South America’s southernmost capital, Montevideo, Uruguay is an oft-forgotten destination; too often, globe-trekkers look to Brazil, Peru, or Argentina for their South American adventures. But Montevideo is rife with nightlife gems, picturesque beaches, wineries, restaurants, and markets ̶ all of which reflect Uruguay’s Spanish, Portuguese, and regional influences. Plus, it’s eminently affordable compared to major European cities. Intrigued? Read on and plan your trip:
Getting to Montevideo
Carrasco International Airport is Montevideo’s main portal in and out of the country. You won’t be able to fly directly into Montevideo from the U.S.; most flights into the country originate in Buenos Aires or Sao Paulo. However, major airlines do make the trek, including Delta, Air France, and KLM. Once you arrive, you can either rent a car ($25-50/day) or take the bus to downtown (less than $1/one-way, about 1 hour).
Where to stay
Montevideo has a wealth of clean, amenity-rich hotels right on the water in the downtown area. Prices range from about $50-$150/night, so you can find something to suit any budget. We love staying at the Sheraton Montevideo Hotel, if only because of the location and views of Rio de la Plata. We also love the Hyatt Centric Montevideo, which sits a bit closer to the water and is in walking distance (or a quick taxi ride) from major downtown attractions. If you like historic and independent stops, there’s no question: Book a room at Alma Historica (the Tea Room is one of our favorite places to linger).
Where to eat
The grill (parilla) is the centerpiece of Uruguayan cooking, so little surprise that it stars at La Pulperia. In fact, the kitchen is mostly a six-foot-long grill where chefs have been cooking up skirt steak, chorizo, chicken, and almost half a dozen other meats for some 20 years. Get a side of fries and a glass of wine and settle in for an indescribable feast.
Tona Hugo Soca is certainly adept at grill cooking, too, but diversifies their menu with braises and stews, hearty breads, tomato-based soups, and tender cakes for dessert. The chef dabbles is inventive fusion fare, showcasing dishes like pasta with smoked eggplant, while leaning on Latin classics like Dulce de Leche. Be a little adventurous here (if you’re willing) and ask the chef to prepare something for you; you’ll be delighted you did.
Fortunately for sweet-tooths, Montevideo has a decadent culture of sweets. One of our favorite places to head for serious confection is La Dulceria de Xime Torres. They showcase dozens of immaculately designed treats underneath the bakery’s glass case, including macarons, cakes, cookies, muffins, and chocolate. Our indulgence of choice: the Brownie Tart with Italian meringue (and a macchiato).
Where to drink
Craft beer in Uruguay? Why not? Montevideo Beer Company is the perfect place to grab a lager and a picnic bench for some sun-soaked afternoon conversation with friends. The classics are all on tap, including a rich dark Stout, a steady Amber, and an American IPA. We prefer something with more body and just a little kick so usually go for the Belgian IPA (VOLCANICA). If you get hungry, grab a burger (with bacon, of course) and fries, or a BBQ Sammy.
Montevideo also has an abundance of wineries in and around the city, so make sure you set aside some time for winery hopping. A few standouts worthy of a tour and sip: Santa Rosa Winery, a family-owned property that is known as the quintessential Uruguayan winery, featuring wine café tours and a museum (along with a mouthful of a classic Cab); the award-winning Bodegas Carrau, with a history stretching back more than 150 years and a Rosé that will knock your socks off; and Beretta Winery, which not only serves up a delicious tasting, but leads an educational session on the “Five Senses of Wine” that will help you get the most out of your wine-drinking experience.
What to do
While there are always things to keep you busy in Montevideo, certain seasonal events are of particular consideration. Early in the year (from January to March), the city celebrates Carnival; parades, theater, music, and more food abound during this festive celebration, much of which honors the traditions of the city’s many immigrants.
If you can make it to the city in the spring, consider participating in the Open Sky Festival (launching in 2020): a musical festival celebrating the numerous influences on the country’s musical tapestry. You’ll witness top tango, hip hop, rock, Candombe, and Plena artists while noshing on some of the city’s finest food.
For more year-round fun, consider a peaceful walk through the masterfully manicured Japanese Gardens (no entry fee), followed by a tour of the adjoining National Museum of Visual Arts. The art of Javiel Raúl Cabrera, Rafael Barradas, and others line the walls here, spanning styles from realist to Baroque to impressionist.
One final major pick from us: the beaches along the Rambla de Montevideo. You can while away whole days here, sunning in the sand, so be sure you bring swim trunks, a few towels, and if you can, an umbrella. Incidentally, this is also a perfect spot for people-watching and snapping some inspired photos.
If you still have energy after tanning all day, check out some nightlife hotspots. La Rhonda is where the “in” crowd tends to gather, but the music is somewhat dated. For dancing among expats and tourists, consider Lotus. It’s got a dress code and a fairly steep entrance fee, but your first drink is free. Aiming for something more mellow? Café Bar Tabare is a go-to for local creatives; it’s got solid drinks and a good menu, but you’ll have to make a reservation in advance.
There’s a lot more Montevidian action and attraction we didn’t cover. Need more? Visit the city’s tourism website, descrubrimontevideo.uy.