The most famous Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges, describes Montevideo very aptly: “You are the Buenos Aires that we once had and that has quietly slipped away over the years”. The melancholy of the people, the Victorian houses, the rusty brown water of the Rio de la Plata, the passion for the tango and the culinary delights make outsiders rub their eyes and ask whether they are in Uruguay at all.
The fundamental difference between the two cities lies in one detail: it is the time, which in Montevideo does not stand still, but seems to run much slower in a pleasant rhythm. One has the reassuring feeling of having one’s finger on the pulse of time, instead of constantly running after it. Somehow, Montevideo’s inhabitants have managed to resist the high-speed maelstrom of globalization with elegance and mindfulness.
Tip 1: Plaza Independencia
Plaza Independencia is the largest square in Montevideo and represents the central hub of the Uruguayan capital Montevideo. From this starting point you can get to the old town, the Ciudad Vieja. Starting from Plaza Independencia, one of the most important and largest streets leads to the center, Avenida 18 de Julio.
The square was built in the 19th century and around it there are many important buildings as well as monuments, for example de Puerta de la Ciudadela, the entrance gate to the Ciudad Vieja. This city gate was built in the 18th century and was originally the entrance to a city fortress. In the 19th century it was destroyed and subsequently rebuilt.
Furthermore, the Teatro Solís is located in the immediate vicinity, as well as the Palacio Salvo.
In the middle of the square you can find a statue of the Uruguayan national hero Artigas. Under this statue is the mausoleum, where (strictly guarded) the remains of the national hero lie. The statue stands out from all sides of the square and is absolutely impressive with its 17 meters height.
Tip 2: Ciudad Vieja
The Cuidad Vieja is the oldest part of the city. It is the historical heart and the absolute highlight of Montevideo. A visit to the old town is like a journey back to the 18th and 19th centuries.
Many of the sights are part of the national cultural heritage. The Ciudad Vieja is only about one square kilometer in size. On three sides it is surrounded by the Rio de la Plata, and on the east it borders the Plaza Independencia, Montevideo’s most important square. Until 1829 it was surrounded by a wall.
One of the most beautiful squares in Ciudad Vieja is Plaza de la Constitución, also called Plaza Matriz. Here stands the Cathedral of Montevideo, the Catedral Metropolitana. It was built from 1790 to 1804 in neoclassical style. Since 1897 it has been the Episcopal Church of the Archdiocese of Montevideo. Across the street is the Cabildo, seat of the government in colonial times, then court and prison. Today the building houses the National Museum of History. Plaza Zabala is also pretty, with a statue of Bruno Mauricio de Zabala, the founder of Montevideo, in the center.
One must not think of Cuidad Vieja as a museum where time has stopped. Despite the tranquil atmosphere, the city is also full of life here. Banks have their headquarters or administrations in the buildings, there are art galleries and many small stores. The pedestrian zone Calle Sarandí is a good kilometer long and runs from the Rambla to the Plaza Independencia. Here, street cafés, restaurants and bars invite you to linger.
Tip 3: Mercado del Puerto
If there is any place where Uruguayan gastronomic culture and the local way of life are presented together with concentrated force, it is surely at the Mercado del Puerto.
The market, located directly across from the port where the cruise ships dock, has an international reputation as a gastronomic and cultural venue. And it’s not by chance, as a potpourri of cabaret, folk art, handicrafts and palate-pleasing delights await visitors in a 1687-square-meter space. As you stroll through the aisles of the temple of pleasure, the flames on the grills flicker outward through the exhaust hoods several meters high. If the grill master, the asador, throws another stick on the fire framework, the sparks whizzing around provide a visually impressive spectacle. Even more spectacular are the grills themselves.
On several square meters of grill surface the grill guru puts on what the local meat market gives. Plump sausages, meter-long pieces of asado meat, juicy beef fillets and a few more strange local barbecue specialties are maneuvered back and forth over the embers by the gentleman in the ring with an expert hand. Only the connoisseur can follow the ritual. The grill masters in the various restaurant establishments in the Mercado del Puerto are seasoned professionals who are sought after by the operators. Some of the best restaurants in the country, such as El Palenque, are based in the hallowed grill halls. What’s prestigious in Uruguay takes its guests to dine in halls to eat and enjoy.
Things are rustic at the counters that stretch along the grills. Guests have an unobstructed view of the action. No importance is attached to etiquette. And if desired, this can be done to the sound of live tango and milonga chords.
Those who prefer it more stylish and quiet, retreat to the more dignified realms on the 1st floor.
Tip 4: Torre Antel
The Torre de las Comunicaciones, or more popularly known as Torre Antel, is in the Aguada neighborhood and was opened in 2002. The tower is still the tallest building in Montevideo. Its futuristic design makes it stand out among the other buildings and it is also visible from many points in the city. The tower has 35 floors and houses, among other things, the Museum of Telecommunications.
During the week there are free daily guided tours where you can go up to the top floor. There is an observation deck from which you have a great view of the harbor, the Cerro of Montevideo and other parts of the city. Please keep in mind that there are no guided tours on weekends.
Tip 5: Tristan Naravja
The Feria Tristan Narvaja takes place on the street of the same name and its side streets. It stretches over several blocks and is the largest open-air market in the country.
A universe all its own. Fruit and vegetable vendors shout out their best offers, exotic birds chirp here not from the trees but from the cages stacked in several layers. Puppy dogs wait impatiently in cardboard boxes for new owners. Herds of tourists and locals prowl around the packed stalls of antiques, records and books.
Counterfeit luxury items lie among Motörhead T-shirts. Low-profile car tires next to classic portable radios. The smell of herbs and the dripping meat skewers of street grills.