The nation’s capital and home to nearly half of Uruguay’s population, Montevideo is a vibrant, eclectic place with a rich cultural life. Stretching 20km from east to west, the city wears many faces, from its industrial port to the exclusive beachside suburb of Carrasco near the airport. In the historic downtown business district, art deco and neoclassical buildings jostle for space alongside grimy, worn-out skyscrapers that appear airlifted from Havana or Ceauşescu’s Romania, while to the southeast the shopping malls and modern high-rises of beach communities such as Punta Carretas and Pocitos bear more resemblance to Miami or Copacabana. Music, theater and the arts are alive and well here – from elegant older theaters and cozy little tango bars to modern beachfront discos – and there’s a strong international flavor, thanks to the many foreign cultural centers and Montevideo’s status as administrative headquarters for Mercosur, South America’s leading trading bloc.
Montevideo lies almost directly across the Río de la Plata from Buenos Aires. For many visitors, the most intriguing area is the Ciudad Vieja, the formerly walled colonial grid straddling the western tip of a peninsula between the sheltered port and the wide-open river. Just east of the old town gate, the Centro (downtown) begins at Plaza Independencia, surrounded by historic buildings of the republican era. Av 18 de Julio, downtown Montevideo’s commercial thoroughfare, runs east past Plaza del Entrevero, Plaza Cagancha and the Intendencia (town hall) towards Tres Cruces bus terminal, where it changes name to Av Italia and continues east towards Carrasco International Airport and the Interbalnearia highway to Punta del Este.
Westward across the harbor, 132m Cerro de Montevideo was a landmark for early navigators and still offers outstanding views of the city. Eastward, the Rambla hugs Montevideo’s scenic waterfront, snaking past attractive Parque Rodó and through a series of sprawling residential beach suburbs – Punta Carretas, Pocitos, Buceo and Carrasco – that are very popular with the capital’s residents in summer and on evenings and weekends.