Ciudad Vieja Montevideo is the oldest barrio (neighborhood) in Uruguay’s capital. For visitors to the city, it inevitably proves the main draw, featuring many of Montevideo’s most famous and renowned tourist sights, such as the Plaza Independencia. But Ciudad Vieja, also referred to as the old city in Montevideo, is more than just a collection of guidebook-worthy historical sights: It’s a fascinating and varied neighborhood, both traditional and purposefully modern. Time here is just as well spent walking the streets and watching people go about their daily business as it is hopping from one major attraction to the next.
The buildings and people in Ciudad Vieja Montevideo speak of a fascinating history. Spanish, Portuguese, and British forces were all present in or around Montevideo during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; today, the architecture here still reminds of the town’s colonial past. The Gateway of Ciudadela, also known as the Gateway of the Citadel, is probably the biggest single symbol, as it is the only remaining part of the wall that surrounded the Old City in Montevideo up until 1829. The Gateway stands in the middle of Montevideo’s Plaza Independencia.
Other buildings that display colonial influence are also situated around Plaza Independencia, which is somewhat ironic, given that the grand plaza, as its name suggests, now stands to honor Uruguay’s independent rule. The Cabildo, for example, stands in front of the square; it was the government’s seat of power during colonial times. Today, the Uruguayan government gathers in the Casa del Gobierno, which is also located on the square. Close to the Cabildo you’ll also find Uruguay’s oldest playhouse, the Solis Theatre, and the grandiose Palacio Salvo, which was once South America’s tallest building; it was built in the 1920s and stands at an imposing 328 feet.
Far and away the main attraction at the Plaza Independencia, however, is the mausoleum of Jose Artigas. A massive statue of Artigas riding a horse in the middle of the square marks the Uruguayan hero’s grave. Steps lead down from here to the mausoleum. This is a popular attraction for residents and visitors alike, particularly those interested in the history of Uruguay.
Away from the Plaza, Ciudad Vieja Montevideo is an intriguing jumble of age-old streets and new, shiny architecture. This juxtaposition is down to a recent project on behalf of the mayor’s office to rejuvenate the area—up to the turn of the 21st century, the Old City in Montevideo was one of the most rundown barrios in the region. Today it’s a much more respectable place. It has also become a hotspot for nightlife in the city, with many of the best bars and clubs to be found here.
Should you tire of exploring Ciudad Vieja, the beach is never far away. Montevideo is blessed with more than ten miles of sandy coastline; Ramirez beach is only a short walk from the Old Town. Thanks to a long road that runs right along the coastline, once you’re on Ramirez, you can walk to any of the many beaches in town, and even if you don’t care to go sunbathing or swimming, the walk in itself is an extremely pleasant way to pass the time in Montevideo.
Getting to Ciudad Vieja Montevideo is simple thanks to the city’s nearby airport; most international flights to Uruguay land here. There are also plenty of hotels in the area, which means bus and car shuttles from the airport to your accommodation are plentiful and easy to arrange. This striking central attraction is worth visiting during any trip to Uruguay, and it's likely to be one of the more memorable destinations.