Things to Do in Montevideo
With its succulent meat markets, charming Old Town, and easygoing pace of life, Montevideo is one of the most underrated cities in South America. Far less crowded than Buenos Aires across the Rio de Plata, Montevideo has a leisurely vibe as relaxing as it is welcome. This isn’t to say it’s slow, however, as the bustle of people on the waterfront is one of the city’s highlights. Officially, the Rambla of Montevideo (Rambla de Montevideo) stretches 13.5 miles along the city’s waterfront. Here you’ll find joggers, walkers, and skaters all enjoying the riverfront parks, or maybe children just flying a kite while their parents sip mate in the shade. It’s the public gathering place to take in the sun or simply go for a stroll, and on the warmer days of summer and fall, is the place to pack a bikini or board shorts and spend a day on the beach. Given its length, the Rambla is broken into many zones for different parts of the city, and one of the most popular is Rambla Sur which runs the length of the Old Town. Head to the section by Playa Pocitos for the popular, wide sandy beach, and if you like to start your day with the sun, there’s nothing better than a sunrise jog along the Uruguay coast.
One of the most important public squares in the Uruguayan capital, Independence Plaza (Plaza Independencia) divides Montevideo’s Old Town (Ciudad Vieja) and downtown areas. Several of the city’s most famous landmarks are located here, including the Salvo Palace (Palacio Salvo), Solis Theater (Teatro Solís), and Executive Tower (Torre Ejecutiva).
Prior to 1973 and since 1985, Uruguay's Legislative Palace (Palacio Legislativo), in Montevideo has served as the seat of the country's Chamber of Senators and General Assembly.
The Legislative Palace was inaugurated on Aug. 24, 1925, which coincided with the centennial of the country’s Declaration of Independence. In 1975, the Legislative Palace was declared a National Historic Monument. The impressive palace was designed in a neoclassical style, with noted Greek influence in its exterior facades. Despite Uruguay’s small physical presence in South America, no expense was spared in creating what is considered one of the most beautiful governmental palaces in the world. Parliament Palace includes a variety of luxury materials, including ornamental wood objects, Carrara marble and porphyry and bronze. Carvings, Venetian mosaics, stained glass and various sculptures complement the luxurious materials.
Inside the Legislative Palace, look for murals and laminated gold ornamental details. Many rooms of the palace showcase an important collection of paintings. One of the main points of the building is the Hall of Lost Steps, which includes a beautiful dome and skylight, highlighted by ornate stained glass work. The government complex also houses a public library of ornate decorative touches, carved hardwoods and one of Uruguay's most important collections of books.
In addition to those of the Senate, General Assembly and House of Representatives, legislator offices are also located in the palace and annex building nearby. Those in the annex can reach Parliament Palace via an underground tunnel.
Behind its wrought-iron facade (it was originally constructed as a train station), the sprawling Port Market (Mercado del Puerto) houses a number of bustling parrillas (steak restaurants) and other choice eateries. It’s one of the best places in town to enjoy an authentic, traditional (and affordable) meal.
Completed in 1928, Salvo Palace (Palacio Salvo) is a historical landmark building featuring an eclectic architectural style—predominantly Italian Gothic, with classic and neo-romantic influences. Originally planned as a hotel, it is now an office and apartment building.
Housed in a beautiful historic building, the Montevideo Agricultural Market (Mercado Agrícola de Montevideo) is over 100 years old and one of the Uruguay’s largest markets. After falling into disrepair, the structure was recently renovated to house dozens of food stalls and restaurants, while maintaining the charm and details of the original architecture.
It doesn’t take long for visitors in Montevideo to realize that Uruguay is an under-the-radar culinary destination, and the agricultural market is the ideal place for foodies to experiment a wide array of Uruguayan specialties and local products. This is the go-to place for the highest quality Uruguayan wines, olive oils, cured meats and produce and also is home to traditional bakeries, steak houses and a craft brewery. The market is the perfect stop for lunch or a snack while touring the city. And, beyond the food, this is also a great place for souvenirs, toys, and handicrafts.
The Montevideo Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral de Montevideo) is the city's main Roman Catholic church and the seat of its archdiocese. Its origin dates back to the Spanish colonial era, when a modest brick church was built on the site in 1740 by Indian laborers under the reign of Philip V of Spain.
