Sat between the Andes Mountains and a smaller range of hills along the coast, Santiago is spread over a wide, bowl-shaped valley in central Chile. The surrounding mountains are some of the highest in the Andes and provide the capital with a stunning backdrop as well as a host of outdoor adventures such as skiing, hiking, rafting and horse riding. On the flip side, smog is easily trapped between the towering peaks and the city has long struggled with high levels of air pollution.
Modern and vibrant, this culturally-rich metropolis is filled with interactive museums and sophisticated art galleries, excellent restaurants and beautifully landscaped parks. What’s more, it’s safe, easy to get around (both Uber and the Metro work well here) and very child-friendly.
I met up with my husband and our children in Santiago after indulging in a week-long break all to myself in Patagonia (one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had!). Reunited, we spent 2 days exploring the capital before heading south to Chile’s ‘Lake District’. We also had one more day back in the city before catching our return flight to Panama. Many of the places we visited in Santiago were recommended to us by friends and colleagues who live there as well as from friends in Panama who spent a large chunk of their Christmas holiday there (Thank you dear amigos!).
The following were our highlights. I’ve also included some extra kid-friendly activities at the end of the post that we didn’t have time to personally check out ourselves but that came recommended. If you’ve experienced any of these, or have any other suggestions to add, please do share them in the comment section below.
12 Things to do in Santiago with kids
1. Fly high with Sky Costanera
One of the best ways to get your bearings is at the top of the?Gran Torre Santiago.?At 300m it is almost the same height as the Eiffel Tower and the tallest?tower in Latin America. The?Sky Costanera observatory decks occupy the top two floors and?offer spectacular views of Chile’s capital and the Andes mountains beyond.
The elevator ride to the top is an experience in itself. Visitors are transported at ear-popping?speed in under a?minute (according to my son’s stopwatch). That’s just over one floor per second!
The ticket office is located on?the basement floor?of the tower in the Costanera shopping mall. ?If you visit on a Wednesday you pay?a reduced rate.
According to their official website they are open every day, including holidays. However in one guide I came across?it said that?Sky Costanera?closes on 1st Jan, 1st May, 18 & 19th Sept and 25 Dec. Best call ahead if you are visiting on these days.
Admission: Adults (13+ yrs) 10,000 pesos Children (4-12) 7,000 pesos
2. Wave to the President at La Moneda
Younger children will be relieved to hear that the President’s Palace (Palacio de La Moneda)?does not open its doors to tourists. Or rather, not without advance booking.?History buffs however can reserve a spot on one of their daily tours by applying here,?at least one week beforehand.
What might be more interesting?for kids though is the?Changing of the Guard ceremony, held every two days at 10am outside the palace. (Even days in January, April, May, August, November and December. And?odd days In February, March, June, July, September and October).
If, like us, your visit doesn’t coincide with?these timings rest assured that your kids will LOVE?the Cultural Centre, located?directly underneath the palace’s plaza…. (see below)
3. Get creative in La Moneda Cultural Centre?
The Centro Cultural La Moneda, (aka?CCPLM) is a must-do if visiting Santiago with kids.?The futuristic centre holds a number of temporary and permanent exhibitions that are intriguing?for both kids and adults. One gallery we particularly enjoyed on our visit was Pinta Con Luz (Painting With Light). Here?we got to create our own self portraits using a camera set to a long exposure and a hula hoop with little lights attached to it. Highly addictive stuff!
The centre also showcases some of the best?arts and crafts?in the country including jewellery and a number of intricately woven textiles. A selection of these are?also for sale in their shop.
Open every day from 9am to 7:30pm. Free Admission.
4. Channel your inner Frida Kahlo in Artequin
Children who are into art will adore Artequin. In this hands-on museum kids can get up close to?dozens of replica masterpieces such as Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Vel?zquez’s Las Meninas, Hopper’s Automat and Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass.? ?The museum is very much aimed at families?and offers?a number of educational workshops that are particularly good for Elementary-aged?kids and younger (you can check the?schedule here).
