I was blown away by Montevideo this past November. It has that bohemian, artsy vibe that I love about San Telmo but you feel like you are in a beach town. I’d been through the city a number of times on my way to the beaches further east, but I’d never actually spent any time there. Big mistake.
What a charming city, especially if you have spent time in hectic Buenos Aires. It’s calmer, more laid back, and they take advantage of the river! One of my biggest disappointments with Buenos Aires is that there aren’t great eateries and promenades along the river. But in Montevideo, we saw kite surfers and families along the river’s beaches, people heading to the bars and cafes near the river to take in the sunset, and the massive Rambla is perfect for cycling, roller blading, getting in a run, or just walking off all of the fabulous food and drink.
Like Buenos Aires, the architecture is amazing, a mix of colonial, Art Deco, beautifully hideous 1970s towers next to turn-of-the-century palaces (great post about the architecture along Avenida 18 de Julio).
One of my favorite buildings in Buenos Aires is Palacio Barolo. The architect, Mario Palanti, also designed Palacio Salvo (twin buildings Barolo and Salvo) found in Plaza Independencia which divides Ciudad Vieja from Downtown Montevideo.
Plaza Independencia is the heart of the capital. Towards the river is the stunning Teatro Solis and right in the center of the plaza is a statue and tomb of Jose Gervasio Artigas, Uruguay’s founding father, a revolutionary who led a revolt against the Spanish government.
Where to Stay in Montevideo: Ciudad Vieja
To take in the architecture and be able to walk to everything (yay for walkable cities), we knew we wanted to stay in the old town, Ciudad Vieja. We found a boutique guesthouse run by the lovely Karen Higgs and her husband Sergio. Karen also happens to write my favorite blog on Uruguay, Guru’guay!
Check out this view of Ciudad Vieja from Casa Sarandi.
Casa Sarandi is perfectly located and beautifully decorated. When you check in, Karen gives you a welcome packet with awesome tips on how to get the most out of your time. Sometimes expats know their adopted city better than locals. Karen is that type of expat. What’s more, she likes what I like. If you ask me, her welcome packet is reason enough to stay at Casa Sarandi.
Our room was perfect. Gorgeous linens and such a comfortable bed I had trouble getting Naty to explore with me. I love the colors and the respect for the history of the building and the area. Look at those parquet floors and molding on the walls, the attention to detail is fabulous.
Casa Sarandi has three rooms. Ours was the one right next to the amazing kitchen. I’ll admit, we barely used it. We made mate. Had coffee (there’s a stash in the pantry in case you don’t have your own), and stored some cold drinks, but we didn’t cook any meals. We could have, but the food in Montevideo was awesome and we were on vacation.
Also, I had the chance to photograph all three rooms, so I’ll write a longer review of Casa Sarandi in a future post so you can see the whole beautiful guesthouse.
– Casa Sarandi, Buenos Aires, 558
Where to Eat in Montevideo
Having spent so much time in Argentina, we were thrilled that Montevideo restaurants had excellent fish and chicken options, something other than steak please!
We took Karen’s advice and had our first lunch at Estrecho on the pedestrian street that runs through Ciudad Vieja, Peatonal Sarandi. It looks like an old-fashioned diner, but the food is anything but diner food. Sophisticated French fusion, a little pricey, but so worth it. You sit at the long bar and watch each station of the kitchen as dishes are beautifully prepared.
We got a spot right away, but it was packed. There were businessmen eating alone, couples sharing their plates, and I was the only one taking pictures of my food. Definitely a locals’ favorite.
– Estrecho, Sarandi, 460 (w/ Misiones) – Open Mon – Fri from 12:00 to 16:00
My previous trips to Uruguay were to the beaches or to Colonia del Sacramento. I was always disappointed by the food, finding it pricey and for the tastebuds of a 5-year-old. Not the case in Montevideo.
On day 2, we had a typical Uruguayan breakfast, medialunas (croissants) and cortados (espresso and frothed milk), at Cafe Brasilero, a stunning historic cafe just a short walk from our guesthouse.
– Cafe Brasilero, Ituzaingo, 1147 (w/ 25 de Mayo) – Open daily from 9:00
Taking Karen’s advice again, we had our second lunch at the Mercado del Puerto. It’s touristy, but don’t let that keep you away. Also, don’t let the guys whose job it is to get you to choose their locale bother you. They will try to woo you. Take your time, pick the spot for you and ignore their pleas.
I’ve never seen so many grills in one place. We got pulpo (octopus) and lamb empanadas. I can’t wait to go back there with John. It’s a meat-lovers paradise. And the cuts are different than Argentine cuts.
Make sure you order a medio y medio at the Mercado. Half sparkling wine and half white wine, it’s what every local there was drinking. Thirst quenching and still light enough that it won’t knock you out for the rest of the afternoon.