Also called Iglesia Matriz, Montevideo Metropolitan Cathedral was consecrated in 1804 and was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception and to Philip and James, the patron saints of Montevideo. Like several other religious structures in the city, the church features an image of the Virgin of the Thirty-Three, the patron saint of Uruguay. It was then declared a cathedral in 1878, and in 1897, Pop Leo XIII elevated it to the status of Basilica Metropolitana, which made it the main church of Uruguay.
Iglesia Matriz, or Mother Church, is typically a name bestowed upon a church that was established as the first mission in a region. The Metropolitan Cathedral, a National Historic Landmark, is considered the mother church of all of southern South America, including Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile.
Inside the cathedral are the tombs of several important figures in Uruguay’s history, including religious figures and soldiers who died during the British invasion.
A coastal neighborhood of Montevideo, Pocitos is located along the banks of the Rio de la Plata and is renowned for its beach, Playa Pocitos, and the rambla (boulevard) that borders it. The area features many 10- to 15-story apartment towers that lie along the rambla and feature views of the neighborhood, Rio de la Plata and Playa Pocitos. The rambla features a number of fancy restaurants and trendy shops that attract not only local Uruguayans but also visitors from Argentina and Brazil.
The water at Playa Pocitos is very salty due to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. It is also browner than what you find at other beaches in the area; however, the water is clean and locals do swim there. The fine-sand shore only sees small waves, ideal for visitors with young children.
If you want to get off the rambla and see a bit more in the wealthy barrio of Pocitos, wander up Cavia Street to the older part of the neighborhood where you will find several beautiful mansions. You’ll also encounter other buildings of architectural interest, including Casa Darnaud, the seat of the Russian Embassy, and the Casa Towers, the seat of the Italian Embassy.
A number of other buildings in the area were declared National Heritage Sites in 1986, including Casa Felipe Yriat, Casa Casabó and Casa Williams. The building of Escuela Brasil was added to the list of National Heritage Sites in 2002.
Opened in 1856, Solís Theatre is a longtime cultural touchstone in Uruguay. Visit the theater to see opera, ballet, theater, and classical music performances. Even if you don't attend a show, stopping by to view the neoclassical building, designed by Italian architect Carlo Zucchi, is a must-do in Montevideo.
Although Montevideo was once a fortified city with majestic walls and a grand stone entrance, the colonial citadel was demolished in 1829. All that remains today is the stone gate, called the Gateway of the Citadel (Puerta de la Ciudadela).
The fortifications serve as a key example of Spanish military architecture in South America. Construction started around the mid-1700s and took more than 40 years to finish. The walls of the citadel were constructed with 19.6-foot-thick (6-meter-thick) granite and once housed 50 cannons. There were four bastions, which held artillery fortifications, and originally, there was a large, deep moat. It wasn’t until 1829, four years after the country’s declaration of independence, that a decision was made to tear down the fortifications, and the city was then able to expand. The demolition of Montevideo’s fortified walls made room for Plaza Independencia, or Independence Square.
The Gateway of the Citadel was dismantled and rebuilt by the School of Arts and Crafts in its original location in 1959. The fortified section of Montevideo was called Ciudad Vieja, while the expansion project was dubbed Ciudad Nueva.
Today, Ciudad Vieja is considered by many to be the nightlife area of Montevideo. It also hosts the Port Market, which is a great spot to try traditional Uruguayan food and drinks. Despite its popularity as a nightlife area, the most beautiful and historic colonial buildings are found here.
More Things to Do in Montevideo
El Prado is a residential neighborhood of Montevideo that features beautiful historic homes and manicured, tree-lined streets. The area includes the former presidential residence, Montevideo’s main park area, the Juan Manuel Blanes Museum and three soccer stadiums.
Parque del Prado is a peaceful spot for residents of Montevideo, as Miguelete Creek flows through the park and the expansive 102-acre (41-hectare) grounds feature a rose garden, botanical garden, fountains and monuments. The botanical garden contains over 1,000 plant species and is the only one of its kind in Uruguay. The rose garden includes imported roses from France and was designed by French landscape architect Charles Recine. Hotel del Prado, built in the French neoclassical style, sits within Parque del Prado’s grounds and serves as a tea house and meeting room today.
