Home to a beautiful coastline, charming towns, green countryside dotted with cattle, and a welcoming, laid-back atmosphere is South America’s best-kept secret, Uruguay.
City Highlights In Montevideo
Home to a beautiful coastline, charming towns, green countryside dotted with cattle, and a welcoming, laid-back atmosphere is South America’s best-kept secret, Uruguay. Uruguay offers so much to its visitors, and its proximity to Argentina and Brazil makes it the perfect add-on to any itinerary. Having lived in the bustling city of Buenos Aires for quite some time, I often take short trips to Uruguay over long weekends. I enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and beautiful scenery – worlds away from the big city. However, lately, most of my time is spent in Colonia del Sacramento on the Rio de La Plata, or at small beach towns on the Atlantic coast. I’m always in search of somewhere new, to relax and get some sand between my toes.
Like most people, I dismissed Uruguay’s capital city, Montevideo, as a stopover destination on the way to somewhere else. I never delved beyond its surface of quiet streets and friendly people. Until recently, when I returned with the aim of discovering the true culture of the city, did I find what makes Montevideo a destination popular to visit. While cultural highlights are easy to find in cities such as Buenos Aires, it does take a little more effort to find just what you are looking for in Montevideo. With highlights throughout the neighborhoods and amongst quiet streets, the search rewards travelers with sensational gastronomy, quirky bars, scenic parks and beaches complemented by a progressive, easy going culture of locals.
Luckily, I’ve taken care of the searching for you! Here are my Top 5 activities in Montevideo:
#1. Tristán Narvaja Street Market (Feria Tristán Narvaja)
If you find yourself in Montevideo on a Sunday, you can’t miss the Tristán Narvaja Street Market, in the neighborhood of ‘Cordón.’ This huge flea market is home to everything you never knew you needed and stretches from the city’s main avenue ’18 de Julio’ and runs for seven blocks. For locals, the market is a Sunday ritual for simply browsing, or for picking up fresh fruits and vegetables, pasta, or cheese. Other than the essentials, you can find anything from clothes to books, to CDs, records, antiques, electronics, and even pets!
Delicious, freshly cooked street food in many forms is on almost every corner. Strolling through the market also gives you a glimpse of authentic Montevideo, with terrace houses lining the streets, often with locals passing the time on balconies, or elderly faces peering from windows. The market runs every Sunday from 9 am until 4 pm.
#2. Plaza Virgilio
Possibly the best-kept secret in Montevideo is Plaza Virgilio, located in the Punta Gorda neighborhood. While a fair distance away from downtown, it’s easily reachable by bus or taxi. Spend an afternoon or evening here, as the sunsets are not to be missed! The Plaza extends outward and rewards visitors with uninterrupted views of the city’s main beaches, river, and upscale neighborhoods. The plaza is popular with locals who spend time on the grass conversing over mate. Uruguayans love to make time for each other, meeting in plazas throughout the city to discuss life, soccer and everything in between.
#3. Market (Ciudad Vieja Y Mercado Del Puerto)
Taking a walk through Montevideo’s Ciudad Vieja has always been an essential part of any visit to Montevideo. While this is the most touristy part of the city, its worth a walk to experience the unique mix of the Spanish and Portuguese architecture of yesterday’s Montevideo. People watching aficionados will love the various Plazas where you can see locals passing the time, mate in hand.
Stop at the port market and feast your eyes on a full ‘Parrilla’ grill of various meats sizzling over coals. If you’re hungry, pull up a chair at the bar and order yourself a piece of ‘Pulpon.’ Pulpon is the traditional Uruguayan cut of beef (which many, including myself, say rival’s Argentina’s famous beef). Accompany it with a ‘copa de vino tinto’ (a glass of red wine), and you’ll be more than satisfied. Then, walk it off by continuing out through the old town to the Sarandí breakwater by the port. Catch a view of the Montevideo Bay, back over the old city, and down the coast towards the new Montevideo.
#4. Pocitos Neighborhood
The beachside neighborhood of Pocitos is one of the trendier, more beautiful and upscale parts of Montevideo. The streets are tree-lined, and sidewalks are full of cafes, bars, and restaurants. Along the ‘Rambla’ (Boulevard) which lines the coast, low-rise apartment buildings and palm trees bring a real beachside city feel. It’s not unusual to see locals exercising and stopping to chat in the parks and plazas. This is a fantastic place to spend a morning or afternoon walking around, especially on the weekend. Pocitos is also home to the famous Montevideo sign to take the obligatory tourist photo, with the Pocitos beach in the background. It is the best neighborhood to stay in, as it’s centrally located, and perfect distance for walking around.
Montevideo’s beaches are perfect for relaxing on a hot day in the city. The city beaches extend from just outside downtown, along with the ‘Rambla’ to way out of town. The general rule is the further from downtown you are, the whiter the sand, and the bluer the water. Malvin Beach, Honda Beach and Carrasco Beach are amongst the nicest but are further away from the center of town. When choosing a spot to spend the whole day, look to Pocitos Beach. Pocitos Beach is a beautiful beach, with plenty of shops nearby for a picnic lunch if you’re so inclined.