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Best things to do in Valparaiso, Chile’s art capital

The colorful city of Valparaiso offers a great variety of things to do. This port city on the coast of the Pacific Ocean is considered the art capital of Chile. it’s definitely one of the most colorful and artistic cities in Latin America. Art in Valparaiso is everywhere; street art, art galleries, Bohemian cafés, and fine arts museums. There are many amazing and fun things to do in Valparaiso. It’s a perfect place to relax, meet new people, enjoy art, and party. For an art lover, Valparaiso is a must-visit place in South America

Colorful houses of Cerro Concepcion, Valparaiso
In colorful Valparaiso, there are many things to do

Valparaiso is located on the Pacific Coast of Chile two hours drive from the capital. The location and architectural style make Valparaiso a unique city. Because of its steep streets, it’s often called the San Francisco of South America. Architecture-wise it reminded me of Lisbon because of its steep hillsides and narrow cobbled streets and Buenos Aires because of the city’s colorful neighborhoods. 

If I have to describe this city in three words I’d say art, hills, and the ocean – an interesting combination for a Latin American city. For us, Valparaiso was a perfect stop on the way from the Atacama desert to the Carretera Austral. We had a fantastic New Year’s Eve there!

Top 3 tours in Valparaiso

How to get to Valparaiso?

Valparaiso is located 115 km northwest of Santiago de Chile. There are several daily buses that connect the two cities. Buses leave every 30min. – 1 hour from Terminal Alameda and Terminal Pajaritos bus station. It takes 2 hours to get to Valparaiso. 

Renting a car is another option for getting there. If you’re planning to visit only Valparaiso it might not be worth it but if you’re going to explore more of Chile, especially the south of the country, having a car will save you a lot of time. It works out more expensive but far more convenient.  If you’re a group of friends or a family it might be even cheaper than paying for buses or doing tours. The easiest way is to rent a car at the airport in Santiago

If you don’t have much time but still want to visit Valparaiso you can do a day tour from Santiago to Valparaiso and Viña del Mar.

If you’re on a very tight budget hitchhiking is another way for getting to Valparaiso. It works quite well in Chile if you don’t mind standing next to the road and waiting for a ride for a couple of hours. Chileans are very friendly people if you speak or understand some Spanish you can get good recommendations from locals. 

Street market with many stalls in downtown of Valparaiso, Chile
A street market in downtown, Valparaiso

Where to stay in Valparaiso?

There are plenty of places in the city for a different budget. From our experience, the best areas to stay in Valparaiso are Cerro Concepción, Cerro Bellavista, and La Sebastiana. All three are artistic barrios with many bars, art galleries, street art, etc. 

Valparaiso is a very popular place to come for New Year (because of the fireworks and street party) if you’re planning to be there around that time make sure to book accommodation a long time beforehand. 

Colorful houses of Cerro Concepcion, Valparaiso
Bright and colorful Cerro Concepcion, one of the main artistic areas of Valparaiso

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Top things to do in Valparaiso Chile

Discover street art 

Finding street art in Valparaiso is one of the best things to do in the city. The whole city is basically a street art museum with hundreds of murals, mosaics, sculptures, and colourful houses. You can spend hours wandering up and down the narrow cobblestone streets of Valparaiso discovering murals. 

The best area for street art lovers is Cerro Bellavista (Beautiful View Hill in English) on the top of the hills you can find Museo a Cielo Abierto (the Open-Air Museum). The museum is basically a couple of streets that were turned into an art space. Most of the wall paintings were made there about 30 years ago when the museum was opened. There is no admission fee to the Open Air Museum. On the walls, you can find information boards with details about the murals and the artist that created them. Most of the murals were painted by local street artists some of them became quite famous later. The best and easiest way of getting to the museum is to take Ascensor Espiritu Santo. Cerro Bellavista is a part of the historical center of Valparaiso which is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Explore Valparaiso on a Half Day Private Walking Tour with a Native Guide & Public Transport

A mural with beautiful pictures of the parts of the city in Valparaiso
Sea-inspired murals on the streets of Valparaiso are one of my favorites

Get lost in the narrow streets

Cerro Bellavista is not the only art barrio to explore in Valparaiso. Cerro Concepcion is another interesting district. It’s more of a Bohemian neighborhood. It’s located on the top of Concepcion Hill. To get there you can use one of the two funiculars; Ascensor Concepción and Ascensor El Peral. 

