Things to Do in Montevideo, Uruguay
Montevideo isn’t on many people’s radar. If asked, most people can’t even tell you the capital of Uruguay, let alone have considered visiting it. I fell head over heels for Uruguay’s “mini Buenos Aires” and am here to share a complete guide of things to do in Montevideo, so that you can make the most of your visit.
Accessible Travel Note: Montevideo is an excellent place for accessible travel. Head to towards bottom of this post for more information!
How to get to Montevideo
Before we discuss things to do in Montevideo, let’s talk about how to get there! Nestled at the mouth of the Rio de la Plata River, there are three common ways to get to Montevideo.
There are a few ferry companies that run services between Buenos Aires and Montevideo. The fastest ferry takes around three hours. Some people even visit Montevideo as a day trip from Buenos Aires. That’s ambitious, but no judgment here, since I’ve had my fair share of ambitious travel moments!
If you’re traveling to Montevideo by bus, chances are you’ll be doing so from Colonia. The bus ride between Colonia and Montevideo is about three hours. I included detailed information about taking the bus from Colonia to Montevideo in my How to get to Colonia post, so make sure to head over there for tips.
Montevideo’s airport is an architectural gem. Fitting for a country of only about 3.5 million people, the modern Carrasco International Airport is tiny and easy to navigate. When traveling between the airport and downtown Montevideo, make sure to ask your driver to take you along the Rambla. The ride will last around 30 – 40 minutes and is a fantastic introduction to Montevideo!
Things to do in Montevideo
Montevideo is a tiny capital and more than half of Uruguay’s population lives there. Despite its size, Montevideo is packed with things to do. Below are seven items that I recommend incorporating as part of your visit.
1. Take a free walking tour
I recommend starting your time in Montevideo with a free walking tour to get yourself oriented. There are two companies that run free walking tours- Free Walking Tour Montevideo and Curioso Free Tour.
Both companies offer city tours twice daily during the week and once on Saturdays. If you’d like to take the tour on a Sunday, Free Walking Tour is your ticket- they offer a tour at 2:00pm. Keep an eye on the weather- tours won’t operate if it’s raining/storming.
Would you like to tour more than Montevideo’s historical center? Curioso Free Tour runs tours of Parque Rodó (Monday – Friday) and Punta Carretas (Saturday).
A neat thing about visiting Montevideo is that since it’s still under the tourist radar, you stand a good chance of having a small or private walking tour. Tour guides are informative and funny, so you’ll surely enjoy your approximately 2.5 hour experience.
The meeting point is at the Plaza Independencia. Speaking of which…
2. Visit the Plaza Independencia
Plaza Independencia is Montevideo’s main plaza and is the transition point between downtown Montevideo and the historical center. From here, you’ll be able to get incredible views of the Palacio Salvo building. This plaza is an absolute must for a visit to Montevideo.
Despite being such a main attraction, the plaza never felt too crowded to me. However, to get the best photos without many, or any, people in them, aim to visit on a weekend morning. Since Plaza Independencia is located near the business district, things are quiet on weekend mornings before the day-trippers arrive.
Fun Fact- Palacio Salvo was originally intended to be a hotel but now houses offices and private apartments!
3. Walk through the walled gate
All that remains of the former walled city of Montevideo is a gate. The side facing Plaza Independencia is underwhelming with cement blocks supporting the wall. So, make sure to take in the views of the wall when walking from the old town into Plaza Independencia.
4. Meander through the historical center
Montevideo’s historical center is set up in a way that even those without a sense of direction would have trouble getting lost. From Plaza Independencia, passing through the former gate, the historical center is a straight pedestrian path along Sarandí Street.
Walk along the entire length of Sarandí Street and it will take you through the entire heart of Montevideo’s historical district in about 10 minutes, if you manage to do so without stopping.
More likely than not, side streets will lead you off track, creating a nice half day, or so, of wandering around the district. Since the old town was built on a narrow peninsula, when walking through the center of town you can almost always see the river a handful of streets down on either side of you.
Travel Tip: Things in the historical center close down at lightning speed on Saturday afternoons. By around 3:00pm, most stores are closed. Sundays remain quiet, with many stores and restaurants closed all day.
5. Enjoy the Rambla
The Rambla is a 22.2km continuous boardwalk built in the early 1900’s. It starts in the historic center and runs all the way along the coast by some fancy- and not so fancy- districts. It ends near the road to the airport.
It’s easy to believe that you’re looking out at the ocean when walking along the Rambla. However, the body of water is actually the mouth of the Río de la Plata River. I saw people fishing along the river, but oddly enough, fish isn’t a common item in the Uruguayan diet.
You may be tempted to walk on the Rambla near the old town and consider it a sight seen. However, I urge you to head many kilometers east towards Punta Carretas. Here, fancy high-rise buildings and green parks will greet you.
There are a number of beach options to choose from the further out you travel from Punta Carretas. Unless you’re a super walker/runner, consider renting a bike or taking a taxi to get to these areas.
