Montevideo Attractions

August 29, 2023

Paul Kay

What about Uruguay for a South American vacation? Uruguay probably doesn’t jump out at you as the typical destination location. Perhaps that’s because you haven’t heard much about it yet. Are you a tourist or a traveler? Many tourists want someone to guide them every day. I like organized tours but I like to choose when I want them and for how long. That’s why I use Viator quite a bit. Madeline and I are more travelers than tourists. Travelers want to experience the culture and the history but they also want to meet and experience people and learn their customs and be a welcome visitor. If you are like me, you are a traveler so now we need to look for destinations and vacations. Here are some fun facts about Montevideo.

Montevideo was founded in 1726 by the governor of Buenos Aires to help prevent the Portuguese entry from Brazil. Most of South America was being conquered by Spain and Portugal had already established Brazil for itself. From 1807 to 1830, Montevideo was occupied by Spain, Argentina, Brazil, Portugal and the British. To say it is an international city is somewhat of an understatement. The architectural influences in the city are reminiscent of many parts of Europe.

The name Montevideo is explained in at least two ways. The more common is that it comes from the Portuguese phrase “Monte vide eu”, which means, "I see a mountain." The second is that the Spaniards recorded the location of a mountain on a map as "Monte VI De Este a Oeste" meaning "The sixth mountain from east to west." 

The port of Montevideo handles most of Uruguay’s foreign trade. It is quite close to Buenos Aires across the River Plate which is reachable by regular ferry service. We decided to take a city tour of Montevideo. We used Viator because we’ve had good success with them all over the world. The tours are run by locals and Viator is just the website that people use to find the tour. It was a group bus affair with people from Brazil, Chile, and Argentina on board. This required 3 languages from our host, but it was a slow tour and we received plenty of information in English.

Plaza de la Independencia

Plaza Independencia, 11000 Montevideo, Departamento de Montevideo, Uruguay

The first stop was at the Plaza de la Independencia or Independence Plaza. The site was once home to a Spanish citadel. One of the first things you see is a large, framed door. 

Puerta de la Ciudadela

Sarandí 700, 11000 Montevideo, Departamento de Montevideo, Uruguay

Puerta de la Ciudadela (Gateway of the Citadel), is one of the few remaining parts of the wall that surrounded Montevideo. The original citadel was torn down between 1829 and 1833.

Puerta de la Ciudadela, a lonely remnant of the colonial citadel demolished in 1833 Montevideo Uruguay

This plaza leads to Ciudad Vieja (the old town), with art deco buildings, colonial homes and landmarks including the towering Palacio Salvo and neoclassical performance hall Solís Theatre. 

In the center of the plaza is General Artigas. You can read more about Uruguay’s history here. In 1811, the Uruguayans rebelled against Spanish rule. Their leader Jose Gervasio Artigas. Fighting continued for years but in 1828, Uruguay became an independent nation and gained a constitution in 1830.

Uruguayan hero Jose Artigas, in Plaza Independencia Montevideo Uruguay

The statue of Artigas is immense, but we found out that there is a mausoleum beneath the statue which opened in 1977. Artigas's remains are kept in the mausoleum which is guarded by a traditional guard called "Blandegues de Artigas". We were short of time and did not have the time to visit the mausoleum, but we heard from our guide later that it was worth a visit.

Also, at the plaza is the Estevez Palace. You will recognize it by the combination of Doric columns. It was built in 1873 and it has served as the working place of the President of Uruguay. Today it is a museum, housing artifacts and mementos of the Uruguayan presidency and its office holders.

The Palacio Salvo is visible as the tallest building in the plaza. It was completed in 1928 and was the tallest building in Latin America for a brief period. It was named for the Salvo brothers who purchased the building. It was built on the site where the Confiteria La Giralda was once located. This is where Gerardo Matos Rodríguez wrote his famous tango La Cumparsita in 1917. Today, in the Palacio Salvo, there is the Tango Museum of Montevideo which exhibits the history of La Cumparsita and of Uruguayan Tango.

