Upon first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking that there aren’t too many things to do in Montevideo. But you’d be wrong. Very wrong. So if you’re planning a trip to Uruguay be sure to add a few days in the capital city to your travel itinerary.
First we’ll run through everything that we recommend putting on your ‘what to do in Montevideo’ list. Then there’s some information on how to get to Montevideo, the best way to get around, safety advice, the best time to visit and some money saving tips.
21 Unmissable Things To Do In Montevideo
Without a doubt the item that should be at the top of your list of things to do in Montevideo is to experience carnival. The longest carnival in the World, it takes over Uruguay’s capital for 40 days from mid January to mid March.
The months leading up to it are also dominated by practice performances. So even though it’s not a year round event, it’s pretty easy to experience some of it. Carnival in Uruguay celebrates the abolition of slavery, but also individualism and collective freedom.
There are lots of elements to the Uruguay carnival but the Candombe street performances were our favourite. It dates back to when enchained african slaves would march around the city walls banging drums to the beats of their homeland.
Curioso Free Walking Tour
We generally do a free walking tour in most new cities we visit, choosing the free ones because when guides are working for tips they are inclined to be the best. The Curioso Free Walking Tour didn’t disappoint and is definitely one to the top things to do in Montevideo.
They actually offer three different ones, depending on what your interests are. We took the historical tour around Ciudad Vieja and our guide Gerardo was great. We even got a complimentary sample of a local Uruguayan liquer, Grappamiel. More on that later.
Just a note on tipping free walking tour guides in general, because obviously you are not obliged to give anything. But unless you thought it was truly terrible (in which case I’d question why you would stay to the end) don’t be that dick who doesn’t tip.
If you’d prefer to know what you’re paying up front these Montevideo tours are top rated options:
Espacio de Arte Contemporaneo
Being completely honest we’re not usually the biggest fans of art galleries, but we loved the Espacio de Arte Contemporaneo. Because it’s more than an art gallery. Set inside a former derelict prison, the building itself is as intriguing as the artwork.
It still has the original structure and each cell displays the work of different artists. They had an exhibition on oppression in Latin America which was fascinating, if quite dark. Definitely one of the more unusual things to do in Montevideo.
Montevideo Street Art
Another thing to do if you’re into art of the more gritty variety is to simply walk around and take in the street art in Montevideo. There’s a tonne all over the city but especially in the area around where the Espacio de Arte Contemporaneo is.
Museo de Bellas Artes Juan Manuel Blanes
If you’re into your art, the Museo de Bellas Artes Juan Manuel Blanes might also be of interest to you. Juan Manuel Blanes is known for his depictions of tumultuous events in South America and of gaucho life. It’s open Tuesday to Sunday from 12pm to 6pm and admission is free.
Fortaleza del Cerro
Dominating the summit of the highest hill in Montevideo, Fortaleza del Cerro holds some seriously impressive views over the bay below it. It was built by the Spanish to defend the port and was embroiled in many a colonial struggle for the much sought after Rio de la Plata.
To get there take a 124 or 125 bus from the city center, which will drop you off at the Terminal Cerro. It’s a short walk from there. The fort is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm in the summer (4pm in winter). The entrance fee is $ 20 UYU (£0.50 GBP / $0.60 USD).
What To See In Montevideo Old Town
Palm tree dotted Plaza Independencia is Montevideo’s most important square. On one side of it you have the main road in the city, 18 de Julio Avenue, and on the other side the Gateway of The Citadel. This is where the city of Montevideo used to end, with only green fields beyond it.
The Estévez Palace and the Executive Tower, where the president of Uruguay works, are both located in the plaza. As well as the beautiful Palacio Salvo building. It was originally designed as a hotel but is now a mixture of offices and private residences.
You can visit the inside of Palacio Salvo on a private guided tour and go right up to the highest viewpoint in Montevideo for a unique view.
Buy your tickets for Palacio Salvo here. You’ll need to take your passport for the security check.
At the heart of Montevideo’s performing arts scene is the impressive Teatro Solis. Designed to rival European theatres, it was the first of its kind in South America. The year round calendar is packed with plays, comedies, opera, ballet, orchestra productions. Find out what’s on here.
Mercado del Puerto
This historically significant port market was once the site of the city’s main trading area. From meat and vegetables to African slaves, everything imported was bought and sold here. The steel construction was actually made in Liverpool, England and shipped over.
Since the abolition of slavery, Mercado del Puerto has been renovated and is now packed full of restaurants hosting huge parrilla grills. The whole place smells incredible. It’s a popular place amongst tourists to come for lunch but is rather pricey.
