Seeing the World Cup’s first stadium, a vast Independence Square and colonial colourful houses is what makes the city a great treat for tourists
Arriving in Montevideo by ferry is by far the best way to arrive in Uruguay.
Catherine and I had purchased the tickets a few months ago for £115 per person and we were now enjoying a pleasant cruise for the next 2 hours.
Unfortunately, passengers couldn’t step outside, but there were plenty of windows and comfy seats to recline in. Stepping off the ferry and exiting the terminal was very quick, as the passport checks had been done in Argentina.
We were just now left to wonder through the port and up into Montevideo.
Walking through the neighbourhood of Ciudad Vieja, we reached the lovely peaceful park of Plaza Zabala.
Having lunch, we watched the world go by. After that, Hotel Orpheo Express was on the cards via the centre of the old town.
The hotel was a great place to anchor down for your visit. Offering breakfast and a comfy clean room with friendly staff, the Orpheo was a great fit.
A short walk onto the most important street in the capital, 18 de Julio Avenue, which is named after the Constitution of Uruguay and we ended up at Independence Square.
The square is surrounded by important Uruguayan buildings, such as Salvo Palace and the workplaces of the President of Uruguay. The square was inspired by the Rue de Rivoli street in Paris.
Speaking of the Salvo Palace, this prominent building sticks out like a sore thumb, in a good way. Standing at 330ft, it was one of the tallest buildings in Latin America. The Salvo brothers intended it to be an hotel, but this didn’t work out. It’s now a mixture of work and private residence.
Along the south side of the square sits the Estévez Palace. This colonial designed building was acquired by the government in 1880 and was established as a working place for the president. Since 1985, the building has been turned into a museum, housing artefacts and mementos of the Uruguayan presidency.
Walking down Peatonal Sarandí grabbing some souvenirs on the way, we could see our next port of call.
Montevideo Metropolitan Cathedral dates to the Spanish colonial times (1740), where a church once stood on the spot.
In 1790, a cathedral was constructed and now, sitting inside, we could appreciate the beautiful interior.
Spending some time around Constitution Square, which the cathedral sits on, there were more notable buildings, mainly, Cabildo. This was another government house in colonel times and has been turned into a museum.
Walking back towards Independence Square, past the impressive Solís Theatre, we ended up at the Gateway of the Citadel.
This structure is one of a few remaining parts of the old wall that surrounded the oldest part of the city and protected the citadel, which was torn down in 1829.
Next, with the afternoon in front of us, Catherine and I decided to go to the beach. Flagging down a taxi is quite easy mid-day in the capital and being reasonably prices, we quickly headed off to the Montevideo sign on Pocitos Beach.
Pocito beach is one of the best beaches in the city and you can see why the sign is there. With the spot deserted, we grabbed a few pics and appreciated the view. It was a good time to reflect on our journey so far.
Catherine wanted to see the Legislative Palace and so another quick taxi ride across town and we ended up at this huge building. It is the site where the Uruguayan Government meet and has an impressive 27 different marbles.
This huge structure was constructed in 1904 and sponsored by the then President José Batlle y Ordoñez. The building was declared a National Historic Monument in 1975 and is well worth the visit, even though is a bit out of the centre.
While walking back into the city, down Libertador Avenue, we popped into The Church of Our Lady of the Mount Carmel. This understated church was first constructed in 1861, where a small church had previously stood.
The gorgeous interior made it well worth a stop, especially as it had started raining. The straight road seemed to go on forever and we probably could have caught a bus, but Catherine was confident we could walk back into town without it turning into a chore.
With the General Artigas Central Station and the colonial buildings of the port, the trek never got boring. Arriving back where we started, Plaza Fabini was a buzz with rush hour people and it felt very like home.
The next day, after a good breakfast we were in another taxi. I had seen an unusual red brick church and wanted to find it. So, after giving the driver the address, we sped out of the city centre. The name of the church was National Shrine of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and it was a pleasant surprise in the neighbourhood of Cerrito.
It has a striking resemblance to Sacré-Cœur in Paris, with some influences from the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and has free interpretation of the Byzantine style. It’s situated on the top of Cerrito hill and makes it one of the most notable landmarks in the Montevideo landscape.
The church has been a National Sanctuary since 1898 and the parish established in 1919. The driver kindly offered to wait, and so Catherine and I guided him to Emilio Reus, a beautiful street in Villa Muñoz.
The colonial colourful houses in these streets are a bit rustic, but it all adds to its charm. If you have the time, it is well worth a stroll.
A 30-minute walk through the hustling and bustling neighbourhood of La Comercial, we arrived at my main event, Estadio Centenario and the football museum. Catherine was thrilled! I was super excited as this football stadium was where the very first Football World Cup was held in 1930.
I had always wondered why it was played so far away from a lot of the established footballing nations at the time. The journey to Uruguay, on a ferry, took 14 days and because of this very few European nations wanted to take part, including my own, England.
Eventually Belgium, France, Romania and Yugoslavia were persuaded. The museum was filled with memorabilia from their world cup successes of 1930 and 1950, with replica cups of both on display. The great bit of news though was that the tower was open. The bad news was that we weren’t allowed to look at the pitch and stadium as there was a concert being set up.
I had travelled halfway around the globe to see it and I was within arm’s reach! As we went up I had got used to the idea that we weren’t going to see the pitch but was pleasantly surprised that the lady at the top didn’t mind me taking photos at all. This was brilliant and made the whole experience amazing.
A short walk across the Parque Batlle to see the amazing Monumento a la Carreta and onto the Obelisk of Montevideo was very pleasant.
The Obelisk is 130ft tall and three sided. It was constructed in 1930 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first Constitution of Uruguay and is a homage to the participants of the General Assembly of the first Constitution.
On the way back into the centre, we popped into the Museum of the History of Art and then headed for the Holy Trinity Church down by the sea and hoped for an ice cream. Alas no ice cream, but the South Hub fort and the ocean we more than suffice!
The final stop of the day was underneath Independence Square in the Artigas Mausoleum. It is a monument to Uruguayan hero José Artigas and opened in 1977. Artigas’s remains are kept in an underground room underneath his statue.
The monument is guarded by traditional guards called Blandegues de Artigas.
The Mausoleum was a great way to end our time in Montevideo and we headed back to the Orpheo Express for some well-earned kip.
The following day, at the crack of dawn, we were driven to Carrasco Airport for our next part of our journey, Peru.
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