Santiago de Chile’s quirky barrios (neighbourhoods) are bursting with architectural beauty, divine food, historical gems and cultural delights and the best way to take it all in is to join a walking tour around the city’s central Barrios. And did you know that Santiago was the American Capital of Culture in 2004? This is our guide to just a few of the many intriguing cultural sights in Santiago de Chile.
Experience Santiago’s Central Barrios on a Walking Tour
The best way to get your bearings in a new city is to join a local walking tour, and Santiago de Chile is no exception. The quirky and bohemian districts (barrios) of Bellas Artes, Brasil, París-Londres, Bellavista, Lastarria and Centro are absolutely fascinating both architecturally and culturally. Santiago was founded in 1541 and is brimming with art deco, neoclassical and neo Gothic examples.
Start your walking tour in the Barrio París-Londres which sprung up in 1923 and is reminiscent of Paris’ Latin Quarter, replete with cobbled streets and gorgeous renovated mansion houses. Take in the San Francisco Church, which dates back to 1586 and which is actually the oldest building within Chile’s capital city. Santiago experiences regular earthquakes and as a consequence only a handful of Spanish colonial-period building remain; besides the San Francisco Church there is also the Casa Colorada colonial house which dates from 1769 and is now home to the Museo de Santiago and the Posada del Corregidor which dates back to 1750 and is now used as an exhibition and cultural center.
Barrio París-Londres only consists of two streets: Calle Londres and Calle Paris. The most notable building on Calle Londres (London) is the former jail at number 38/40 which was used during the Pinochet regime.
Head towards the central Civic District, past the Universidad de Chile which was established in 1842 and which is one of the oldest universities in Latin America. At the very heart of the civic district is the rather stately Palacio de La Moneda, aka The Mint, which dates back to 1784. Constructed in a grand neoclassical style, the palace is located on an entire block and for 115 La Moneda produced coins (Moneda means ‘coin’), up until 1929.
It was later used as a presidential residence and today houses offices of the government. Tours inside are possibly with a little prior planning. Inside is the modern art gallery, the Centro Cultural Palacio de la Moneda which contains many works by international artists and sculptures from local Chilean artists. Visitors can wander the grounds, throw a coin in the fountain and take in the impressive architecture from all angles.
Just around the corner is the exquisite Santiago Stock Exchange building which was founded in 1893. The Bolsa de Comercio de Santiago is actually the third biggest stock exchange within Latin America.
Walk on to Santo Domingo Street where you’ll come across the incredibly handsome Roman Catholic Santo Domingo Church, which fuses many architectural styles. Originally started in 1747, the church is largely neoclassical with its towers rather reminiscent of the Bavarian Baroque style.
Plaza de Armas, aka Barrio Central
The large bustling Plaza de Armas square is at the very heart of Santiago de Chile and is a vast area with plenty going on night and day. Be entertained by dancers and musician, grab a coffee and settle down for a spot of people watching. Here you’ll also find the Museo Historico Nacional which was established over one hundred years ago and is located within the Palacio de la Real Audiencia. The former palace has turned its rooms over to exhibits including clothing, furniture and household items. The square is based upon a grid-system and you’ll also find the highly ornate Central Post Office Building and the impressive neoclassical Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral here, as well as an ancient amphitheatre and a fountain.
The central neighbourhood of Lastarria has developed into a popular tourist hub with plenty of good quality hotels, bars and restaurants, particularly around the Plaza Mulato Gil de Castro. The ain highlight of the area is the Museo de Santiago which is housed in the Casa Colorado colonial house, which is one of the oldest surviving building sin Santiago de Chile, dating back to 1769. Visitors can also climb the Cerro Santa Lucia, which is around 15 million years old and which has an altitude of 629 meters, for a superb view over the city and surrounding mountains. And in 1833 Charles Darwin praised the view from the cerro (hill) as “certainly most striking”. Try and spot the Statue of the Virgin Mary on the top of Cerro San Cristóbal.
Barrio Bellas Artes
Cultural neighbourhood Bellas Artes is home to two superb museums, which are also worth a look; the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, aka the Museum of Modern Art and also the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, aka the National Museum of Fine Arts. Both are located within the neoclassical Palacio de Bellas Artes, one of the top cultural sights in Santiago within the city’s Parque Forestal.
Bohemian Barrio Brasil is something of an up and coming neighbourhood, popular with artists and creative types. The standout cultural sights include the gorgeous neo-Gothic Basilica dl Salvador which was originally constructed in 1892 but has been reconstructed many times following earthquakes. Head to the Plaza Brasil, especially on the weekend, where students come to hang out. Of particular architectural interest is the Alberto Hurtado University building which features highly ornate German gothic architecture.
The Bellavista neighbourhood lies between Santiago’s Mapocho River and the San Cristóbal Hill. The tree-lined lined streets are awash with imposing mansions and trendy loft spaces. It’s a colourfully cultural place to hang out, where quaint boutiques and hip bars are the order of the day. The arty enclave is also well known for its lively nightlife and authentic Chilean cuisine. Don’t miss the Casa Museo La Chascona, which is the former home of the local poet Pablo Neruda. And take in a show or two in Bellavista which has the best theatres in the country, at San Ginés, Teatro Bellavista Center and Mori.
And if the cultural sights get a little too much, console yourself with the fact that Santiago de Chile is one of the most diverse cities in South America. Visitors can trek the surrounding lakes, rivers and mountains in the morning, sample vintage wines at the local vineyards in the afternoon and soak up the diverse arts and café culture in the evening!