While the city is too large to see everything in three days, this 3 days in Santiago itinerary offers key highlights to get the most from your visit.
The largest city in South America, Santiago packs more people than Los Angeles in an area half the size. It would be endless if not for the Andes and Central Mountain chains holding it in place.
Where to Stay and How to Get Around Santiago de Chile
Santiago has been in a period of unrest with protests in the main government square. Your safest option is to stay near Las Condes, Vitacura, or Providencia.
Airbnb has nice options throughout the city. They tend to be clean and modern apartments in one of the many towers with staff at the front door for safety and assistance.
The easiest way to navigate the city is a combination of Uber and the subway. While Uber isn’t legal in Chile, it’s widely used, affordable, and considered safe. The subway is inexpensive and convenient for most of downtown Santiago.
Stores and attractions don’t open until 10 am, allowing for a relaxed morning. You’ll have plenty of time to enjoy breakfast at one of the local cafes, practice your Spanish, and pore over a city map before starting your day.
Related read: Safest countries in Latin America
3 days in Santiago itinerary
Day 1 – A feel for the City and Aerial Views
This day may sound ambitious, but everything is close together and in safe neighborhoods where you can wander by yourself in the evenings.
You’ll have two opportunities to view the city from above, while also enjoying some time at a park.
Take the subway to Costanera Center in Providencia, a large complex that includes a mall, hotels, and office buildings.
It’s also home to the Gran Torre Santiago skyscraper, the tallest building in South America. You may hear it called Sky Costanera, which is the viewing platform at the top.
A guide will welcome you and share facts about the tower on the elevator ride up. At 62 floors, the modern skyscraper, lined with shining blue glass, reaches up to the sky for a whopping 982 feet (300 meters). Try to remember to breathe and not think about the height.
Arriving at the first level of the observation deck, you’re greeted by a 360-degree room lined with large glass windows.
All of Santiago is on display as you walk around. The sheer size of the city becomes clear as you see endless buildings. In the background, the Andes mountains create a dark and rugged backdrop.
Before leaving, head up the escalator to the top floor of the observation deck and gaze at the open roof. Art and function come together as a maze of thick, white metal crisscross above your head, part of the support holding the structure together.
When you’re ready, head back down and enjoy lunch at the mall or one of the small shops nearby. Grab water to go since your next adventure includes a bit of walking.
The Outdoor Sculpture Park
Rounding the mall, you’ll see a small park across the street with a sand walking path. This will lead you to the Sculpture Park.
It’s a 20 to 30-minute walk, allowing time to soak up the sun and city views. Locals enjoying their summer lay in the grass, ride their bikes along the path, and picnic under trees.
On the horizon, you’ll see large installations announcing the park. This open area is home to 30 pieces of art, all by Chilean artists.
As you wander through the statues and other installations, you’ll find yourself trying to contrast this area with the views of endless buildings you saw from Sky Costanera.
A further reminder of your morning, the Gran Torres skyscraper appears in the distance.
It will be hard to pull yourself away from the peaceful setting, but after 2 to 3 hours, you’ll want to head out to your next stop, San Cristobal Hill.
San Cristobal Hill
The iconic hill sits in the middle of downtown with its statue of the Virgin Mary viewable from almost every neighborhood.
There are three ways to reach the top, cable car, funicular, or the road. You’ll need an Uber to arrive at any of the entrances. The cable cars are near the Providencia entrance and the funicular is on the opposite side of the park, towards the Bellavista entrance.
You’ll see a mix of locals and tourists at San Cristobal. Some locals like to exercise by biking up the long and windy road, while tourists and local families enjoy the cable cars or funicular.
The top of the hill is home to a Sanctuary, the statue of the Virgin Mary, and lots of nooks and crannies to explore. Sit along the wall and enjoy the city views.
Wander down the walkway with beautiful crosses painted by local artists. You’ll find yourself winding down the mountain for a bit. If you continue past the cable cars, the two pools will appear.
There’s so much to do here, it’s easy to lose track of time.
If you’re getting hungry, head back down and grab dinner at any of the restaurants near the entrance, or one of the local favorites near your accommodations.
Day 2 – The Bustling Downtown
Today is all about historic downtown Santiago. Similar to other South American capitals, the historic downtown is also home to current political buildings.
Santiago manages to evolve and modernize while still preserving a sense of history.
Other countries like Ecuador focus on preservation. You can read more about Quito, Ecuador here, and compare these two unique capital cities.
Historic Downtown Santiago
With Santiago’s history of unrest and rioting in the main plazas, you’ll want to leave the area by 4 pm.
The subway is the easiest way to reach the historic district and the University of Chile stop will drop you off right in front of an area called La Bolsa. It’s easily identified as the only intersection making a Y.
