Ok full disclosure. We actually spent way more than 48 hours in Montevideo. But with two kids under the age of 5, and with our homeschooling routine for our eldest, any normal person can achieve in 48 hours that which takes us a week… so….
I was actually really looking forward to our visit to Montevideo. I love visiting those “lesser known” countries, the ones that are a little off the beaten track. Although I don’t know if you can call Montevideo “off the beaten track” since it’s only a short ferry (or ferry/bus) trip away from Buenos Aires.
Montevideo is a modern city with a quaint old town sitting on a little peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic. The old town is surrounded by a wide promenade along the sea wall which would make for a really pleasant stroll if it were not for a major highway which runs next to it… but nevermind.
The old town is surprisingly quiet. Life doesn’t really start happening here until fairly late in the morning, and when the shops are shut and the people have gone home, you would be forgiven for thinking you had somehow missed the apocalypse. We were staying in an AirBnB right in the middle of the old town. It appeared that the apartment block we were staying in was only at minimum occupancy. Of the three apartments on our floor, we were the only one which was inhabited. Also, many of the beautiful historic buildings of the old town are derelict and abandoned – a real shame. The city is trying to rebuild and preserve these buildings, and we can certainly see a lot of tourist potential for when they do.
The main street of the old town, Sarandi, cuts through the middle of the old town and intersects with the two main plazas; Plaza Constitucion and Plaza Independencia. This is the street with the most of the shopping and museums which will interest tourists. The other main area of old town which you need to know about is the Mercado del Puerto. This old port market building has been converted into THE place to be for traditional Uruguayan parillas (steak and BBQ restaurants). Dozens of restaurants inhabit the place and the smoke, smells, and bustling vibe will most certainly get you into the mood to eat (and drop some cash). And this is the start of our itinerary.
Day 1 – Food for the belly and food for the soul
Start your day by wandering through the old town of Montevideo and getting your bearings. As soon as hunger sets in, make your way to Mercado del Puerto for a traditional Uruguayan parilla. All of the BBQ’s are open air, so you can have a wander through the building and then take your pick of the one with the best offerings. Plan for a long lunch. Order a few things from the grill and share them among the table. Then order some more… and some more.. you get the idea.
After all that eating you will probably be in need of a nice long walk. Well this walk isn’t that long, but if you exit the Mercado and head along the water, you will eventually come to a park which will lead you to the National Museum of Visual Arts. The museum (oddly) doesn’t open until 2 PM, so don’t rush your lunch. The museum will give you a great over view of the main artists which have come out of Uruguay. Which is good, because the main artists all have their own specialized museums in the old town… but that’s for tomorrow…
Day 2 – Art and Survival
You would have gotten a taste of local art yesterday at the National Museum for Visual Arts. If something stood out for you, then you are in luck, and most of the main artists also have their own museums devoted to just them. Examples are Museo Gurvich and Museo Torres Garcia, both located in the old town.
Then, once you are all art-ed out, why not learn about some harrowing stories of survival. Near the old town, is the highly rated Museo Andes 1972. This museum tells the story of Flight 571 which crashed in the Andes, and the survival story of the 16 Uruguayans who survived 72 days in the wilderness.
If you visit the Mercardo del Puerto and one or two of the museums listed here, then you will have honestly visited a big chunk of the tourist attractions that Montevideo has to offer.