Your guide to Montevideo, Uruguay

The capital of Uruguay, Montevideo is a charming metropolitan oasis where the lifestyle of the rural campo (countryside) influences a not-so-fast pace of city living.

Once a fortified citadel, the Ciudad Vieja (old city) is today surrounded by traces of the city walls, first erected in 1741. Beyond this historic core, visitors can stroll the longest continuous sidewalk in the world, relax on sandy beaches, visit countless museums or sway to carnaval rhythms year-round. 

Here’s our guide to the top things to do in Montevideo, Uruguay.

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1. Enjoy sand and surf on Montevideo’s beaches

Montevideo is surrounded by the wide Río de la Plata, and the most popular beach in town is Playa de Los Pocitos, which offers soft sand and volleyball courts.

This true city beach is framed by the waterfront buildings of the namesake Pocitos neighborhood. In the summer months, you’ll see scads of umbrellas that protect from the high UV rays in Uruguay (which can reach as high as 11).

Local tip: The beaches are small and get busy on the weekend, so plan your beach day during the week to avoid crowds. 

A woman walks through the Museo de la Memoria in Montevideo, Uruguay, South AmericaThe haunting Museo de la Memoria commemorates the victims of Uruguay’s military junta © Universal Images Group via Getty

2. Visit Museo de la Memoria 

The most important museum to visit in Montevideo is the Museo de la Memoria, open since 2007. Located about 1.9mi (3km) from Prado Park, the museum offers insights and context on the country’s 12-year civic-military dictatorship.

The site honors the 200 Uruguayans who disappeared during the junta (the Desaparecidos), and who are still unaccounted for. 

A permanent exhibition featuring pots and pans looks inconspicuous – yet during this era Uruguayans used these simple kitchen tools to object to the state-sanctioned killing of civilians.

In a protest known as cacerolazo, citizens banged these objects outside their windows, creating chaotic noise to make their numbers heard. 

Sausages and other meets cook on an asado grill in Central Market, Montevideo, Uruguay, South AmericaDon’t miss Uruguay’s world-famous meats, best enjoyed fresh from the asado (grill) © Getty Images / iStockphoto

3. Load your plate with grass-fed beef at these best places to eat in Montevideo

Uruguay is known across the world for its superb grass-fed beef. (There are at least three sheep and three cows per Uruguayan citizen!)

At home, Uruguayans gather with friends and family almost weekly for an asado, at which different cuts of grilled meat are served along with vegetables. 

If you don’t manage to score an invite, you can still have a traditional parrilla dinner experience at García, a popular restaurant that’s served premium cuts of meat paired with curated local and international wines since 1967. The elegant dining room is a favorite for Uruguayans celebrating a special occasion.

Local tip: The well-known Mercado del Puerto has, alas, lost its charm, and is today an overrated, overpriced tourist trap. Instead, head to Casa Pastora, Mercado Williman and Mercado Ferrando, which all feature food stalls serving parrillas.

Performers in costume and face paint during a carnaval murga show, Montevideo, Uruguay, South AmericaFestive murga shows take place in and around Montevideo during its epic carnaval celebrations © Getty Images/iStockphoto

4. Experience Carnaval year-round 

If you visit Uruguay between the end of January and early March you can take part in the longest carnaval celebration in the world. Uruguayans celebrate for a full 40 to 50 days in the lead-up Easter (known as Tourism Week in Uruguay). The festivities are primarily attended by locals, though foreign visitors are most welcome. 

The tradition of carnaval was brought to Uruguay by enslaved Africans. Their descendants invented candombe drums, a large percussion instrument that’s worn on the body and played as the performer walks in the street.

Candombe is the heartbeat of Uruguay, and has been designated a Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity since 2009. During carnaval, candombe is part of nearly every performance, with groups painting and decorating their drums to match the colors of the bedazzled lingerie and feathers worn by the dancers.

To kick off the celebrations, the Inaugural Parade takes place at the end of January, at which candombe drummers parade with dancers along central Avenida 18 de Julio. The following night is usually the Samba Schools Parade, where performers dressed in colorful carnaval garb dance through the street. 

In February, the Las Llamadas parade features candombe drummers performing as they walk the streets of the Afro-Uruguayan neighborhoods of Barrio Sur and Palermo.

Between parade dates, you can visit one of the many tablados (stages set around the city), which play host to frequent performances by satirical singing groups, called murga, that wear face paint and clown-like costumes.

If you can’t make it for the festivities, get a taste of the celebrations at the Museo del Carnaval, which houses videos of performances, costumes and drums. Additionally, candombe groups practice year-round – and even without the colorful costumes and fanfare, they still offer a memorable experience. 

Each neighborhood has a group that typically rehearses once a week on the streets in preparation for the annual Competition of Carnaval Groups.

Every Sunday in the late afternoon, drummers gather in Barrio Sur to play candombe  – and anyone is welcome to join in. Simply follow the sound of the drums to find the group.

Local tip: Unfortunately, since pickpocketing is prevalent at these gatherings you should keep an eye on your personal belongings.

Fans of Nacional raise their arms and cheer in the stands at Gran Parque Central stadium, Montevideo, Uruguay, South AmericaUruguayans are mad for soccer – and a match is an unmissable experience in Montevideo © Ernesto Ryan/Getty Images

6. Pick your favorite soccer team 

The first World Cup was held in Uruguay in 1930 at Estadio Centenario – and the Uruguayans (naturally) won the title.

Today, the two most prominent teams in fútbol-mad Montevideo are Peñarol and Nacional. The former dons yellow and black and plays at the Campeón del Siglo stadium, while the latter wears red, white and blue and calls Gran Parque Central stadium home.  

Choose a team to support, then catch a match during the Uruguayan Primera División season, which lasts from May to December. If there isn’t a game while you’re in town, you can learn more about Uruguayan soccer at the Museo del Fútbol.

7. Cycle, rollerblade or stroll the Rambla

Montevideo’s riverfront Rambla is the longest continuous sidewalk in the world, at nearly 14 miles (23km). The avenue snakes along the coast and is popular for cycling and rollerblading. 

In Montevideo, a favorite local pastime is to prepare yerba maté, a traditional Indigenous drink first cultivated by the Guaraní in Paraguay and popularized as a shared communal drink by the Charrúa in Uruguay.

Many Uruguayans always carry their mate kit with them, which includes the yerba (loose caffeinated tea leaves) a mate (the cup, traditionally a gourd), bombilla (perforated spoon-like straw) and thermo (hot-water bottle). 

Take your mate and go for a stroll on the Rambla around sunset. You’ll pass by a skate park, the famed Montevideo sign, the moving Holocaust Memorial, Pittamiglio Castle and plenty of street musicians.

Local tip: It’s customary in Uruguay to share mate with complete strangers. Since this isn’t sanitary, we recommend buying your own kit, available at any grocery store.

8. Head east to Punta del Este 

Once you’ve gotten to know the capital, take a direct bus from the Tres Cruces terminal out east to Punta del Este on the Atlantic coast. 

Notable things to do here include relaxing at Playa Brava by the famous La Mano en la Arena sculpture, watching surfers at Playa el Emir or catching the sunset while enjoying a pitcher of clericó (white-wine sangria) from Parador I’marangatú.

Planning tip: Take a day trip on your day trip, and head from Punta del Este to places like the Punta Ballena whale lookout point, the Fundación Pablo Atchugarry sculpture garden and the Arboretum Lussich.


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