Where is the best neighbourhood to stay—or live—in Montevideo? I am asked this often. Of course it depends on your preferences and who you’re living with. Here are my tips.
Montevideo is a small city of 1.5 million people and easy to get around. However Montevideo’s neighbourhoods –or barrios— are all really different one from the other, and where you choose can make a real difference to your experience in Montevideo.
Here I cover the principal neighbourhoods where most visitors are likely to stay. You’ll notice that they are all strung along the 25 kilometre riverside boardwalk known as the rambla except for Centro. Montevideo has over ten beaches and they are all easy to get to walk to, even if you don’t live right on them.
Also check out my article about safety in Montevideo.
Ciudad Vieja (the Old Town)
The Ciudad Vieja is Montevideo’s historic centre and was once ALL of Montevideo. It is the heart of government, finance, import-export so is bustling during the week and quieter on weekends. It is in a process of renovation and there are grandiose mansions next to pockets of poverty. This is no shiny for-export historic reconstruction—it is for real.
- You are in the heart of the historic area
- You can walk absolutely everywhere
- The Colonial Square and outstanding architecture
- Packed with historic cafes, theatres, live music, museums, galleries, auction-houses, antiques and old book stores
- The best restaurants in Montevideo, especially the lunch-time options
- Home to some of the most original hotels and accommodation (see my article on architecture)
- Right on the rambla, you can see the water at the end of every street – it’s a peninsula with the River Plate on three sides
- The only really integrated neighbourhood where rich rub shoulders with poor
- Lively bar scenes on Bartolome Mitre and around the intersection of Ciudadela and Canelones streets.
- May feel deserted on Saturday after 2pm when most businesses close, Sundays and evenings – you need to have a plan (see “antidote” below)
- The area around the port –like port areas all over the world– is dodgy after dusk. Simple solution: if you need to go there, take a cab or ride-share (Uber, Cabify), they are cheap
- Plan to visit other neighbourhoods on Sunday
- Morning – check out the Tristan Narvaja flea market (20 min walk)
- Sunday afternoon and evening – after beef at the Port Market or seafood at Es Mercat, have a siesta, then walk along the rambla to Parque Rodo and see the sun go down over the river
A smart upper-middle class residential barrio on the rambla.
- Close to the rambla for walking and running
- Lots of restaurants, cutesy teahouses
- Lots of hotels
- 15 minute walk to Pocitos Beach
- Large shopping centre for those who need their mall fix
- You will need to take transportation to sight-see
- The barrio’s charming houses are being knocked down to make way for high-rises
- Not a great deal of character in the newer hotels, you could be anywhere really
Pocitos is an upper-middle class neighbourhood close to the rambla dominated by highrise apartments. It adjoins Punta Carretas.
- Has a very nice beach with fine white sand (by regular city beach standards – it’s not Rio of course)
- Close to the rambla
- Lots of restaurants
- Exploring further inland old Pocitos has some charming labyrinth-like streets
- 15-20 minute walk to two malls
- You will need to take transportation to sight-see
- The high-rises have removed a lot of the character
The ritzy area of Montevideo which is primarily residential with low-level buildings and lots of greenery. It is closest to the airport on the rambla, which is dominated by the historic hotel pictured above. I’ve heard it joked that the children who grow up there are more familiar with Miami than they are with the centre of Montevideo.
- Has its own little microcosm with a main street, shops and restaurants
- Sleek hotels
- Has an extensive beach
- On the rambla
- All low-rise buildings with lots of green leafy streets
- Just 5-10 minutes drive from the airport
- Far from “real Montevideo” and any of the sights
- Long ride to the city centre (we’re talking apx 20 USD one-way)
- The beach is not cleaned off-season and typically covered with washed-up debris between May and November
- You can take a bus into the city centre, but it’s not easy to see the point of staying in Carrasco if you are on a budget
This is the downtown area dominated by the main avenue, 18 de julio, which bustles day and night. On either side of the avenue there are lots of two and three star hotels.
- Bustling mid-week and on Saturday mornings
- Close to the Ciudad Vieja where many of the sights are
- Standard hotel accommodation tends to be cheapest here
- The most urban part of Montevideo though still tree-lined with some trash issues
- 18 de julio is not an attractive street until you look UP – and then there is the most amazing arquitecture
- Can be a little sketchy on side streets at night. Walk 18 de julio to avoid problems or take the cheap cabs.
