Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital city, has a culture that many North American expats find comfortable. It’s a place where the traditional and the modern weave together. For example, Montevideo has a prosperous economy, but people still take time for one another. It has new gleaming malls, but it is also teeming with small family-owned shops. Each child in the country receives a free laptop computer, but time with family is still cherished above all else.
It’s a balanced environment. One that I believe contributes to a balanced life.
So what specifically is there to do in Montevideo? Following are seven things I personally enjoy:
1. Go to the Montevideo Rambla
The “rambla” refers to the coastal road and promenade that runs the full length of Montevideo’s coastline. The promenade provides a long paved strip ideal for walking, running, and bicycling.
The rambla also has benches and serves as a public terrace overlooking the Rio de la Plata (River of Silver). It’s a popular place to meet with friends in the early evening and on weekends.
2. Socialize at a Montevideo Café
While the rambla provides a pleasant setting to relax with friends, a Montevideo café is the ideal place for a stimulating conversation about business, literature, world events, or whatever comes up.
Many cafés have tables outside under the sycamore trees that line many of Montevideo’s streets. Most cafés have plenty of seating. If a conversation gets interesting and you have the time, it’s fine to sit and talk for hours.
While there are good cafés dotted throughout Montevideo’s coastal neighborhoods, my personal favorite is Café Bacacay in Montevideo’s Old City.
3. Shop at a farmer’s market in the city
Feria (fair) is the local word used to describe a farmer’s market, and sometimes a farmer’s market combined with a swap-meet. Ferias set up one or two days a week in every Montevideo neighborhood.
Vendors at ferias sell locally grown produce from stands. Eggs, cheeses, and fresh fish are sold from carts and trailers.
Ferias are known for having the best quality produce at the best price.
4. Work out at a Montevideo gym
Fitness clubs are popular in Montevideo, with many modern well-equipped gyms to choose from. Most offer aerobics, spinning, yoga, and pilates classes. Many Montevideo gyms let you pay by the month, with no annual contract. Gym prices vary depending on the equipment and services. A well-equipped gym without a pool or spa services is around $50 per month.
5. Go to a live music event
Montevideo offers a range of live performance options. The national ballet, opera, and chamber orchestra all perform in the modern Auditorio Nacional Adela Reta (Adela Reta National Auditorium) with seating for 2,000.
Tango developed in Montevideo, as well as Buenos Aires, and is still very popular. Candombe (drum rhythms brought by African-Uruguayans) and murga (a costumed choral group) are the prominent music forms during Uruguay’s 40-day carnival, starting in mid-to-late January through February.
You will also find electronic music, jazz, and rock playing in Montevideo nightclubs, small theaters, and bars.
On any given Saturday, you can expect a dozen or more live music events throughout the city to choose from. The admission for many small venues is about $10 or less.
Here is a good place to start your search for Montevideo music events.
6. Go to an expat gathering
The most populated community in Montevideo is Pocitos—and it’s also where most English-speaking expats live.
There are three English-speaker gatherings in Pocitos. All of them meet in restaurants. They provide a place to socialize and share useful information, like where to find a good property manager or a good plumber.
For some expats, these groups become like an extended family. For others, like me who do not live in Poctios, it’s nice to drop in occasionally to catch up with expat friends.
For locations and times of expat gatherings in Pocitos, as well as other areas in Uruguay, see here.
7. Attend a public event or celebration
Your calendar is always flagged with interesting public events and celebrations when you live in Montevideo. Tango dancers pace and turn outdoors at Plaza del Entrevero on Saturday evenings.
Montevideo summers are punctuated with free outdoor concerts near the beach, in parks, and sometimes on the steps of the city’s main municipal building.
During winter is La Noche de la Nostalgia (The Night of Nostalgia), an event in Uruguay as big as New Year’s Eve. It’s a night of “oldies” dance parties playing North American hits from the 60s, 70s, and 80s at Montevideo hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs.
And when Uruguay’s national soccer team wins an important match, the people of Montevideo take to the streets to celebrate.
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