Eight ways to live like a local in Santiago

Tamara Hinson
01 July 2016

Getting to Chile’s capital will become significantly easier in 2017, thanks to British Airways’ new London to Santiago route. Travel writer Tamara Hinson reveals how to get under the skin of South America’s most exciting city

1. Experience park life at Cerro San Cristóbal
Mingle with the locals at Cerro San Cristóbal (also known as Parque Metropolitano), where you’ll enjoy sweeping views over the city. Covering 722 hectares, it’s Santiago’s largest green space, with a funicular service to ferry visitors between the different sections. There’s also a zoo, two swimming pools and a botanical garden (the Jardín Botánico Mapulemu). At the Bellavista end you’ll find a 14-metre-high statue of the Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepción – this is where Pope John Paul II said mass in 1984.

2. Shop until you drop
Alto Las Condes, an enormous shopping centre near the Escuela Militar metro station, has a great mix of high-end Chilean and international brands and it’s a wonderful people-watching spot. For something more traditional, make a beeline for Patio Bellavista, between Constitución and Pío Nono. It’s a craft market specialising in locally made goods, with stalls clustered around a cobbled patio. When you’re all shopped out, head to one of the market’s fantastic restaurants for a post-retail treat – you’ll love the pastries dished up by Casa Dulce.

3. Get your bearings on the Paseo Ahumada
Paseo Ahumada, a pedestrianised avenue running south from the Plaza de Armas, comprises four blocks of shops and restaurants. It passes through the heart of Santiago’s downtown area, as well as being traversed by the city’s main arteries. The eastern section leads to Cerro Santa Lucía (Saint Lucia Hill) where cannons and turreted forts recall the Spanish conquest. The avenue’s starting point, Plaza de Armas, is where you’ll find the beautiful Catedral Metropolitana (rebuilt five times after various earthquakes and fires) and the historic Correos de Chile (Chilean Post Office), which houses a fascinating postal museum.

4. Raise a toast to Santiago in Bellavista
Wedged between Mapocho River and Cerro San Cristóbal, Bellavista is a bohemian neighbourhood known for its award-winning restaurants and lively nightlife. It’s also regarded as one of the city’s artiest areas. Visit Casa Museo La Chascona, the former home of poet Pablo Neruda, or simply spend a few hours exploring the multicoloured streets, typified by brightly painted houses and mural-adorned shop fronts. When night falls, practice your dance moves at one of the bars which line the main thoroughfares of Calle Dardignac and Calle Antonia López de Bello.

5. Take in a show at the Santiago Municipal Theatre
Located on the corner of Agustinas and San Antonio, Santiago Municipal Theatre is one of Chile’s most important performance spaces. This National Monument was designed by French architect Claude François Brunet De Baines and was inaugurated in 1857. Head to this neo-classical building to enjoy ballet, theatre and opera performances, and to find out more about its past, sign up for a guided tour.

6. Get a sugar fix at La Tranquera 
This family-run bakery, at Avenida Italia 1294, has been satisfying Chileans’ sugar cravings since the 1960s. You’ll find a huge selection of traditional sweets, pastries and cakes, our favourite being the tres leches, a cake made with three types of milk: condensed, evaporated, and cream. The empanaditas (small pastries made from folded pieces of dough and filled with sweet or savoury ingredients) are also legendary.

7. Lunch at Mercado Central Fish Market
Another great people-watching spot, this bustling market is a wonderful destination for a delicious seafood lunch, washed down with a glass (or two) of Chilean red. Our advice? Give the restaurants in the centre a miss – you’ll find the best food at the smaller stalls dotted around the market. If you’re recovering after a heavy night, we recommend the caldillo de congrio, a tomato and potato-based fish stew regarded as a great fix for a hangover. The market’s nearest metro station is Puente Cal y Canto.

8. Talk politics at Bar the Clinic 
You don’t have to be a politician to drink at this hipster hangout, but you’re highly likely to spot one. The bar, which can be found at Jorge Washingston 58, is owned by Chile’s top satirical magazine, The Clinic, and the walls are plastered with the publication’s political cartoons. There’s mouth-watering food, a huge selection of Chilean craft beers, a wine menu presented in the style of the magazine and some seriously delicious cocktails. There are regular events too, including stand up comedy nights and performances by local bands.