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.
Despite Uruguay’s diminutive size, its Parliament Palace is one of the most magnificent legislative houses in the world. Built in a heraldic neoclassical style, the palace was inaugurated in 1925, on the centennial of the country’s independence. No expense was spared in the making of its luxurious interior, which makes the palace a must-see attraction in Montevideo.
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.
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).
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.
El Prado is an affluent residential neighborhood in the north of Montevideo with tree-lined streets filled with historic homes including Residencia de Suarez (the presidential residence), and the peaceful Parque El Prado, the city’s main green space where a creek runs through grassy fields and a botanical garden grows over 1,000 plant species.
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.
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.
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.
Pocitos is an affluent neighborhood along the banks of the Río de la Plata in Montevideo. Renowned for its long golden sand beach and beach promenade lined with upscale restaurants and shops, the leafy enclave also boasts historic mansions of great architectural interest, including a handful that have been declared National Heritage Sites.
More Things to Do in Uruguay
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In 1724, when the Spanish founded Montevideo, they fortified the settlement with granite walls thick enough to house canons. More than 100 years later, the walls came down except for one towering slab, the Gateway of the Citadel, which stands at Independence Square (Plaza Independencia) the border between the Old CIty and the New City.
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.
Composing part of the border between Argentina and Uruguay, this 180-mile (290-km) long estuary is formed by the confluence of the Uruguay and Paraná Rivers. After multiple explorations by various Spanish navigators, the waterway came to be known as the Rio de la Plata (River of Silver) for the promise of riches thought to lie upstream.
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