Today’s I Heart My City guide to Santiago comes courtesy of Chile expert and guidebook author Kristina Schreck. Check out Kristina’s insider picks of the best places to eat, drink, shop, and play in the capital city. And for more Chile travel advice, you can catch Kristina in Washington, D.C., on November 1 when she presents the seminar, “Explore Chile: From the Atacama Desert to Easter Island,” as part of the Smithsonian Institution’s Resident Associates Program.
Santiago de Chile Is My City
The first place I take a visitor from out of town is the Bellavista neighborhood, to enjoy its eclectic vibe and colorful facades, open air cafes, and arts & crafts shops.
When I crave ice cream I always go to Emporio La Rosa, which has homemade concoctions such as vanilla with rose, spicy chocolate, and mango with green tea.
To escape the occasional smog in the winter, I head up to the Andes to go snowboarding, just an hour or so outside of town.
If I want to surround myself with lovely old-world architecture, I go to Barrio Yungay. This neighborhood transports me to another era with its turn-of-the-century European buildings, antiques shops, and restaurants such as the Peluquería Francesa.
For complete quiet, I can hide away in the interior patio of the Iglesia San Francisco off Avenida Alameda. The old garden is surprisingly serene for downtown.
If you come to my city, get your picture taken at a lookout point atop Cerro San Cristobal or the Cerro Santa Lucia hills, with stunning city views spread out behind you and the Andes rising high in the background.
If you have to order one thing off the menu from La Mar, it has to be the seviche sampler and the homemade potato chips. The seviche “desgustación” plate comes with four varieties that showcase Chile’s fresh seafood and its fondness for Peruvian cuisine.
WAIN is my one-stop shop for wine, located in Vitacura.
Locals know to skip the antiseptic Las Condes neighborhood and check out the arts and cafe barrio Lastarria, also known as Parque Forestal and home to the city’s Contemporary Art Museum.
When I’m feeling cash-strapped I shop for produce and other food items in La Vega, the recently renovated food market in downtown. Then I grab lunch at one of the dozens of food stalls that serve typical Chilean dishes at bargain prices ($2 to $5 for a full meal).
For a huge splurge I go to dine on a 3-course meal at Mestizo restaurant on the edge of Vitacura’s Bicentennial Park. Dining is best on a beautiful spring or summer day where you can soak in the park atmosphere with an expertly prepared pisco sour in hand.
Photo ops in my city include the Mercado Central fish market, Bellavista’s colorful homes and street art, the grand Plaza de Armas, Providencia’s sculpture garden, and the Concha y Toro neighborhood. The best vantage points are at the lookout tower atop Cerro Santa Lucia, and at lookout points on the eastern flank of Cerro San Cristobal.
My city has the most introverted men. Men in Chile tend to not discuss their feelings or flirt outwardly with women.
My city has the most natural-looking women. They are not fussy or particularly stylish dressers, preferring simple clothing without much adornment. Nor do most women wear a lot of makeup or have complicated hair styles.
In my city, an active day outdoors involves heading to the Cajón de Maipo, a recreational area in a steep-sided valley of the Andes near Santiago, where you can hike, raft, bike, rock climb, horseback ride, and soak in hot springs.
My city’s best museum is the Pablo Neruda Museum. Many travelers overlook this museum in favor of Neruda’s larger museum at Isla Negra on the coast, but his eccentric old Santiago home is quite spellbinding, and it is replete with anecdotal art, collections, and awards, including the poet’s Nobel Peace Prize.
My favorite jogging/walking route is one of the many trails that lace around the Metropolitan Park at Cerro San Cristobal, a park that is larger than NYC’s Central Park and a leafy respite that will transport you far from urban life.
For a night of dancing or live music, go to the Centro Cultural Amanda in Vitacura, which has weekly dance nights (called “fiestas”) with top DJs and solid live acts by local bands and visiting artists.
Bar Liguria is the spot for late-night eats.
You can tell a lot about my city from its hodgepodge architecture.
You can tell if someone is from my city if the person’s friends have stayed the same since childhood.
In the spring you should visit the antique Club Hípico race track for horse races. The largest event is El Ensayo, in November.
In the summer you should take a dip at one of the two swimming pools atop Cerro San Cristobal and end the day watching the sunset with a cocktail on the rooftop bar of the W Hotel.
In the fall you should visit wineries near Santiago during the Vendimia festival (wine harvest festival), which takes place throughout March and April.
In the winter you should go skiing or snowboarding at one of the five resorts near Santiago. Travelers with the budget can even heli-ski the Andes directly from Santiago, taking off from a rooftop helipad or local aerodrome.
A hidden gem in my city is the Museo de la Moda (Fashion Museum), a museum that could give any Paris or London museum a run for its money. The museum, located in a chic mid-century home in Vitacura, boasts a major collection rotated in cycles and according to theme, with rare vintage costumes and iconic pieces like Madonna’s cone bra.
For a great breakfast joint try the Aubrey Hotel for Sunday brunch and sit out on its cobblestone patio. The rest of the week, try Coquinaria, located on the lower level of the W Hotel in Las Condes, which also offers the most varied and extensive gourmet food store in Santiago, and where you can pick up items for a picnic.
Don’t miss the Santiago a Mil during late January, a 2-week celebration of Chilean and international theater, with stage productions, kids events, outdoor theater, and other street festivals.
Just outside my city, you can visit a huge variety of wineries in the Maipo, Casablanca, Aconcagua, and Cachapoal valleys. Even Colchagua, Chile’s take on Napa Valley, is just 2 hours away, and some wineries are less than 30 minutes from downtown.
The best way to see my city is by bicycle. There are several companies, like Santiago Adventures, that offer tours of the city and provide bike rentals. In Providencia, you can rent bikes on the street from a municipal stand.
If I didn’t live in a city, I’d live in an antique, estancia-style home on the outskirts of Puerto Natales, in Patagonia, or in a shingled wooden cabin somewhere in the Lake District forest.
The best book about my city is Santiago Bizarro by Sergio Paz. The book was published in 2003, but most of the entries about weird, wacky places and attractions in the city are current.
When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is “In Santiago, Chile (‘Tain’t Chilly at All)” by Desi Arnaz.
If you have kids, you won’t want to miss the city zoo, located on a slope of the Cerro San Cristobal, which has a seemingly incongruous urban backdrop.
“Cafe con piernas,” or coffee with legs (scantily clad women who serve coffee at stand-up cafes) could only happen in my city.
My city should be featured on your cover or website because it is a Latin American city on the rise with impressive growth in infrastructure and city services, as well as major strides in the arts, shopping, and dining scene. The city has virtually reinvented itself since 2000.
Tell us about your favorite spots in Santiago. Leave us the details in the comments section below.
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Photo: Gustavo Gomez/My Shot