Things to Do and See in Uruguay's Capital

Palacio Salvo, Montevideo
Ken Gillham / Getty Images

The settlement of San Felipe y Santiago de Montevideo began as a strategic military post to control the Rio de la Plata and the eastern seaboard of what is now Uruguay. Founded by a Spaniard, Bruno Mauricio de Zabala, between 1724 and 1730, to counter the Portuguese colony at Colonia del Sacramento, Montevideo over time became an important seaport. The Cerro de Montevideo across the harbor was both a navigational landmark and a defensive post.

Montevideo eventually surpassed Colonia and became a vital, commercial and cultural city, the gathering place for Uruguay's leaders. Relaxing its military stance after many years of repelling Argentine efforts, Uruguay opened its door to European emigrants. Today, the city is the capital of Uruguay.

Things to Do and See

  • Take a walking tour of the Ciudad Vieja, or the old colonial city, starting from the Plaza Independencia to see:
    1. The huge statue of Uruguay’s greatest hero, José Gervasio Artigas, marks the spot of his mausoleum. The changing of the guard at noon is a popular sight.
    2. From there, visit the Palacio Estevez which until 1095 served as the Palacio de Gobierno. The 26 story building next to is the Palacio Salvo, once the tallest building in South America. See the Teatro Solis, inaugurated in 1856 and the site of much of Montevideo’s artistic events.
    3. Connecting the Ciudad Vieja to the rest of Montevideo from the plaza, is La Puerta de la Ciudadela, the colonial military defense.
    4. Walk down Calle Sarandi to the Plaza Constitucion where the Iglesia Matriz, the earliest public building in the city. Many of it’s earliest residents were baptized there, including José Gervasio Artigas who was born on June 19. 1764.
    5. Take time to explore the Museo Romantico and Casa Lavalleja, both part of the Museo Historico Nacional.
    6. Continue to the Casa Garibaldi, where the Italian hero once lived.
  • Visit the Museo del Gaucho y de la Moneda, with its display of gaucho memorabilia.
  • Eat a meal at the Mercado del Puerto, dating from 1868, and browse the arts and handicrafts shops. There are strolling musicians and artists.
  • The Museo Torres Garcia displays the works of Joaquin Torres Garcia, an artist who spent much of his time in Europe. The museum displays his unusual portraits of historical figures, and cubist paintings reminiscent of Picasso’s works.
  • Carnaval in Montevideo isn’t as commercially popular as it is in Rio, but it’s always a special event. An important event is the Semana Criolla, in which participants recreate rural Creole life with equine activities, music, story telling and song.
  • On February 2, particularly on Playa Ramirez, Uruguayans who share an Afro-Brazilian heritage, gather to celebrate Iemanjá, the festival of the Goddess of the Sea and Mother of the Waters, with candles, flower offerings and music.
  • Enjoy the sandy beaches of Montevideo, or spend a weekend at any one of the resorts along the Gold Coast and the Uruguayan Riviera

    When to Go
    Any time at all. Uruguay's climate is pleasant, though sometimes rainy. Check today's weather.