Montevideo is not a huge capital city with accompanying hustle and bustle. It’s a mellow (“tranquilo” as often declared by locals) city with a ubiquitously relaxed vibe. If you are looking for a leisurely walk through the heart of the city, Ciudad Vieja (Old Town), then don’t pass up the walking street of Peatonal Sarandi. Follow this guide to enjoy an educational, entertaining, and filling (i.e. food) experience.
Tour Stops and Attractions
1) Plaza de IndependenciaHere we are at the city’s main plaza, the Plaza de Independencia. The city’s artery street, 18 de Julio, ends here serviced by a multitude of bus routes coming from all parts of the city. In the center of the plaza the country’s father, General Artigas, rides his warhorse, and his mausoleum resides underneath the ground and can be visited. This plaza marks the split between new and old Montevideo. On the east side of the plaza, one can see the Puerta de la Ciudadela (the last remaining part of the wall that protected the area in the 1700s). Pass through the Puerta de la Ciudadela to find the beginning of Peatonal Sarandi – Ciudad Vieja’s (Old Town) walking street that is usually swarming with activity.
2) Palacio SalvoBut before we walk though the Puerta de la Ciudadela, take notice varying architecturally styled buildings surrounding the area. One of these structures is the picturesque Palacio Salvo on the opposite end of the plaza. The view of this building from here is one of Montevideo’s most famous pictures. This hotel was built in 1920’s by an Italian immigrant, and stood as South America’s tallest building for decades. It continues to be the tallest building in Montevideo, but no longer on the continent. It’s rumored that the building has a ghost – a tall, elegant man named Don Pedro – who roams the halls with an umbrella. But don’t worry. All of his witnesses agree that he is a friendly ghost. OK, let’s turn around, walk under the Puerta de la Ciudadela, and step into Ciudad Vieja now.
3) Cafe BacacayPeatonal Sarandi’s stoned path stretches for seven blocks, for now. The city plans to extend the walkway two more blocks, then continue the extension north via Perez Castellano street three blocks until finally ending at the famed Mercado del Puerto – something that we will see later in the tour. But back to where we are, after walking the first block, take a left on Bacacay and enjoy one of the many small modern cafes. This road is rumored to have been named long ago when cows roamed the area (cows in Spanish being Vaca, and the present form of the ver to fall being Cae – Bacacay). One of the favorite cafes is Café Bacacay located at the end of the street on the left. Here, one can sit down comforted by quality music of various types and ages, along with an exquisitely international menu. The prices, however, match its sophistication and decor. Continue on the block until you see the country’s national theatre: Teatro Solis.
4) Teatro SolisTeatro Solis was officially inaugurated in 1856; its name comes from the Spanish explorer who discovered the nearby Rio de la Plata. Teatro Solis hosts classical, tango, jazz and other musical concerts as well as dance performances, plays, and more. Due to a fire, the Teatro Solis was closed in 1998. After six years of remodeling to ensure its safety, in 2004 the theatre was again opened to the public. It is one of the gems of Montevideo, and Uruguay for that matter. Enter the building to check on the upcoming shows. If you don’t have time to see a performance, make sure to join one of the theatre’s daily-organized tours given in Spanish and English.
5) Pubs and Nightclubs of Ciudad ViejaNow let’s get back to Peatonal Sarandi. Taking a left and continuing on the second block of the town’s walking street, you are approaching the hub of Ciudad Vieja’s pedestrian activity. Tourists freshly arrived from their cruise ship mix easily with businessmen eating their midday lunches next to street artisans enjoying a mellow Uruguayan day. The next cross street you encounter is Bartolome Mitre. Hang a left and you have entered Ciudad Vieja’s pub section. On a sunny day there aren’t many better places to enjoy a cold beer in the sun sitting on the various outside tables. One of the popular venues is Viejo Mitre. The staff is very friendly, the food is quality, and the prices are within reason. If nightclubs are more of your scene, instead of taking a left on Bartolome, hang a right from Peatonal Sarandi. The town’s nightclubs populate this block, full of young energy lasting into the early hours of the next morning.
6) Plaza MatrizContinuing on Peatonal Sarandi begins the area where most of the street’s artisans usually camp shop. They are a friendly group of people – some nomads, others who have been here for years. Among them you might see "Antonio the Payaso (clown)". Antonio paints his own face every morning, plays games with children passing by and loves to chat with anyone and everyone. Coming up on your right will be Plaza Matriz, or Plaza de la Constitucion. It is the center of Peatonal Sarandi’s action, as it was back in the early 1800’s during Uruguay’s beginnings. On July 18th (like the city’s main street name) 1830, Uruguay’s first constitution was proclaimed here in Plaza Matriz. The plaza is surrounded by the old town hall building which is now the historical museum, Iglesia Matriz, businesses, and Peatonal Sarandi. On the weekends, a flea market is set up around the center fountain with old artifacts and other merchandise offered. In the summer months, various outdoor activities are showcased next to the plaza, and swarms of people and street entertainers roam the immediate area.
7) Plaza ZabalaContinuing along the next four blocks of the Peatonal, more artisans will be passed with their displays (mainly on weekends), along with more cafes and restaurants. Upon reaching the end of the present day walking street, take a right on Alzaibar. You will find two things upon facing down this street: 1) a fantastic empanada restaurant and 2) a gorgeously small and somewhat hidden plaza. Malfada Empanadas will be on your immediate left hand side. Stop in there to grab an empanada filled with a choice of meats, cheeses or vegetables. Empanadas are a staple food in Uruguay – they are small breaded pastries great for a snack on the go, or eating a few for a meal. Grab one to go on your way to Plaza Zalaba located at the end of the block. This plaza commemorates the founder of Montevideo - Bruno Mauricio de Zabala. A Spanish soldier who later became the governor of nearby Buenos Aires, Zabala needed to protect the area of present day Montevideo from the piracy of the Portuguese. He constructed a wall around the area of today’s Ciudad Vieja, and from this was born Montevideo in 1726.
8) Mercado del PuertoAlthough the walking street does not continue on from this point, we are only four blocks away from where it begins again and leads to the famed Mercado del Puerto. This is Montevideo’s most famous area to sample their delicious meat delights and indulge yourself with medio y medio (an alcoholic drink made of half wine and half champagne). This open-aired food market has been in business since 1868 – it’s almost as old as the entire nation. The market has a couple dozen restaurants to choose from, and an engrossingly welcoming ambience full of locals and tourists on the weekends and holidays. If you are looking to experience a Marti Gras-like festival, visit here December 24th any year. But be prepared to get showered, literally, with medio y medio as the tradition calls for!