Montevideo is Uruguay’s biggest and capital city, with bold Spanish architecture, a promenade for days and a booming dining culture. The multifaceted yet relatively small river city is home to nearly half of the county’s population. The markets on Sunday are a must, as is the free city walking tour (which is for tips, so not really free), and the parilla in the train station. Food is a massive deal in Montevideo with so many different restaurants all with different styles, specialities and price points…
Much of the newly renovated and prosperous historical district, known as ‘The Old City’, sees hip restaurants side by side with designer clothing shops. All the cafes and restaurants are packed come 5pm for merienda, afternoon tea. My favourite place in Montevideo is La Pasionaria, but you can also enjoy some mate on the banks of the Rio de Plata, a play at the newly renovated Solis Theatre or an alfajore in the Plaza Independencia. The free (for tips) walking tour is definitely recommended, taking you to most of the major spots and runs twice a day for convenience and starts at the Plaza Independencia.
Also read: Uruguay Backpacking Guide.
Places to Stay:
The main street of Montevideo is 18 de Julio which ends at the Plaza Independencia located at the Western end of the Centro area.
- El Viajero Hostel – Located two blocks back from 18 de Julio, El Viajero Hostel is the bright yellow and green building that your couldn’t miss if you tried. It’s in a good location, close to Centro, transport and supermarkets. It is staffed with lovely people, however the wifi can be a bit temperamental.
- Destino26 – Located 4 blocks back from Playa de los Pocitos beach, the hostel is staffed by a very friendly and helpful team. It is a bus trip, rather than walking distance from Centro.
- Ukelele Hostel – Located close to the promenade at Maldonado 1183, it’s about a 10-15 minute walk to the Plaza Independencia. The hostel has good facilities –including a pool, a number of showers and a particularly great sitting room. However it is absolutely freezing in the Winter with little to no internal heating.
- Willy Fogg – a cheap but chilled, old-backpacker haunt. It has a rooftop which is arty and fumbled together that creates a relaxed vibe amongst backpackers. It’s close to the centro and located in a safe area.
Things to Do:
- Sunday Markets – Known as ‘La Feria de Tristán Narvajá’, consists of literally blocks upon blocks of stall owners with quality as diverse as it’s content. You’ll find everything from antiques to food and vegies to gold fish. Located on Av 18 de Julio along to Calle Tristán Narrajá.
- Museo Andes 1972 – An in depth look at the 1972 Uruguayan flight which crashed in the Andes with the national rugby union team, their family, friends and associates on board. Of the 45 people on the flight, 27 survived the crash, 8 were killed by an avalanche 16 days later and more than 2 months later, the last 16 survivors were rescued. Owner and curator, Jörg is a gem, he speaks 7 languages and delicately facilitates the experience.
- Mercado del Puerto – Situated in a recycled train station, the market is more like a parilla food court stretching as far as your eyes and nose can reach. You can simply pull up a stool at any of the bars and immerse yourself in the intoxicating atmosphere, while getting intoxicated (wine comes with most meals).
- La Pasionaria – is an extension of the Design school, ‘universo creative’ and as a result is part library, part boutique, part restaurant and part artisanal retail. It features a boutique clothing shop holding only Uruguayan designers, as well as tasty and trendy little restaurant. It also features colourful artisanal shop with an assortment of products ranging from scarves, to original art to sunglasses. It’s hidden away on Reconquista 587.
- Libreria Puro Verso – This is a library, however one cannot underestimate the power of a good book while travelling. With a fancier café/restaurant upstairs, the library has a vast selection of Spanish books, as well as some English. The design and architecture of the library is luxurious with marble floors, tiled pillars and a grand central staircase. I loved this place, because for me, heaven is a library.
- Football Stadium – Visit the old Football stadium located in the Parque Batlle neighbourhood of Montevideo. It was built in 1929 and was the stadium to hold the first World Cup Final ever which took place in 1930. Estadio Centenario is a beautiful, very old fashioned, historic stadium which pours with sentimental value. It is listed by FIFA as one of football’s world class stadiums and in 1983 was declared the only historical monument of World Football. A must visit for all football fans! (Did you know that Uruguay national team have never been beatenat home!)
- Wilson Ferreira Street Market – Head down Wilson Ferreira Street on Wednesdays/Saturdays for some delicious street food. It’s not located in the centre of the city, but if you are staying at Willy Fogg Hostel, it’s literally right next to it!
Where to head to next?
- Colonia del Sacramento – A 2-2.5 hour bus trip will land you in Colonia. The town is complete with cobble stone streets, ivy lined doorways and roses in flower boxes under stained glass windows.
- Punta del Este – Head east to the beaches and lavish lifestyles of Punta, and surrounding Maldonado and LaBarra.
- Buenos Aires – The ferry to BA leaves from Colonia and takes about an hour to cross the Rio de Plata. It leaves relatively early and has a duty free shop on board. Tip: Get US dollars here if you are on the way to Argentina as the exchange rate will be much better!
About the Writer: Klara Thwaite is a Business Management graduate from Sydney, who skipped graduation to go backpacking. Endowed with a massive Chris McCandless (Into the Wild) complex and limited Spanish, she zigzagged her way across the continent and developed a deep appreciation for toilet paper, plan Bs and alfajores. Check out her personal blog at drinkingink.tumblr.com
Updated in March 2015 by Tommy Walker.