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As Chile’s capital and largest metropolis, Santiago is a gateway for most international visitors to the South American nation. And while some might view it as a stopover before heading off to Patagonia, the Atacama Desert, Easter Island or the wine region, this sophisticated city has much to offer.
A logical place to start any Santiago tour is Cerro Santa Lucia, a small, forested hill where Pedro de Valdivia, a Spanish conqueror, founded the city in 1540. Today, it’s a popular urban park ideal for strolling and enjoying the view. In 1541, Valdivia created the nearby Plaza de Armas, a city square that’s noteworthy for its surrounding landmarks, including the Metropolitan Cathedral and the colonial Governor’s Palace (which is now a post office). Nearby, Centro Cultural Palacio de la Moneda, located at the La Moneda government palace, is a vibrant center that hosts rotating art exhibits.
Also important to the arts, Casa Museo La Chascona is a former home of Chile’s Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda. The curious, boat-shaped house provides a fascinating glimpse into one of the nation’s most celebrated minds.
Neruda’s home is located in Bellavista, an area known for its artsy vibe and colorful street art. In fact, each neighborhood in Santiago has its own slightly different ambiance, so it’s a good idea for travelers to focus on the ones that match their personal preferences. Bellas Artes and Lastarria, for example, are graced with lovely historic architecture and hip little independent shops, restaurants and bars. The impressive Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Museum of Fine Arts) is nearby as well. Travelers looking for modern luxury should consider staying in Las Condes, the city’s financial hub, which is dotted with upscale shopping and dining.
For a sky-high view of the city, both visitors and locals love Cerro San Cristobal, an Andean peak that rises nearly 3,000 feet above Santiago. The funicular, built in 1925, is part of the fun, and the 72-foot-tall statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception is an oft-photographed landmark at the peak. It’s a scenic way to start or finish a visit to Santiago.