No matter the time of day, the subway and downtown area will be crowded. As the escalator rises to the sidewalk, you’re immediately enveloped in a sea of people. The crowd is a mix of downtown workers, families shopping, and tourists.
Take a moment to find a spot where you can look at the buildings. The old and new architecture blend rather than compete. This is part of the charm of Santiago. A nod to the past, but an eye on the future.
Take a deep breath and dive into the crowd. As you walk down the busy streets lined with offices and shops, a plaza will suddenly appear.
The Plazas of Santiago
Standing in the middle of Plaza de Armas, the center of downtown, you’ll see the Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral, Central Post Office, and Royal Court Palace bordering the square.
The Chilean National History Museum inside the Royal Court Palace and the Cathedral are both open to the public.
The cathedral may not be the grandest in the world, but it stood fast in times of war and rioting, even surviving a few earthquakes.
Also in this area is Plaza de la Constitución, home to the current government buildings such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Finance.
As you stand in front of the massive building housing the Chilean Supreme Court, you may notice an open window on the second floor. It hits you that this is not just a piece of the past. People are in there now, making new history.
Mixed in with these stately buildings are stores and restaurants. Shop like a local and see if anything catches your eye. Have lunch at one of the finer restaurants or stop by a storefront and grab a completo.
Wander into one of the mini-malls where small entrance ways under the office buildings lead to mazes of shops.
As it starts near 4 pm, head back and enjoy dinner near your Airbnb.
Day 3 – A Dark History and a Bustling Market
Today you’ll learn more about Santiago’s bloody past. But it will also be a day of street vendors and markets, including the famous Mercado Market.
The Museum of Memory and Human Rights
Most museums are not open on Mondays so be sure to check and adjust your itinerary.
Museums are great for a quieter day and you can reach the Museum of Memory and Human Rights by taking the subway to Central Square.
In front of the subway station is a loud and colorful street vendor market with an odd assortment of goods. You may want to wander for a bit before heading out on the 15-minute walk to the museum.
The Museum of Human Rights is easy to spot with its distinctive green glass and concrete façade. While the outside may be modern and beautiful, the inside remembers the victims of human rights violations during the military regime of Pinochet.
You’ll leave knowing more about the culture and understanding a bit of the Chileans, but it’s not an uplifting story.
As you walk around this section of town, keep your eyes open for the street art nearby. Across from the museum is a building with a sun and moon. Next to it is a concrete wall with work that should be in a top museum.
To call the street art of Santiago graffiti seems to undermine the level of talent. These works could hold their own against any current megastar in the art world.
When you’re ready to head to Mercado Market, take the subway from Central Station to the University of Chile stop. You’ll need to walk through historic downtown.
The market’s famous main building is just the tip of the iceberg. Mercado Market is an entire neighborhood of shops, restaurants, and street vendors.
There’s a constant squawk from vendors lining the sidewalks and delicious smelling food. You’ll fight with the massive crowds as you navigate the streets.
Similar to the market at Central Station, it’s a sea of color with vendors selling everything from vegetables to toothpaste, to socks and underwear, to crafts.
There are even people with shopping carts housing small chargers hooked up to deep fryers. They fry whole chickens and serve lunch. You’ll be enticed by the smell and intrigued by the setup.
If a sidewalk meal isn’t appealing to you, try an empanada from Emporio Zunino. With a long line of locals, you know it’s the best empanada in town.
Looking for a treat? Stop at an ice cream shop for a scoop mixed with fruit. Try the cherimoya, a local favorite that adds a light, tropical touch.
Mercado Market can be confusing. Don’t go crazy trying to figure out where you are and where you’ve been.
Buildings are mazes of stores and confusing to navigate. Entering what looks like an Italian restaurant, you’ll find yourself in the giant seafood warehouse. Just wander and go with the flow.
You’ll finish in plenty of time for an early dinner before catching an evening flight. If you have another day, some additional suggestions can be found below.
Extra Time in Santiago Chile
If you spent a little less time downtown or a museum isn’t quite your cup of tea, there are many other things to see and experience in Santiago.
- Art lovers can visit the Bellas Artes neighborhood lined with graffiti from local artists.
- Wine enthusiasts can take half a day and travel to one of the amazing Chilean wineries.
- Hikers can head to Cerro Manquehuito in Vitacura for views of the city and Andes mountains.
- History lovers can tour more museums.
The list is almost endless.
You may have thought of Santiago as just a layover on the way to something else. But now you’re one of the savvy travelers who know it’s a must-see destination. Next time, you’ll come back with a couple of weeks to explore.
Alison Watta started traveling later in life due to fear and lack of confidence. Her passion is to inspire other hesitant travelers to get out and explore the world. She promotes local travel, global destinations, and outdoor adventures at ExplorationSolo. Follow her on Facebook.
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