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
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 Rodo, Cordon, Palermo and Barrio Sur
There are not as many hotel options in Parque Rodó, Cordon (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 Rodo and Carrasco|
|foodie experiences||Ciudad Vieja, Parque Rodo, Cordon, Punta Carretas, Carrasco|
|nightlife||Ciudad Vieja, Parque Rodo, Cordon|
|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]
If you are travelling to Uruguay in June, July, August, temperatures may look mild, but you will be in for a surprise if you don’t bring layers.
Avoid high season prices and crowded beaches. See Montevideo at its liveliest. Don’t miss carnival. So when is the best time to visit Uruguay?
The truth is out. Montevideans just don’t care that much about taking your tourist dollars. They’d rather spend the holidays with their family and friends.
Between June and August, visit Uruguay for horse-riding, deserted beaches, great culture, live music, bonfire parties, winetasting & whale-watching.
Set off the most romantic park in Montevideo, Alma Historica is a truly boutique hotel. You’ll love the views of the Old City from the roof-top hot tub.
In Uruguay you can watch whales close-up from the beach. Save yourself an expensive trip to Patagonia & feel great that your viewing generates zero stress.
Between Christmas & New Year, Montevideans leave town in droves. So what to do you do? There’s still the beaches, tango, fireworks and… water fights!