6. Feria de Tristán Narvaja
The Feria de Tristán Narvaja is a popular Sunday flea market in Montevideo. Since I wasn’t in Montevideo on a Sunday, I didn’t have the opportunity to visit. However, if you’re lucky enough to be in Montevideo on a Sunday, you can find the market on Tristán Narvaja Avenue. It opens at 9:00am and goes until mid-afternoon.
If, like me, you’re not in Montevideo on a Sunday, you may luck out and come across smaller flea markets. On a Saturday morning, I stumbled upon a couple of flea markets at plazas in the historical center.
7. Mercado del Puerto
Mercado del Puerto is located in the old town down by the ferry terminal. Primarily a restaurant-based market, it’s a big attraction for tourists. However, be prepared to leave with a much lighter wallet if you dine there! If you’re on a budget, I recommend heading to Mercado del Puerto to meander through the stalls of restaurants, taking in the smells, sights and smoke of Uruguay’s famous meat asados.
If, like me, you’re vegetarian and/or are looking to save money, I recommend buying an empanada at “Empanadas Carolina.” The list of choices takes up the entire length of the empanada stand and the line to buy one is usually just as long. The best part? You can say you ate at Mercado del Puerto without breaking the bank!
English in Uruguay
When going to a country off the tourist-beaten-path, an understandable concern is how much English is spoken, if you don’t speak the country’s language.
I encountered many English speakers in Montevideo! Of these, many were completely fluent. Therefore, don’t let language discourage you from visiting Montevideo, if your high school Spanish is rusty.
Safety in Montevideo
Uruguay is one of the safest countries in South America. Furthermore, Montevideo is one of the safest capitals of these countries. Practice regular safety precautions that you would in any unfamiliar area, and you should be able to fully enjoy Montevideo while feeling very safe.
Accessible Travel in Montevideo
If you’ve taken a peek at the Accessible Travel section of this blog, you’ll know that with the help of my brother-in-law and sister, we’re working on building resources for travelers who are wheelchair users. Eventually, we’ll have full blog posts entirely geared towards accessible travel.
For now, we’re including accessible travel tips in areas that stand out for their wheelchair friendly design. Montevideo is one of these places. I was impressed by how many areas in Montevideo are accessible, and this is surely in great thanks to Uruguay’s accessibility law.
There’s perhaps no better place showcasing that accessibility is in the forefront of Uruguay’s mind than at Plaza Independencia. Here, they have an accessible sign in the center of Montevideo’s most important plaza.
I was equally happy to see that many older buildings comply with accessible entrances. For example, take a look at the front of the Bank of Uruguay with all its stairs:
And now, check out the side of the Bank of Uruguay!
The nitty-gritty of accessibility in Montevideo
Wheelchair friendly signs can be seen in many parts of Montevideo. Crosswalks have ramps and sidewalks are…well, far from smooth, but manageable enough in most areas.
The main Sarandí Street in Montevideo’s historical center is mostly cobblestone. While wheelchair friendly, if you stick to the far right or left sides of this pedestrian street you’ll be able to wheel along a smoother surface.
Generally speaking, if you’re exploring streets that run parallel with the river, you’ll be in for mostly a flat ride. Streets running perpendicular when traveling from the river up into the city are on a small but steady incline.
The Rambla boardwalk is wheelchair accessible and is an incredible way to enjoy some of the best views of Montevideo. The portion of the Rambla near downtown Montevideo is entirely flat.
However, as mentioned earlier in this post, I highly recommend visiting parts of the Rambla outside of downtown. These areas are on a fairly steep hill and are many miles from downtown. Therefore, your best bet will likely be to take a taxi to Punta Carretas, or one of the beaches past it, and work your way down towards the center of Montevideo.
Miscellaneous things about Montevideo
- Street art abounds. Make sure to spend some time admiring the artwork, much of which is found on side streets.
- Infrastructure is good. I found WiFi connections to be strong and there’s free WiFi in many public areas.
- Montevideo has a big café culture. Think specialty coffee, avocado tuna sandwiches, acai, and fancy salads.
- Mate is Uruguay’s traditional drink. You’ll find mate cups, straws, and the herbs to make the drink everywhere. What you won’t find? Restaurants and cafes selling prepared mate. It appears that this is a make-it-at-home kind of drink.
- Marijuana is legal in Uruguay. If you plan on buying some mate herb to bring home as a souvenir, choose carefully. Tourist shops sell marijuana-infused mate!
- Credit cards are widely accepted. Even better? You won’t get the deer-in-the-headlight stare and machines that take a century to process, like so commonly found in other parts of South America.
I hope this post inspires you to visit Montevideo. Will you be heading to Montevideo, or do you have your own tips to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.
Laura’s love for traveling started with a trip to Jamaica. Since then, she’s spent over five years living in Latin America and four years wandering the globe. She’s an early bird and backpacker at heart and can often be spotted with a dog or ten that she’s befriended along the way. Much of the content Laura writes on A Piece of Travel includes details on wheelchair accessibility, with the support of her brother-in-law and sister. You can learn about their accessibility endeavors here.