Nightlife in Montevideo is much more than the Mercado del Puerto, the Ciudad Vieja and the Rambla de Pocitos. The capital of Uruguay has many more attractions than those listed in the traditional tourist guides, and neighborhoods outside the main circuits that are worth the visit. In this Montevideo guide, we provide you with a summary, prepared by a local and separated by areas, that combines the traditional with the “off the beaten path” so that you can get the most out of your visit.
1 – Ciudad Vieja/Centro “Old City/Center”
A good site to start the tour is the Plaza Independencia “Independence Plaza”, in the center of which you will see the monument dedicated to Artigas – our national hero – and surrounding it the Executive Branch – the seat of the country’s president – Palacio Salvo an ex hotel which is now an apartment building of interesting architecture, the five-star hotel Radisson Victoria Plaza, and diagonally across from it, the Teatro Solís, one of the oldest in Montevideo. The theater offers guided tours, but depending on who you ask the best way to experience it is to enjoy a play, opera or concert inside.
Passing through Puerta de la Ciudadela – Old city gate – one of the few remains from when our city was walled – you can enter the Old City or the Historic District of the city, and following the Peatonal Sarandí “Pedestrian Sarandí”, which offers shops, bars and restaurants, you will reach the Rio de la Plata and blend in with the fishermen of the Escollera Sarandí, passing through plazas like the Plaza Matriz – where the Cathedral – and the Plaza Zabala are. Because of the large concentration of offices in the area, the best time to do this walk is around noon, Monday through Friday.
If you find yourself in the area around noon, you will have several great options for lunch just a few feet away, but you can also stop at the Mercado del Puerto, a building more than 100 years old that combines upscale restaurants with simpler and more affordable grills – although the prices are not the cheapest for being an important tourist attraction, because of it’s location across from the port where many Argentine tourists, as well as international cruise travellers, arrive in the ferry Buquebús. In addition to enjoying barbecue or empanadas, at this spot you can also try two of our local delicacies: the Tannat wine and the Medio y Medio –Half and Half-, a sweet Uruguayan drink that is prepared with champagne and white wine.
Although the avenue has several plazas, the greatest attraction is not at ground level but several meters higher; the domes of the buildings. On the corner of Calle Río Negro, you will see a traditional example adorned with a sculpture of the titan Atlas. The London Paris department store stood there for several decades and was an icon of the city before shopping malls had opened in other neighborhoods.
Another attraction on 18 de Julio is a Fuente de Candados –Fountain of Locks-, located at the corner of Yi street, that was placed there by the owners of the neighborhood bar Facal. Several couples spontaneously began to vow their love to each other there, based on the romantic novels of the Italian Federico Moccia “Tre metri sopra il celo” and “Ho voglia di te”, which were later transformed into films. Incidentally, Facal is one of the places where you can try our “chivito” – a typical meat sandwich of the country-, see tango shows and take photos with a statue of Gardel.
It is also worth seeing the architecture of the Facultad de Derecho “Law School”, located more towards the east, between streets Eduardo Acevado and Tristan Narvaja. In this area on Sundays there is a flea market, popular among locals and tourists, where you can find of all sorts of things.
The avenue 18 de Julio ends with the Obelisk , and a few blocks away you will find Terminal Tres Cruces, “Three crosses terminal” where you can take buses to Punta del Este or Colonia del Sacramento and to the interior of the country. A brand new spot is the Sinergia Design (Eduardo Víctor Haedo 2240) where local designers have their offices and also sell their creations. How about picking up a souvenir of an artist’s own design?
2 – Aguada/Prado
From Plaza Fabini, commonly known as “Plaza del Entrevero” located at the intersection of 18 de Julio and Avenida Del Libertador “Liberty Avenue”, you can take Libertador to reach the Palacio Legislativo, which houses the offices of senators and deputies of the country. Inside it stands the Pasillo de Pasos Perdidos, an interesting space with stained glass windows and vaulted ceilings. Domestic marble in different colors was used as decoration as well as mosaics and bas-reliefs created by artists Edmundo Partti, Jose Belloni, y Juan Buffa. Guided tours available (see schedules below)
Just a few blocks away stands the complex Torre de Telecomunicaciones, a group of modern mirrored glass buildings where the company Telefonica Antel operates. The tallest building reaches 160 meters and offers a lookout point for tourists, as well as murals originally created by artist Torres García’s workshop to decorate the walls of the hospital Saint Bois, restored in the last few years. Both buildings can be seen by guided tours, (See schedules below).