If you’re budget isn’t up to dining here we’d still recommend having a wander around. If you fancy just getting a drink, stop by Café Roldós and try the Uruguayan drink of ‘medio y medio’ – more on that later. We paid $155 UYU (£3.60 GBP / $4.70 USD) for 2 glasses.
What to See in Montevideo By Day
This vibrant green park, packed with palm trees and shaded hangout areas it’s seriously pretty. It’s well used all the time, but particularly popular on evenings and weekend as a spot where families and friends just come to chill.
There’s a big lake where you can hire a pedalo to venture out on. The cost is $100 UYU (£2.30 GBP / $3 USD per person for 30 minutes, with a minimum of 2 people. And on a Sunday between 9am and 4pm there’s a big market that sets up.
Feria de Tristán Narvaja
The best market in Montevideo, however, happens in another part of town on a Sunday. Between 9am and 4pm, the whole of the Tristán Narvaja street in the neighbourhood of Cordoón is overtaken by the Feria de Tristán Narvaja and it’s temporary market stalls.
From local cheeses to toothpaste, everything is on offer here. It’s huge and there’s lots of yummy street food on offer – try the Venezuelan stuffed arepas or tequeños. It’s also one of the cheapest places we found to buy fruit and veg. Way cheaper than the supermarkets.
Mercado Agricola Montevideo (MAM)
If you want to do some shopping, another popular and reasonably priced place is Mercado Agricola Montevideo. The newly renovated building was once an old cattle market but now houses grocery stalls, handicraft shops, cafes, bars and a food court.
This grand building is where the parliament of Uruguay meets. It has 27 different colors of Marble which were all extracted from Uruguayan quarries. It’s a seriously impressive landmark and difficult to appreciate just how big it is unless you see it in person.
If you want to go inside and learn more, it’s open Monday to Friday from 9am until 6pm. And there are guided tours available in Spanish and English at 10:30am and 3pm. It’s a little out of the way but close to Espacio de Arte Contemporaneo and Mercado Agricola Montevideo.
Walk The Rambla
One of the most popular things to do in Montevideo is to take a stroll along the expansive rambla. At over 22 kilometres in length, the Montevideo Rambla is the longest continuous sidewalk in the world. You may not want to walk it all mind!
Hire A Grin Scooter
If you’re feeling lazy when it comes to exploring, one of the newest things to do in Montevideo is to hire an electronic Grin scooter. You’ll see them parked up all around the city. Simply download the Grin app or the Rappi app, put your details in and away your go.
We did it through the Rappi app and got 10 minutes free. Try and get someone to give you a referral code too, then you’ll both get some Rappi credits. Just a word of warning, they go fast so watch where you are going. Seriously. You don’t want a kid or a dog running in front of you.
Depending on which area of Montevideo you are staying in, if taking a snap with the Montevideo sign is on your agenda, hiring a Grin scooter to get there is a good option. Just because it’s right at the end of Pocitos beach and there’s not alot else going on up there.
A unique sight along Montevideo’s Rambla, you can’t miss the red bricks and unusual ship facade protruding out of the line of apartment buildings within which Castillo Pittamiglio sits. Dating back to 1911 it quite obviously predates the apartments around it.
Designed by alchemist, Humberto Pittamiglio, the castle represents his life. We didn’t venture inside but it’s supposed be as eccentric as the exterior. Only with stairs leading to nowhere, labyrinth corridors and hidden rooms. If you’re into alchemy there’s a tour everyday at 5pm.
What to Do in Montevideo at Night
Sunset at Punta Brava
One of the best spots in the city to see the end of day showcase is the grassy area to the right of Punta Brava. As the sun starts lowering in the sky you’ll see people diving out of their cars and apartments with a deck chair in one hand and mate in the other.
There’s a petrol station called El Faro on the road too where you can buy some nice cold beers if that’s more your jam. Past Punta Brava, towards Pocitos beach, you won’t be able to see the sunset because you’ll be on the other side of the bay.
Football is way more than a sport in Uruguay, it’s a way of life. People even refer to it as their religion. And to say the fans are passionate is a wild understatement. There’s a few stadiums you can catch a match at.
Estadio Centenario was built for the 1930 World Cup and is where the Uruguay national team plays. Peñarol have built a new multi-million dollar stadium on the outskirts of the city called Estadio Campeón del Siglo.
Then there’s Estadio Gran Parque Central, the home ground of rival team Club Nacional de Fútbol. And Estadio Pocitos, a multi use stadium that regularly hosts domestic games too. If you want to take in Uruguayan culture, this should be on your things to do in Montevideo list.
