Last Updated on May 24, 2022
Touching in down in Montevideo Uruguay, the two of us city girls were giddy with excitement. Six weeks of traveling through barren landscape of Patagonia and the green spaces of Chile and Argentina’s Lake District had been unlike anywhere we had ever been, but we missed the buzz of a big city: culture, people, diverse food, art. After such great experiences in Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile, we also had high expectations for Montevideo, our third South American capital and Jess had even harbored some ideas about living there for a few weeks at one point. When we walked out of a gleaming, futuristic airport terminal to catch our bus into the city, we were convinced that Montevideo wouldn’t disappoint.
A few minutes in to the ride, however, and we had passed the first of many horse carriages and dirt roads. We wondered if maybe Uruguay’s capital wasn’t as modern as its airport had teased?
We started our exploration in Ciudad Vieja, the original colonial part of Montevideo Uruguay. As we explored around our hotel, we discovered historic colonial buildings either in a charming state of disrepair or beautifully restored.
The Mercado del Puerto, the port market, was originally built in 1865 to be a train station. This wrought-iron construction now houses an array of restaurants that specialize in meat and seafood dishes. While there wasn’t much for us vegetarians to try, people rave about the restaurants in this market.
We loved the little restaurants,cafes and shops in the old town, and the old-fashioned fruit and vegetable stores.
This charming antique flea market sprawled out on the tiny Plaza Constitución, the oldest square in all of Montevideo, Uruguay. Lined by beautiful grand buildings and a fountain in the center, the plaza made for a great place to sit down and (crazy) people watch for a while.
Though it seemed impossible at first, Uruguayans are even more obsessed with drinking their mate, a South American herbal tea drink, than in Argentina. While we saw people walking around with mate gourds in Argentina occasionally, it seemed that everyone in Uruguay was bringing their mate gourd and a thermos with hot water with them, where ever they went.
Drinking mate out of hoofs seemed to be particularly trendy.
On our walk through Ciudad Vieja, the ornate and restored buildings were contrasted often with a bit of an edge, including street art in many areas.
The historic Teatro Solís is one of the most elegant buildings in Montevideo. Renovations only finished in 2004, six years and US $110,000 columns designed by French designer Philippe Starck, later.
Our next stop was the Plaza Independencia, Montevideo’s most important square, which separates the old town from the commercial downtown center.
This modern office tower right on the square, the Executive Tower, is the workplace of José Mujica, the current Uruguayan Head of State.
The Palacio Salvo is the most impressive building on Plaza Independencia, however, with its 100 meter tall ornate tower (below on the right), designed by the architect Mario Palanti, who designed a similar building, the Palacio Barolo, in Buenos Aires.
Palacio Salvo marks the beginning of the Avenida de 18 de Julio, Montevideo’s most important shopping street which is also filled with gorgeous art deco buildings and old-fashioned shops and restaurants.
While shoppers go about their business, there are always groups of men playing chess on the sidewalk.
The smell of roasted peanuts hangs in the air, wafting from several stands where they cooked them fresh along the avenue.
It is no secret that I am obsessed with love padlocks on bridges (and we even put our very own one on the Brooklyn Bridge!), so I was beyond excited to stumble upon an entire love lock fountain!
The fountain says: “The legend of this young fountain tells us that if a lock with the initials of two people in love is placed in it, they will return together to the fountain and their love will be forever locked”.
We loved the Diego y Jose lock – and were surprised to learn that the country is actually very gay-friendly, having recently passed a bill that will make same-sex marriage legal in Uruguay as of 1 August 2013 – making it only the 14th country in the world to legalize gay marriage. The Old Town even has a dedicated Espacio Libre de la Diversidad Sexual Montevideo, a square dedicated to sexual diversity!
Another thing we loved about Montevideo were the many tree-lined boulevards everywhere.
The trees seem to form a natural arch over the streets.