Artequin is housed in the Paris Pavilion in front of the Quinta Normal Park. The Pavilion was built in France in 1889 to represent Chile in the Universal Exposition of Paris (the same Expo that the Eiffel Tower was built for). At the end of??the Exposition, the Pavilion was dismantled and shipped to Valparaiso where it was transported to Santiago by train and reassembled.
We were shown a short animated film (in Spanish) about the history of the building in their projection room.
The museum is very interactive and includes a number of exhibits?such as block building and – my favourite – dressing up as your favourite artist!
5. Discover Where The Wild Things Are in Santiago Zoo
I had high expectations when visiting this zoo having viewed a video on Facebook that made it look like an African safari experience. They clearly had tagged the wrong zoo!?If you’ve been to the Bronx Zoo or similar, you’ll be disappointed, if not depressed. Located within the Parque Metropolitano, the animal enclosures are spread over a steep hill?and are a little on the small side.
However, if your kids are like mine and rarely get to visit?zoos they’ll love this place which is why I’m including it here. There is a wide range of animals including?hippos, camels, tigers and guanacos. Ultimately it’s a great place for children to run around and they are so?distracted by the animals that they don’t?notice the steep inclines between enclosures.
6. Choo-choo up Cerro San Cristobal
For another fantastic mirador, take the funicular from the zoo to the top of Cerro San Cristobal. You can either take it from the bottom of the hill, next to the entrance of?the zoo, or half way up the hill from within the zoo itself. The ride is fun for children and the views of the city from the top of the hill are worth the extra bob.
7. Lie on a bed of nails at Museo Interactive Mirador
The Museo Interactivo Mirador (MIM) is a super kid-friendly?Science Museum?that our children loved. Located in Santiago’s southern suburbs (around 30 minutes by car from the city centre) the museum is spread over a huge canvas and includes a number of outdoor exhibits as well.?As we entered the museum we were instructed to read instructions carefully before touching anything or pressing any buttons. Ha! Wishful thinking. My husband and I spent the morning chasing the children through rooms of interactive exhibits and soon gave up trying to explain the science behind it all. We wanted to get inside a bubble too!
8. Bargain hunt at the Flea Market
If treasure hunting is your thing,?head to?one of Santiago’s little flea markets. We liked the one opposite the W Hotel in Las Condes, a quiet and upmarket residential district in the the north-east of the city. Here you can find anything from antique silverware and vintage toys to second hand books and kitschy art objects. The children will likely be more drawn to the?playground that sits directly behind the stalls.
9. Teleport yourself to the Roman Empire in El Museo Interactivo?Audiovisual
Not far from the flea market in the prestigious El Golf neighbourhood is this high-tech?audiovisual museum that takes visitors on an interactive tour of Ancient?Rome. Spread over a number of rooms, the tour includes?sophisticated simulators, multi-screens and video games.
As photography was not allowed, I’m unable to show you just how advanced the technology is, but I’d say?it’s as close to virtual reality as you can get. Perhaps a little?too close! Although the minimum age is 8 years, both my children (aged 9 and 8 years at the time) were a little spooked out by some of the gory scenes towards the end of the tour.?For example?gladiators fighting lions and Julius Caesar getting stabbed! However, the simulator that flew?us over Rome and sprayed us with a mist of water as it?bounced across the River Tiber more than made up for the scary parts.
My understanding is that the exhibitions are temporary, with an emphasis on topics covered in most school curriculums.?The guided tour takes approximately 1.5 hours and is only available in Spanish.
10. Shop for crafts at Pueblito Los Dominicos
This peaceful artisan’s market lies in a mock village on the outskirts of Santiago and is a lovely place to shop for Chilean arts and crafts. The pedestrianised compound is a cluster of tiny shops, stalls and workshop studios, showcasing handicrafts from all over the country. Shop for leather products, musical instruments,?carved wooden objects, ceramics, paintings, jewellery and – my son’s favourite – shimmering rocks and minerals!
