Sally has guided hundreds of visitors around Santiago over the last 8 years, and this is her recommended route for seeing very best sites of Santiago in an afternoon…
1. Taking the metro
The metro in Santiago is easy to use, clean, safe* and reliable – 1 ticket costing about CLP$500 (60p) will take you anywhere on the lines. These can be bought from manned booths in any metro station.
Take the metro nearest to your hotel to the La Moneda station on Line 1 (the red one). (When you get off the train, wait until the train leaves before leaving the platform, as the paintings are quite something). When leaving La Moneda station, take the exit for ‘Amunategui’
*a reasonable level of caution should be taken at all times to prevent pick-pocketing.
2. Av. Bernardo O`Higgins and the flag
As you come out from the underground you are presented with an enormous flag (find the flag then you know you´re in the right place!). This flag was placed here in 2010 to mark the Bicentenary of the Independence of Chile from Spain (in fact 1810 really marked the start of Chile’s war of independence against Spain as they didn´t gain full independence until 1818).
The avenue between yourself and the flag is the ‘Avenida Bernardo O’Higgins’ – commonly known as the Alameda – named after the poplar trees that line it. Bernardo O’Higgins, Chile’s hero of its Wars of Independence, had an Irish father and Chilean mother (hence the name).
3. Palacio La Moneda
Rounding the corner you will be presented with the Government Palace – Palacio La Moneda. This literally translates as ‘The Mint’ as it was originally designed for minting coins when built in 1805. In 1845 it became the government headquarters and home to all Chilean Presidents (although the President hasn’t actually lived here since about the 30’s). The building looks very clean and new considering the pollution problems of the city because in reality it is. During the Military Coup of 11th September 1973, the building was heavily bombed and much of it destroyed. During this coup, the democratically elected President at the time, Salvador Allende was killed (or, as some sources say, took his own life) and the military dictatorship ruled by Augusto Pinochet began.
4. Plaza de la Constitution & the Statues
Walk around to the other side of La Moneda to find the Plaza de La Constitucion.
Surrounded by trees and statues, this square is a great place to do a spot of people watching; also of interest are….
1) The flags: If the President is in residence there will be a flag flying above the palace with the Chilean coat of arms in the middle. If you pay attention you can see the Andean Condor and Huemul, a native Chilean deer. Surrounding the square there are also 14 flags which represent the 14 regions of Chile.
2) The statues:
- Salvador Allende – complete with glasses, the statue of the ex-president shows his famous last words – “Tengo fe en Chile y su destino” (I have faith in Chile and its destiny).
- Diego Portales – at the back of the square, directly looking at the palace is Diego Portales; famous for writing the Chilean constitution in the early 1800’s that lasted nearly 100 years. He was assassinated in 1837 – if you look closely at his statue, under his right eye is a bullet hole which the statue received 11th September 1973; this is apparently the exact place where he received the shot when he was killed.
5. Wandering to the Plaza de Armas
With your back to La Moneda, walk to the far right hand corner of the park (the corner of Agustinas & Morande). Continue along Morande for 3 blocks until the corner with Catedral, turn right 1 block on Catedral and you will reach the Plaza de Armas.
To point out along the way:
1) Café Haiti – traditionally Chile was (and still is) a great tea-drinking nation. When coffee started to be introduced in the mid 1900’s a new form of café was thought up in order to entice people (men) to drink it; these were known as the “Cafés con Piernas”, quite literally Coffee with Legs. Whilst city men came to have this new drink on their coffee break and discuss business they were served coffee by ladies in rather short dresses. Many of these cafes still exist around the city (of varying levels of nudity), the Café Haiti being one on Morande/Huerfanos.
2) (Ex) Palacio de Tribunales – although no longer the Palace of Justice this impressive building, recently restored, stands proud in the centre of Santiago. Around the top of the building you can see crests depicting important Chilean laws – one to note would be divorce, not legalized in Chile until 2004.
3) Shopping Centre – with the law court on your right, step inside the shopping centre on your left, a complete contrast of old a
nd new. Take note of the interesting use of an old façade with a modern interior.
4) (Ex) Congreso Nacional – although the Chilean congress is now in Valparaiso, the original Congress building takes up 1 whole block (Mornade/Compania/Bandera/Catedral). Unfortunately you can’t get into the grounds but the gardens are beautiful with native trees from all over Chile.