After marveling at some more of the city’s extraordinary architecture, it was time for us to hit the beaches. Montevideo has over 13 kilometers (8.1 mi) of sandy beaches. We rented bikes, but you can walk or even just drive along the Ramblas, the coastal road, for over 20km of beach after beach after beach.
Playa Pocitos is the best-known beach in the city, lined by luxury apartment buildings in this upscale part of town.
Montevideo does have all the ingredients of what makes a great city, but this particular recipe just didn’t impress us much. We weren’t captivated the way we were in Buenos Aires or even Santiago, which took longer to win our hearts. We might be biased because of the attempted robbery, but overall we felt that the city is a bit rough, lacking in much diversity and just doesn’t have the interesting, laid-back vibe that makes the rest of Uruguay such a great destination.
Have you been to Montevideo Uruguay? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the city in the comments below.
Saturday 5th of March 2016
Thanks for your brilliant photos. We've just come back from Montevideo and thought it was amazing. We stayed with friends in the city and they recommended lots of places to go. We went on the Solis theatre tour and to several art galleries. We were able to walk to Pocitos beach and go swimming. We loved watching the sunset from the Ramblas. However we didn't see many tourists or people with cameras or iPads. The city didn't seem to encourage tourists and we only saw a few postcards near the port.
Sunday 6th of March 2016
Hi Karen, glad to hear you enjoyed Montevideo! I felt the same way about Montevideo.. that it doesn't necessarily encourages tourism! The missing postcards have been an ongoing theme here in Colombia where I am right now, because I really want to send some home but can't seem to find any :O
Thursday 30th of July 2015
Hi globetrotter girls, I know exactly what you mean about Montevideo - it's a city where you definitely could use orientation on where to go and what to do by someone local. We realised that quickly when we set up our little guesthouse in the Old City coincidentally and we always do a personal orientation, mention where to and where to avoid and we provide a mini-guide.
The guide on the insistence of our guests morphed into a website www.guruguay.com which is getting thousands of visits every week - illustrating that there really IS a need for decent info about Montevideo in English!
It's a shame it didn't exist when you were here :)
Montevideo is regarded as one of the safest capitals in Latin America but of course it is still a capital city and these things can happen, but it does leave a sour taste.
You will be glad to hear that in late 2013 the local govt cracked down on petty crime in the centre of Montevideo and the Old City. The crimes were being carried out by a tiny handful of adults and children. Unfortunately because they targetted the Old City, where most tourists go, then a lot got written online when really the level of crime overall did not warrant the focus of attention. Fortunately since 2014 things are much better.
Thanks for a great article and lovely photos!
Sunday 9th of August 2015
Hi Karen, thanks so much for the update! Happy to hear that petty crime has decreased since our visit; makes me think it might be time for a second visit!! :)
the curious g :: art > culture > travel > and other curiosities » 2015 travel forecast: The big list of lists
Wednesday 21st of January 2015
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Monday 28th of April 2014
Great photo essay on Montevideo! My wife and I are considering retiring in Montevideo--planning to visit in January. Curious if you could give a little more detail on the "robbery attempt." Also, what exactly did you mean when you said Montevideo seemed "a bit rough" and what did you prefer about Santiago and Buenos Aires?
Thursday 1st of May 2014
Hi Jeff, this is the post we wrote on the attempted robbery. Montevideo, especially the old part of town (ciudad vieja) just had some grittier corners, and after the attempted robbery we never felt safe there anymore, were always 'on alert' and felt a certain unease. After we were told that this wasn't the only incident like that, we were just not feeling good about the city anymore - I hate it when I don't feel safe in a place. The safest capital of the three would definitely be Santiago. We spent six weeks in Buenos Aires and while nothing ever happened to us personally, we heard a ton of stories about iPhones being stolen, cameras being ripped out of people's hands and our friend had her MacBook stolen from under her hands while she was typing on it!! So, while we loved BA, we were somewhat 'paranoid' there as well while in Santiago we never felt unsafe. If you go to Montevideo, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the city and if you felt safe!
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