Santiago's loveliest and most graceful park commenced in 1841 as a plant-acclimatization nursery for imported species, when the area was still outside the boundaries of Santiago. The park grew to include 38 hectares (96 acres) of grassy lawns, dozens of varieties of trees (splendid mature examples of Monterey pine, Douglas firs, Sequoias, Babylonian willows, and more), sporting facilities, and a lagoon with paddle boat rental. It is truly one of Santiago's most underrated attractions; however, I wouldn't recommend the park as a top destination if you only have 1 day in the city, unless you have children. The park's four museums are kid-friendly, including the Natural History Museum (tel. 2/680-4615; www.mnhn.cl), open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 5:30pm, Sunday from noon to 5:30pm (Nov-Mar), and 11am-4:30pm (Apr-Sept); admission is $1.25 (80p) adults, 75¢ (50p) children 17 and under, Sundays and holidays free. The museum's handsome neoclassical exterior belies a rather fusty and underfunded collection. However, in 2008, renovations began (and are likely to continue through 2009) and a new Rapa Nui exhibition, which showcases a 17th-century moai named Kava Kava, augurs well for a more compelling and informative museum befitting of its status as the oldest natural history museum in Latin America.
Worth a visit is the Artequín Museum, Av. Portales 3530 (tel. 2/682-5367; www.artequin.cl), open Tuesday through Friday from 9am to 5pm, and Saturday, Sunday, and holidays from 11am to 6pm. The museum is closed throughout February; admission is $1.40 (90p) adults, 75¢ (50p) students and children, free on Sundays. Housed in a fascinating cast-iron building accented with a kaleidoscope of colorful glass, it was first used as the Chilean exhibition hall at the 1889 Parisian centenary of the French Revolution. Workers took the building apart, shipped it to Santiago, and reassembled it here. The museum displays only reproductions of famous paintings by artists from Botticelli to Rubens, Picasso to Monet, and even Andy Warhol's Marilyn and Francis Bacon's Study after Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X. The idea is to introduce kids to important works of art.
A popular museum with kids here is the Museo de Ciencia y Tecnología (Museum of Science and Technology) (tel. 2/681-6022; www.museodeciencia.cl), whose engaging, interactive, and hands-on displays provide a worthy initiation into the basic precepts of astronomy, geology, and physics. It is open Tuesday through Friday from 10am to 6pm, Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 6pm; admission is $1.40 (90p) adults and $1.25 (80p) students. At the southern end of the park, on Avenida Portales, is the fourth museum here, the Museo Ferroviario (Railway Museum) (tel. 2/681-4627; www.museodeciencia.cl/homeferroviario.htm), with railway exhibits that include 14 steam engines and railway carriages, including the train that once connected Santiago with Mendoza until 1971. It's open Tuesday through Friday from 10am to 6pm, Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 6pm; admission is $1.25 (80p) adults and 75¢ (50p) students.