Ciudad Vieja literally means “Old City,” and it’s the original neighborhood where Montevideo started. The old gates to the citadel are still standing and make for a great first day picture. You can start by doing a walking tour of the beautiful Art Nouveau and Art Decó-styled architecture that can be found in many well-kept buildings. You’ll most likely run into an artisan or flea market and there are small boutiques where you can shop for souvenirs. The great appeal of Ciudad Vieja is that you can easily get lost among its small alleyways and narrow streets and end up discovering something amazing.
There are plenty of cafés and small restaurants to grab a midday bite, or you can buy something to go and have a picnic in one of the gorgeous squares. In the afternoon, you can go to one of the museums—the Joaquín Torres-García Museum or the Gurvich Museum are very good—and then head towards the port where you can check out the nearby art galleries, more artisanal markets, and boutique stores.
For dinner, head to the port market, a marketplace that hosts restaurants of excellent quality. You can have a traditional parrilla or eat some incredible seafood. At the beginning of your trip, make sure to check out what’s on at Solis Theatre and book tickets. The striking building is even more so inside, so it’s a good opportunity to check it out. If you don’t fancy a show, there are plenty of fun bars in Ciudad Vieja serving fancy cocktails, artisanal beer, and live music; there’s even an Irish pub.
Start off your day by going to a fruit market; there are markets on different streets depending on the day of the week. The best day is Sunday because Tristán Narvaja market is on, which is the biggest in the country. There, you can find everything from fruit and vegetables, cheese and meats, nuts and olives, vintage clothes, antiques, jewelry, instruments, pets, leather goods… the list can go on forever. You can spend hours exploring every stand and you wouldn’t get bored.
Although you can have something to eat at the market, it’s a good idea to wait it out and eat at a traditional Montevideo bar. A great example is Gran Sportman, found at the beginning of the market on the junction between 18 de Julio and Tristán Narvaja. Try a grilled ham and cheese sandwich like you’ve never experienced before!
After replenishing your energy you can walk along the grand avenue 18 de Julio, probably the most important street in Montevideo. You will come across the City Hall, the city library, and many important university buildings. Keep walking towards Barrio Sur, the birthplace of candombe, the iconic Uruguayan rhythm-based music. You can ask a local when and where a candombe band, or comparsa, is playing to see their street show and also check out the cool street art predominant in this area. Find a nice-looking pizzeria and have some pizza the Uruguayan way: square pieces and faina, a sort of chickpea flatbread, on top.
Parque Rodó is a neighborhood boasting an amazing park with plenty of trees and greenery, a lake, a mosaic-tiled fountain, and a vintage amusement park. It’s a part of the city worth checking out and spending the morning. There are many bakeries near the park where you can find bizcochos, sweet and savory pastries to have in the park for breakfast. Check out the National Museum of Visual Arts which is right next to the park too.
Have a late lunch at Escaramuza, a charming bookstore with a restaurant, where you can enjoy some healthy food. Take the afternoon to walk around or go back to the promenade and watch the incredible sunset over the sea.
You can find a lot of restaurants and stores in the neighborhoods of Punta Carretas and Pocitos, so it’s nice to do some window-shopping and decide what you want to eat. After lunch the best course of action is to go for a walk along the gorgeous promenade, staying mindful of the sun with proper sunscreen and a hat.
This part of the promenade features the landscape of fancy skyscrapers on one side and beautiful coastline on the other. There are squares on the beachfront which are perfect to rest. You can find restaurants located between the promenade and the beach, perfect to have dinner while you enjoy the sunset or moon rise. A great example with excellent seafood and gorgeous garden is El Viejo y el Mar.
These neighborhoods are the distant suburbs of Montevideo, far removed from the city center. This is the wealthiest part of the city so you will see giant mansions and well-tended gardens and parks. Montevideo has plenty of beaches all around its coast, but the ones here are ideal for a beach day.
Spend the morning on Carrasco beach, which is the nicest in the city. It’s right across the Sofitel Casino Carrasco & Spa, a stunning hotel built in 1921. After the beach you can walk down Arocena Avenue and eat lunch at one of its many restaurants: a good place for traditional parrilla is Garcia, there’s also one with authentic German cuisine called Dakel, and the locals’ favorite Café Misterio if you want to treat yourself. Leave room for dessert because Las Delicias does the best ice cream in Montevideo.
After lunch you can walk to a nearby square to watch the sunset. Plaza Virgilio, a hill in Punta Gorda overlooking the sea, is the perfect spot. There’s also an excellent restaurant there called Hemingway if you want to have an early dinner.
There are a number of wineries in Montevideo that offer tours and wine-tasting that reveal the secrets of wine-making. Bodega Bouza is an excellent choice to spend the day—they have a charming wine cellar and beautiful grounds.
The best part is that you get to spend the day out in nature, which feels like the Uruguayan countryside even though it’s just a stone’s throw from the city. They have a great restaurant if you want a meal to pair with your wine.
Prado is another historic neighborhood of Montevideo. Back in the day, wealthy families used to build their summerhouses in this part of the city, so you can see an amazing display of architecture that differs greatly from the one you find in Ciudad Vieja.
There’s a museum called Blanes featuring Uruguayan paintings from the 19th century and a Japanese garden. In Prado, you can also find the biggest botanic park in the city and a beautiful rose garden right next to it.