Chile may be known more for its history than its present, but a blossoming art, music and fashion scene dominated by the politically active younger set breathes new life into Santiago and the country at large. While the country has spectacular natural beauty, travelers can easily entertain themselves for much more than just 24 hours in the temperate capital. By concentrating on a few central neighborhoods, it’s more than possible to experience the vibrant scene, close connection to the past and local delicacies that compose Santiago.
Eat like a local for breakfast
Breakfast is a casual affair and is a great way people watch from the local cafes. Those with a sweet tooth will enjoy a sopaipilla, a pastry made of deep-fried pumpkin dough, or a calzone roto, which is best described as a fried cookie, along with a cappuccino. For a super-local start, stop by omnipresent soda fountain Dominó and order a ham, avocado and cheese sandwich and a raspberry juice.
Make history in the morning
After a quick walk through the Metropolitan Cathedral and Plaza de Armas, it’s time to visit one of the museums that abound in the area. Museo del Arte Precolombino has a truly impressive collection of Pre-Colombian art from all over Latin America. Museo Histórico Nacional starts with the Pre-Colombian era and ends with a disquieting display of Salvador Allende’s broken glasses. Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende features works from Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró in a grand townhouse that was used as a listening station during the dictatorship. Finish off with some pictures in front of presidential palace La Moneda before heading to lunch.
Lunch at the seafood market
Seafood lovers will be overwhelmed by the endless possibilities at Mercado Central, Santiago’s main fish and seafood market. Choose one of the smaller restaurants across from the fish stalls and dine on camarones al pil pil, paila marina, simple grilled salmon and way more. Pick up an empanada or two to go for onces, or afternoon tea. The traditional empanada contains ground beef and onion, but the seafood versions, especially jaiba (crab) and machas (razor clams) and cheese are fantastic.
A stroll up Santa Lucia Hill and shopping
Start the afternoon with a double scoop of black pepper strawberry and creamy lúcuma from homemade ice cream shop Emporio de la Rosa before heading up Cerro Santa Lucía. This picturesque hill features numerous facades and fountains and views of the competing colonial and millennial architecture from the top. Once back down at street level, stock up on lapis lazuli, copper and other local gems at Santa Lucía market. Those who put a heavy emphasis on shopping may want to head over to Feria Los Dominicos instead, as this sprawling handicraft village located inside an old convent boasts jewelry, toys, antiques, food and more.
Poetry and the top of the city
See the curious décor of poet Pablo Neruda’s La Chascona home in the Bellavista neighborhood. This house, one of his three, was ransacked and partially burned during the military coup in 1973, but has since been lovingly restored and filled with pieces from his other homes. From there, watch the sun dip over the city on the funicular ride up to the top of Cerro San Cristobal, where a large statue of the Virgin Mary presides over the sprawl of the city and the Andes.
Dinner in Bellavista
Back in trendy, bohemian Bellavista, knock back a pisco sour – or two – and ceviche at Azul Profundo and then head down the block to Muñeca Brava for contemporary local fare and regional wine in an upscale setting.
Get loose in Barrio Italia
Luckily for those with a limited number of nights, closing time is a hazy concept in Santiago. Barrio Italia has recently taken the crown of hippest neighborhood in the city, and El Escosés is the perfect place to start the night. Only order the terremoto (an intimidating drink consisting of sweet fermented wine and pineapple ice cream) after you’ve made all your memories for the evening!
The capital’s ideal location is an easy jump-off to the Atacama Desert to the north, Patagonia to the south or to Easter Island 2000 miles west in the Pacific. Nearby, the pottery village of Pomaire, the hills and colors of coastal Valparaíso and the nature of Cajón del Maipo are an easy bus trip away.