Montevideo is a charming city, small in size but immense in history, natural beauty and culture. Take advantage of the short distances in Uruguay’s capital city and don’t miss a thing, by following this guide to the city’s top 20 must-visit attractions.
No visit to the Uruguayan capital is complete without a trip into the heart of the city. The Old Town is a place full of history and attractions, and the ideal starting point is the Plaza Independencia, Montevideo’s main square. Once there, visitors get to see the remains of the city walls and town gate, which is the beginning of the original Old Town. The city’s gate is called Puerta de la Ciudadela.
José Gervasio Artigas is Urguay’s national hero. He fought to free the territory from the Spanish crown in the early 1800s. After long years of battling for independence and losing power, Artigas was exiled to Paraguay, where he later died. His remains were brought to Uruguay and put in his mausoleum in Plaza Independencia, right under his statue in the center of Montevideo’s main square. The remains are guarded at all times by a national force with the name of Blandengues de Artigas.
This building is emblematic of Montevideo, and is a National Heritage Monument. It has 27 floors and is 328 feet (100 meters) tall, which made it South America’s tallest tower from 1928 to 1935. Its architectural style is an eclectic Art Deco, combining Renaissance and Gothic references with Neoclassical elements. It’s often seen as a symbol of the city’s more prosperous years in the early decades of the 20th century.
Solis Theater is a landmark in Ciudad Vieja, the Old City district in Montevideo. Go inside to see beautiful ornamental decor from the beginning of the 20th century. If possible, try to attend a show in this emblematic theater. If not, a guided tour is also a great option to discover its luxurious rooms.
Montevideo’s Botanical Museum and Gardens, in the Prado neighborhood, are extensive. This park has a great collection of beautiful plants from all over the world and serves as a center for education, information and scientific activity. It’s perfect for those who like a bit of natural sightseeing.
Constructed by the architect and alchemist Humberto Pittamilglio in 1910, this castle is as intriguing as its creator. The building, almost unnoticeable between two enormous modern towers, seems to be patiently waiting for the right visitors: those willing to discover its beauty and some of the many mysteries it hides, with stairs that lead nowhere, secret doors, symbols and sculptures. It was later turned into a museum with guided tours and a theatre, providing the perfect setting for any play.
The ‘Port Market’ is not actually so much of a market anymore, but more of a giant space with restaurants and shops in it. You can find street markets right outside during the weekends, and an artisan market nearby every day. It’s an amazing place to immerse yourself in Uruguayan culture, since you can eat the most typical food, listen to street performers play traditional music and people-watch for hours on end in one of the busiest hubs of the city.
No other place in Montevideo captures the soul of the city quite like this museum. The tiny, colorful Museo del Carnaval showcases spectacular drums, costumes and masks from over 100 years of carnival celebrations, as well as video and audio recordings of February’s parades, Las Llamadas. It’s next door to Mercado del Puerto, so try stopping by for an hour before lunch for a truly Uruguayan day out.
Rodó Park, with its little castle and lake set very close to the sea, is the perfect place for a Sunday market. It also specializes in clothes, and also offers some artisan crafts. Besides being a weekly market, the area sometimes hosts special market-type events. One of them is the Feria Ideas Más, held right before Christmas. The park is divided into two amusement areas, one aimed at children and another one for adults. Additionally, there are pedal boats for rental to enjoy a 30-minute tour of the lake.
This is the biggest football stadium in the country, and was built in 1930 for the first-ever World Cup. It is still Montevideo’s main stadium, and a must-see even if you’re not a big football fan. The energy during a match is unlike anything else, and going to see the national team is a spectacle in itself.
The Rambla is the coastline promenade that borders the entire capital city on the south coast. Pretty much everyone loves the Rambla: you can walk, jog, cycle or skate for kilometers while watching the urban landscape go by on one side and the natural landscape of beaches and water on the other. It’s perfect for people-watching, and seeing the sun rise and set behind the palm trees. It’s incredibly vibrant and many locals’ favorite place to go on a sunny day.