What was once the official presidential palace (from 1947 to 2005) is today a shelter for homeless people. The most recent presidents did not move into the residence, with José Mujica (inaugurated in 2010) securing an agreement to let homeless people move in.
The Juan Manuel Blanes Museum is also called the Museum of Fine Arts and celebrates the famous Uruguayan painter. The museum grounds also include a beautiful Japanese garden.
Bella Vista Athletic Club (José Nasazzi Park), River Plate Athletic Club (Federico Saroldi Park) and Montevideo Wanderers (Alfredo V. Viera Park) are the soccer clubs that play within the El Prado neighborhood.
Located across the Río de la Plata from Buenos Aires, Montevideo Cruise Port (Puerto de Montevideo) is Uruguay’s largest cruise port. A popular stop for large cruise liners touring South America, the port also welcomes regular ferries from neighboring Argentina.
Immerse yourself in an evening of Uruguayan culture, music, dance, and cuisine at El Milongón, one of Montevideo’s most romantic performance venues. At this intimate theater, singers, dancers, and musicians perform several diverse styles of music and dance, including tango, milonga, Afro-Montevideo candombe, folklore.
The Andes Museum 1972 (Museo Andes 1972) honors the 29 Uruguayans who died in the 1972 Andes flight disaster, in which their plane crashed in the Andes Mountains en route to Santiago de Chile from Montevideo. The story of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, depicted in the 1993 movieAlive, has been dubbed the Miracle of the Andes in South America, for the 16 people who survived the incident.
The charter plane was carrying 45 people, including the entire Old Christians Club rugby union team from Montevideo, which was headed to Santiago for a match. Over a quarter of the passengers died, while several others perished soon thereafter due to the harsh conditions on the mountains when they crashed. The 16 survivors had little food and no heat while awaiting rescue and resorted to eating the dead passengers when they learned from radio news reports that the search for them had been abandoned.
Seventy-two days after the crash, two of the survivors set out on a 10-day trek across the mountains and found a local Chilean arriero, a person who transports goods via pack animals. After giving the survivors some food, the arriero got word back to officials, alerting them of the survivors who still needed rescuing.
Directly south of Montevideo’s center, the neighborhood (or, “barrio”) of Barrio Sur is closely connected to its large Afro-Uruguayan community, who settled here after slavery was abolished. It is the home of the “Candombe,” the Uruguayan music and dance style that comes from African slaves and is recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage of humanity.
Located on The Rambla in Montevideo, it’s difficult to miss Pittamiglio Castle (Castillo Pittamiglio). The building’s red-brick towers, with giant protruding ships and fortress-like architecture, stand out among the modern skyscrapers. Designed by Humberto Pittamiglio and built in 1911, the castle is a tribute to the science of alchemy and its interior is full of obscure symbols with deep meanings.
Many don’t know that Montevideo was host to the very first World Cup final in 1930 at the Estadio Centenario. Today, part of the stadium is home to the Football Museum (Museo del Fútbol), which not only honors the beginning of soccer’s biggest tournament, but also celebrates international and Uruguayan soccer throughout history and in the current day.
There’s a wide array of pieces of history from the world’s most popular sport on display at the museum, including trophies, posters, signed jerseys, and original match programs and tickets. Blown up old photos from some of soccer’s most historic moments and newspaper clippings bring visitors through the history of the game. A highlight is the actual match ball from the first World Cup final.
The museum celebrates Uruguay’s strong soccer culture and the country’s many accomplishments in the sport, including dozens of trophies and a certification that a local Montevideo football club was the first in South America. There’s also plenty of soccer history from all over the world, including a signed jersey from Brazilian legend Pelé.
The museum has a gift shop loaded with cool soccer souvenirs. Visitors are also able to enter the Estadio Centenario itself, where not much has changed since the 1930 final. For an extra fee, it is possible to go up the stadium tower, which boasts panoramic views of Montevideo.