In La Aguada, the name given to this part of the city, there is also the newly renovated Mercado Agricola –Agricultural Market-, a historic building which was recently restored, where not only fruits and vegetables are sold, but also has many restaurants and specialty stores. Ideal for a rainy day!
Furthest from the city center towards the northeast lies the neighborhood Prado, the country’s old aristocratic zone, where the president resides. Presidents traditionally lived in this area, until Jose “Pepe” Mujica decided to permanently install his own farm during his term. It’s worth the visit to this neighborhood to feel as if you were in the elegant Montevideo in the early part of the 20th century, with avenues lined with old mansions and estates. Although a few decades later the high national aristocracy moved to Carrasco and nowadays are even in private neighborhoods in the suburbs like La Tahona “The Flourmill”, many of the families that founded the city continue to reside in the Prado.
One of the attractions of this neighborhood is the Botanical Garden, an enclosed park filled with many varieties of trees, flowers, and plants. Another one of its strong points is The Rosedal, a walkway dedicated to our poet Juana de Ibarbourou that has four crowned by eight domes of art nouveau style and a fountain in the middle; designed by the French landscaper Charles Racine in 1912, offers about 300 varieties of ancient and modern roses. The best time to visit in spring, when the flowers are in their maximum splendor.
In Prado there is also one of the most beautiful churches in the city, called Las Carmelitas (Irigotiria Street, between Hemanos Ruiz y Av. 19 de Abril), a Catholic temple of gothic style built in the year 1929. And if you want to top off your visit with a bit of national art, you must also visit the Museum of fine Arts Juan Manuel Blanes (Av Millan 4015). This Palladian villa offers permanent exhibitions of our artists Juan Manuel Blanes (1830-1901) and Pedro Figari (1861-1938), as well as with other travelling exhibitions and behind the museum, the Japanese Garden of Montevideo, a small but very picturesque space designed by a Japanese landscape artist.
The Rural del Prado, a property is also in this neighborhood, where spring expo fairs are held every year in autumn and spring, combining various stands from different countries – with all kinds of products available- as well as livestock barns and agricultural machinery. In addition, they put on parties, parades, concerts and other cultural activities. Check to see if your visit to the city coincides with the weeks in which La Rural Del Prado is held, and if so, do not miss it.
3 – Parque Batlle/Parque Rodó
Important features of the most central part of the city, the first is an obligatory attraction for football lovers, given that there is the Estadio Centenario. Did you know that the first world cup was held there in 1930? And that we won? And that we also won the World Cup in 1950, but in the Brazilian stadium of Maracaná? For the people of Uruguay, who are quite nostalgic (our most important night party is called “Night of Nostalgia” and is celebrated on August 24) Maracana is something that remains in our memory, even though so many decades have passed. In the stadium, there is a Football Museum, but in addition, tourists who are football fanatics can book a football tour in Montevideo that will take you to the stadium with tickets, transfers, and guide included.
The stadium is located in the neighborhood Jardin Parque Batlle, where El Velódromo “The Velodrome”, La Pista de Atletismo “The Athletics Track”, El Club de Tiro “The Shooting Club” and the Hospital de Clinicas “Clinical Hospital”, a place where most of the medical students undergo training to gain experience, and well known for its size and architecture, also operate.
Another neighborhood with ample green spaces is Parque Rodó, which has the advantage of being next to the Rambla and offers a small amusement park and an amphitheater, the Summer Theater, where carnival shows take place in February and during the year there are concerts of bands and artists. On Sundays, the neighborhood hosts a fair offering clothing, fruit, vegetables and other items.
In December there is an annual exhibition of books and crafts. In addition, in this location there is another interesting point for art lovers, the National Museum of Visual Arts (Julio Herrera street and Reissig corner of Tomás GGaribaldi which also has one of the largest collections of national art, with artists such as Rafael Barradas, Joaquín Torres García , José Cúneo, Carlos Federico Sáez, Pedro Figari and Juan Manuel Blanes, among others. Parque Rodó is also one of the trendy places of Montevideo’s nightlife, both in the area neighboring the amusement park and on the border with the neighborhood Cordón.
Watch out for the Part II of this Montevideo Guide that will be published this Thursday 19th of October!
By Carina Fossati, Journalist specialised in travelling and author of the blog Hills to Hells
Translated to English by Anna Englund