As Uruguay is not the cheapest in South America, some people don’t include it in their itineraries. But with this travel guide, you will get useful tips for public transportation and local advice on free things to do in Montevideo, so you can explore the capital deep but keeping your budget low.
Using the bus in Montevideo
While some areas of the city are easily walkable and the bicycle is highly recommended, you might need to use the local buses sometimes (approx 1 USD). As Google Maps is not really accurate, try “Como ir” and “MooveIT” apps to commute like a local. Get an STM card. Even though you can pay with cash, card tickets are cheaper and you will be able to get two buses in one with the “Boleto de 1 hora” (1-hour ticket). Get your card with your passport in your closest STM Center (there is one in the “Intendencia Municipal”) Now you know how to use the bus, let’s talk about free things to do in Montevideo, from the most known to some local recommendations that no one told you about.
Endless chances of photography: fresh markets
One of the most beautiful displays of color and local life in every neighborhood is Market Day. Cheese, fish, fruits, and veggies take the street at least one morning a week in each area for everyone to get fresh and cheap produce. To find the closest to you, check here
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Weekend markets: the old, the new, and the bizarre
In the weekend market, you will find not only fresh food but clothes, handcrafted souvenirs, and many other local products. On Saturdays, you can visit Villa Biarritz if you want to go big or Salto street for a less touristic option. On Sunday go to Parque Rodó or check my favorite: Feria de Tristán Narvaja. With live music, street food, and a huge display of old books, vinyl records, and bizarre things, it will give you plenty of Instagram worthy scenes. Find it at 18 de Julio and all the way down Tristán Narvaja street – and by the sides.
Bike ride with a “sea” view or picnic?
La Rambla: 22 km by the river
In Uruguay, you will find the widest river in the world: Río de la Plata. So wide that actually feels like the sea. Looking at it “La Rambla” is definitely one of the favorites places for everyone in the city to share some fresh air, the traditional mate – or a beer- and enjoy the sunset. Walking, running, cycling, fishing or just sitting: choose yours and become a local in one of the most popular places in Montevideo.
Parque Rodó: enjoy the green and make friends
For some rest after walking at La Rambla, go to Parque Rodó. There you can sit and enjoy a snack (Try “Churros con dulce de leche”), go for a ride in “El Mambo”, rent a pedal boat in the lake or check the CDF Photo Gallery. On weekends, you will find many locals playing the guitar, practicing acrobatics, or laughing with the kids. If you are lucky they will share some “mate” with you and you might make a new friend.
On our way to La Rambla, the perfect spot for sunset
The rhythm that gets inside your bones: Candombe
While many things in Uruguay are shared with Argentina -it was all the same “Virreinato del Río de la Plata” during Spanish Colony- the “Candombe” is one of the few 100% Uruguayan displays of culture. A piece of unique music brought by the slaves from Africa that will make you dance even if you don’t want to. The main chances of seeing candombe in its full are the Desfile de Llamadas or shows during Carnaval, but here it’s how to find it through the year.
Where to find a “Candombe Jam”
On Sundays, some “comparsas” – this is how the groups are called- gather in the street for jamming or rehearsal. Some places for you to check: La Melaza (Lauro Muller and Blanes, 7 pm), La Casita (Pablo de María and Bulevar España, 7 pm) and Ansina (Magallanes and Gonzalo Ramírez, 5 pm) If you see people getting the drums warm by the fire, you are in the right place.
Street Art in an old factory in the less visited West Montevideo
Street-Art Hunting like a pro
The capital of Uruguay is full of Street Art so it will be easy to find some. But if you want to go deeper on this, you should check StreetArtUy
It’s a map that will give you the location of mural art and graffiti all around the city, so you can get a street art tour all by yourself.
Visit the “Not that Far-West”
West Montevideo it’s an area that usually no one checks because apparently is “too far”. But has a very unique charm and it’s just a 20-30 minute bus ride from the City Center.
One of the oldest neighborhoods with old and beautiful houses. Enjoy walking the forest and its “Rosedal”, visit the Botanical Garden and check the little Japanese Garden on the Blanes Museum. Be careful if you go during spring: you might fall in love with the purple beauty of jacaranda flowers.
The highest elevated point of the city, and an amazing view from “La Fortaleza” that will give you great pictures. This working-class neighborhood, with little houses and gardens, has a beautiful beach and coast walk, the “Parque Vaz Ferreira” with incredibly old trees and close from it, a Golf Club! -something that even not many locals know, and it’s free to visit. Get there by bus or Uber, but as some areas might get lonely at night, avoid staying after dark.
Get closer to Art and History: free museums
Montevideo may not have The Louvre but you’ll find a diverse range of artistic and cultural expressions displayed at museums all around the city. And most of them are free! For Art and Architecture try Museo Blanes, Museo Torres García or Palacio Taranco. If you like Contemporary Art check Centro Cultural de España, Espacio de Arte Contemporáneo (a “must-go” built in an old prison) or the Museo Nacional de Artes Visuales. If you want History visit MAPI or Cabildo. And if you are into Photography, check the CDF (Centro de Fotografía de Montevideo) or one of their outdoor galleries.
Now, with all these free things to do in Montevideo, you are ready to start traveling in Uruguay. Send pictures!