Palacio Salvo Montevideo Uruguay

The Teatro Solis is just outside the plaza. It is Uruguay's most important and renowned theatre. It opened in 1856 and the building was designed by the Italian architect Carlo Zucchi. The theater has hosted some of the world’s greatest including Enrico Caruso and Sarah Bernhardt. Today, you can find everything from opera, ballet and classical music to comedy and plays. 

Teatro Solis near Plaza Independencia Montevideo Uruguay

I noticed a building with plenty of wall art that was next to the Canadian embassy.

Protecting the Uruguayan Heritage Pictures on a building near Independence Plaza Montevideo Uruguay

These were pictures of people that were dedicated to the protection of the Uruguayan heritage. It seemed fitting that it was adjacent to the plaza of Uruguayan independence.

Mercado Agricola de Montevideo

José L. Terra 2220, 11800 Montevideo, Departamento de Montevideo, Uruguay

We stopped next at the Mercado Agricola de Montevideo. I didn’t see why we were stopping at a market on a tour. However, the building is renowned for both architecture and culinary travelers. The cast-iron structure is one of the most elegant buildings erected in the early 20th century in Montevideo. We noticed an interesting adornment on the sides of the entryway.

Interesting cattle adornment on market specializing in meats and produce Montevideo Uruguay

Walking inside, there were plenty of restaurants and small shops selling specialty food items. It is also a large market for fresh produce, and we were surprised at the prices like beautiful red peppers for about $0.50 USD per pound.

Meat is on display everywhere and Uruguay has a proud history of raising both cattle and sheep. It is all available here. There were also specialty shops for sauces, jams and sweets. The market also regularly hosts musical performances.

We then got back on the bus and headed over to the Palacio Legislativo or Legislative Palace of Montevideo. This is where the Uruguayan parliament meets.

Palacio Legislativo the Legislative palace of Montevideo Uruguay

There were interesting murals on the other side of the street where the bus parked. This one was of a famous man and woman. The man is playing the guitar.

Murals face of man and woman at Palacio Legislativo the Legislative palace of Montevideo Uruguay

This one was of an older man – probably a famous poet, composer or writer. He was peeking at us from behind the bushes.

Mural face of old man peeking behind bushes at Palacio Legislativo the Legislative palace of Montevideo Uruguay

Montevideo has quite a few murals, graffiti art and street paintings. Some are not pretty and are reminiscent of just defacing public property to say something about elected officials. However, there is also plenty of beautiful art all through the city. The graffiti artist community is very inclusive, and painters collaborate with each other on large projects.

We got back on the bus and headed to the Carrasco neighborhood which is an upscale residential suburb of Montevideo. It has a long stretch of beach with a well-travelled promenade. What makes Carrasco different from other neighborhoods is that the city prohibits the construction of buildings more than three floors high. Its multiple open spaces and sprawling houses with enormous yards make it one of the most expensive places to live in Montevideo. It felt like we were driving in the Hollywood hills more than Montevideo. Some of the homes were well over $1 million USD according to our guide. They were not gigantic mansions like in the Hamptons or Beverly Hills, but they were very nice.

We didn’t stop for pictures in Carrasco – we continued to our next stop which is a famous sculpture dedicated to the legendary gauchos who created the impressive cattle market of Uruguay. Monumento la Carreta was created in honor of the ox-cart drivers of the 19th century. The bronze and granite sculpture was created in 1934 and was recently restored by the artist’s grandson. It is registered as a National Historic Monument.

Sculptor Jose Belloni Monumento la Carreta to honor the ox-cart drivers of the 19th century Montevideo Uruguay

The tour was about 3 hours long and it was very nice and educational. We had plenty of time to take photographs and also learn about the history of this beautiful city. We think you’ll love exploring Montevideo.

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