Given its proximity to historic estancias and wildlife sites, most notably the Cabo Vírgenes penguin colony, Río Gallegos  is earning a newfound respect even though it’s not a major destination itself. Gallegos travel agencies such as Macatobiano (Avenida Roca 998, tel. 02966/42-2466, www.macatobiano.com ) can arrange excursions to outlying attractions such as Cabo Vírgenes  (US$38–48 pp depending on whether it’s high season).
Returning from Cabo Vírgenes, Chile-bound travelers with their own vehicles can take the RP 51 shortcut to the Monte Aymond border post but should ask directions before doing so, as it’s not always obvious or clearly signed.
In town, opposite Plaza San Martín, the Catedral Nuestra Señora de Luján (1899) was the work of Salesian priest Juan Bernabé, who was also responsible for the cathedrals of Punta Arenas  and Ushuaia . Like other pioneer buildings, it reflects the wood-framed metal-clad Magellanic style.
On the plaza’s south side, the Museo de Arte Eduardo Minnicelli (Maipú 13, tel. 02966/43-6323, www.museominnicelli.com.ar , 8 a.m.–7 p.m. Tues.–Fri., 3–7 p.m. Sat.–Sun. and holidays, closed Dec. 20–Feb. 10, free) showcases provincial artists such as its namesake sculptor.
Three blocks south, the comprehensive Museo Provincial Padre Jesús Molina (Ramón y Cajal 51, tel. 02966/42-3290, museopadremolina [at] yahoo [dot] com [dot] ar, 10 a.m.–7 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.–7 p.m. weekends and holidays, free) holds material on geology, paleontology, natural history, ethnology, and local history, including a good photographic collection.
In a pioneer house that belonged to Arthur and Victor Fenton, the city’s first physicians, the Museo de los Pioneros (Elcano and Alberdi, tel. 02966/43-7763, pioneros [at] riogallegos [dot] gov [dot] ar, 10 a.m.–7:30 p.m. daily, but in winter may close as early as 6 p.m., free) documents southern Patagonia’s early settlers. Aging Scots-Argentine volunteers greet visitors and explain the details in English.