The sprawling area west of Santiago Centro encompasses the city’s oldest neighborhoods, including Barrio Brasil, Barrio Concha y Toro, Barrio Yungay, and Barrio Dieciocho. These districts were home to the city’s elite before they took flight northeast toward the Andean foothills.
Few early Colonial buildings remain, but there are plenty of handsome and wellpreserved examples of early 20thcentury NeoClassical and French architecture. Some of the capital’s most interesting museums and galleries can also be found here, especially around the verdant Parque Quinta Normal, the cultural nucleus of this area.
1. Parque Quinta Normal
Set up in 1842 to propagate foreign plants, Parque Quinta Normal is famous for its wide variety of tree species. Many of these were planted by French naturalist Claudio Gay, whose extensive pioneering studies of Chilean flora and fauna gave birth to the city’s Museo Nacional de Historia Natural and to the park itself.
In its early years, Quinta Normal was also used for agricultural studies and in 1928 it was incorporated into the University of Chile as the School of Agronomy and Veterinary Sciences. Today, the park is only a fraction of its earlier size, but it remains popular owing to its large lawns and mature trees. The park is also home to a handful of scientific museums, picnic areas, and an artificial lake.
2. Museo Pedagógico Gabriela Mistral
Housed in the Escuela Normal Brígada Walker, the Museo Pedagógico Gabriela Mistral tracks the history and development of education in Chile. The building, originally from 1886, underwent a two-decade renovation and reopened in 2006. The museum is named for Nobel laureate and literary artist Gabriela Mistral, who was an educator throughout most of her life in spite of having left school at the age of 12. Self-taught and born with a natural verbal dexterity, Mistral became an advocate for education in response to the lack of opportunities for schooling in Chile.
This education museum was launched in 1941 as an exposition by the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes to celebrate Santiago’s 400th anniversary. Its exhibitions explored the history of education from the Colonial period onward. Following the popular success of the exposition, director Carlos Stuardo combed through grade schools and even industrial and mining schools in search of material and furniture to establish a permanent collection.
Today, the collection consists of more than 6,500 historical pieces, including antique maps, school desks, and skills-based teaching apparatus such as sewing machines, abacuses, and more. There is also an extensive library of some 40,000 texts covering education, as well as a photo library of 6,000 digitalized images that track the history of education in the country.
3. Biblioteca de Santiago
Opened in 2005, this was Chile’s first major public library. It was built near Quinta Normal in an effort to create a center of cultural and educational development.
Housed in a former government supply warehouse built in the 1930s, it has given the people of Santiago access to a vast range of literature, audiovisual and research materials, computer centers, auditoriums, conference rooms, ongoing lectures, and a children’s section.
4. Matucana 100
Another gallery founded near Parque Quinta Normal, Matucana 100 is set in a mammoth brick warehouse built in 1911 for the state railway company. The gallery was designed in 2001 to create a space in which a variety of art forms could participate simultaneously – whether cinema, theater, artwork, photography, or music. Over the past decade or so, the center has grown to include a large art gallery and a concert hall. It now focuses solely on contemporary works principally by national artists.
The University of Santiago’s planetarium is one of Latin America’s most prominent astronomy education centers. Its projection dome, the Sala Albert Einstein, has an unusual conical design. Made of copper, it is 72 ft (22 m) in diameter, and has a Carl Zeiss model VI projector that uses 160 lenses, allowing visitors to observe the moon and the solar system, and over 5,000 stars in both hemispheres. Of particular interest are the special expos-itions that highlight discoveries by Chile’s top astronomical observatories. The planetarium offers workshops, audiovisual salons, and expositions for both children and adults.
6. Barrio Brasil
During the early 20th century, Barrio Brasil was a posh residential neighborhood. By the 1940s, wealthy residents began migrating eastward, toward the Andes. Later, the construction of the Norte-Sur Highway severed the neighborhood from the rest of the city, and Barrio Brasil was by and large forgotten. Thanks to this, the area escaped development and many of its grand early 20th-century Gothic and Neo- Classical mansions have been left intact.
