By Anita Carmin

When in Chile‘s bustling capital, it’s important to see the city’s main attractions — La Moneda Palace, the Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, and the Costanera Center (South America’s tallest skyscraper), among them. But Santiago-based Virtuoso travel advisor Rosario Fernandez encourages visitors to go beyond the city center and walk the streets of her three favorite barrios to get a true sense of how her hometown shines. “In any destination,” she stresses, “it’s important to do what the locals do.”

A bohemian barrio of colorful houses and arresting graffiti (some of it commissioned by home and business owners), Bellavista sits below Santiago’s blindingly white Virgin Mary statue perched atop San Cristóbal Hill. A favorite of artists and intellectuals, the neighborhood is home to quirky La Chascona, the former house of beloved Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda, built as a secret hideaway for his mistress, Matilde Urrutia.

Local color in the Bellavista barrio. [Photo: Jeremy Richards/iStock Editorial/Getty Images Plus]

“Bellavista is definitely the place to go out when you’re in Santiago,” says Fernandez. “It’s full of bars and restaurants, but also full of culture. For a fun Friday night with friends, I frequently visit Jardín Mallinkrodt, an inviting open space with food trucks that change every few weeks.” Theater lovers should check out Teatro Mori Bellavista. “It always has very good plays with exceptional actors,” Fernandez explains. “It’s the cultural cornerstone of this barrio.”

Things really start to heat up at 11 PM and don’t stop until 4 AM, when the bars close. Among the city’s trendiest watering holes: rooftop Room 09, Chile’s first speakeasy. “It has a very cool ambience and great drinks,” says Fernandez, her preference being the Buscando a Nemo (“Finding Nemo”), a vodka-based cocktail served with fresh berries in a fish-shaped glass.

On weekends, Bellavista’s Pío Nono market is a good place to shop for lapis lazuli, the vivid-blue gemstone found mainly in Chile and Afghanistan.

Drink up: Room 09’s Buscando a Nemo.

A buzzing residential barrio with cobblestoned streets, belle epoque-style architecture, and a trendy vibe, Lastarria attracts creative types and is a popular area for expats. “Head straight to José Victorino Lastarria, a short street with lots of quality restaurants, coffee shops, and bars,” says Fernandez. “Nearby, one of my favorite places to eat is José Ramón 277, which serves excellent Chilean sandwiches and craft beers.” It’s the ideal spot to grab a bite before hitting Cine Arte El Biógrafo, a cinema that shows indie and art-house films.

Fernandez also suggests a visit to the Centre Gabriela Mistral (shown in our featured image above). Named for the first Latin American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, the cultural and performing-arts center offers rotating free-admission art exhibits. And should you find yourself in Lastarria from Thursday through Sunday, be sure to visit the antiques and used-book fair in the Plaza Mulato Gil de Castro, Fernandez says.

Happy hour finds residents at “the hidden café.” Located on a dead-end street, Café Escondido is the preferred spot to nosh on cheese empanadas and sip pisco sours alfresco while people-watching.

Eclectic, off-the-beaten-track Barrio Italia has many small alleys that branch off the main drag, Avenida Italia. Each offers tiny boutique stores selling everything from vintage typewriters and designer housewares to colorful, Chilean-made shoes. Located in an old restored house, Café de la Candelaria is Fernandez’s pick for weekend brunch. Come dinnertime, she points meat lovers to El Camino, “a Texas-style restaurant serving the best steaks in the city.” For live jazz and blues, visit The Jazz Corner, owned by well-known Chilean jazz trompetista Cristián Cuturrufo.

Where to stay and how to explore Santiago.

Located in the tony El Golf neighborhood, within walking distance of chic boutiques and restaurants, The Ritz-Carlton, Santiago’s 205 rooms include a swanky Presidential Suite on the 14th floor. Also highly suggested: the rooftop spa, with an indoor swimming pool that sparkles beneath a glass cupola. The hotel’s bar features an exclusive pisco menu, while Estró restaurant focuses on farm-to-table Chilean cuisine.

There’s plenty of reasons to relax at The Ritz-Carlton, Santiago.

Floor-to-ceiling windows frame craggy Andes peaks in El Golf’s 196-room W Santiago. Come evening, Whiskey Blue nightclub attracts soigné, see-and-be-seen locals, as does NoSo, serving signature Burgundian dishes from restaurateur Jean-Paul Bondoux.

The classy Las Condes neighborhood is home to the 310-room Hotel Santiagowhich, following an extensive renovation, will debut this month as the Mandarin Oriental, Santiago. Chill out in the renovated spa overlooking the hotel’s pool, waterfall, and newly redesigned gardens.

Your travel advisor can work with Bespoke Journeys by Sportstour to craft customized itineraries in Santiago and throughout Chile. Must-do capital excursions include architectural tours, dinner in a local’s home in the Lastarria neighborhood, and shopping for antiques in Barrio Italia.