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City Guide: Santiago de Chile

Santiago de Chile is far from a mere skyscraper-laden modern metropolis. Backed by the snow-capped Andes mountain range, it offers beautiful parks, enormous churches and cathedrals and a collection of small barrios, each as distinct as the next. Best of all though, within an easy drive to the south of the city are picturesque vineyards producing some of the world's best wine. Discover more with our Santiago de Chile city guide.

Symbol of the City: The defining feature of Santiago is not actually something that sits within the modern financial district, nor the tourist heart, nor the vineyards on the outskirts of the city, nor anywhere indeed within the city limits. What defines Santiago is the Andes mountain range that provides one of the most striking backdrops to a city imaginable. The best place to see the juxtaposition of gleaming skyscrapers and snow-capped mountain peaks is from the top of Cerro San Cristóbal, reached via a short funicular ride.

Star Attraction: The Parque Quinta Normal could well be classified as a hidden gem, something which only adds to its appeal. It won't make many headlines in guide books, but this large park is one of Santiago's most interesting green spaces, especially on sunny weekends when it is brought to life by families, dog walkers and joggers, but often few tourists. Those that do venture here generally come specifically for the Museo Ferroviario (the fantastic train museum) and the National Museum of Natural History in Chile. At the north end of the park is the huge Basilica of Lourdes, with its grotto, a replica based on the famous one found in the French town of Lourdes.

Parque Quinta Normal

Hidden Gem: Whilst the bohemian Barrio Bellavista can hardly be described as 'hidden', given that its main street (Pio Nono) runs directly to the funicular station for Cerro San Cristóbal, the colourful murals and facades which enrich its quiet side-streets are far less well-known and capture the essence of the nearby coastal city of Valparaiso. In the centre of the city, tucked behind the San Francisco church are the two interconnecting streets which make up the heart of the elegant Barrio Paris-Londres. The cobbled streets are adorned with beautiful architecture, based upon the grand early 20th century mansions of the two great European cities, which were the height of the style and sophistication to which the aristocracy of Santiago aspired. 

Barrio Bellavista

Eat & Drink: One of the most typical dishes to try in Santiago is a cazuela Chilena; a meaty stew served with, potato, corn on the cob and pumpkin. To wash it down, what better than a glass of Chilean red wine, produced at the magnificent vineyards of the Central Valley, to the south of Santiago.

After Dark: The upcoming and upbeat Barrio Brasil is the place to find the best nightlife and nocturnal atmosphere in Santiago, where informal bars and noteworthy restaurants are clustered around cobbled streets and the leafy plaza. The neighbourhood is located about half-way between the Parque Quinta Normal and Cerro San Cristóbal.

Escape: One of Santiago's biggest selling points is its proximity to the fabulous vineyards to the south of the city. Here, visitors can learn about Chilean society, see how traditional and modern techniques are blended in the wine-making process and sample for themselves some of the world-class reds that make the wines of the Central Valley so beloved. Slightly further afield (around 90 minutes by road) is the colourful and artistic port city of Valparaiso.

When to Go: The best time to visit Santiago is generally in the Autumn (March to May) or Spring (September to November), when temperatures are comfortably warm, days are bright and sunny and the nearby vineyards are looking their best. Autumn is the time of the wine harvest, with festivals to celebrate, whereas Chilean independence weekend in September can be in an interesting time to visit and join in the celebrations.

Take a look at our selection of tours to visit Santiago yourself

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