Go to the Rambla
The Montevideo promenade, or Rambla, spans 25 kilometers of shoreline without a break. Walking, cycling, and rollerblading along the promenade is a favored activity by most Uruguayans. On Christmas and New Years Eve, people flock to the promenade and the beaches beneath it to drink, listen to music, and watch the spectacle of fireworks over the sea. Since most restaurants are either closed or offer set menus on these dates, a good alternative is to buy lechon (cold roasted suckling pig, Uruguay’s traditional food for these holidays) from any bakery and have a picnic dinner on the beach. This is an easy, free activity that also checks the boxes for unique and unforgettable.
Have a set dinner and a party
Many hotels and restaurants offer scrumptious dinners, followed by a dance party and an open bar to celebrate Christmas Eve and New Years. Most meals will include lechon, but another tradition is to eat lamb, roasted in the grill, which is delicious. A third, less popular option is salmon, and you can also ask in advance if you want a vegetarian meal. Before these big main courses, you will usually have several entrees, like open pies, chicken, or turkey with sauces, stuffed ham, a salad bar, and of course a variety of options for dessert.
Have a cider fight in Mercado del Puerto
Mercado del Puerto gets its name because it used to be the biggest market in Montevideo, right by the port. Nowadays it’s more of a place with traditional restaurants serving typical Uruguayan food and souvenirs. The area also has a number of art galleries and other artisan markets. During many holidays, like St. Patrick’s Day and Nostalgic Night, people celebrate in the Port Market. Christmas and New Years definitely take part of this, and the tradition on these specific dates is to have a cider fight right on the street.
Witness office workers going mad in celebration
In the neighborhoods of Centro and Ciudad Vieja, where most offices are located, Uruguayans finish their shifts on December 31 and celebrate in style. It’s a tradition for office workers to rip up their concluding year’s agendas and throw them out the window of the buildings where they work. These are usually very tall, so watch out for flying papers all over the streets. Another custom is to throw buckets of water down the windows, but people in general don’t mind being drenched as it’s super-hot in the city at this time of the year.
New Year’s Day tango
Every year, New Year’s Day is celebrated with a big tango party at around 8 p.m., in the Líber Seregni square in the neighborhood of Cordón. The party is organized by “Milonga Callejera,” famous tango dancers participate and everyone is invited to join in the traditional dance or watch the show. It’s an outdoors free event that gathers lots of people from all over, and a lively way to finish the first day of the new year. Tango is intricate and complex, danced in pairs, and the music is melancholic and deep.
Punta del Este
Punta del Este is the preferred destination for Brazilian, Argentinian, European, American, and Uruguayan tourists for Christmas and New Years. Most hotels and restaurants offer set dinners and parties, all incredibly luxurious and high-end. There are parties and nightclubs in the port and La Barra that attract thousands of people, offering open bars, music, and dancing that goes on until 11 a.m. the next day. Punta del Este is truly a city where you will find anything you’re looking for, and you can spend your festivities serenely admiring the spectacle of fireworks on the promenade, or joining in the popular practice of staying up to watch the first sunrise of the year.
Cabo Polonio is a small fishermen’s village surrounded by big sand dunes, and only accessible by foot, horse, or government authorized massive monster trucks. It’s a protected natural reserve because of the dunes, and because many sea animals live on its shores (it’s actually home to one of the biggest colonies of sea lions in the world). A big appeal of spending Christmas and New Years in Cabo Polonio is that there is no electricity or water (locals usually rely on candles, wells, and generators) so you will be witness to a sky full of stars like you’ve never seen before. Festivities in Cabo are celebrated around a campfire, passing bottles of beer with friends that you just met, as countless fireworks go off in the backdrop of the milky way.