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Sitting along the bank of Río de la Plata on the southern coast of Uruguay, the capital of Montevideo is the country’s cultural and economic hub, home to nearly half of Uruguay’s population. Vibrant and eclectic, the city has many faces—from the historic landmarks of the Old Town to the modern high-rises near the water to the exclusive residential neighborhoods on the outskirts of town. A city with a big personality, Montevideo boasts exceptional arts and nightlife scenes, with diverse offerings including lavish theaters and independent galleries to high-energy discos and tiny tango clubs. The city also knows how to party as its hosts the world’s longest-running Carnival, a 40-day festival featuring large-scale performances of traditional music and dance. Roughly 2 hours outside of town, the charming destinations of Colonia del Sacramento and Punta del Este offer peaceful retreats when you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Montevideo is divided into 62 barrios, each with its own unique identity. If visiting the city for the first time, these are neighborhoods you need to know.
Ciudad Vieja — As the oldest district of the city, Ciudad Vieja is home to incredible 18th- and 19th-century architecture that serve as stunning spaces for artistic, residential, and religious locations. Along with sites like the neoclassical Metropolitan Cathedral and the Roman-inspired Solis Theater, the barrio is where you’ll find the majority of the city’s museums, including the Carnival Museum and the Museum of Pre-Columbian and Indigenous Art. The pedestrian avenue of Sarandí Street is one of the most frequented areas in the city, running east for 9 blocks from Independence Plaza. The pathway is lined with restaurants, boutiques, and galleries, along with outdoor stalls selling antiques and handmade crafts. In the northwest end of the district, the historic Port Market is filled with busy eateries serving Uruguayan classics like parrillada barbecue. At night, after the market closes, the neighborhood comes alive at its many lounges, discos, and bars—some that stay open until the sun comes up.
Centro — Directly to the east of Ciudad Vieja, the Centro is the city’s primary business district, focused largely near the main square of Independence Plaza. Crossing through the heart of the neighborhood, Avenida 18 de Julio is where you can find everything from shops and museums to cafes and markets to office towers and banks. Of the area’s landmarks, the most famous is perhaps the 1928 Salvo Palace, a masterpiece of architecture that towers over the street at 312 feet (95 m). On every day but Sunday, the Artisans Market in Plaza Cagancha attracts shoppers looking for crafts and souvenirs.
Punta Carretas — The southernmost barrio of the city, Punta Carretas juts out into the river with waterfront boardwalks running along each side. On and around these streets, find a large selection of modern hotels and high-rises apartments that lend the skyline a Miami-like vibe. Nearly a third of the district is comprised of the Uruguay Golf Club, while other landmarks include the 19th-century lighthouse, the outdoor Summer Theater, and the Cultural Center housed in a 20th-century castle. For fans of retail, the Punta Carretas Shopping Mall is considered one of the best in city. In the northwest end of the neighborhood, Rodó Park is a tree-filled haven where you can take advantage of walking trails, tennis courts, an art museum, an amusement park, and an outdoor market every Sunday.
Pocitos — To the northeast of Punta Carretas, Pocitos truly reflects the heartbeat of the city, with sidewalk cafes, ice cream parlors, upscale restaurants, and chic shops all within blocks of the beach. Pocitos Beach itself is one of the most beloved in the city, not just for its sunbathing and swimming but for the numerous soccer, volleyball, and nautical competitions that are held here throughout the year. After a day at the beach, kick back with a glass of tannat at a nearby wine bar, or peruse the international boutiques at the Montevideo Shopping Mall just east of the district.
El Prado — Further north about 4 miles (6.5 km) from the Centro, El Prado is a neighborhood that takes it name from the park that makes up most of the district. Within the park, you can marvel at thousands of species of plants in the Botanical Garden, wander among flowers and fountains in the Rose Garden, or take in a soccer game at the one of the Prado’s 3 stadiums. Outside the meadow, the district is filled with beautiful old villas, including the Blanes Museum featuring Uruguayan artwork and a Japanese garden.
Scope out the best of Montevideo from the height of 262 feet (80 m) above street level. Make your way to the 22nd floor of the Municipal Palace in the Centro, where you’re greeted by panoramic views of the city. Gaze out upon landmarks like the belltower of the Metropolitan Cathedral and the futuristic Antel Tower. The lookout is free to the public, with operating hours running from 10 AM to 4 PM daily. After you’ve seen the sights, you can stick around to enjoy the cafeteria and souvenir gift shop.
Explore the rich heritage of Montevideo with a visit to any one of its incredible museums. Dive into the city’s military history at Carlos Vaz Ferreira Park, a hill upon which sits an army museum housed in a 19th-century fortress. For a look at the artists who have made an impact on the city, head into Ciudad Vieja. Here, pay a visit to museums dedicated to work by renowned creators like Pedro Figari, José Gurvich, and Torres García. Of course, you can’t take a trip to Montevideo without exploring the history of the world-famous Carnival festival. At the Carnival Museum, immerse yourself in the spirit of Uruguay as you see costumes, performances, and artwork that preserve and showcase the value of the tradition.
Music is huge in Montevideo, with everything spanning from the opera at Solis Theater to bossa nova at the nightclubs. But to see what truly makes Uruguay’s music scene unique, make your way into Barrio Sur on a Saturday or Sunday night. Here, groups of all ages parade down the streets performing candombe, a style of drumming inherited from African immigrants that remains an integral part of the culture today. You can also see more of the country’s authentic artistry with an unforgettable show at El Milóngón theater. Watch as 35 dancers take the stage and delight the audience with a dazzling performance of fiery tango and soulful milonga.
Uncork the secrets of Uruguayan winemaking with a visit to Juanicó Bodega, one of the largest and most beautiful wineries in the entire country. Embark on a tour of the enchanting property through vast vineyards, dimly lit cellars, and old stone buildings before tasting 4 wines made from tannat, Uruguay’s national grape. As you swirl and sip, pair each wine with a selection of creamy cheese, regional meat, and bread fresh from the oven. For those who prefer beer, Montevideo has that too. With an ale-loving guide leading the way, visit Uruguay’s first craft brewery. Tour the small factory, learn about the production, and sample a range of beers from fruity IPA to rich and toasty stout.
Like many countries in Central and South America, Uruguay loves it soccer. Dribble your way through the history of the sport with admission to Centenario Stadium, the monument that hosted the first annual World Cup all the way back in 1930. Tour the massive arena—a site that seats more than 60,000 people—and head inside the Football Museum, one of the most visited attractions in all of Montevideo. Get just inches away from trophies, photographs, and jerseys from the first Cup through today.