Things to Do in Uruguay
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.
Perched atop the sea cliffs like a futuristic fairy-tale castle, the snow-white Casapueblo is a work of art and one of Uruguay’s top architectural landmarks. Visit the masterpiece—and former residence—of Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró to see its museum, art gallery, and hotel.
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.
Those looking to learn more about Colonia’s Portuguese heritage will find plenty of interest at the Portuguese Museum (Museo Portugues), a small museum devoted to the town’s rich colonial history. Housed in a beautiful early 18th-century colonial building, the museum lies at the heart of Colonia’s UNESCO-listed historic center, just a short walk from the landmark lighthouse.
The museum’s limited exhibition space none-the-less houses a fascinating collection of Portuguese relics, including 18th-century furniture, porcelain, military uniforms, weapons and naval documents. Highlights include a series of old maps, a family tree of Colonia founder Manuel Lobo and the original stone shield that once adorned the town’s drawbridge.
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).
Lined with glitzy yachts and traditional fishing boats, the Port of Punta del Este (Puerto de Punta del Este) is the entry point for cruise visitors and the gateway to Uruguay’s most glamorous beaches. It’s also a popular destination in its own right, with scenic coastal walks, rocky beaches, and seafood restaurants.
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.
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.
An expansive swath of golden sand stretching along the western shore of Uruguay’s ritzy Punta del Este resort community, Mansa Beach (Playa Mansa) boasts calm, clear waters that make it a favorite for families. A beach promenade backed by upscale hotels is also the place to see and be seen during a romantic sunset stroll.
More Things to Do in Uruguay
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.
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.
A small fishing town about six miles north of the Punta del Este peninsula, La Barra has been converted into a tourist area with colorful houses, flea markets and antique shops. Despite its popularity with the younger crowd in search of nightlife, La Barra attracts a number of wealthy visitors, including movie stars and models.
Punta del Este has plenty of notable beaches, and La Barra is no exception. Don’t miss Bikini Beach or the popular Montoya, Manantiales, Punta Piedras and El Chorro beaches nearby. Visitors also seek out La Barra’s hot nightlife. The area gets quite busy after dinner, especially around 2 a.m., when the younger crowd hits La Barra to check out the various pubs and discos.
La Barra also has a number of good restaurants if you’re looking to dine in the area and not stay out until sunrise. Choose from traditional Uruguayan eats, sushi places and even Italian restaurants.
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.
Gorlero Avenue (Avenida Gorlero) is the main street in the Punta del Este region of Uruguay. It was named after the first mayor of Maldonado, Juan Gorlero, and is the only street in the area that got its name from a person. All other streets are referenced by street number, while avenues are known by their order from 5000 on.
Here you will find a bulk of Punta del Este’s prime tourist businesses, including cafes, restaurants, bars, art galleries, cinemas and casinos. In addition, there are a number of banks and exchange houses. During the summer tourist season, Gorlero Avenue is noted for its numerous live performers and artisans. Look for the “living statues,” jugglers, photographers and various handicraft artists set up along the avenue.
The street was remodeled in 1998 to make it friendlier to pedestrian traffic, so today its sidewalks are wider and lighting and seating are ample.
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.
The Punta del Este Ralli Museum (Museo Ralli) is one of five museums of its kind in operation around the world and encompasses over 6,000 square meters. The site houses one of the most important collections of Latin American art in the world, along with pieces by renowned European artists.
The Ralli museums were founded by Harry and Martine Recanati, the latter of whom became familiar with Latin America and its art scene on countless business trips to the region as a bank owner. He began to acquire works from local artists and eventually decided to share his collection with the world and opened the first Ralli Museum in Punta del Este.
Opened in 1998, this museum became so popular that subsequent branches were opened in Santiago, Chile (1992), Caesarea, Israel (1993 and 2007) and Marbella, Spain (2000). The two museums in Israel are designated as Ralli 1 and Ralli 2.
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.
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.
Ride the panoramic elevator to the 22nd floor at La Vista in Punta del Este for some of the best views over the city. The top of the building is home to Uruguay’s only revolving restaurant, where you can take in the sights before exploring the complex’s art gallery, games zone, or bowling alley.
The Pablo Atchugarry Foundation (Fundación Pablo Atchugarry), a nonprofit started in 2007, is a must-see attraction of the arts in Punta del Este. With an exhibition building, an auditorium, an open-air stage, a space for art classes and a collection of Atchugarry’s permanent works, the site is an art lover’s dream.
Visitors will also find a sculptor’s workshop and the 30-hectare International Sculpture Park, which offers a natural setting to appreciate the work of local and international artists. Here, an emphasis has been placed on the importance of language diversity.
Atchugarry was born in Montevideo in 1954, and by age 11, he was already exhibiting at shows. The artist is best known for his sculptures, which have appeared in both European and Latin American public spaces. He himself chose the location and design of the art center with the goal of creating a “dialogue between art and nature.” Today, the sculptor lives and works in Italy, where he also maintains another museum named after him.
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.
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.
- Things to do in Montevideo
- Things to do in Punta del Este
- Things to do in Colonia del Sacramento
- Things to do in Argentina
- Things to do in Chile
- Things to do in Buenos Aires
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