The best way to explore the barrio is by simply wandering around its narrow streets, taking random turns, and following the stairs that lead to new streets and murals. You can just get lost in the streets, stop for a coffee in a small café, and look at bizarre things displayed at a local art gallery. Cerro Bellavista is a great spot for taking bright and fun photos. I especially enjoyed mosaic staircases thanks to them climbing up and done steep stairs becomes a fun activity. Every ascent is usually rewarded by great views. 

If you want to know more about the history of Valparaiso, visit the main attractions in a couple of hours, and get some useful tips from locals you can join Valparaiso 4-Hour City Tour by Van and Funicular

Campbell walking upstairs through a narrow street in Valparaiso
Exploring the narrow streets of Valparaiso was one of our favorite things to do in the city

Visit La Sebastiana

Being in Valparaiso you can’t miss La Sebastiana – the house of the most famous Chilean poet and writer Pablo Neruda. Visiting his house was one of my favorite things to do in Valparaiso. The museum is located in Cerro Bellavista. I really like Neruda’s poetry and know some of his poems by heart but my favorite part was the incredible views of the city from the terrace. 

It said that Neruda often spent New Year’s Eve there because he could see the fireworks from the balcony. By the way, New Year’s fireworks in Valparaiso are spectacular. The museum is open Tuesday – Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm. The entrance fee is US$10. On weekends there might be a queue at the ticket office.

La Sebastiana, a house-museum of Pablo Neruda is a not-to-miss thing in Valparaiso
La Sebastiana, a house of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda in Valparaiso

Admire fine art

Street art is not the only art you can find in Valparaiso. There is an interesting collection of classical art mostly painting and sculpture in the Palacio Baburizza Fine Arts Museum. There you can see canvas made by European and Chilean artists at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The building itself is worth a visit, it’s a beautiful white mansion in Art Noveau style built at the beginning of the 20th century. The museum is open Tuesday – Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm. 

Explore Valparaiso on foot

Yes, there are many hills in Valparaiso, 45 to be precise. Walking around the city is a good exercise. Luckily there are many Ascensores, sort of lifts or funiculars that can save you a lot of time and effort. To get the most out of your visit you can join one of the walking tours of Valparaiso. A local guide will tell you about the city’s secret spots and give some great tips. These tours take you to both; the main city attraction and off-the-beaten-path places. A walking tour is a great way of getting to know a new city. The duration of the tour is between 2-3 hours. 

Alya sitting on the mosaic stairs in Valparaiso, Chile
Even the stairs on the streets of Valparaiso are a piece of art.

Take a boat 

A boat tour in the bay of Valparaiso gives you a chance to see the city from a different angle. Looking at Valparaiso from the water you can admire its colorful hills, get a better idea about the location of the main attractions, and just enjoy the fresh sea breeze which is nice on a hot summer day. Boats leave from the pier next to the Porto metro station. The price is between US$14-20 per person.

Discover the biodiversity of Chile

The Museum of Natural Science will be interesting for travelers with children and those who want to learn more about Chile’s history and biodiversity. You can find there the taxidermied animals, reptiles, and birds, there is a decent section dedicated to Easter Island if you don’t have a chance to visit it in person there you can find a lot of information regarding it. There are very few explanations in English so some knowledge of Spanish will help. The entrance to the museum is free. 

Relax on the beach

There are a couple of beaches in Valparaiso but to be honest they’re quite small and not that impressive. For better beaches, you have to go to Viña del Mar. We spent a day chilling and tanning on Playa el Sol and Playa de los Cañones in Vina del Mar, playing volleyball, reading, and swimming. You can go for a swim but the water is cold even in summer so it’s more of a quick dip to cool down a bit. 

For those who would like to explore more of the Chilean coast, you can do a 4-Hour Pacific Coast Tour and visit Viña del Mar, Reñaca, and Concón and see sea lions. 

