The park itself is a very long stretch of green with lots of different monuments and a fountain. It’s always a nice place to sit in the shade on one of the benches or in the grass. On Sundays, the park is full of people selling crafts and other goods.
Let’s get the ugly out of the way first: Running along the north side of Parque Forestal across the street is the Río Mapocho. Unfortunately, it’s polluted and disgusting, but there are plans to clean it up and make it navigable.
On the west end of the park is Estación Mapocho. It was once a rail station serving northern Chile, Valparaíso, and Argentina, opening in 1913 and closing in 1987. It is now a cultural center, Centro Cultural Estación Mapocho. The Puente Cal y Canto metro station is also located here.
A little further down is the Mercado Central. It was once the main market for Santiago, and is still a place where locals come to shop for fish. There are also several great fish restaurants serving fish and seafood at reasonable prices. The building is a national landmark and was built in 1872. For my experience at a fish restaurant at Mercado Central, please click here.
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
In the middle of the park is the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Museum of Fine Arts). It was built in 1910 and has one of the most important collections of art in Latin America. It’s one of my favorite buildings in the city. The museum is free on Sundays and closed on Mondays. Admission is just CLP $600 (as of March 2014). Behind the museum is another museum, the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo (Museum of Contemporary Arts).
In my opinion, there’s nothing inside the museum that blew me away except the architecture of the building. There was a temporary photography exhibition by Sergio Larraín, the most important Chilean photographer in history. I really enjoyed it.
Emporio La Rosa
On the south side of the park, you can find one of the “25 best ice cream parlors in the world”, Emporio La Rosa. They have some interesting flavors and the ice cream is delicious. I like the platano manjar (banana caramel).
About a block from La Rosa down Merced is one of the nicest and most touristy areas in Santiago, Barrio Lastarria. There are lots of pubs, outdoor cafés, and cultural centers around. One of the most charming buildings in Barrio Lastarria is the tiny Iglesia de la Veracruz, built in 1857.
Old US Embassy
Also along the south end of the park in a beautiful building is the old US Embassy. The new embassy is located in the more modern city center to the east.
Finally, on the east end of the park is Plaza Italia, or also Plaza Baquedano. The name changed to Baquedano in 1928 but a lot of locals still refer to it as Plaza Italia. It’s not a pedestrian plaza because of all the roads passing through, but there are some monuments fenced off in the middle. The Baquedano metro station is also located here.