– Mercado del Puerto, Rambla 25 de Agosto de 1825 – Open daily for lunch, liveliest on Sundays
Our last dinner was at the romantic Dueto, which serves “urban cuisine.” Their set menu is a great deal. Three courses for 500 pesos uruguayos. The presentation was beautiful, dishes were imaginative, and everything was fresh and delicious.
Plus, the ambiance is stunning. It’s housed in an Art Deco ex-police station. Try to get the table at the window and have someone take your picture. So pretty.
– Dueto Cocina Urbana, Bartolome Mitre, 1386 (b/t Sarandi & Rincon) – Open daily for lunch, liveliest on Sundays
Where to Get a Drink in Montevideo
There is no shortage of places to watch the sunset in Montevideo. We chose Santa Catalina because it’s right down the road from Casa Sarandi and because we love Uruguay’s ex-President, Jose Mujica. Have you heard of Uruguay’s awesome ex-President? He had his first lunch as President at this rustic joint packed with young people. We didn’t eat here, but I did check out the menu. They serve typical Uruguayan food, big portions and great prices.
Ojo! One big piece of advice, make sure you check the amount you are charged and check your change. We felt we were shortchanged and it appears others on Foursquare have the same to say. Still, I’d go back, but I would stop the waiter and pull out my calculator.
– Santa Catalina, Ciudadela (w/ Canelones) – Open Mon – Sat from 19:00hs.
Montevideo Brew House is another great watering hole. It’s a bit further away, not walking distance. But the cab ride there was quick and it gives you the chance to see some of the more residential areas of the city as well as the massive Parque Rodo, Montevideo’s oldest park. Microbrews aren’t very common in Buenos Aires, so if you’re tired of Quilmes and longing for something with more body, this is the place the come. The food was great, too. Yummy ojo de bife!
– Montevideo Brew House, Libertad, 2592 (w/ Viejo Poncho, Pocitos) – Open Mon – Sat from 19:00hs.
Across the way from Teatro Solis is a cross street between Ciudadela and Canelones with several lively bars one right after the other. La Ronda has outdoor seating and a young, hip crowd playing games, joking around and drinking.
Baar Fun Fun is just outside of Ciudad Vieja and a very popular spot for locals. Eclectic decor, friendly staff, great live music and the fact that it is walking distance from Casa Sarandi make this my top choice for nightlife. This location is temporary as they are updating their locale in Ciudad Vieja, so make sure you check their site for their location depending on when you are going.
– Bar Fun Fun, Soriano, 922, Open Tues – Sat from 19:30 – 2:30
What to Do in Montevideo
Wandering along the peatonal checking out the various stands (tons of great antique stands), sitting under the umbrellas in the outdoor cafes to people watch, and looking up at the stunning buildings was my favorite activity. But there is a lot more to do than that and the best resource for things to do in Montevideo is Karen’s blog Guruguay. Here are a few highlights.
Montevideo’s Live Music Scene
Sailing Lessons, Boat & Windsurf in Montevideo
Seven Essential Secrets to Having the Best Time in Montevideo
Parque Rodo, Montevideo’s Oldest Park
Four Days and Nights in Montevideo
We wanted to go to several museums, but just didn’t have the time to fit them in. Everyone raves about the Museo del Gaucho. Also on our list for next time are the Andes 1972 Museum and the Museo Torres Garcia.
Next time, I’ll see a show at Teatro Solis, visit a Uruguayan winery, and tackle the remaining items on this list of 20 Reasons to Visit Montevideo. I’ll also check out the site Cartelera to see what shows are on while I’m there. If your Spanish isn’t great, check Guru’guay’s Facebook page for daily updates of what’s happening in town. Montevideo has a vibrant, versatile music scene and a lot of small theaters. Historic, artsy, sophisticated but not pretentious, I think I could live in Montevideo!
Getting Around Montevideo
So much of what you’ll want to see and do is within walking distance if you stay in Ciudad Vieja. When you do want to head further out, taxis are abundant and they accept US dollars and give you your change in pesos Uruguayos. Also, the bus system is great and you can pay the driver when you get on the bus, plus the driver will give you change (hello Buenos Aires buses!).
To see your transportation options, pick up the pocket guide Guia de Montevideo Eureka at a newstand. Unlike the Guia T in Buenos Aires, they actually tell you where the buses stop. Alternatively, visit this government site and put in the two addresses.
Getting to Montevideo from Buenos Aires
I really like taking the three-hour ferry across the river (though the picture is of a cruise ship, the ferries are much smaller). But you can also fly and be there in just 50 minutes. Karen wrote a post about which airlines to avoid when flying into Montevideo. And she did another very thorough post about the ferry options from Buenos Aires.
Anyone else got recommendations for those visiting Montevideo? Leave them in the comments below, please.