You can buy tickets for matches 2/3 days in advance at Abitab shops, there’s one in Plaza Independencia. Or just get them from the stadiums on the day of the matches. Expect to pay $10-20 USD depending on whether you are standing or seated.
A few years ago you wouldn’t have been able to find craft beer in Uruguay for love nor money. But these days it’s becoming an increasing popular beverage. At least in the capital anyway. There’s a few places we’d recommend for what to do in Monteveideo if you like your ales.
The most popular place is the Montevideo Beer Company at Bulevar España 2614, go early if you want any chance of getting a seat. Sinergia Design Food Hall at Colonia 2235 is also pretty great. Our favourite though was the Brown Bear Craft Brewery at Joaquín de Salterain 1316.
Craft beer in Uruguay is far from cheap though. Expect a minimum of $160 UYU (£3.80 GBP / $4.90 USD) per pint.
Of course hitting one of the beaches is another of the most popular things to do in Montevideo. And you have quite a number to choose from. The beaches closest to downtown are Playa Pocitos and Playa Rameriz near Parque Rodó.
Then further along the coastline you have Playa Buceo, Playa Malvin, Playa Brava, Playa Honda, Playa de los Ingleses, Playa Verde and Playa Mulata. Then even further along in the poshest neighbourhood of the city you have Playa Carrasco.
Best Day Trips From Montevideo
Uruguay really isn’t a very big country but if you don’t have much time, Montevideo is perfectly situated to visit a couple of other places by trip.
Punts del Este, or the Hamptons of South America as it is also known is just along the coast. We recommend this Punta del Este Full-Day Tour. Not only will you get to explore the most luxurious parts of the city, you’ll also stop off to see some of the natural beauty spots on route. It’s a win win.
Another great spot to visit on a day trip from Montevideo is the UNESCO World Heritage Listed City of Colonia del Sacramento. On this Colonia del Sacramento Full Day Tour, you’ll be able to learn about the history of the port city with a multi-lingual tour guide to show you all the best sites.
Things To Eat and Drink in Montevideo
With four times as many cows as people in the country, it should come as no surprise that the national dishes center around beef. Whether on it’s own or as part of the Uruguayan sandwich, Chivito, BBQ’d steak is where it’s at when it comes to what to eat in Montevideo.
Accompany it with a homegrown glass of Tannat red wine and you’re set for a great meal. You should also try medio y medio, which is half white wine and half champagne. It’s very sweet. And also the local liquor Grappamiel. Which is italian style Grappa mixed with honey.
Then of course there’s the national obsession that is Yerba Mate. As soon as you step foot in the country, you won’t fail to notice that many Uruguayans have a flask of hot water and a gourd filled with the green herb and a metal straw called a bombilla permanently attached to them.
How To Get To Montevideo
If you’re travelling from Argentina, read our full guide on how to get to Montevideo from Buenos Aires here. If you’re coming from any other South American country, or further afield, you’ll be arriving into Carrasco International Airport (MVD).
From the airport it’s around a 30-40 minute drive into downtown Montevideo. For a cab at the airport expect to pay anything up to $40 USD. An Uber will be less at around $20 USD and they are completely legal unlike in some other South American countries.
If travelling on your own, a more economical option is to take a shuttle bus which costs $400 UYU per person ($12 USD). They can be more time consuming though depending on where your accommodation is, particularly if you are one of the last to be dropped off.
An even cheaper, but longer option is to take a local bus. You can generally jump on any that say ‘Montevideo’ as they all tend to head Plaza Independencia way. Just check with the driver to be sure. The journey time is around 1 hour.
You can pay in cash but only in Uruguayan Pesos, the fare will be around $40 ($1.20 USD). They do give change but usually not for more than a $100 UYU note. Just prepare for the buses to be crowded and there may not be any luggage storage let alone a seat.
If you are arriving by long distance bus from Brazil, Paraguay or elsewhere within Uruguay, you will come into the central bus terminal of Tres Cruces. To get to accommodation in the Cordón neighbourhood you will likely be able to walk.
If you are staying elsewhere in the city, your best option is to ask at one of the information points in the bus station and they’ll point you in the right direction. Either that or consult Google Maps or ask your accommodation the best route.
Where to Stay in Montevideo
Choosing where to stay in Montevideo can feel unnecessarily complicated – there are 62 districts.
However, we’ll make your decision far easier as there are only a few we’d recommend you stay in as a visitor.
We’ve done a full breakdown of the areas here and their pros and cons if you’d like to read in more detail.