Parque Rodó, Cordón, Palermo and Barrio Sur
There are not as many hotel options in Parque Rodó, Cordón (inland to the north of Parque Rodo), Barrio Sur or Palermo but like the Old City they’ve become a popular place for rentals. The four areas located next to each other between Ciudad Vieja and Pocitos, so I’ll group them together.
- Charming neighbourhoods filled with character and characters
- Mainly low-rise buildings on leafy tree-lined streets though Palermo has seen a recent boom in high-rises
- Parque Rodó has the Playa Ramirez (Ramirez beach) – very shallow it is ideal for small children
- Parque Rodó has two nostalgia-inspiring parks with fairgrounds for small children and overgrown!
- There’s a booming pub and bar scene
- Barrio Sur is the heart of Afro-Uruguayan culture and candombe
- Drumming comparsas are out and about any evening throughout the year in preparation for carnaval
- Most hotels are in the Barrio Sur neighbourhood which is a little sketchy though improving. Take simple precautions to avoid problems.
- Pubs and bars tend to be spread-out and may be difficult to find. Make sure you have done your research and know where you are going to avoid frustration. Tip: Start off at Bar El Mingus in Palermo
The Guru’s final analysis
|I want …||Choose|
|authentic Montevideo||Ciudad Vieja, Barrio Sur, Palermo|
|to be able to walk everywhere||Ciudad Vieja|
|a beach||Pocitos, Parque Rodó and Carrasco|
|foodie experiences||Ciudad Vieja, Parque Rodó, Cordón, Punta Carretas, Carrasco|
|nightlife||Ciudad Vieja, Parque Rodó, Cordón|
|minimal cultural differences*||Punta Carretas, Carrasco|
|closest to the airport||Carrasco|
* Am I being flippant? Maybe 🙂
[First published: August 12 2015, last updated: see date above]
Photos: Gabriel Millos (Pocitos), Jimmy Baikovicius (Punta Carretas, Carrasco, Ciudad Vieja), Suedehead (Parque Rodó), Gonzalo Viera Azpiroz (Ciudad Vieja)
Loved your book. One thing omitted was mention of local rentals (via Airbnb or similar). They seem to provide more options that are actually _on_ the beach. Any advice for those of us that hope to sleep with the sound of surf?
Hi John, so glad you loved my book – I assume you have the Montevideo one as I actually go into detail regarding Airbnb style rentals and what you should be on the look out for in The Guru’Guay Guide to Uruguay: Beaches, Ranches & Wine Country. So, assuming you want advice about renting in Montevideo, as Montevideo is on the estuary, as opposed to the ocean, there’s not generally the sound of waves crashing to be heard. I hope that helps! If I misunderstood, let me know – Karen
I do indeed have, and enjoy, the city guide. My “sound of surf” may have been a bit metaphorical. What I am really after is some idea of what is available on the Montevideo beach fronts, and how to find it. I’d like to walk out my door and be on the sand. Or as close to that as possible. What do you recommend?
Hi John, I made this little video for you yesterday. You can see that it’s not possible to walk out of your door directly onto the sand as the rambla is between the beach and the buildings. https://www.instagram.com/p/B7FVnbmAm_t/
The beaches closest to hotels are Pocitos and Malvin. I hope this helps. All the best – Karen
Karen, you really go overboard to help. I’m looking through airbnb now at places along the rambla and finding some great-looking options. If you have any alternative suggestions to airbnb, I’ll bet I’m not the only one that would be interested. I’ve gotta make up my mind soon, because I’m going to be soaking up that sunshine in a few weeks!
Hi John, many thanks for the kind words. I don’t really have any suggestions for accommodation on the rambla itself, so if you’ve found something nice, go for it!
We are 3 friends traveling to Montevideo for a few nights. It seems like the Ciudad Viejo would be a good fit for us as we won’t have a car but I wanted to get your opinion. We are in our late 20s and like a balance of sight-seeing, fun bars, and good but affordable restaurants (we are on a bit of a budget). We don’t mind walking. We spent almost a week in Palermo in Buenos Aires and loved it; we also enjoyed San Telmo although we only spent the afternoon though.
Looking forward to your thoughts, thank you so much!