Visitors to Uruguay should be sure to explore Carrasco, a Montevideo barrio, or neighborhood, situated on the city’s southeast coast. It once served as an elegant seaside resort and has since evolved into one of Montevideo’s most exclusive areas. Architectural styles are diverse in Carrasco, and residents are traditionally some of the most cultured. The neighborhood is also popular with English-speaking expatriates.
Carrasco has a long, sandy beach area and is close to Uruguay’s main airport. The barrio’s name comes from Salvador Sebastian Carrasco, one of the first settlers of Montevideo. The area is also home to the historic 1921 Hotel Casino Carrasco, which currently operates as Hotel Sofitel Montevideo Casino Carrasco and Spa.
Another Carrasco attraction is the Stella Maris Church, a Roman Catholic parish built in 1918. It was one of the first structures in Carrasco and was dedicated to Our Lady, Star of the Sea. The church has a wooden Christ Pantocrator in the main altar and an image of Uruguay’s patron saint, the Virgin of the Thirty-Three, visible from the front yard.
The neighborhood of Punta Gorda gets its name from the granite promontory of Punta Gorda, rising 82 feet (25 meters) above sea level. Beaches here include Playa de los Ingleses and Playa Verde. The avenues along Punta Gorda are called Rambla O’Higgins and Rambla República de Mèjico.
Don’t miss the snail-like staircase, called Darwin’s Ladder, built in honor of Charles Darwin, who visited the area studying its soil composition and strata. Visitors should also see Navy Square, or Plaza de la Armada, formerly known as Virgilio Square. It’s a cross between a plaza and a park that contains the important monument Fight, or Monument to the Fallen in the Sea. Sculpted by Spanish-Uruguayan artist Eduardo Yepes Diaz in 1957, it honors those killed in the line of duty while in the Navy.
Punta Gorda is also home to another notable monument, the Pyramid of Solis, or Monument to the Discoveries. This was erected in honor of Juan Díaz de Solís, the 16th-century navigator and explorer who first visited the area. He named the Río de la Plata and continued up to the confluence of the Uruguay and Paraná rivers.
In addition, be sure to visit Molino de Perez, a historic watermill that now houses a cultural center. The stone building was constructed atop a mortar base of lime and sand between 1780 and 1790. In 1836, the building was acquired by Juan María Pérez, a powerful merchant who transformed it into a productive mill that continued to operate even after his death. In 1895, Molino de Perez was partially destroyed by flooding. The wheel and elements of the building were restored, and some of the original mill machinery remains.
The Montevideo City Hall (Palacio Municipal), is the seat for the local government of agency of the Municipality of Montevideo. If you’re taking a city tour of Montevideo, be sure to include a stop here, especially if you are into art.
Uruguayan architect Mauricio Cravotto designed the building, with construction starting in 1935. Although Cravotto originally proposed a 374-foot (114-meter) spire that would have made the building the tallest in the city, financial concerns prevailed and the tower rises only 256 feet (78 meters). Despite falling into second place among Montevideo's tallest buildings behind the Palacio Salvo, Montevideo City Hall’s location on the crest of a long hill gives it an impressive appearance.
Outside City Hall’s main entrance sits a bronze replica of Michelangelo’s David sculpture, as well as an equestrian sculpture on the east side of the Esplanade Municipal. It is a replica of Donatello’s equestrian statue of Gattamelata, located in Padua, Italy.
Inside the atrium of the building, you will find hosted exhibits from various arts and craft fields. On the right side of the building, look for a replica of the Nike of Samothrace sculpture. The west wing hosts the Museum of Art History, which houses a variety of historical pieces from Egypt, Iran, Greece and Rome. Represented cultures include pre-Columbian American, Western from the Middle Ages to the 19th century, Eastern and Islamic, African and Native American.
Dive into Latin America’s ancient history at the award-winning Pre-Columbian and Indigenous Art Museum (MAPI). Small but comprehensive, with more than 700 artworks and artifacts in its permanent collection; it’s one of Montevideo’s most important archaeological museums.
The eclectic artworks of Montevideo-born artist Joaquim Torres-Garcia—Uruguay’s most prolific and influential modern artist—take center stage at the Torres García Museum (Museo Torres García). One of Montevideo’s most visited art museums, its vast collection features Garcia’s work, alongside temporary exhibitions from local contemporary artists.