I’ll never forget the first time I stepped into Escaramuza Cafe. Moseying down the street, I passed an unassuming facade with a sign saying something about books, so naturally I opened the door. I crossed into an oasis — a bookstore with elaborately tiled floors, high glass ceilings, ivy draped over brimming shelves. Swooning, I wandered further back, where the bookstore melded into a dreamy garden cafe, a secluded patio strewn with plants and wafts of fresh baked bread, and a cozy corner table waiting just for me.
Let me back up for a second — I’ve been living in Montevideo for about a year, and this kind of experience has become routine. This city oozes good nooks.
Tourists often run into trouble in Montevideo because there aren’t as many “sights” as in other capitals, and because many of the go-to guidebooks haven’t gotten around to it yet. But after a year here, I am happy to report that it’s well worth a visit (or extended stay — some of us just can’t seem to leave, myself included).
So, what’s the inside scoop? Allow me to gush ...
- The best sunset spots are the Punta Carretas peninsula and Escollera Sarandí. If you want to do as the locals do, go with mate tea, bizcocho pastries, and a friend to share them with.
- The best view of the city is from the 22nd floor lookout of the Intendencia.
- The best place to eat beef isn’t the Mercado del Puerto but La Pulpería, though heads-up that it’s often closed, so you can also try La Otra.
- For classic chivito sandwiches, El Tinkal serves the best traditional take, and Tiqui Taca has excellent modern twists.
- The best panaderías are Biarritz for bizcocho pastries and Como en Casa for a slew of everything.
- In the old city, Cafe Brasilero tends to get a lot of fame, but my favorite hole-ups are Sin Pretensiones and La Pasionaria.
- No need to contest the best pizza — hands down it can be had at El Horno de Carlitos. Order a muzza, fainá, and beer to share.
- At the Tristán Narvaja market on Sunday mornings, you can forage through everything from fresh produce to spare adapters to thick stacks of Chopin’s finest compositions.
- On the corner of Tristán Narvaja and Mercedes is a nook called Babilonia Libros that may be my favorite used bookstore ever — you’ll see.
- To look up city bus routes, use the municipal site “Como Ir.” For inter-city buses, use the central terminal site Tres Cruces. Taxis are affordable, Uber and Cabify are cheaper.
- By paying with foreign credit cards (Visa is widely accepted) in restaurants you get a whopping 17% discount, because they remove certain domestic taxes.
- There’s a daily free tour of the old city at 10am from the Plaza Independencia. While you’re in that plaza, take the stairs down to underneath the statue, where you’ll find a memorial to Artigas, their national hero.
- On Wednesdays, you can tour the ornate Teatro Solis for free.
- For street art, wander around the neighborhoods of Cordón, Palermo, and Barrio Sur.
- The Estadio Centenario hosted the first World Cup (Uruguay won!), and both the stadium and adjacent museum are open for visits.
- If you’re a digital nomad, or anyone seeking a well-equipped workspace, head to Sinergia Cowork, where natural light, strong wifi, and excellent people abound.
- For an easy, affordable, and healthy lunch on the go, step into any rotisería bakery and order a slice of tarta. The classic is called pascualina—it’s a spinach and hard-boiled egg tart, and it’s delicious.
- On Sundays starting around 9:00pm, the traditional candombe drum circles flock to a street called Isla de Flores to practice for Carnaval. Be in the area, follow the music, stay and dance a while.
- In the Plaza Cagancha at night, elderly couples often dance to outdoor music.
- A beautiful local cafe called El Club Natural y Popular opens Thursdays after work for tapas, drinks, and open mic nights.
- On Tuesdays, a hip bar called El Mingus has live jazz that goes swimmingly with its homemade grappamiel (a drink made of a national liquor mixed with honey).
- To find out about other live music happening around town, check out the city's noticeboard or the facebook group Hoy que hago?.
- Wondering what everyone has tucked under their arms? Meet mate (pronounced mah-tay), a traditional bitter green tea that most of the country (along with yours truly) adores and drinks daily. The pot is the mate, and it holds carefully prepared yerba herbs and a bombilla metal straw with a bottom filter to distill the leaves. The thermos holds hot water to refill, sip, and share throughout the day. Ask a Uruguayan to tell you how they prepare their mate or which variety they prefer, and you’re in for an entire conversation — and likely invitation to try for yourself, which you absolutely should.
- Uruguayans mean serious business about their beef. Fun fact: Uruguay has more cows per capita than any country in the world. Eating asado grilled meat at a parrilla — or better, at someone’s house — is an absolute must.
- In general, they say Uruguayans have three loves: beef, soccer, and mate. All of these are excellent conversation starters.
Underlining and intertwining all of this, what makes Montevideo such a brilliant and admirable city are the people. Whatever you do while you’re here, make time to meet and hang out with Uruguayans — they are some of the finest around. They’re quick to poke fun at themselves, but at the same time quietly adore their country. They are confident and cool, but self-effacing, excellent storytellers who love to make others laugh. They value art and beauty — even their paper currency features painters, poets, musicians, educators, and not one president or general. They embody the truth that life is better shared, and more than anything they seem to always be trying to sit around, drink mate, swap stories, and enjoy life with their people — and that is the real story you want to be sure not to miss.
About the Author
Raised in Indianapolis, Kimberly now writes and travels from Montevideo, Uruguay. After studying global politics, she worked for a small tech company until a 2016 Fulbright grant plopped her in Uruguay. She’s since finished the grant but opted to stay abroad, continuing to advance her Spanish, bop around South America, and soak up all the learning and dancing she can.
Read more of Kimberly’s blogs