Hi Anna, you can get around Montevideo very easily on foot and by bus. I think the Ciudad Vieja will be great for you (I have a small guesthouse and would love to have you stay if we fit your budget!) for both sightseeing and gastronomy. Palermo (the Montevideo one 😉 ) is also a good fit for you though you’ll have to travel to Ciudad Vieja for most of the sights. Enjoy! Karen
Thanks for the great and useful posts. However, I am still not sure where I should book accommodation in Montevideo. My girlfriend and I will go to there from 29 Dec – 2 Jan (4 days). We prefer to stay in a busy and vibrant location close to attractions, landmarks, culture and architecture, cafés, bars and restaurants. Most important though is safety. We would not like to stay in the Old Town if it gets sketchy and desolate after dark or even before. We don´t plan to hang out very late but it would be nice to be out sometimes until 10 pm or later. How is the area on and around Av. 18 de Julio between Plaza Independencia and Intendencia de Montevideo in terms of the preferences described above?
Where would be the best pick for us in your opinion?
Any good places to go for New Year to see many people celebrating and perhaps fireworks?
Thanks in advance 🙂
Hi Jakob, there are 300 security cameras in the Old City. It is statistically probably the safest neighbourhood in the whole city. However if you prefer more movement at that time of year then you might want to check out Pocitos. It’s also a good place to be for the fireworks. Check out my article on what to do at the Christmas and New Year holidays in Montevideo. All the best — Karen
I’m planning to visit soon and have to say this is the most helpful website I have come across. Thanks so much!
Thank you for your useful posts!
We are wondering about restaurants not being open in the old town. is this an issue for dinner? We’re torn between a hostel on the border of Centro / Barrio Sur, about 6 blocks to the old town. Or, a hotel right in the Ciudad Vieja.
Hi Dariece, there are actually way more (and more varied) restaurants in the Ciudad Vieja (Old City) than there are in Barrio Sur. Note that only Sunday night has typically been an issue for finding a good restaurant open in the Old City. All the other nights there are great options. The good news is that now several great eateries are open in the Old City for early Sunday dinner including probably Montevideo’s best fish restaurant Es Mercat and the Montevideo Wine Experience has tapas on Sunday evenings till 9pm or later (they can also order dishes from Es Mercat and have them delivered to the winebar). La Fonda (see The Guru’Guay Guide to Montevideo) has just started opening on Sunday evenings.
Also take into account, Montevideo is small, so it’s not time-consuming to go from one neighbourhood to another.
For a great guide to the best restaurants in Montevideo, invest in The Guru’Guay Guide to Montevideo. I have included six pages of recommendations, all annotated, not neutral lists like most guidebooks. All the Best — Karen
Thank you for this article. It was helpful in deciding which barrio to stay in Montevideo. A few questions,
-Do you have any other hotels to recommend in Ciudad Vieja, not picky about architecture, but we want it to be in a safe location and clean? (We’re two women traveling.)
-We plan to take ferry from Buenos Aires – how far is this from the ferry?
-We only have a day and a half, and would like to take advantage of seeing as much as we can. What would be the next recommended barrio and what other things would you recommend?
Hi Marissa – glad you found the article helpful.
1. I would recommend my guesthouse Casa Sarandi which has excellent ratings for location and cleanliness in Booking, TripAdvisor, etc. Check out this video of our guests who was a solo female traveller and this review from a solo woman traveller from Seattle. If you are looking for a different price range, let me know.
2. How far is what from the ferry? The ferry arrives in the port in the Old City itself so to get to say Casa Sarandi a taxi takes 5 minutes. You could also walk in about 30 minutes.
3. A day and half is really not much and it depends so much on what you like to do. Fortunately Montevideo is smallish and easy to get around. I would recommend you check out my four day plan and choose some things to do that appeal. Also make sure you go out and see some live music – I post my own recommendations on the Guru’Guay Facebook page around midday most days. To have even more ideas, then The Guru’Guay Guide to Montevideo will give you TONS and you’ll be supporting this site at the same time.
Hope this helps! All the best – Karen
We stayed in neat flat in BA, found one in the old town, what do you think especialy about heat as we come in 15 July
Hi Chris, I think you need to read my article about visiting Uruguay in the winter. As well as covering what to bring clothing-wise, it looks at what you should be looking for regarding heating in rented accommodation. Enjoy! – Karen