Lastarria and Bellas Artes

Santiago’s Bellas Artes and Barrio Lastarria
Santiago’s Bellas Artes and Barrio Lastarria Photos: (cc) Marco Antonio Vargas

Santiago Metropolitan Region, Central Chile

If you’re visiting Santiago, Barrio Lastarria and Bellas Artes is a MUST SEE section of the city. Tucked between the Cerro Santa Lucía, a public park and the riverside promenade that is the Parque Forestal, Lastarria’s location is simply good looking and elegant.

Santiago is split into various “barrios” or neighborhoods, so a good way of exploring the city is to work your way through the various different areas. Barrio Bellavista and Barrio Lastarria are two barrios complement each other and work very well for a day out and about.

From historical faded glory to modern masterpieces, the city hosts a huge range of buildings, some of the streets are still cobbled (like Barrio Paris-Londres), others withhold secret courtyards (like Barrio Italia) and some resemble the set of Romeo & Juliet (like Barrio Concha y Toro).

Barrio Lastarria draws all types of people – hipsters, artists, intellectuals, entrepreneurs, and tourists mingle and sip and soak up the cosmopolitan ambiance which is home to a great collection of bars, restaurants, cutting edge galleries, antique and boutique shops, an art-house cinema, museums, and weekend markets. On weekend afternoons, the area bubbles up with painters, jugglers and buskers, creating a suave cultural vibe.

Lastarria is proud of its belle époque landmarks: elegant streets and lively café society. All along José Miguel de la Barra corridor, you’ll find cafés, restaurants and bars like Catedral and Opera with live music on the weekends. Walk down the scenic Subercaseaux to a picturesque corner with a gorgeous French apartment building. On street level, you’ll see ONA, a high end artisan handicrafts store where you can score beautiful Mapuche jewelry, alpaca shawls, and hand-carved wooden bowls from the South. They also have a café and deli selling artisan cheeses, gourmet coffees and jams from the countryside.

The main crowd-puller in the area is the Plaza Mulato Gil de Castro, revamped in recent years to provide room for no less than two new museums, the Museo Arqueológico de Santiago and the Museo de Artes Visuales. The first of these was built on the success of the central Museo de Arte Precolombino and holds exhibits of diverse archaeological interests, placing a particular emphasis on Chilean ancient cultures. The Museo de Artes Visuales boasts a collection of Chilean contemporary artists, as well as regular exhibitions.

Next door is the Café del Museo.  This hip café sports white walls with natural light that illuminates the minimalist surroundings which are decorated with reupholstered vintage furniture in wild magenta, purple, indigo, and paisley fabrics.  Cafés are served up with tempting sweet nibbles like luxurious chocolates and a variety of gourmet sandwiches and salads.

Starting from the ‘Plaza Italia’, you’ll dive into the Parque Forestal, with its gravel paths and iconic lamp posts. This area boasts some beautiful monuments like the Fuente Alemana, a large water fountain in bronze and stone built in memory of German migrants to the country. Along the park’s southern edge are some fabulous art deco buildings, many of which are the output of the talented architect Luciano Kulczewski. Not all of them are Art Deco samples though: the Palacio Bruna is a notable exception with its beautiful Tuscan Villa appearance. Today this is the home to the Chilean Chamber of Commerce, but unfortunately, is not open to the public.

Next to the old French Embassy (on the corner of Calle Merced and Calle Monjitas) you’ll find Emporio La Rosa, a popular deli with gourmet goodies and succulent handmade ice cream (the best in Santiago). Some of the favorite flavors include manjar (a sweet milk caramel); dark chocolate; cherimoya (a custard apple); the native, nutty-tasting lucuma (an indigenous fruit); and seasonal flavors like castaña (chestnut) and plátanos con miel de palma (banana with palm syrup); choco-chili (dark chocolate with chili), chocolate and basil, rose petal, or strawberry and black pepper are not to be missed.  Heading down Calle Merced, you reach Calle José Victorino Lastarria – On Sundays, this end of the Calle Lastarria becomes the epicenter when the flea market takes over.

The grand dame of Chilean cultural landmarks is the Museo de Bellas Artes. In the heart of the Parque Forestal, this 19th century building was conceived by Emile Jecquier, the architect behind the Estación Mapocho sited further along the riverbank. This is considered oldest institution Latin America and has existed in Chile since 1880. On the inside, the spacious hall attracts all the attention, with its impressive art nouveau glass roof.  As the nation ’s foremost museum, the painting collection is a compelling journey through Chile’s five centuries of Fine Arts, featuring some local masterpieces. The permanent sculpture exhibit in the main hall is also noteworthy and features works by some of the most renowned Chilean artists in this discipline, including Rebecca Matte, Virginio Arias and Marta Colvin. The museum offers a solid annual calendar of exhibitions.

Also housed here is the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, which underwent major renovations in 2005. Since then, the “MAC” has become an increasingly popular modern art space, boasting a packed calendar of exhibitions and events.

At the corner of Calle Santo Domingo and Ismael Valdés Vergara stands Casa Naranja, a distinctly bright orange villa housing a restaurant and art gallery.

Avenida Jose Miguel de la Barra leads you to the back entrance of the Cerro Santa Lucía, a tiny hill that is one of Santiago’s most memorable landmarks. The Santa Lucía is not so much a conventional public park, as a labyrinth of hanging gardens and ruins of a Spanish fortification. The many trails merge atop in terraced gardens on the several levels of this park, reaching also several viewpoints from which you can see an astonishing view of the city. The Terraza Caupolicán, the largest of all the terraces, is easily recognizable for the original 17th century artillery that embellishes it. You can descend into the main Plaza Neptuno through a doorway that still displays the symbol of the coat of arms of the King of Spain, where a large fountain opens up to the staircase that leads onto the entrance from la Alameda. The water fountains placed around the hill form a network of waterworks that help to keep the plants watered.

To get to Lastarria and Bellas Artes, take the Metro to the Bellas Artes stop (green line or Line 5).

Only 2 metro stops away are the Mercado Central (fish market) and La Vega (amazing produce, cheese, and
everything else) or by foot you can get there in just 10 minutes.

From shopping to cafes, museums and city tours, there’s plenty to do if you fancy a day of culture exploring two of Santiago’s finest neighborhoods. Barrio Bellas Artes sits at the edge of Santiago’s downtown district, with the Rio Mapocho and Parque Forestal at its side. Meanwhile, Barrio Lastarria has lots of cafes on cobbled outdoor courtyards, open air street stalls selling books and trinkets and generally a boho vibe.

For those looking for a dose of culture, the following Cultural Centers are well worth checking out:

-Teatro Municipal de Santiago

-Centro Cultural Palacio de la Moneda

-GAM Centro Gabriela Mistral

-Instituto Chileno Britanico

-Biblioteca Nacional

-Alongside culture sits art and here are some of the finest Art Galleries:

-Galeria de Arte UC

-Photo gallery Instituto Profesional ARCOS

Then, of course, come the Museums. Well worth checking out are the following:

-Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

-Museo de Arte Contemporaneo

-Museo de Artes Visuales

-Museo Historico Nacional