There are more things to do in Montevideo than you’d imagine. Though this city is often overlooked for its more popular neighbors, it actually is an interesting place to spend a few days exploring its main tourist attractions and taking in the chilled atmosphere.
Montevideo may lack the buzz and the chaos of other South America capitals – traffic isn’t nearly as bad as that of Buenos Aires. It may not have the picture perfect tourist attractions. But what it lacks in architectural delights, it surely makes up in vibe and in cultural events.
Take my word for it: Montevideo deserves to be visited, and you’ll end up enjoying it way more than you can anticipate.
In this post, I will highlight what to do in Montevideo and share some useful tips to help you plan your trip there.
25 Things To Do In Montevideo
Pass by Plaza Indipendencia
One of the first things to do in Montevideo is visiting Plaza Indipendencia. This is the most important square in Montevideo and the easiest place to start exploring the city. Located at the center of the square there’s Artigas Mausoleum, a monument surmounted by a massive statue representing the hero of Uruguayan independence.
Plaza Indipendencia is lined with important buildings such as Palacio Estevéz, which was the seat of the government until 1985. Palacio Salvo is located on its eastern side and on the western side you’ll find the Puerta de la Ciudadela, one of the few remnants of the colonial town, which was almost completely demolished in 1883.
Admire Palacio Salvo
Among the unmissable things to do in Montevideo, there’s seeing and even going inside Palacio Salvo. This building of 27 floors and 100 meters used to be the tallest one in South America when it was inaugurated in 1927. It’s built in a mixture of Art Deco, Renaissance and Gothic style and is often seen as the building that best reminds visitors and locals alike of Montevideo’s most prosperous times.
You can enter the building and visit it – get your tickets here.
Explore the Ciudad Vieja
West of Plaza Indipendencia and through the Puerta de la Ciudadela you’ll find Montevideo Ciudad Vieja. This is by far the most charming part of town, a mixture of crumbling old buildings and newer ones where you’ll find quaint coffee shops and small boutiques. It’s a nice place to walk around, taking photos and just enjoying the relaxed atmosphere.
If you would like to get to know this part of town a bit more in depth, you should opt for a guided tour such as this Montevideo two hour Ciudad Vieja walking tour.
Visit Montevideo Cathedral
The Cathedral, located in the Ciudad Vieja, is a nice place to visit. Built from 1790 in the place of a small brick church that had existed since 1740, it was named Metropolitan Cathedral by Pope Leo XIII in 1897. Make sure to stop by while exploring the Ciudad Vieja.
Attend a show at Teatro Solis
Close to Plaza Indipendencia, Montevideo’s most important theater was first inaugurated in 1856. It was completely renovated in the last 15 years, and enjoys a fabulous acoustic. You can go on a guided tour or, even better, go to a show to fully appreciate its magnificence.
Learn about Uruguay’s history at Museo Historico Nacional
This museum is spread along three buildings in the Ciudad Vieja. The best bit is the Casa Rivera, once the residence of Fructuoso Rivera, Uruguay’s former president and founder of Partido Colorado. It has an interesting collection of documents, paintings, furnishings and other artifacts documenting the history of the country from its origins until its independence.
Eat at Mercado del Puerto
If you only have a few hours in Montevideo, drop everything else and just head to Mercado del Puerto for a meat extravaganza (or not, if you are vegan or vegetarian). The building where the market is located, on Rambla 25 de Agosto de 1825 228, has been beautifully restored, and it’s a good place to get an idea of the local way of life.
More than anything else, in a city where good restaurants abound, this is the best place in town to have a proper steak. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen (and wanted) that much meat in my life. There is an endless array of fantastic parrillas (parrilla means grill, and that’s the word used to refer to restaurants whose main focus is barbecued meat) where parrilleros can be seen piling stacks of meat and vegetables over the biggest grills known to men.
Eating at Mercado del Puerto isn’t cheap – but it’s worth every penny. It’s open every day from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm – a good spot for lunch, but you won’t find it open for dinner.
I used to think that the Argentines were obsessed with their mate, then I visited Montevideo and realized that Uruguayans have taken their mate obsession to a whole new level. If there is a place in South America where you should try it, this is it: mate is a serious business – or shall I call it “ritual” here.
Virtually every person you meet walking down the street holds a cup and carries a flask of hot water (rigorously at 84 degrees Celsius) along with a bombilla (the metal straw used to sip mate) and a bag of yerba (mate powder).
Mate isn’t the kind of drink you’ll be able to get at a coffee shop. There used to be a “materia” but it closed down, so your best bet to enjoy it is hang out with a local and ask to explain more about it – I am sure you’ll be able to find someone at your hotel or hostel that is willing to share his or her mate with you.
