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What to do for free (or almost free) in Santiago
When I returned to live in Santiago, after some time living abroad, several things struck me: how modern it looked compared to other capitals cities, how vibrant its neighborhoods were and, specially, how expensive it was. Santiago can be hard for a tight budget or even more for someone who comes after visiting our neighboring countries and thinks that prices are similar. If you compare Chile with countries like Bolivia or Peru, you can be surprised. If you already spent everything you had, don’t sweat, because we’re going to help you make to have fun without spending any money (almost).
Walking is free
The most entertaining thing about getting to know a city is getting “lost” and taking the chance to discover new neighborhoods. The Civic District, Bellavista or Lastarria, are always a good option to walk aimlessly; but if you don’t to wander around and prefer to have a guide, there are some good tip-based walking tours. These are just a few examples:
- I Love Chile tour starts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 10 a.m. in English and 3 p.m. in Spanish. Meeting point: Av. Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins and Serrano.
- Tours4tips bilingual tour starts every day at 3 p.m. Meeting point: Outside the Museum of Fine Arts.
- Free Tours Santiago starts, from Monday to Sunday, at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., in Portuguese, English and Spanish. Meeting point: Outside the Metropolitan Cathedral, in Plaza de Armas.
There’s green in the city
If tall buildings already bored you, parks and hills can be a good option to take a breath. The largest one is Metropolitan Park, which has more than 1,700 acres of hills and is the fourth largest urban park in the world. The entrance for pedestrians is free and you can visit the Japanese Garden, the Pablo Neruda Amphitheater or climb to the top of the hill to the statue of the Virgin Mary, where there’s a great view of Santiago. If you can spend some money, within the park you can find the zoo and two swimming pools, as well as a funicular and a cable car (these are good if you are not a fan of climbing hills). You can enter the park from Northern Pedro de Valdivia street (Providencia) and from Pio Nono street (Recoleta). It’s open every day from 8:30 in the morning to 7:00 in the evening.
Another place to see the city from above (not very high though) is Santa Lucia Hill, which is 69 meters high and allows to see Santiago downtown from a different perspective. From above you can see the architectural differences of the city center and also walk through its terraces and gardens. It is open from Monday to Sunday, from 9 in the morning until 7 in the afternoon The entrance is from Av. Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins (Alameda) and Santa Lucía street. Entry is free of charge.
If you don’t want to go uphill, Forestal Park can be a good idea to walk and take pictures. It’s located in the heart of the city, on the south bank of the Mapocho River, beside Bellas Artes neighborhood. It’s always open and a nice green space among the chaos of the city.
For long and relaxed walks, Bicentennial Park is an excellent option. There are 67 acres of flora and native forest, located in Vitacura. Its main attraction is the northern lagoon with a lot of birds, such as swans, flamingos, triles and herons. It is open every day, 24 hours a day and it’s located within the triangle formed by Isabel Montt Street, Bicentennial Avenue and Pérez Zujovic Rotunda. Entry free of charge.
Sculpture Park is also a good place to take a breath and relax. It’s located near Pedro de Valdivia metro station, on the north bank of the Mapocho River, in Providencia. This park is an open-air museum, where you can see huge sculptures from Chilean artists in the middle of the lawn. It also has an art gallery that offers exhibitions of young artists. It’s open to the public every day from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and admission is free.
Culture for everybody
Not having money is not an excuse for not knowing the culture and the arts in the city. A large number of state-owned museums and libraries offer free entry (you can see the entire list in Dibam.cl). The best known are: the Museum of Fine Arts, the National Library and the National Museum of Natural History.
The National Museum of Fine Arts, located on 650 José Miguel de la Barra, right in the center of Santiago, is an imposing neoclassical building. If you walk in, look up, because it has a beautiful glass ceiling. It contains more than 3,000 pieces of art, mostly paintings, although it also has a good collection of engravings, sculptures and drawings. Its permanent collection has classical works (national and foreign), but the most interesting are its temporary exhibitions. It is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. Admission is free, but a voluntary contribution is appreciated.
