Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay, is extremely relaxed and inviting. Many activities revolve around going to the beach, sipping mate (a highly caffinated tea), and supporting one's favorite soccer team. Barbecue lovers, soccer fannatics, art connoisseurs, antique hunters, Carnival revelers, and those on Argentina visa runs all pass through town. Visit the city's insightful art and history museums, and enjoy walking along its impossibly long promenade, the Rambla. Experience the thunderous drumming of candombe music, wander through the maze of mysterious Pittamiglio Castle, and ruminate over a bottle of tannat wine. Here you can slow down or speed up, fit in lots of activities or only choose one or two to relish. Enjoy the gift of time, which somehow always seems to lengthen in a good way while here.
Walk the Rambla
Along the coast of Montevideo winds the longest sidewalk in the world, the Rambla. The 13.7-mile boardwalk begins in the Bay of Montevideo and travels east, skirting Ciudad Vieja, Barrio Sur, Barrio Palermo, Pocitos, and other neighborhoods before ending in Carrasco. Not only does the Rambla provide easy access to some of Montevideo’s beast beaches, it links historical sites like Pittamiglio Castle, the Punta Carretas Lighthouse, and the Holocaust Memorial. Run, bike, or skate down the path, or sit on one of its benches sipping mate as you watch the ocean and soak up the sun.
Built in 1930 for the first FIFA World Cup (which Uruguay also won), the Estadio Centenario is now the home stadium for Uruguay’s National Team. To cheer among 60,000 other spectators within its walls is one of the quintessential Uruguayan experiences. The soccer season runs February through November, and tickets to see the national team can be purchased two to three days before matches at Abitab sites throughout town. If you can’t make it to a game, you can still tour the stadium and visit the Museo del Fútbol Monday to Friday. There, you can read about the history of this nationally prized building, which has hosted four finals of the Copa América and is the only historical monument of World Football.
Explore marijuana’s many uses and learn the history of its legalization in Uruguay in this small, inviting museum. The 200-peso ($4.72) entry fee gives you access to the botanical garden and upstairs growing room, as well as a personal guide to explain the displays of harvesting equipment, marijuana-focused literature, hemp textiles, and cannabis-infused products from all over the world. While the museum does not sell marijuana, guides have been known to share a joint with customers wanting to partake. Some of the guides speak English, and patrons can stay as long as they want. Open Friday through Sunday, in true stoner form, it opens at 4:20 p.m.
Home of the late architect, politician, and alchemist Humberto Pittamiglio, Pittamiglio Castle carries secrets within its walls. Somewhere within its 23 towers and 54 rooms, the Holy Grail was said to have been hidden for years, and Pittamiglio tried to create a potion for eternal life at his onsite lab. Replete with blind windows, staircases leading to nowhere, and extraordinarily narrow hallways, the castle is a labyrinth filled with hidden symbols. Currently, it houses a museum, restaurant, event space, and magic plant shop. Take a tour to access all the rooms and see the various forms of Renaissance, medieval, Gothic, and Modern architecture. You can find it wedged between two apartment buildings, on Rambla Mahatma Gandhi, with a half ship’s bow and a winged victory protruding
from its façade.
Sail the Rio de la Plata
Montevideo is at its simplest a city on a bay, and should be experienced from the waters of the Rio de la Plata by sailing, kayaking, SUP boarding, or windsurfing along its shoreline. Most sailing centers in Montevideo require membership to rent boats or boards, but Full Sailing at Carrasco and Punta Gorda Nautical Club allows nonmembers to rent equipment from 30 minutes to an hour. Their multi-lingual instructors also teach sailing courses at reasonable rates (about $130 for the whole five-day course). The course runs one and a half hours per day, equipping students to sail on their own by the last day.
The largest, most prestigious theatre in Uruguay, Teatro Solís, is a Neoclassical national treasure in Cuiadad Vieja. Underneath its chandeliers, the Philharmonic Orchestra of Montevideo plays concerts and the National Comedy (the national acting troupe) stages plays. International artists from all over the world come to dance, act, and sing on its stage for opera and ballet productions. Tickets are reasonably priced, with some events costing 200 pesos ($5). Regular tours in English are also given, and cover the history of its delayed construction as well as the architectural commonalities it shares with some of Italy’s great theatres.
Housed in what used to be Miguelete Prison, the Contemporary Art Space (EAC) now serves as an exhibition center. The former prison cells on the upper floors contain installations of contemporary art and natural history. Outside, Argentine street artist Gualicho’s graffiti murals of large yellow figures and floating hands incorporate the barred windows as a commentary on both physical and mental imprisonment. While the top floors are curated with temporary and changing exhibits, certain pieces of the former prison remain as they were. The watchtower, the walkways, and the barred entrances all act as a testament to the space’s past, simultaneously creating a dialogue with its present.