6. Plaza de Armas
The Plaza de Armas was first laid out during the founding of Santiago on 12th February 1541 by Pedro de Valdivia and has stood as the centre of the city ever since. During colonial times it served as the military headquarters, into the 1800’s it was the place for the upper classes to see and be seen, and today it serves as a place for protests, chess, religious preaching or for children to swim in the fountain; a hive of activity and definitely worth some time to just sit and take it all in.
To point out as you sit and watch:
1) Pedro de Valdiva – in the top corner of the square is the statue of Pedro de Valdivia, Chile’s own conquistador. After a failed attempt by Diego del Almagro to reach the Chilean central valley, Pedro de Valdivia set out from Peru with is troops. After walking through the Atacama Desert for months on end, they finally reach the green, lush Maipo Valley where they decided to found Santiago at the base of the Cerro Santa Lucia.
2) Cathedral – designed by the same architect as La Moneda, Joaquin Toesca, this cathedral was first built in 1748. (free entry).
3) National History Museum – built in 1808, this building first served as the head quarters for the Spanish Court, in 1811 it became the National Congress and later the central post office; since 1978 it has housed the National History Museum since 1978, built in 1808 it first served (10:00 – 18:00; Tues-Sun; CLP$600)
7. Mercado Central
From the corner of the Plaza de Armas by the Cathedral, walk 3 blocks along Puente – be especially careful of cameras and your bags.
Built in 1872 as the central market, this British structure now houses solely the fish market and plenty of fish restaurants. It is alive with life, music and fresh seafood. This market was chosen as the 5th best market in the world by National Geographic: https://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/top-10/food-markets/
8. Cerro Santa Lucia
From the Mercado Central, retrace your steps back to the Plaza de Armas, cross it diagonally to get to the corner of Estado with Merced. Walk down Estado for 2 blocks and then turn left onto
Agustinas for 3 ½ blocks until you reach the base of the Santa Lucia Hill. Follow the path in – you’ll have to sign your name but the entry is free. As you go under the footbridge there is a staircase on your left – follow the stairs to the top.
When Benjamin Vicuna Mackena became Mayor in 1872, he set about to make major changes to the city of Santiago. He not only oversaw the canalization of the Mapocho river (the fast flowing brown trickle that runs through the city), but also transformed the Cerro Santa Lucia into the landscaped park that you see today; more than 1,000 trees were planted, and gardens and fountains built. The hill has the remains of an old fort on the top from which you get some great views of the city.
Stop off at the kiosk on your way back down, for a refreshing “Mote con Huesillo” – a traditional drink made of peach juice, peaches and pearl barley.
Follow the path back down through the park to get to the Neptune fountain and the other exit to the park (you don’t have to sign out). Turning right, you will see the Santa Lucia metro stop which you can hop on to take you back to where you started.
This tour will take you 3-4 hours (longer if you stop for lunch at the Mercado Central)
9. Do you have more time? My other top suggestions would be:
Located at the foot of the Cerro Santa Lucia this neighborhood has been revitalized by artists who have restored buildings, quaint little bars opening and some new boutique hotels. For a great wine bar, check out “Boca Nariz Vino Bar” – more than 35 Chilean wines by the glass and a selection of up to 300 by the bottle.
-Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino (Chilean Pre-Columbian Art Musuem)
An amazing introduction into the indigenous cultures of Latin America from Mexico down to Tierra del Fuego. Inaugurated in 1881 and recently restored, this museum is famous in Latin America and located just 1 block from the Plaza de Armas. (10:00 – 18:00; Tues – Sun; CLP$3,900)
-Cerro San Cristobal & the Bellavista neighborhood
Between the Mapocho river and the San Cristobal hill is the bohemian district of Bellavista where you’ll find a mix students, artist, the after-work crowd and tourist all enjoying the delights of live music, street side cafes and local art. There are plenty of bars and restaurants but a few of my top picks would be, “Como Agua Para Chocolate” – great for steaks and fish dishes, and “Galindo” – great for reasonably priced local food, local beers and plenty of locals.
At the end of Pio Nono you will find the start of the San Cristobal hill and the funicular station to take you up to the top. Exiting the funicular you will have to climb a few stair to get you up to the 14m-high statue of the Virgin with incredible views of the city of Santiago, the Coastal mountains and the snow peaks of the Andes.
Spending the night in Santiago? Read Sally’s top tips on Where to Stay.
Are you visiting Buenos Aires? Here are Sally’s tips on Things to do in Buenos Aires