Planning Your Trip
Things to Do
What to Eat & Drink
Come to Montevideo to relax and unwind in this small but bustling capital city. Walk or bike its miles of coastline, lie on the beaches, and sample the reds from the local wineries. Experience its culinary heritage by attending an asado (barbecue), sipping a mate, or biting into a massive chivito sandwich (a traditional Uruguayan meal). Learn tango or dance alongside drumming candombe groups in the streets. Watch the nearly sacred national sport of soccer at Estadio Centenario, or spend an evening listening to opera at Teatro Solis. Peruse its museums, and hop on the bus to get around for less than a dollar a ride. You'll find it easy to navigate, full of activities, and its people kind and caring.
Montevideo is as progressive as it is relaxed. Uruguay has anti-discrimination laws in regards to sexual orientation and gender identity, and Montevideo is commonly listed as one of the best destinations in Latin America for LGBTQ+ travelers.
While many visitors come here as part of a greater South America tourism circuit or for a visa run from Argentina, Montevideo and the country of Uruguay warrant a trip within themselves.
Planning Your Trip
- Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit Montevideo is October through March when the weather is at its warmest. Half of that time Carnival celebrations will take over the city, while the other half will have good hotel and flight deals.
- Language: Spanish
- Currency: Uruguayan peso
- Getting Around: City buses are the only form of public transportation in Montevideo, but much of the city can be traveled around simply by walking or renting a bike. Taxis, Ubers, and remises (chartered cars) are plentiful and cheap, too. There’s no need to rent a car unless you plan on venturing out of the city.
- Travel Tip: Montevideanos eat and party late. The normal dinner time ranges between 10 to 11 p.m. It's common to go to bars and clubs around 12 a.m., then stay out partying until 4 or 5 a.m. The trick to staying up late here is to take a power nap in the late afternoon, then drink a mate when you wake up to give you a focused, steady caffeine surge.
Things to Do
Many of Montevideo’s best activities are its most relaxing ones: walking or biking the Rambla, sitting by the river and enjoying a mate, and wandering through its many museums. You can find more lively activities, like going to a candombe practice (a drum-heavy Afro-Uruguayan music associated with Carnival) or dancing tango, but the city is known more for its chill vibe than its party ambiance (with the exception of Carnival and major holidays like Nostalgia Night).
- Go wine tasting at a nearby vineyard. Not only is Bodega Bouza one of closest wineries to Montevideo, it’s also rated as one of the world’s top wineries.
- See a soccer game at Estadio Centenario. Holding 60,000 fans, it’s the only historical monument of World Football and the home turf of Uruguay’s National Team. Tickets can be purchased at the Abitab sites found throughout Montevideo.
- Explore the art scene. See a show in Teatro Solis or take a day tour of the facility to experience the most prestigious theater in Uruguay. Visit one of the city’s 20-plus art museums and exhibitions spaces (like the EAC) to better understand Uruguayan culture and history.
Explore more attractions with our full-length article on the best things to do in Montevideo.
What to Eat and Drink
For Uruguay’s famous wood-fired barbecue, asado, go to one of the many restaurants in Mercado del Puerto serving juicy steaks, morcilla (blood sausage), and cheesy stuffed grilled bell peppers. The national sandwich, the chivito, layers strips of steak, ham, bacon, lettuce, sliced tomatoes, and melted mozzarella between two thick slices of bread, topped with a fried egg and salsa golf (mayo and ketchup). As for street food, grab a choripan (a chorizo sausage sandwich) with zesty chimichurri sauce. Another option are tortas fritas, deep-fried pancakes with jam, or dulce de leche, a sweat spread similar to caramel, only nuttier and thicker. For more sweets order, an alfajor (a shortbread cookie sandwich with dulce de leche in the middle), an arroz con leche (a sweetened rice dessert), or the chajá (a sponge cake with peaches, meringue, and whipped cream).
Uruguay has a strong wine culture, and over half of all the country's wine is produced within 30 miles of Montevideo. The most popular wine here is Tannat, a red which has notes of licorice, espresso, and blackberries. You can easily order this at most restaurants or take a cab to a local winery to do a tasting at the source. Montevideo is also known for the wine cocktail known as "medio y medio" ("half and half"). Made from dry white wine and sweet sparkling wine, it’s served as an aperitif, with dessert, or really, whenever you want. The other famous drink here has no alcohol but plenty of caffeine: mate. Mate is usually served as loose-leaf tea inside a hollowed-out gourd with a bombilla (a filtered straw). Uruguayans drink it everywhere: at the park, on the bus, while they work. Buy your own equipment to prepare one for yourself, or ask a local if you can try theirs. Most people are generally willing to share mate, even with a stranger.
Where to Stay
Stay in Cuidad Vieja to easily walk to historical sites, discover alleyway vintage shops, and have your pick of boutique hotels and guesthouses with personality. Pocitos and Carrasco will offer less personality but luxury hotels and spas, plus easy access to the city’s best beaches. Many budget accommodations are in the central neighborhood of Cordon. There you’ll be close to Tres Cruces Bus Terminal, surrounded by microbreweries, and next to the famous Sunday street fair, Feria de Tristán Narvaja. For greenery, museums, Ramirez Beach, and a short walk to some of the most popular candombe meetup spots, stay in the Parque Rodo area.
Visitors arrive in Montevideo by ferry, plane, bus, or car. From Buenos Aires, the easiest option is to take a high-speed ferry, like Buque Bus or Colonia Express, to Colonia del Sacramento, then hop on the bus to Montevideo. (Bus passage can be included in the ferry ticket.) Those flying in will land in Carrasco International Airport; after which they can take a taxi, Uber, remis, or minibus into the city. Long-distance buses arrive in Tres Cruces Terminal from major cities in Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. It’s also possible to drive in from Argentina or Brazil, though Montevideo is not close to any land border.
To learn more about Montevideo’s beautiful international airport, check out our full-length Carrasco
International Airport guide.
Culture and Customs
It is not customary to tip taxi drivers, and as a result, don’t expect them to help you with luggage. A tip of 10 percent is normal in restaurants. Should you see a "cubierto" charge on your restaurant bill, that is not a tip but a table charge by the restaurant. You may also give a 10 percent tip for spa or beauty services, though it’s not expected. Hotel porters and airport baggage handlers will expect a tip of the equivalent of a dollar’s worth of pesos.
There are several dated reports about petty crime at night in Cuidad Vieja. A few years ago the government installed nearly 400 security cameras to address this issue, causing incidents to drop significantly. It’s unlikely you would have any safety incident during your visit, but if in doubt about a late-night walk, just call an Uber or taxi to reach your destination.
Money Saving Tips
- Uruguay has a tourist VAT refund of 18 to 22 percent for hotels, car rentals, catering, and certain souvenirs over $600. If you pay with a credit card, it will automatically be refunded. If you pay in cash, you will receive a global blue form. Turn this in at the airport or port to receive your refund.
- The best rate for exchanging cash is at casas de cambios (exchange houses) in the city center.
- Most museums are free.
- Buy fruits, vegetables, and cheeses from the weekly street markets (every neighborhood has one) instead of supermarkets.
- If coming from Buenos Aires, compare ferry prices of the three major carriers (Bueque Bus, Colonia Express, and Seacat) to find the best deal.
- Often the best and cheapest form of transportation is just walking.
- Purchase an STM card any Abitab store for bus discounts.
Uruguay Ministry of Tourism. "Climate, Language, and Religion."
Uruguay Presidencia. "Ministerio del Interior instaló 400 cámaras de seguridad en Ciudad Vieja y Centro." December 23, 2013