As a result, Barrio Brasil is now one of the most picturesque areas in Santiago. It has also experienced a cultural and architectural resurgence, due to the pres ence of many universities nearby. Artists and musicians have moved in, drawn by Barrio Brasil’s eclectic ambience. Today, trendy lofts and funky restaurants sit alongside traditional picadas and bars. The streets of nearby Barrio Yungay are especially well preserved, the most beautiful being Pasaje Adriana Cousiño between Huérfanos and Maipú, and Pasaje Lucrecia Valdés off Compañía between Esperanza and Maipú. Both are cobblestone walkways that exude a strong European feel. Other vestiges of Barrio Yungay’s past can be seen at the restaurant Boulevard Lavaud.
7. Barrio Concha y Toro
Dating from the 1920s, Barrio Concha y Toro is one of Santiago’s best-preserved neighborhoods, comprising mansions built by the flourishing upper class in the early 20th century. The area was initially owned by engineerentrepreneur Enrique Concha y Toro and his wife Teresa Cazotte, who reaped a fortune in mining in the late 1800s. They sought to replicate European towns with sinuous cobblestone streets, closely grouped buildings behind a continual facade, and a tiny plaza. The best Chilean architects of the time – Larraín Bravo, Siegel, González Cortés, Machiacao, and Bianchi – were entrusted with the design.
They created a cohesive style incorporating influences such as Neo-Gothic, Neo-Classic, Baroque, and even Bauhaus. Highlights include the Teatro Carrera, built in 1926 by Gustavo Monckeberg and modeled after the Teatre des Presidents in Paris. The former home of poet Vicente Huidobro is now the popular Zully restaurant. The picturesque Plazoleta de la Libertad de Prensa, often used as a set for television productions, was named in 1994 in honor of the World Press Freedom Day.
8. Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende
Set in the former headquarters of DINA, the secret police during the Pinochet military dictatorship, the Museo de la Solidaridad is the only museum in Latin America consisting entirely of works donated by artists. In an act of solidarity with the government of Salvador Allende, artists in 1971 founded this museum with a collection of more than 400 pieces by such names as Joan Miró, Alexander Calder, Víctor Vasarely, and Roberto Matta.
After Salvador Allende’s overthrow, the works were hidden in the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo. The museum’s administration moved to Paris, where artists continued to donate until the collection reached some 1,500 pieces. The works date from 1950 to 1980, and many of them evoke the social struggle of Latin Americans.
9. Barrio Dieciocho
During the turn of the 20th century Santiago’s posh neighborhood was centered around Calle Dieciocho. Wealthy families erected opulent mansions here, as a means of flaunting their newfound fortune from shipping and mining. The constructions reflect the influence of European styles, principally French.
Santiago’s elite has since moved uptown, yet the architectural gems they built can still be seen, in spite of the fact that the neighborhood looks a little worse for wear. Among its best are the Subercaseaux Mansion at No.190, Residencia Eguiguren at No.102, and the Palacio Astoreca at No.121. The grand buildings are now occupied by university groups, libraries, and other associations.
10. Confitería Torres
Opened in 1879, the Confitería Torres is Santiago’s oldest café. It served Santiago’s politicians, intellectuals, and elite society when the Barrio Dieciocho area was still considered fashionable. Renovations in 2004 salvaged the old red-leather booths, French doors, and long oak bar, and the café’s antique ambience is still quite palpable.
The Confitería is steeped in history and has produced several emblematic elements of Chile’s culinary repertoire. The barros luco, a beef sandwich with melted cheese, is named for former president Barros Luco, who ordered one every time he came. The cola de mono aperitif of aguardiente, milk and coffee, was also invented here.