Pocitos is one of the most important residential neighborhoods in Montevideo. Its beach, also called Pocitos, is a favorite place for relaxing, practicing sports and taking a bath in Río Uruguay during hot summer days. The rest of the year, this area attracts sports enthusiasts and people of all ages who arrive on the promenade in search of fresh air and a spot to admire nature.
Montevideo’s name is beautiful, and there are several theories related to the origin of the word. Take your pick of whichever one is true – either way, Uruguay’s capital had its name placed in giant letters in the city in 2012. The letters were first intended as a temporary display, but citizens instantly fell in love with the look, and so a new version made out of a more long-lasting material was made in 2014. The letters were originally white, but have been painted for different occasions. During 2015, for example, they were painted with the colors of the rainbow flag to celebrate the month of diversity.
The National Museum of Visual Arts is located in the middle of a beautiful park called Parque Rodó, right next to the coastline in Montevideo. It has a permanent collection of mainly 20th-century artworks, featuring some of Uruguay’s most prominent artists. This would be a good place to start to get a big picture of the last 100 years. The best works in the museum are usually present in the temporary exhibitions; these are finely curated years in advance and often display up-and-coming contemporary artists. Overall, this museum is an experience not to be missed.
This historic hotel and casino, built by Gastón Mallet and Jacques Dunant, was previously known as Hotel Casino Carrasco. It’s located in the Carrasco neighborhood in the suburbs of Montevideo. This neighborhood is beautiful, with big parks, mansions and a lot of greenery. It has one of the nicest beaches in the city, right next to the hotel. The hotel was finished in 1921, after nine years of construction, and was closed in the late 1990s because of its eventual deterioration. It was restored and opened up to the public again in 2013, and continues to be, as it was before, a landmark of luxury for tourists visiting the country.
Montevideo’s Cathedral is located in Ciudad Vieja, the older side of the city. The construction of this Neoclassical building started in 1790, in the same place where a small brick church had been since 1740. In 1897, Pope Leo XIII named it as the Metropolitan Cathedral. To this day, the most important religious events of the year take place here, along with choir performances and, of course, gorgeous weddings.
If you’re passionate about football, be prepared to learn a whole lot more in the Museum of Football, located inside one of the famous stadium’s tribunes. Uruguay was the first country to host the World Cup, having won two Football Olympics before the World Cup was created. To host it, they built the biggest football stadium to date in the country: the Estadio Centenario. The stadium was built in record time, and was declared a Historic Monument of Worldwide Football by FIFA, the only construction of this type to hold the title. Uruguay won the first World Cup in 1930, and again in 1950.
This fort is located on the highest hill in Montevideo. It was built in the 19th century to protect the population and the port. Today, it’s a popular destination for enjoying the beautiful view over the city and to learn more about Montevideo’s history. The area is great for daytime viewing, though many would advise visitors to keep their street smarts about them at night.
Juan Manuel Blanes was a famous painter from the late 1800s. He received a commission to depict the famous battles that gave rise to Uruguay’s independence. He also painted several portraits of Uruguay’s aristocracy and depictions of domestic life and the countryside in the Realist style. The Blanes Museum features some of his most prominent works, along with those of other famous Uruguayan artists of the time. The museum also boasts its own haunting. The house once belonged to a member of the aristocracy, who was locked in the attic one day by her husband and never allowed out again. The museum staff believe that her ghost still roams the museum, unable to leave the house.
The ultimate flea market, Tristán Narvaja extends for blocks and blocks in Montevideo’s city center, displaying all kinds of goods. People can find everything here, from fresh fruits and vegetables to homemade food, toiletries, DVDs, antiques, old newspapers and magazines, artisan jewelry, vintage clothing and even animals. It takes place every Sunday morning, is always very busy and takes hours to go through. There are so many stalls offering such varied merchandise that visiting it more than once is probably a good idea.