Attend a tango show
Not many people know it, but tango is as much an Argentine thing as it is Uruguayan and one of the best things to do in Montevideo is going to a tango show or, even better, attend a milonga and learn how to tango. There are several milongas in town, as well as tango shows – they typically also involve dinner.
Attend Montevideo Carnival
If you happen to be there at the right time of year, one of the best things to do in Montevideo is attending its carnival.
Montevideo Carnival is one of the largest in South America, and known to be the longest Carnival celebration in the world. It usually starts in January and goes on until early March. The best bits are the Desfile Inaugural, which usually opens up the celebrations, and the Desfile de las Llamadas, which takes place for two consecutive days at the beginning of February.
A show you may want to attend during Carnival in Montevideo is the Carnival Tablados. It’s a night show that features four to seven groups and that takes place each night until early March.
Visit the Museo del Carnaval
If you can’t visit Montevideo during its amazing Carnival, you may want to do the next best thing: visit the Museo del Carnaval, where you’ll be able to appreciate the collection of costumes, masks and photos documenting more than a century of this tradition.
Enjoy a show of Candombe
Candombe is a popular musical tradition that involves drumming and dancing and that is commonly heard during Montevideo’s carnival. Its roots are to be found in African slave music and in traditional European folk dance. In other words, it’s quite unique.
It is so much part of Uruguay heritage that in 2006 the Chamber of Deputy adopted a bill to celebrate the National Day of Candombe – Afro-Uruguayan Culture and Racial Equity, each 3 of December. In 2009 Candombe was inscribed in the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
A show of Candombe is a great way to get to know Uruguayan culture and spirit better. Shows are held every Sunday. You can even join a guided tour where you’ll get a proper explanation of what the music and the dance mean.
Walk or bike along the Rambla
Among the most local things to do in Montevideo, there is walking along the Rambla.
Montevideo’s waterfront is called Rambla and it runs along the city’s coastline for 22 km. This is the best place in town to go for a run, to bike or to simply walk. Locals love hanging out there. When the weather is nice, and at weekends, they can be seen enjoying a game of volleyball in one of the grassy stretches, biking, or simply doing what they love most: drinking mate.
Pretty much any hostel in Montevideo will be able to rent you a bike. Alternatively, you should be able to rent a bike at Orange Bike, or you could join a guided bike tour such as this one.
Hang out at the beach
Walking along the Rambla you can get to the main beaches in town. Montevideo is directly facing the estuary of the Rio de la Plata, so don’t expect clear waters. Yet, there are some nice beaches where you can enjoy the sun, play a game of volleyball, and just relax. Among the best there are Playa Ramirez and Playa de Los Pocitos.
Get puzzled by Castillo Pittamiglio
Castillo Pittamiglio is located along the Rambla, between Punta Carretas and Pocitos. It was the house of eccentric alchemist and architect Humberto Pittamiglio. While the facade is in and of itself worth stopping for, the interior is even more interesting.
Get a bargain at Sunday’s Feria de Tristan Narvaja
One of the nicest things to do in Montevideo if you happen to visit during a weekend is going to the Sunday’s Feria de Tristan Narvaja. The country’s largest open air market is the place where you’ll find all sorts of artisan jewels, second hand clothes, antiques, old books, and even fruits and vegetables. It’s a cool place to visit, even if you have no intention to shop.
See a soccer game at Estadio Centenario
Second to Uruguay’s obsession for mate, there’s the obsession for futbol – soccer. Come to think of it, I think these two obsessions go hand in hand, as a typical scene will be that of people watching a game while drinking mate. Anyways – if you fancy mingling with the locals, make sure to go watch a game at Estadio Centenario.
The stadium was built between 1929 and 1930 to host the 1930 FIFA World Cup and can seat more than 76000 people.
For a heated game, try to attend for the superclasico – Nacional vs. Peñarol. It’s one of the most fun things to do in Montevideo.
Visit the Museo de la Historia del Arte
If you are into art, visiting the Museo de la Historia del Arte is what to do in Montevideo. It’s located in the undergrounds of Palacio Municipal, and has an interesting collection of original pieces and reproductions of famous ones coming from Egypt, Persia, Greece and Italy and even the Americas.
Go to the Museo de Arte Precolombino e Indigena
This good museum has a permanent collection of artifacts and documents that explain the life and traditions of the now extinct indigenous peoples of Uruguay. There also are exhibits about other indigenous groups in the Americas.
And to Museo Blanes
Located in Prado, this lovely museum is dedicated to Juan Manuel Blanes, Uruguay’s most famous painter. The paintings are beautiful, and so is the mansion where the museum is set. It’s a nice place to spend a couple of hours.
Explore the Botanical Garden
The Jardin Botanico is one of Montevideo attractions that you shouldn’t skip if you feel like walking in a place that is extremely peaceful and relaxing. It’s located in Prado.