But to make it even simpler, here are our top three choices of where to stay in Montevideo to suit all budgets:
Affordable Luxury: Alma Histórica Boutique Hotel – housed in a beautifully elegant building, rooms in this sophisticated hotel expertly combine modern and traditional decor to stunning effect and boast gorgeous views.
They come with all the mod cons you’d expect of a luxury boutique including air-con, a mini bar, toiletries and flat-screen TV with cable.
The hotel is less than 500 metres from the waterfront and right in the heart of the historic district of Montevideo meaning you’ll be close to all of the top sights.
Midrange: Vivaldi Hotel Loft Punta Carretas – one of Montevideo’s top picks, this hotel features modern, bright, sunny rooms with all modern amenities. Even better, there’s an outdoor rooftop swimming pool, perfect for chilling out in the evening after a day of sightseeing.
The hotel is in one of the most tranquil spots in the city, right on a stunning part of coast. It’s close to lots of green spaces and the best beaches and ideal if you’re a sunset lover as this is where you’ll find the best ones.
Cheap & Cheerful: Habemus Hostel – this funky, colorful and friendly hostel comes with a terrace, a garden, a shared lounge, wifi access and seriously great backpacker reviews.
It is centrally located with air conditioned rooms and a continental breakfast included. There’s quite simply no better place to stay in the city if you’re on budget.
How To get Around Montevideo
The public buses in Montevideo are frequent and generally well maintained. They run every few minutes up and down 18 de Julio Avenue to Plaza Independencia. And same as the ones from the airport, you can pay in cash and they will give change within reason.
For buses to get elsewhere in Montevideo we suggest just putting your intended destination into Google Maps, tapping the ‘bus’ button and it will tell you which routes are available and when the next bus is. Simple.
Ubers are also always readily available. Either that or just walk. Montevideo really isn’t a very big place and it’s very safe.
How Safe Is Montevideo?
Montevideo is one of the safest cities in South America and as a tourist you would have to be very unlucky to run into any trouble. And as a country, Uruguay regularly scores higher on the Global Peace Index than many European countries including the UK.
There was a small escalation of petty theft incidents after dark in the Old Town (Ciudad Vieja) area of the city a few years back which is now outdated in online forums. But this was quickly clamped down on by the government installing CCTV.
And so it’s very unlikely you’ll find any safety issues in Montevideo. As always, do keep your wits about you especially in an area of the city unknown to you. And don’t flash expensive stuff or wads of money around. If you’re a first time traveller you may find this helpful.
Best Time To Go To Montevideo
The best time to visit Uruguay in general is during October to March, this is when the weather is at its best. The earlier or latter part of that period will be less busy as most tourists from Argentina tend to head over in January and February.
However when it comes to number one on the list of unmissable things to do in Montevideo, being there during Carnival time is top of the list. Luckily being 40 days long, you have a pretty big window from mid January all the way through to mid March.
More Montevideo Travel Tips
Where you can, which to be fair is pretty much everywhere, you should pay by card in Montevideo. This is because as a tourist, for purchases in restaurants, cafes and bars you will get the 18% VAT reimbursed.
So you pay the whole amount and then the credit will come back into your account as a separate transaction. Pretty great right?! Especially because the cost of living in Uruguay is pretty expensive when compared to the rest of South America.
If you are travelling on a limited budget, the best way of minimising your spending while you are in Montevideo is to cook for yourself. Of course you’ll need to stay in an Airbnb or a hostel to have the facilities to do so. Head to the Sunday markets for the cheapest fruit and veg.
If you have an unlocked phone and opt to get a local SIM card you can pick these up really easily at the airport or Tres Cruces bus station. It’s very straight forward and they’ll set it all up for you in the shop. We didn’t even need to show ID.
With Claro the cost was $50 UYU ($1.20 GBP / $1.50 USD) for the SIM card and then a 15 day plan with 1GB data and free Whatsapp was $210 UYU (£5 GBP / $6.50).
Great Reads To Take To Uruguay:
Uruguay Travel Insurance
If you haven’t left on your travels yet, or even if you have, don’t forget your travel insurance. As we already said, Uruguay is a very safe country. But accidents happen all the time and the last thing you want is to be stuck abroad without good insurance.
Our go to travel insurance provider is World Nomads. They have a no bullshit approach to policy & are perfect for adventurous travellers like us. Get a no obligation quote here:
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Yorkshire born & bred, Sarah is a professional blogger who loves to travel. Pushing her boundaries with new adventures is her jam, so you likely won’t find her in one place for too long. Also a serious Marmite addict.