic souvenirs for every travel bag size 😉