Earlier this year, we spent six weeks in Chile's huge capital city, housesitting and looking after two lovely dogs. However, we quickly discovered that there really isn't a great deal to see of things to do in Santiago.
Sure it has everything one would need to live and work there happily, but it is certainly not like basing yourself in London, Paris or Buenos Aires for a couple of months.
And it appears that we're not alone in this view - the vast majority of backpackers we met opted to spend only one or two days here exploring what's on offer, before heading to Valparaiso or to explore the landscapes of San Pedro de Atacama. Santiago is not an unpleasant place for tourists, but neither is it one that many will fall in love with.
So, how do we suggest you spend your time in Santiago? Take the best of the city and cram it into that stay of two or three days; you'll certainly find more than enough to entertain you for 48 hours!
Top Things to do in Santiago de Chile
Museo de la Memoria y Derechos Humanos
The Museum of Remembrance and Human Rights opened only a few years ago, but its importance within Chile is immense.
Following a coup in 1973, which culminated in the suicide of President Salvador Allende, Chile was ruled under the iron fist of General Augusto Pinochet. From that period, until the country's return to democracy in 1990, political repression, torture and state-sponsored murder took place to remove dissident voices and maintain the military government's grip.
Through eyewitness testimony, new reels and exhibits, these victims are remembered and Chile's journey from coup to dictatorship and new democracy is chartered. A visit here should form an essential part of any visitor's itinerary.
Cost: Free. The vast majority of the exhibits are in Spanish but you are able to obtain an English headset to guide you through the exhibits.
Address: Avenida Matucana 501. The closest Metro station is Quinta Normal, located just opposite.
Opening hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tues - Sun
Opposite the museum, you will find a pleasant park which with hosts a few other sights of interest, like the Natural History Museum. Most of these are free to visit and, if the sun is shining, the park is pleasant place to wander around. Grab a sopapilla from the carts outside before you enter!
hang out in Bellavista
Home to the best of the city's nightlife, Bellavista is a great place to grab a beer or a coffee on a sunny afternoon, explore the graffiti covered streets and just hang out and watch the world go by. This is the area known as hipster central in the city, so it's got a modern, young and alternative vibe.
Pio Nono, a long street that slices Bellavista in two, is jam-packed with bars and restaurants with everything from cheap burger joints, great pizza restaurants, a few fancier bars and some traditional watering holes so, at night and on weekends, it's the place for any traveller to be.
Plaza de Armas and the Presidential Palace
After having visited the Museum of Remembrance and understanding a little more about how Pinochet put himself in power, visiting the presidential palace - the site of the 1973 coup - becomes a lot more interesting. There's a poignant statue in tribute to Allenda, whilst some of the surrounding architecture is quite beautiful.
During the week, Plaza de las Armas is just like any other main central square, leading to some busy shopping streets, but on the weekend the place comes alive. Traditional dance, street performers, old men playing chess and one of the funniest mimes we've seen in years can all be found peddling their skills in the middle of the day.
Enjoy the best Thai food this side of Bangkok
If like us, you have been on the road for a long time, there will definitely be some food you're missing. For us, our stomachs have been yearning for a decent Thai.
Pad Thai on 'Manuel Montt' is not only great by Latin American standards, it really is some of the best we've ever eaten. The mains priced at around 7000 - 8000 CP are huge and there is an excellent number of veggie (and even vegan) options on the menu.
Address: Manuel Montt 231
Opening times: 1 p.m. - 4 p.m. and 7.30 p.m. - 12 a.m. Tuesday to Sunday, 7.30 p.m. - 12 a.m. Mondays.
Vist Mercado Central
Catering to locals and tourists alike, Mercado Central is a Mecca for all things fishy. Get here early (like, really early!) if you want to be around when the restauranteurs are stocking up on their fish of the day or you will likely find yourselves surrounded by other travellers keen for something freshly cooked.
Whilst the central restaurants cater to higher budgets, you can still get a great lunch deal at much cheaper prices if you stick to the smaller places around the edge of the market. And to be honest, aren't these often the best places to eat anyway?!
Opening times: Mon to Fri 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., Sat and Sun 7 a.m. - 3.30 p.m.
Address: Corner of 21 de Mayo & San Pablo (nearest metro station Puente Cal y Canto)
Chill out in the parks
If there is one thing Santiago is not short of, it's public parks - they are literally everywhere, often massive and a great place to hang out in the sun (beer not necessary, but always recommended).
The most popular are as follows:
Parque Metropolitano de Santiago - One of the largest parks in the world, it extends across the hills of San Cristobal, Chacarillas and Los Gemelos. To enter, take the funicular up San Cristobal hill from Bellavista.
Parque de las Esculturas - a popular park in the Providencia neighbourhood, this is also home to 30 sculptures and exhibits for a number of Chilean and international artists.
Parque Bicentenario - located in Vitacura, this is a park done well. You may even catch a glimpse of the resident flamingos!
Use this map to locate all our favourite spots
getting around santiago
As with any major city, negotiating public transport can be a little tricky at first. However, with a great metro system and even larger number of bus connections, getting around is relatively simple.
First off, you need to buy a Bip! card. These are available from all stations and cost 1,350 CP with a minimum first top up of 1,000 CP. The cost of a journey varies between 700CP in rush hour to 590CP in low-use hours and you are able to transfer between metro and bus for an additional 20CP.
Where to Stay in Santiago
This city is huge. Unsurprisingly then, the number of accommodation options is equally overwhelming, and with more than 70 hostels in the city alone, picking where to stay can be tricky. So, to make it a little easier, here are some of our suggestions.
The Bellavista Hostel | If you're looking for a fun night out, Bellavista is the place to go - and this hostel is by far the most popular one in the area. Unsurprisingly, it's got a party scene, but it also has a cool design, a free breakfast, a self-catering kitchen and great reviews. Find out more or check availability on Hostelworld or Booking.com
Rado Boutique Hostel | At around £40 per night for a double, this hostel isn't cheap, but it's fair to say you get what you pay for! With hotel amenities, sleek design, a fantastic rooftop, quality breakfast and excellent security, this hostel would suit those that enjoy enjoy a hotel but aren't ready to say goodbye to their hostel days just yet! Find out more or check availability on Hostelworld or Booking.com
Yogi Hostel | Located in Providencia, this is our sort of hostel. Quirky furnishings, a great outdoor space, homely environment, a guest kitchen and friendly staff. Oh, and did we mention the yoga classes? Find out more or check availability click here.
Hostel Forestal | Should we ever go back to Santiago, we think this is where we'll head to first. One for the 25+ age range, this hostel has cute vintage design, really helpful staff, impeccable cleanliness and wonderful common areas. It's clear why people have such great things to say! Find out more or check availability on Hostelworld or Booking.com