A cat with green eyes at the green and red house in Valparaiso
Streets of Valparaiso is a real paradise for photography lovers

Ride an old trolleybus

Chile’s trolleybus system is the second oldest in South America. Nowadays trolleybuses are not as common as they used to be but they are still a part of the public transport system. You have a chance to travel 60 years back in time (that’s how old they are) and ride through the city in an old trolleybus. Those are original Pullman trolleybuses. Most of them were made in the 40th-50th of the 20th century. In Valparaiso, you can find the oldest trolleybuses in use in the whole world. 

In 2003 the Chilean Government declared them a national monument. There is only one trolleybus route, #802. It runs from Avenida Argentina to La Aduana on the way going through El Almendral, downtown, the port, and the Muelle Prat. Trolleybuses run Monday to Saturday from 7 am to 8.30 pm. A ride costs US$0,5. 

Go up and down in an old Ascensor

Old lifts (Ascensor) are the main tourist attraction in Valparaiso. There are many Ascensores or lifts in the city. Riding them is one of the must-things to do in Valparaiso. Like the trolleybuses, the funiculars are a part of the public transport system in Valparaiso. Several years back the old Ascenroes were declared historical monuments. There used to be more funiculars in the city nowadays only 8 are still in use. Using them is the easiest and fastest way to go up and down many Cerros (hills). At first glance, they look a bit scary. The most famous funiculars in Valparaiso are; Ascensor Espiritu Santo, Ascensor Concepcion, Ascensor El Peral, Ascensor Reina Victoria, and Ascensor Artilleria. Tickets are cheap, around US$0,5 per trip.

Steep slope and the funicular Espiritu Santo in Valparaiso
Espíritu Santo Ascensor, Valparaiso. Going up and down with these funiculars is a lot of fun!

Conquer the hills on a mountain bike

If you like challenging bike rides that include going up and down steep hills you’ll enjoy exploring Valparaiso on a bike. It is a great city to cycle just be ready to sweat quite a bit as some ascents are very steep and long. You can rent a bike for the whole day (8 hours) for US$25 and explore the city.  

Enjoy lunch with the view

Fresh seafood, good wine, and a beautiful view – what can be better after an intense sightseeing day in the city? If you are a seafood and fish lover Valparaiso and Chile, in general, is a real paradise for you. There are many restaurants and bars in Valparaiso. Some of them offer spectacular views of the city, the port area, and the sea. The restaurants with some of the best views you’ll find in Cerro Bellavista or Cerro Concepción. 

The best time to come to a restaurant overlooking the sea is just before sunset. It’s better to book a table next to the window or on the balcony so you can enjoy the natural spectacle while having dinner. Here are some of our recommendations; Restaurant La Concepción, Restaurant Maralegre, or Restaurant Portofino. 

Muelle Prat is a beautiful seaside promenade in Valparaiso
A view of Muelle Prat, the promenade in Valparaiso from one of the pedestrian bridges

Try the famous Mariscal

Mariscal is a raw seafood salad spiced with herbs and sprinkled with lemon juice. Locals say that the best seafood restaurants in the area are in Concón, a coastal town 22 km north of Valparaiso. It’s a nice place for a day trip from the city. 

We went there with our friends to try Mariscal. It was really good, a huge bowl with fresh shrimp, calamari, mussels, and some local seafood that you can find only in Chile. The portion didn’t look that big but luckily I didn’t order anything else as I could hardly finish it. After eating Mariscal my body probably got enough iodine for a year ahead. 

If you want to fully immerse yourself in Chilean cuisine join a Gastronomic Tour of Valparaiso.

Visit an ex-prison

Parque Cultural de Valparaíso occupies a huge territory of Cerro Cárcel (Prison Hill). Till 1999 it was a city prison. During the Pinochet regime, many political prisoners were kept there. In 1999 a new prison was opened. Between 2000 and 2010 the area was used by local artists. In 2010 it was decided to turn the ex-prison into a cultural center. Nowadays it’s 2,5ha of creative space with many galleries, a theater, a circus, rehearsal halls, open-air spaces for master classes, etc. The area changed completely from a dark depressive hill it turned into a creative space full of life and colors.

Campbell on one of the colorful streets in Valparaiso
The streets of Valparaiso are filled with art

Relax in the serenity of the Botanical Garden

If you’re a bit overwhelmed by the bustling city you can make an escape and enjoy the peaceful environment of the National Botanical Garden. It’s quite big, there are many fun things to do such as hiking, cycling (you can rent a bicycle there for US$4 per hour), doing a canopy tour, enjoying a picnic, etc. 

