"Montevideo is a beautiful city with a very European style. It's a small city, but with a lot of cultural movement and a lot of personality."
- Juan Campodonico
Montevideo is very much under the radar in terms of international travel and yet it's my favorite city in South America. One of the most progressive places in the world, the city is full of young artists, musicians, and dancers. The level of creativity here is mind-blowing and apparent from the moment your plane touches down. This is a list to help you get the most out of the unique city of Montevideo, Uruguay.
FOR A LIST OF MY FAVORITE STREET FOOD SPOTS AND RESTAURANTS, CLICK HERE
1. Drum Walk (Candombe)
Candombe was brought to Uruguay by African salves during the colonial period and now is an important part of Uruguayan culture. In Montevideo, this traditional african drum beat is pounded out by groups of up to 100 locals every Sunday night. They typically start around 8pm and wind their way throughout the neighborhood, with people dancing, walking, and drinking alongside them. It's the ultimate street party.
Different groups play in different neighborhoods, each with a slightly different twist depending on which part of Africa they are from! If you're friendly and go while they're setting up, you might get a free drum lesson (or a joint, yes weed is legal here!).
Hours: Typically start around 8:00PM
Address: All over Palermo (Lorenzo Carneli and Isla de Flores are the cross streets for the group I watched)
2. The Rambla
Running along the length of the city, La Rambla is the longest continuous sidewalk in the world (over 13 miles long!). An important part of Montevidean identity, you will find people partying all night long here. Impromptu jams with strangers, groups of young kids drinking mate, the Rambla takes on a life of its own.
I recommend walking here after a late dinner and stopping to listen to one of the many street performers who come to play here.
Hours: All day, everyday
Address: Runs the length of the entire city
3. Mercado de Puerto
Located on Ciudad Vieja's waterfront, this market is packed with local Parillas (Uruguayan grill restaurants), that dish out delicious meals all day long. The market has been around since 1968 and has supplied fruits, vegetables and meats to incoming ships ever since.
Nowadays the market has become a tourist destination, which is unfortunate because many of the restaurants have begun to raise their prices. That being said there are dozens of restaurants here (and they all serve essentially the same thing), so do a quick lap around the market and grab a stool at whichever one fits your budget.
Hours: Everyday, 7:00AM - 6:00PM
Address: Mercado del Puerto, Rambla 25 de Agosto de 1825 228, 11000 Montevideo, Uruguay
4. Fortaleza del Cerro
Located in the barrio of Casabó, Fortaleza del Cerro overlooks the bay of Montevideo and was built to protect the city from a naval attack. It took part in many wars, most notably Uruguay's Civil War, which took place in 1839, when the fort was completely destroyed.
It was rebuilt in 1852 and today is home to the city's military museum, with the history of both the fort and Montevideo. That being said it isn't very well maintained and the view was the real highlight of my trip there.
Price: 30 UYU (~$1 USD)
Hours: 10:00AM - 5:00PM (Closed Mondays and Tuesdays)
Address: José Batlle y Ordóñez S/N, Cerro de Montevideo, 12802 Montevideo, Uruguay
5. Plaza Independicia
The independence plaza separates Ciudad Vieja from downtown Montevideo and is most famous for its mausoleum of Jose Artigas, who led Uruguay to independence from the Spanish in 1810. The mausoleum was built in the 1930s and Artigas's remains are kept in an underground room beneath the statue. At all hours of the day guards, called Blandegues de Artigas, keep watch over them. A testament to the legacy he left behind.
Address: Plaza Independencia, Montevideo, Uruguay
6. Solis Theatre
A beautiful building and the center of Montevideo's acting scene, the Solis is one of the most renowned theaters in the world. Built in 1856 by Italian architect Carlo Zucchi, it was recently renovated (although its original style was preserved).
Tours cost around 90 Pesos (~$3 USD) although the hours change all the time, so it's important to call ahead and make sure they are being offered that day. Alternatively check their website to see if there are any shows playing that week!
Hours: May change but typically 11:00AM - 7:00PM
Address: Solís Theatre, Buenos Aires, 11000 Montevideo, Uruguay
7. Palacio Salvo
The Palacio Salvo was originally intended to be a hotel but never fulfilled that purpose. Instead, it is a mix of residential and office rooms that are said to be in varying conditions. The building itself was constructed in 1928 by Italian architect Mario Palanti, and was originally topped by a lighthouse (which was later removed).
When I went the tour cost about 150 pesos, but I'm told that has since been raised to 200. Either way I highly recommend it. The tour includes a look at the tango museum, fantastic views of the city, and an intimate look at the interior rooms.
Price: 200 pesos (~$7 USD)
Hours: 10:30AM - 4:00PM
Address:Palacio Salvo, Plaza Independencia 848, 11100 Montevideo, Uruguay
Montevideo is working quickly to get on the food map of the world, with traditional dishes like asado chorizos (grilled sausage found in parillas) and torta frita (pan-fried cake). Many chefs are recognizing Montevideo's potential and are opening up delicious traditional, and fusion restaurants all over the city. Of course, you can't leave Uruguay without trying the national drink, Mate, found just about everywhere.
For a complete list of my favorite restaurants, bars, street food spots, and clubs CLICK HERE
9. Punta del Este
If you have a bit more time you can try and make it out to Punta Del Este, a beach town about two hours east of Montevideo. A nice relaxing place to get away from all the noise and fuss of the big city. Packed with miles of beach and great seaside restaurants, this is the perfect place to relax and just take in the Uruguayan countryside.
During the peak summer months it can get a bit crowded but during the rest of the year it quiets down.
10. The People!
This maybe a cope-out but the last item on my list is simply talking to locals. Montevideo (and Uruguay in general) has the highest concentration of creative people out of any place I've been to (which is over 30+ countries!). Everywhere you go you'll find musicians, street artists, and dancers that work together to create a unique energy you can't find anywhere else.
The best example I have of this was walking in Ciudad Vieja and seeing a father pushing his maybe two year old daughter in a stroller with a guitar slung on his back! As if a jam session might break out at any moment and he needed to be prepared, how awesome is that?
WHERE TO STAY?
The best area to stay in is Ciudad Vieja, otherwise known as the Old City. Through the entire neighborhood all the way to the Plaza Independicia, is a walking street lined with street vendors, artists, and restaurants. It's also within walking distance to most of the city's major attractions.
Alternatively you can stay in Palermo or Barrio Sur, both of which offer an authentic look at the "real" Montevideo and are littered with fantastic restaurants and sightseeing opportunities.