The market is based on a traditional rural village with little dirt lanes leading off a main plaza area. A handful of cafes spill out into the square and sleeping cats lie curled up on window panes. We noticed the artisans were more occupied with their tools than with flogging their wares to tourists, making the whole shopping experience surprisingly relaxing.
For those travelling with little kids, the pedestrianised pueblito is stroller-friendly and a good place for little kids to safely stretch their legs.
From the city centre it’s about a 30-minute drive to Pueblito Los Dominicos. Alternatively you can take the metro to the Los Dominicos?stop. Just avoid rush hour if you can!
11. Play in Park Forestal
Santiago has a number of well-maintained parks that are great fun for little kids. Nearly every green area houses a kids’ playground, some of which have been designed by leading architects such as this one in The Metropolitan Park?near the zoo. Regrettably we were unable to go to this one, but we did discover the wonderfully atmospheric?Park Forestal, located in the historical downtown area.
At dusk scores of children descend on the playground while parents gather on the grassy areas. During our visit an acrobat entertained a large crowd of families by performing a series of daring twists and somersaults from a ribbon of long silk that had been slung over a high branch.
Conveniently located opposite the playground is one of the Santiago’s best ice-cream shops,?Emporio La Rosa?- a claim not just made by us but by our friends who live in Santiago. (See our post, Chile with kids: Best Restaurants in Santiago – coming soon!)
12. Park Bicentenario
Another park that is extremely popular with families is Park Bicentenario. Bordering the Mapocho River in the north-east of Santiago, the 74-acre park includes a number of modern playgrounds, dog parks and picnic areas. Chairs and umbrellas are available to rent throughout the park and a large, scenic lagoon sits at the southern end of the park. Here kids can buy pellets to feed the (enormous!) fish.
We visited Park Bicentenario on a National Holiday weekend when the park resembled a page out of?Where’s Wally???The Park had a wonderful energy to it, reminding me very much of Sunday afternoons in?Lodhi Gardens,?one of our favourite parks in Delhi.
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Chile With Kids
For more information on family travel in Chile see our guide to Chile With Kids
More Things to do in Santiago With Kids!
We didn’t have time to check out the following activities but they come recommended from friends either living in Santiago or who have visited the city with their kids.
13. Join Wally for a ‘Free’ Walking Tour
One of the best culture tours for families (according to my trusted sources!) is the Santiago Off-Beat walking tour. Covering over 4km and taking approximately 3 hours, the tour is led by bilingual guides wearing distinguishable?Where’s Wally?red & white stripped t-shirts. Unlike Wally their uniform makes them hard to lose in Santiago’s crowds. The tour begins in the the Esmeralda neighbourhood before heading off to ‘La Chimba’ (the other side) of the Mapocho River, often picking up a couple of ‘tour dogs’ along the way. After visiting some of their favourite vendors in Santiago’s lively market, La Vega, the tour hops on the metro for a couple of stops to the General Cemetery, ‘a wonder’ which they admit would be ‘loco not to share with you’. The tour ends with a ‘cheap and delicious’ lunch in a local bar.
Our friends went on this tour with their kids (aged 8 & 9 years) and they all gave it a thumbs-up.
This tour starts everyday at 10am in front of Museo Bellas Artes and those who join are simply asked to ‘pay what you like’. You can watch a video of this tour here.
14. Hop-on (and hop-off) the Turistik bus
Although we didn’t take this bus tour, it wasn’t through lack of trying. After waiting a whole hour at one of the bus stops we decided to call it a day. Apparently there had been some traffic accident that morning which held up all the buses – a pity as we heard great things about this service. If you haven’t taken one of these hop-on-hop-off tours before, you can board the bus at any Turistik stop and travel a circuit around the city, jumping on and off at Santiago’s key sights.
You can watch a promotional video of this tour here.