Uruguay has a strong wine culture, and its tannat has become well known in the international wine community. Try this smoky red with hints of cardamon, as well as other reds and whites, at a wine tasting in Montevideo or on a wine tour of the city’s surrounding vineyards. Within the city limits, the Mercado del Puerto’s Montevideo Wine Experience, a charming wine bar with an English-speaking sommelier, offers different wine varieties and wine cocktails. To visit the surrounding wineries, book a tour with one of the many wine tourism companies, like Wine Explorers, or book with a winery itself, such as Bouza Bodega.
Explore Plaza Independencia
The main square of Montevideo, Plaza Independencia acts as a liminal space between Cuidad Vieja (Old Town) and the newer part of Montevideo. It's a meeting point for important gatherings in the city, such as the March of Silence and Pride, and contains a bronze statue of national hero José Gervasio Artigas in its center and several of the city’s best-known buildings on its periphery. On one side, the historic Puerta de la Ciudadela (City Gate), leads to Ciudad Vieja. Opposite that, the Palacio Salvo offers a tango museum on its ground floor and sweeping views of the city from its upper levels. Beneath the plaza, visitors can visit Artigas’ mausoleum and learn about his legacy.
Go to the Beach
Montevideo has 10 beaches along its coastline, all easily accessible by foot or public transport. For beach volleyball, yoga, and an amusement park, head to Playa Ramírez. Or, take a picture with the Montevideo sign at Playa Pocitos, then sunbathe and grab a drink at a beach-side restaurant as you watch the sunset. You can enjoy more sunbathing with less people at the further-flung Playa Malvín, while Playa Hondo is the best spot in town for surfing. To buy fish or see fishermen in action, Playa del Buceo offers fish markets, seafood restaurants, and views of fishing boats hauling in catches; however, swimming is not allowed there.
Shop Feria de Tristán Narvaja
The largest street fair in Montevideo takes place each Sunday on Avenida Tristán Narvaja. Within its stalls, vendors display curios, books, secondhand clothing, furniture, and antiques. Street food, fresh produce, and cheeses are sold throughout the market, and used bookstores and antiques shops line it on either side. There aren’t clearly defined sections—a produce table might be next to a leather goods seller, who might be next to a pot brownie vendor—meaning that the best way to find what you’re after is to start walking and actively look for what you want. Wear good walking shoes, as the market stretches for miles and branches onto several side streets, too.
Visit the Museo Juan Manuel Blanes and the Japanese Garden
Containing the works of Uruguayan portrait artist and Realist painter Juan Manuel Blane, one of Uruguay’s most prolific painters, this small museum displays works by Blanes, as well as modernist painters Pedro Figari and Rafael Barradas. Free to enter and housed in an old mansion designated as a National Heritage Site, the museum has temporary and permanent exhibits of modern art, including video installations and sculptures. Behind it, a Japanese botanical garden offers a peaceful landscape of a waterfall, koi fish pond, and curved bridges. Afterwards, head to Prado Park’s walking trails for more greenery and a rose garden.
Eat Asado at Mercado del Puerto
Each part of the original Mercado del Puerto’s wrought iron structure and clock was made in Liverpool, England, then shipped to Montevideo and assembled. Formerly a market, this modern-day food court contains restaurants, breweries, cafés, and souvenir shops amidst the smoke of wood-fired grills and din of patrons chatting and sipping medio y medios (wine cocktails). Try beef, chicken, or pork asado (barbeque) cuts; a chivito (steak sandwich); matahambre (stuffed meat); or moricilla (blood sausage). Browse the stalls, take in views of the harbor, and walk around the perimeter of the market to see street performances of dancers and musicians.
Dance to Candombe
Candombe is a drum-heavy Afro-Uruguayan style of music created by enslaved people brought to Uruguay from Africa, beginning in the 1700s. During Montevideo’s 60 days of Carnival, live candombe is played throughout the streets by comparsas, troupes of performers who play the drums, act, and dance. If you can’t make it during Carnival, you can still experience the sound and energy of comparsas by going to Barrio Palermo, Barrio Sur, or Parque Rodó, where comparsas practice each weekend. For those interested in the intersection of candombe and feminism, the all-women’s comparsa La Melaza is worth checking out.
Admire the View from Fortaleza del Cerro
Atop the highest hill in Montevideo sits a defunct fortress with arguably the best view of the city. Overlooking the bay, the fort contains a lighthouse and the Military Museum of old weapons, uniforms, and signage in Spanish. Below it lies the waters where the Battle of the River Plate took place, and where Captain Hans Langsdorff famously sunk his ship. Nearby, you can walk or take a short cab ride to the Memorial de los Desaparecido, which commemorates those who were disappeared or murdered by Uruguay’s military dictatorship. However, one of the best activities to do here is simply to enjoy the wind whipping off the Rio de la Plata, taking in the view from the fortress' wall with a mate in hand. The fort is free, while the museum charges a small fee.