On a clear day, fresh after winter showers, Santiago basks in one of the most spectacular settings of any city in the world. A glance through the downtown blocks reveals a mighty circle of mountains - the snowcapped Andean peaks to the east, and a smaller coastal range to the west - that frames the Chilean capital.
A clear day, however, is rare in this smog-blighted metropolis. In art class, Santiago school-kids draw their horizons a murky gray and, although the air has cleared somewhat in recent years, pollution and noise are likely to cloud your first impressions, especially in winter.
Don't be put off. Santiago might be dirty and loud, and it might not match the grandeur of Buenos Aires - but it is cultured, quirky and ambitious. The city rewards the patient traveler. Beyond the conservative conformity of Santiago Centro, and the soulless towers of the Las Condes financial district, there are thriving culinary and artistic enclaves that are a joy to uncover. Gourmets feast on world-class cuisine in Bellavista and Providencia, bohemians gather in the charming old district of Barrio Brasil, while the city is dotted with fine museums and a flourishing arts scene. With a booming café culture and leafy, exotic suburban parks, Santiago has an infectious energy and a growing confidence.
And those mountains don't just sit there as decoration - there's a huge range of activities within easy reach of the urban sprawl. Trekking, climbing, horseback riding, skiing, kayaking and wine tours are just a few of the exhilarating possibilities at Santiago's doorstep.
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Best places to stay in Santiago
Chile & Easter Island - Santiago (Chapter)
Santiago has always had its measured charms – fine dining, perfectly landscaped gardens, a famous seafood market, the stunning backdrop of the Andes – but in the past few years it has undergone a cultural metamorphosis. Understated but...
Lonely Planet's Best in Travel: top 10 cities for 2012
After globe-trotting research and fierce debate, Lonely Planet has come to a decision on its favourite cities for 2012. As always, our shortlist has some known gems and a few to raise a quizzical eyebrow, but each one is poised for greatness in 2012...
Best places to eat in Santiago
Santiago destination guides
Subway stations worth getting off the train for
Sometimes a train station isn't just a means to an end - it's a destination in itself. These artful stops are reason enough to take your sightseeing underground. 1...
Santiago City Sightseeing Tour
See the very best of Santiago on a comprehensive introductory tour of Chile's capital city. Perfect for first-time visitors, this morning or afternoon 3.5-hour city tour is a well-rounded introduction to Santiago's famous sights, leaving you with time in the day free to explore the city on your own.
Santiago Hop-On Hop-Off Tour
Marvel at the best of Santiago from an open-top double-decker bus, complete with informative commentary.
Chile: travel books to read before you go
This excerpt from Lonely Planet’s Chile & Easter Island guide provides a selection of travel literature to get you in the mood for your trip. Charles Darwin’s time-honored Voyage of the Beagle is a perfect companion for trips around Chile, with descriptions as fresh as if he’d just disembarked the Navimag ferry...