Things to Do & Must-See Attractions 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 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.
Separating Montevideo’s Old Town and downtown areas, this popular plaza in Montevideo is thought to be the city’s most important, especially since buildings like the country’s oldest theater, the Solis Theatre, and the President of Uruguay’s workplaces, Estevez Palace and the Executive Tower reside here. One very interesting site to see is the 56-foot statue of Jose Gervasio Artigas riding a horse. Artigas was a soldier who fought for equality and democracy and later became Uruguay’s national hero. Underground are Artigas’ remains, which are guarded 24-hours a day.
A trip to Plaza Independencia will allow you to visit his mausoleum, which is open to the public, and give you the chance to read interesting information about his life, printed on the surrounding walls. The mausoleum is located in the center of the square, under the monument, and is open Monday from 12pm to 6pm and Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm.
Housed in a beautiful historic building, the Montevideo Agricultural Market 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 Mercado Agricola 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 Mercado Agricola 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.
Prior to 1973 and since 1985, Uruguay's Parliament Palace, or Palacio Legislativo, in Montevideo has served as the seat of the country's Chamber of Senators and General Assembly.
The Palacio Legislativo 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.
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.
Located in Plaza Independencia, Teatro Solis is Uruguay’s oldest theater. Looking at the architecture of the facade and interior, you’ll be immersed in old-world splendor and elegance, as the building has been restored to its original style. It was built in 1856, and is currently owned by the government of Montevideo. At the theater, you’ll be able to take a tour with an English-speaking guide and go behind the scenes, with performers often dropping in to belt out show tunes. Additionally, on certain days, you’ll have the chance to attend a live performance. It’s a great stop to make, not only because of its beauty, but also because it’s a lesson in culture, as the theater holds extreme importance to the local people.
Constructed in 1928, Palacio Salvo is a historical landmark building done in a predominantly Italian Gothic-style, with classic and neo-romanticism influences as well. It was built by Italian immigrant Mario Palanti, and is located at the intersection of Plaza Independencia and 18 de Julio Avenue.
For decades, it was the tallest building in South America, and still remains an iconic symbol of the city, even being depicted on many postcards. Today, it is not only considered a “must-see” attraction; it’s also a fully-furnished apartment that visitors and locals can rent out for short to medium lengths of time.
For a sweeping view of the city, visitors can take an elevator ride to the top of the palace, free of charge. Afterwards, stop at Cafe Salvo on the ground level for an invigorating cappuccino.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.