Also in downtown Santiago we find the National Library, inaugurated in 1813 and one of the oldest in Latin America. This large public building offers several services, such as study spaces, book loans and file consultation, but even if you don’t need any of that, the library is a great space to breathe wisdom and get lost in the elegant corridors and rooms it houses. In addition there are always art exhibitions and free movies. The National Library is located on Alameda Bernardo O’Higgins 651 and opens from Monday to Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and Saturdays from 9:10 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Inside Quinta Normal Park (on the west side of the city), there’s the National Museum of Natural History, where the theory of evolution is explained in various ways. Here you can find exhibitions on anthropology, botany, paleontology and zoology, as well as itinerant exhibitions on various topics related to the flora and fauna of the planet. The must-see of this place, is a gigantic whale skeleton, located over the main hall. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and admission is free.
Also, in Santiago there are very interesting free entrance art galleries, such as La Moneda Cultural Center (just below Palacio de La Moneda). Its main feature is the high-level temporary exhibitions, among which lately have been exhibits with original pieces by Andy Warhol, Picasso and the Collection of the Vatican Museums. In addition there are permanent samples of Chilean photography and architecture. It’s open from Monday to Sunday, from 9:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Admission is free every day until 12 p.m., after that, the price goes from 5 to 8 dollars.
GAM or Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center is also a great walk. It is located on the corner of Alameda and Lastarria, offering multiple creative spaces. In GAM you can find theater and dance halls, a cafe, a restaurant and bookstores. Besides that, there are spaces with free access, such as the library, exhibition halls and common spaces (usually used by groups of teenagers rehearsing their urban dance moves). The building is open every day from 8 a.m. at 10 p.m., but the exhibition halls are open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
If you are staying in Providencia, a good place to find free activities is the Cultural Center of Spain, located on Av. Providencia 927 (Metro Salvador). Every week, it offers movies, book launches, music, theater and even workshops, always free. You just need to visit their website to find out about their weekly schedule.
The popular corners of the city
Perhaps an afternoon strolling through a cemetery is a somewhat gloomy picture, but the General Cemetery of Santiago is a little more than just a place to go to die. It has a combination of architecture, art and history that tells the different social changes that the country has had since it was inaugurated in 1821.
Here, important Chilean personalities are buried, like most of the Presidents, (including Salvador Allende) and the renowned folklorists Víctor Jara and Violeta Parra. In this place you can also find the controversial Patio 29, the place where many victims of human rights crimes, committed during the military dictatorship, were anonymously buried.
The General Cemetery has more than 200 acres and an estimate of more than 2 corpses buried in its grounds. Admission is free, but if you want to hear more of its history, they offer entertaining themed night tours, for just 5 dollars per person (online sale through the cemetery website). The address is Professor Zañartu 951, Recoleta. Opening hours are from Monday to Sunday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Plaza de Armas is another popular place of Santiago, one that has been there since the city was founded in 1541. It is the city’s kilometer 0, from which the distance between Santiago and every town in the country is measured. The sculptures in it represent different periods of Chilean history and you can also find the Metropolitan Cathedral, a huge neoclassical construction from the late 19th century. In the square bustling street commerce converges, with street artists, painters and citizens who spend their day playing chess.
If you want to go to the center of Santiago’s “popular” culture, you should know La Vega Central: a 230 acres market and one of the most picturesque and traditional in places in the city. Here, apart from buying cheap fruits and vegetables, you can find very good typical food restaurants and, if you speak a little Spanish, you can laugh for a while listening to the vendors speaking Chilean slang. La Vega is located within the square formed by Antonia López de Bello, Nueva Rengifo, Salas and Dávila Baeza streets. It works from Monday to Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; on weekends it works until 4:00 p.m.
Now you know that visiting Santiago doesn’t necessarily means to spend money, but what you will need a good pair of shoes and many hours of walking. In order to prevent that the weight of of your baggage affects your experience, leave your luggage, backpack or purchases of the day with one of our keepairs, who are all over the city and in the main tourist places of Santiago. Enjoy the ride!