A major port with a friendly, small-town feel, Montevideo is one of South America's hidden gems. The historic heart of Uruguay's capital is an unspoiled tableau of 18th- and 19th-century colonial architecture; indeed, its most prominent skyscraper, the sail-like Torre de las Telecomunicaciones, lies round the coast overlooking Montevideo Bay. Walk Ciudad Vieja and Centro and count the statues dedicated to national hero José Gervasio Artigas, liberator of Montevideo. Say hello to the bronze replica of Michelangelo's David at the Palacio Municipal and the Gaucho monument's tribute to Uruguayan cowboys.
Things to Do
Montevideo is easy to navigate: All roads lead from Plaza Independencia. Stand under the only bit of the original battlements and plan your walk into Ciudad Vieja, past Peatonal Sarandí's street stalls on to Plaza Constitción and the city's original public building, the Catedral. Bustling dockside Mercado del Puerto oozes both arts and crafts boutiques and excellent food. In handsome 19th-century Centro, you can burrow into the arcade shops in such ornate structures as Montevideo's once-tallest building, circa-1928 Palacio Salvo.
Nightlife and Entertainment
Joining opera in the handsomely refurbished 19th-century Teatro Solis is ultramodern Auditorio Nacional del Sodre (down from the opposite side of Plaza Independencia), with ballet, symphony and chamber concerts. Lay your cards on the table at the Plaza Victoria Casino, or do the tango or the lively local dance candombe at La Casa de Becho, where Garardo Mattos Rodríquez wrote his famous La Cumparsita.
Restaurants and Dining
Justifiably proud of their fine cuts of beef and fresh seafood, Montevideans eat very well. You can't go far without coming across a wood-fired parrillada, a grill restaurant serving every cut of meat imaginable and such tasty add-ons as Roquefort potatoes. The beef goes well with the distinctively fruity local wine Tannat. Outdoors, take up the locals' habit of carrying a flask of hot water to replenish your mate, a tea-like infusion drunk through a silver straw.
With miles of beaches facing River Plate, Montevideo's strands rival those of more famous South American seaside destinations. When not bathing, locals still hug the coast, flasks in hand, with their fishing rods. Those with a more active sporting bent can take advantage of the city golf course only minutes from Montevideo's center -- the 18-hole Punte Carretas -- or watch a rugby match at the oddly named Carrasco Polo Club.