The area is very beautiful; a lush green forest, streams, lakes, wooden bridges, artificial waterfalls, colorful flowers, etc. You can bring food with you a have a picnic or visit a coffee shop inside the garden. 

Taste local wines

Chile is known for its wines. Doing wine tasting is a great way to spend a day. You can taste local wines at one of the bars or visit a couple of wine farms. To do so you’ll have to rent a car or join a tour. It’s impossible to get to wine estates by public transport. Unfortunately, to do it you’ll have to join a tour or rent a car as the wine estates are a bit far from the city and there is no public transport going that way. If you’re two and more people I think renting a car even for a day will be cheaper than doing a wine tour. 

Visit some of the best wine estates in the Casablanca Valley and taste local wines on a private tour.

Surfing

Surfing is not the most popular thing to do in Valparaiso but it’s possible if. There is a place called Reñaca Beach, 22km north of Valparaiso. It’s one of the best places for surfing in the country, like the other one in Pichilemu but quite decent. It’s a beach break with a sandy bottom and fast waves. The best time for surfing there is between October and December. We went to Reñaca by car from Valparaiso but didn’t surf we came there to try fresh seafood which is according to the locals the best in the country. 

You can do a combined tour from Valparaiso that includes surfing and sandboarding.

Celebrate New Year in Valparaiso

New Year is the busiest time in Valparaiso. Celebrating New Year’s Eve there is one of the top things to do. The city is famous for its impressive and elaborated fireworks. The combination of good weather, beaches, and fireworks always attracts thousands of people. We were lucky to be there for New Year and can confirm it was spectacular. The best spots to watch fireworks are the top of the many city hills. One of the viewpoints, restaurants, or even hotels with a sea view will work perfectly. 

After the fireworks the city turns into one big party, and music is playing everywhere in the city center. Public transport usually works all night so if your hotel is not in the center you’ll be able to get there by bus. The only thing to remember if coming to Valparaiso for New Year is to book accommodation months beforehand it can be very difficult to find anything available in December. 

 Orange, green and red fireworks in the night sky of Valparaiso for New Year.
Incredible fireworks at New Year’s Eve in Valparaiso, one of the best we’ve ever seen!

Go out and party

If you like parting and going out Valparaiso is the right place for you. Like in Argentina in Chile night clubs open around midnight. People go out late and stay up until morning. Before going to a nightclub locals usually go out for a couple of drinks first, somewhere around 10-11 pm. 

Going to a nightclub before 1 am is almost pointless as there will be almost nobody yet. Close to 2 am, everybody moves from bars to clubs and the party begins. If you’re not ready to be up the whole night, just go out for a drink or two. The best streets for partying in Valparaiso are in Cerro Concepción, Cerro Alegre, and Cerro La Carcel. You can find clubs and bars by the beach and downtown as well.

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DK

Monday 11th of December 2023

Very useful information, thank you! We’re looking to spend a few days there, however have been hearing/reading mixed information - some saying even the central, touristy areas are not worth the trip anymore. Can you comment on the general safety?

Stingy Nomads

Wednesday 13th of December 2023

Hello. We were there for New Year and had a very nice time. We didn't feel unsafe or had any issues in Valparaiso. It all depends on how much time you have in Chile and what you want to see and do there. For us the nature and the divers landscape was the highlight of the country. Maybe rather spend more time exploring the Atacama Desert, Lake District, and Patagonia than the cities. The beaches of Viña del Mar (near Valparaiso) were nice but the water is cold. Good luck

Hamish Urquhart

Thursday 23rd of November 2023

Excellent article - best information I have come across re Valparaiso so far. I'm off there in a couple of days from Australia and have a week before joining tours to Patagonia and Antarctic. Sounds ideal for an old fella to kick back for a spell and get over the jet lag. Sounds like bikes are easy to rent though might have to think about an ebike. Thank you very much. Hamish

Stingy Nomads

Thursday 23rd of November 2023

Hello Hamish, thanks for reading. It is a great city to explore by bicycle, but there are many steep hills! Also check out out the guided bicycle street art tours for a lot of fun. Enjoy Patagonia and Antarctica, it sounds like an amazing trip. Safe travels

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