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With no Eiffel Tower, no Taj Mahal, no real famous tourist attractions to speak of, even Santiago locals will tell you there isn’t much to see in their city. But up until our very last day in town we were discovering great spots widespread throughout the Chilean capital. Read on to find out how to go beyond the main sights in Santiago, and what Santiago off the beaten path offers. If you have only a short stop in town, check out our Santiago quick guide which covers all the things you shouldn’t miss on a visit to Santiago.
Visit Barrio Yungay and El Golf
Lastarria is Santiago’s showcase neighborhood, with colonial and neo-colonial architecture, wine bars and top dining options, while Bellavista is the most popular neighborhood for budget travelers – popping seven nights a week, with student bars, cheap eats and vibrant nightlife (think drum parades and lots of outdoor drinking). However, Barrio Yungay and nearby Barrio Brasil are home to sprawling 19th century mansions of wealthy landowning Santiagueños, quiet squares with towering exotic trees rustling in the breeze and cute local cafes to pass the time. We first discovered the two neighborhoods on our free walking tour with Spicy Chile, which is a great way to get a much more in-depth perspective on these areas.
Glass towers, modern office buildings and the epicenter of Chile’s future forward urban mentality are set in Las Condes and El Golf, just a few miles and worlds apart from the Barrios. Contemporary architecture,like the Santa Cruz Del Sur Tower at the Escuela Militar Metro Station, reveals the capital’s pride in its booming economy. In our opinion, a visit to Las Condes is worth it for Tiramisu alone – easily the best pizzeria in Santiago and just down and around the corner from the luxurious W Santiago and Intercontinental Santiago hotels.
Los Dominicos market
Even those who don’t normally head to a city’s central market should make the Mercado Central a stop – especially if you love seafood. Fishmongers line the back and quaint, clean fish restaurants are set up in the middle of the historic market building. Head across the river, however, and you’ll get a much more local experience at the Mercado La Vega produce market. It’s booming, busy and a bit grubby, but you can stuff your bags from massive piles of ripe avocados, tomatoes, quinoa, blue corn, bunches o fresh cilantro, chives and buckets of garlic, olives and cheese. For an even more off-the-beaten track experience, take the Red Line (Linea 1) to the last stop: Los Dominicos market. Close to the Andes mountains, this is a lively outdoor tourist market without hordes of tourists. Over 150 artisan market stands sell traditional Chilean handicrafts such as wooden pieces, leather, glass, wool, and of course lapislazuli, the country’s unique stone. You can watch artists at work and, on weekends, enjoy traditional dance and music performances.
Visit Parque O’Higgins and Parque Bicentenario
On a quick trip to Santiago, you’ll most likely pass through Parque Forrestral on the north end of the Lastarria neighborhood sooner or later, and you might wander into the Parque Quinta Normal after your visit to the fascinating, heartbreaking Human Rights Museum across the street. Surprisingly green Santiago has two other parks we can highly recommend, if you have time to explore Santiago off the beaten path.
First is the Parque Bicentenario, or Bicentenial Park, in the fashionable, high-income Vitacura neighborhood. On the weekends, the park is packed with posh locals and their many, many dogs, but during the week, you’ll have the sun chairs and umbrellas to yourself and make sure to sip a Pisco Sour at the chic Mestizo restaurant on the north end of the park. Parque Bicentenario is also only a couple of blocks from the Ralli museum (see below) and can easily be combined with an afternoon of art.
All the way across town, Parque O’Higgins is Santiago’s largest park and also home to Fantasilandia a medium-sized amusement park with roller coasters and all the typical for-all-ages Disney-like fun for under US$20 (CPS8,990). The park itself is set around an old airstrip, which is now used for concerts and other events in the summer months. If you take the Green Line to Parque O’Higgins, you’ll find yourself right inside the park.
The Ralli Museum or the Sculpture Park
Well-heeled locals will occasionally complain of a dearth of culture in Santiago, but we say you just need to know where to look. Art lovers usually make a beeline for the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts) and the Contemporary Art Museum right next door. However, tucked in to a side street in Vitacura, the Ralli Museum is a collection of contemporary Latin American art including both paintings and sculptures by Dali and other greats (Chagall, Miro). The museum is free, staff is helpful, there are no photography restrictions and, the best part – most locals don’t even know about it, meaning it is usually fairly empty. Combine this with a picnic in Parque Bicentenario (above) for a great day out in Vitacura.
Santiago is a city filled with public art and we loved discovering the sculptures in Santiago de Chile. The best concentration can be found in the city’s Sculpture Park. Within walking distance of the Gran Torre de Santiago, which will be the tallest building in South America when it is finished, the park has over 30 wood, bronze and steel pieces by popular Chilean artists. There is no admission fee and you can sit in the park enjoying a book or a picnic lunch. The closest metro station is Pedro De Valdivia, which itself is home to beautiful public art inside the station.
Do you live in Santiago, or have you recently visited, and have recommendation for Santiago off the beaten path to share? Please leave them in the comments below so we can continue to shed light on lesser known areas of the Chilean capital!