Visit Fortaleza del Cerro
The name couldn’t be more clear: this fort was built on the highest hill (cerro) of Montevideo in the 19th century. It was used to protect the population and the harbor, and it now is a nice place to admire the views of the city – one of the nicest things to do in Montevideo.
Go on a day trip to Colonia del Sacramento
To be fair, Colonia is so lovely and full of atmosphere (and tourists) that you should spend more than a day there. But if that is all you have, then go and appreciate this lovely colonial town with cobbled alleys, bright white buildings with colorful gardens, vintage cars and lovely restaurants.
Colonia is at 2 hours drive from Montevideo and there are several daily buses going there. A guided day trip may be the most efficient way to visit. You can book it here.
Check out my post 15 Great Things To Do In Colonia Del Sacramento Uruguay.
Or to Punta del Este
Punta del Este is one of the trendiest summer holiday destinations in South America – it’s where rich Argentines go spend their vacation. The beaches are nice, there are plenty of good restaurants, and there is an overall sophisticated yet chilled vibe.
It’s at just 2 hours drive from Montevideo, and there are regular buses. In case you want to go on a guided tour, you can book it here.
Go on a wine tasting tour
You may not know it, but Uruguay has its very own wine production, with tannat grapes and wines being the star of the show. I recommend getting out of town for a wine tasting tour such as this Tannat wine experience in Canelones.
When to visit Montevideo
Montevideo is great in the spring and summer months. It tends to get hot in the summer, but that’s also when carnival takes place so you may want to endure the heat and enjoy the show. Summer is also the time to enjoy the amazing beaches of Uruguay!
Where to stay Montevideo
There are some excellent accommodation options in Montevideo, with something suitable for all tastes and budgets. I have selected the best options for you:
- Circus Hostel and Hotel Montevideo is a very budget friendly option, with both dorms and plain but spotless private rooms.
- Hyatt Centric Montevideo has beautiful spacious rooms. It’s located right by one of Montevideo’s best beaches; there’s a pool, a gym and a restaurant.
- Bit Design Hotel features very modern, spacious room. There is also a gym.
- Armon Suites Hotel has comfortable, spacious room with a small kitchenette. The hotel has a spa, a bar and a restaurant.
- Salvo Suites are beautiful, spotless, modern apartment located in the heart of Montevideo, perfect for a longer stay and if you’d rather cook your own meals.
How to get to Montevideo
Montevideo is connected to other cities in South America and to North America and Europe (mostly Spain) by plane. Montevideo International Airport is at about 25 km from the city. To get to the city you can opt to get a bus, a private transfer or a taxi. The bus is the most convenient way – you can opt on any bus that says Montevideo; the bus stop is right outside the terminal.
Taxis are more expensive and often uncomfortable, so your best option if you don’t want to take the bus is to get a remis – a private transfer. It costs around $40 USD per car, so if you are traveling with friends it doesn’t end up being too expensive. You can book it here.
There are several daily ferries connecting Buenos Aires to Montevideo, run by either BuqueBus or Colonia Express. The fast ferry takes about 1.5 hours. You can book it here.
There are regular buses connecting Montevideo to Buenos Aires, Colonia del Sacramento, Punta del Este and Punta del Diablo. Buses in Uruguay are usually punctual, reliable and inexpensive – but you should book them in advance as it is a common means of transportation. You can book it here.
How to move around Montevideo
The best way to explore Montevideo is on foot, and save for the area of the harbor the city is quite safe. Alternatively, you can rent a bike – it’s particularly pleasant to bike along the rambla. Buses work well and they are a reliable and inexpensive way to reach the places that are a bit further from your hotel.
Other useful information
As for any other trip, I recommend purchasing a good travel insurance for your trip to Uruguay. Make sure to read my post Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance. Get your travel insurance here.
Most of those who visit Uruguay do so during longer trips to South America, usually pairing it with Argentina. Here are some posts you may find useful:
- The Most Incredible Seven Things To Do In Uruguay
- A Guide To The Greatest Things To Do In Argentina
- A Flash Pack’s Argentina Itinerary
- 25 Unmissable Things To Do In Buenos Aires
- 10 Fantastic Day Trips From Buenos Aires
- A Complete Guide To Where To Stay In Buenos Aires
- A Complete Guide To Salta Argentina
- Everything You Need To Know Before Visiting Iguazu Falls Argentina
- A Complete Guide To Puerto Madryn, Argentina
- A Complete Guide To El Calafate, Argentina
- An Excellent Guide To El Chalten
- Everything You Need To Know About Ushuaia, Patagonia
- A Guide To The Most Fun Things To Do In Mendoza, Argentina
- 13 Fantastic Wineries In Mendoza