With under 1.4 million inhabitants Montevideo is one of South America’s smaller capitals, and it’s often regarded as a safe haven. Many travellers use it as a base to explore Uruguay’s beach towns of Colonia or Punta del Este.

The city is a major center for cultural activity. Its renowned theatres attract thousands of professional actors and amateurs alike.

1. Mercado del Puerto

One of Montevideo’s most popular tourist attractions, the Mercado del Puerto is a restaurant-filled, Victorian-era covered market. It’s also a favorite place for locals to eat and shop, with dozens of parillas (grill/barbecue) serving Uruguayan meats, as well as craft shops and souvenirs.

This 21-room hotel is a new, boutique option in the Old City across from the Mercado del Puerto. Rooms have a balcony and a view of the market, with the Rio de la Plata beyond.

2. Parque Independencia

Montevideo’s main square, Plaza Independencia, hosts a number of important buildings. Anchored by the old city gate and a statue of Uruguay’s national hero, General Jose Artigas, you can also find Teatro Solis, Estevez Palace, and the Executive Tower.

During the day, the Parque Independencia is filled with people, but it’s also a beautiful place to enjoy a sunset. You can also visit El Rosedal, a garden that is home to traditional red and white roses as well as hybrid species.

3. Museo de Arte Contemporáneo

The Museo de Arte Contemporáneo in Montevideo is a fascinating space, once used as a jail, that now hosts contemporary works. Its inside exhibitions rotate frequently, featuring both local and international artists.

It also offers a plethora of events, including piano concerts, conferences and seminars. Its building is designed by Carlos Ott, a Uruguayan architect, and consists of five galleries.

The museum’s main aim is to position Uruguay as a destination for international art shows. It is part-funded by Uruguayan sculptor Pablo Atchugarry, who contributes more than 500 artworks to the museum, along with donations from private collections.

4. Bodega Bouza

Bodega Bouza is one of Montevideo’s top wineries and it is a must visit if you are in the area. The wines are superb and the restaurant is also one of the best in Uruguay.

While Bouza is receiving worldwide attention for their Tannat bottlings, they are responsible for some of the most interesting Tempranillo, Merlot, Chardonnay and Albarino in South America.

Bouza’s portfolio of vineyards spans across the Canelones region. Their 5 hectare Melilla vineyard in Montevideo surrounds the winery and their 12 hectare Las Violetas vineyard is located north of the city.

5. Plaza Independencia

The Plaza Independencia is Montevideo’s biggest downtown square. It separates the Ciudad Vieja from the Centro and is surrounded by iconic buildings such as the Solis Theatre, the 19th-century Palacio Estevez, and the Executive Tower.

The center of the plaza houses a monument to General Jose Gervasio Artigas, Uruguay’s national hero who founded its independence movement in the 18th century. Below the monument is an underground mausoleum where Artigas’ remains rest.

Take a guided tour of Plaza Independencia to see Artigas’ Mausoleum, and to learn more about the Uruguayan national hero. This tour includes private air-conditioned transportation, and your guide will help you feel at home and relaxed in Uruguay’s capital.

6. Parque Lezama

The Parque Lezama is a small park near the southern end of San Telmo, bordered by Avenida Brasil to the north and Avenida Defensa to the west. It’s a popular spot for picnicking and is perfect for a sunny day!

The main feature of the park is a monument commemorating Uruguay’s 400th anniversary of its founding, designed by Antonio Pena and Julio Villamajo. It was originally inaugurated in 1942 in a park in Buenos Aires, but later moved to the Parque Lezama in 1962.

7. Museo de Arte Contemporáneo

The Museo de Arte Contemporáneo is an eclectic and quirky museum housed in a 19th-century mansion on the Plaza Independencia. It features exhibits on the country’s gaucho (cowboy) culture, as well as ancient South American coins and mate cups, the local caffeine drink.

The museum is open Mon – Sat, 12 – 6 pm and entry is free. It’s worth a stop if you want to learn more about Uruguay’s history and get an idea of the country’s contemporary art scene.