Though no one can quite agree on the etymology of the name of city of Montevideo, Uruguay’s urban capital will take your mind off of this concern with ample food, wine, music and visual treats. Seek them out at museums, as well as in the vibrant streets of the Ciudad Vieja where points of interest include the Mercado del Puerto, some seven houses of worship including the Sephardic Synagogue, and shady plazas for a quick break. Day or night, the Ciudad Vieja is buzzing with cafés, restaurants and music.
Montevideo is a great walking city, and just outside the Ciudad Vieja is Plaza Independencia, which is the city’s most important plaza, where downtown Montevideo begins. It is the also home to the heavily-guarded underground tomb with the remains of the Uruguayan independence hero José Artigas. The grassy plaza is also home to the remaining piece of the citadel wall and the 26-story Palacio Salvo, which, at the time it was built, was the tallest building in South America, and still makes a huge impression with its unusual architecture.
Culture takes many forms in Montevideo, from pocket-sized galleries and surprise street performances to the world-class, including ballet, concerts and plays at the historic Teatro Solis. This preeminent theater of Uruguay was built in 1856 under Italian architect Carlo Zucchi’s direction. If your schedule does not permit taking in a show here, it’s still well worth the time to take a walking tour of the theater, which was fully restored in 2004.
La Ciudad Vieja, or oldest part of Montevideo is a small, mostly cobblestoned quarter that showcases the colonial history of Montevideo city. The cathedral, main plaza and several museums are here, as well as the Mercado del Puerto, the most popular place in town to have a traditional Uruguayan lunch of grilled meat. Just outside of the Ciudad Vieja is perhaps the most photographed building in the country, the eye-catching Palacio Salvo, an eclectic-style building topped with an unusually top-heavy tower.
Unlike in almost every other capital city in South America, social life in Montevideo takes place not in the local plazas, but along what is one of the city’s greatest assets, the Rambla, or river walk that undulates along 22 km of the banks of the Rio de La Plata. Here, it is common to see friends, families, couples and teens wander the riverside, stopping to chat, listen to music, drink a mate (an herbal “tea” brewed in a communal cup) or fish along the river, especially in the late afternoon. The Rambla is a proposed UNESCO heritage site.
TRISTAN NARVAJA FLEA MARKET
The Sunday institution of the Tristan Narvaja Flea Market draws visitors and locals alike, in search of treasures from books to lamps, to antiques. It’s the best place to pick up a one-of-a-kind souvenir, or if not, to people watch. Try a torta frita, a local version of fried dough, as you wander the streets like a local. For a more filling meal, try the chivito, a singularly Uruguay institution. It is a hot steak sandwich on a roll whose heaving toppings may include ham, cheese, egg, bacon, and hearts of palm.
We recommend visiting from September through May.
Los Angeles: 10 hrs 45 min New York: 10 hrs 40 min Miami: 8 hrs 20 min London: 14 hrs 45 min
Good to know
Language: Spanish Currency: Uruguayan Peso (UYU) Visas/fees: Travel to Uruguay does not require a visa for US/US/EU/CAN/AUS travelers.
Ready to go? Here’s what to pack
Montevideo is often lauded for being the city with the best quality of life in Latin America, vibrant, eclectic and culturally alive. Weather is best outside of the rainy winter months, and locals know how to make the best of it, at local beaches or on the river walk called La Rambla. It’s a friendly city, with a slower pace than Buenos Aires, which it is often compared to, and which happens to be just across the broad Río de La Plata (day trips possible).
- Closed-toed, comfortable walking shoes (it’s a big city and there is lots to see!)
- Small backpacks or cross-bodied bags
- Heavier coat and boots for winter travel
- Sunblock (summer sun is strong)
Where to stay: Overnight Recommendations
The Sofitel Montevideo Casino Carrasco & Spa is a luxury option in Montevideo, and is perfect for visitors who prefer a sophisticated, historical stay. The 100-year old classic building is entirely French in architecture, and yet Uruguayan in furnishing, with a color scheme evoking the pastel colors of the Rio de La Plata, which passes by just outside, and inspired by tango culture. The hotel has 93 rooms and 23 suites and is considered an architectural symbol of Montevideo. It has indoor and outdoor pools, a casino and a spa. The hotel is located a short drive from the airport on the rambla, or riverside walkway, one of the defining features of Montevideo. The ramblas fill up with locals in the late afternoon to take a sunset stroll and drink mate, the herb-based tea drunk through a metal straw. But you might first like to take a 20-minute drive to Montevideo’s main attractions such as the Mercado del Puerto and Teatro Solis and check out Montevideo’s charming Ciudad Vieja (old city).
It would be hard to beat Alma Histórica in the old part of Montevideo for a cute, chic boutique hotel in this capital city. It is located steps from the heart of the Ciudad Vieja, or old city, and is close to many of Montevideo’s main attractions. Each of the 15 stately, tasteful rooms in this architecturally appealing hotel is inspired by personalities of Uruguay’s past, and have hardwood floors and sitting areas. A grand marble staircase brings the space together. In addition, the hotel has several pleasant common spaces, such as a handsome library with upholstered furniture as well as a tearoom and lounge bar to enjoy a cup of coffee and a sweet treat or a glass of wine, if that’s more your style. There’s a terrace with deck chairs which overlooks Plaza Zabala, perfect for unwinding after a long day or having pre-dinner drinks (dinner is late in this part of the world). A visit to the hotel’s Jacuzzi or a massage are great ways to unwind as well.