11. Palacio Cousiño
Built between 1870 and 1878, the Palacio Cousiño was the most extravagant mansion of its day. It was designed by French architect Paul Lathoud for the Cousiño family, who had made a fortune in mining and shipping. From Europe, the Cousiños imported walnut and mahogany parquet floors, brocade tapestries, Italian marble, and French embroidered curtains, along with European artisans to install these fineries. The mansion also housed the country’s first elevator.
The palace was auctioned off to Santiago’s mayor in 1940, who donated it to the city. Subsequently, it was used to house visiting dignitaries such as Golda Meir, Charles de Gaulle, and Belgian king Balduimo. In 1968, the mansion was converted into a museum that preserved the house as it was during the 19th century. Palacio Cousiño is undergoing renovation following the 2010 earthquake, but the garden is open for tours.
12. Basilica de los Sacramentinos
Designed by architect Ricardo Larraín Bravo, the Basilica de los Sacramentinos was built as an imitation of the Sacré-Coeur of Paris, between 1919 and 1931. The church is notable for its Roman Byzantine architecture and the crypt, a 4,925-ft (1,500-m) long burial chamber that runs underneath. The parquet floors are the first of their kind to be made in Chile.
The wooden pulpit, confessionals, and seats were all hand-carved by Salesians, a Roman Catholic order. Also of interest are the French stained glass and the organ imported from Germany. The church suffered significant damage in the 2010 earthquake, but it is once again open to the public. The exterior is also lovely, and made more pleasant by Parque Almagro, which lies stretched out before it.
13. Parque Bernardo O’Higgins
The capital’s second-largest park is a popular recreation area for families and a major staging area for the Fiestas Patrias celebrations. Named for one of Chile’s founding fathers, Bernardo O’Higgins, the park is home to tennis courts, soccer fields, an artificial lake, Santiago’s largest indoor music stadium, and a public pool. A curious aspect of the park is the Campo de Marte, a gigantic strip of concrete that resembles a landing strip. Military parades take place here every September 19, drawing thousands of spectators.
Among the park’s attractions is El Pueblito, a mock Colonial village with simple restaurants serving traditional cuisine. Located here are two museums. The Museo de Huaso depicts the culture and history of the cowboys of the Central Valley, while the Museo de Insectos y Caracoles houses a collection of butterfly and insect displays. There are also artisan workshops and fairs at the Plaza de las Artesanías.
During the Fiestas Patrias, the grounds are bloated to capacity with revelers who come for the fondas, or festival centers in tents – a hallmark of this popular park. For days, a veritable patriotic bacchanal takes over the park with nonstop cueca music, smoking barbecues, and excessive drinking. The Lollapalooza Chile music festival takes place in late March or early April.
The third-largest amusement park in South America, Fantasilandia is often dubbed the Chilean Disneyland. It opened in 1978 as the brainchild of entrepreneur Gerardo Arteaga, who felt that Santiago had grown insufferably boring for families who were seeking amusement during their spare time.
The park offers plenty of kneetrembling rollercoasters and stomach-churning rides such as Xtreme Fall, Raptor, and Boomerang. There are also more tranquil attractions for younger children including a carousel, the Kids’ Zone, and Villa Mágica, with music jamborees and magic acts.
15. Club Hípico
Founded in 1870, Club Hípico is Chile’s preeminent racetrack and home to South America’s oldest stakes race, El Ensayo, which takes place in late October/early November. It is part of the Triple Corona together with Hipódromo Chile and Valparaíso Derby. The current racetrack was designed by architect Josué Smith and opened in 1923, the previous track house having succumbed to fire in 1892.
The club building is a fine example of early 20thcentury architectural grandeur, a result of Chile’s economic boom during the late 1800s. Club Hípico features stylish terraces and viewing platforms, restaurants, formal gardens, and a picnic area, set amid the faded elegance of the old República neighborhood. In total, there are about 1,500 races annually, including the famed Alberto Vial Infante and the Arturo Lyon Peña. The club has also hosted major music concerts, including performances by Iron Maiden, Jonas Brothers, and Linkin Park. Despite the racetrack’s roots as an elite social club, it is now frequented by people from all backgrounds.