Many people say after visiting Buenos Aires that Montevideo is a bit of a waste of time. Its true that the Uruguayan capital does not have the range of attractions that its Argentine counterpart has but if you spend a day or two in the coastal city you will not be disappointed. If you are not coming in from Buenos Aires and Colonia then Montevideo will be your point on entry to Uruguay and should not be simply passed through, tick another capital city off your list. The best thing to do in our opinion, especially if the weather is good, is to wander from the impressive Plaza Independencia square to the old port market and eat at one of the restaurants in this vibrant, historic market.
Starting from the Plaza Independencia you can walk through the arch and along the pedestrian streets of Sarandi and Perez Castellano to reach the old port market. Along the way you will pass a couple of small urban squares which may be filled with street performers, antique dealers and curio stalls. The pedestrian streets themselves are filled with shops and its a nice way to spend an hour or so on your way to an iconic lunch. The port market was opened in 1868 with designs on being the largest of its kind in South America, the structure and central historic clock (1896) were built in Liverpool, England, shipped to Uruguay and assembled on site.
Today, more than 140 years later, the market is no longer filled with traders and stalls but with vibrant and raucous restaurants serving huge grills or “parilladas”. The market is always busy but when a cruise ship hits town it is packed, so probably better to go early so have a light breakfast that day. If you go before one o`clock you should be able to take advantage of the many touts (who later become your waiters) trying to get people into the restaurants, later they know they are going to be full anyway so wont care, so take advantage of any “incentives” they might give you earlier on such as a glass of champagne or free stater maybe. The atmosphere is great, its noisy with people talking very loudly to each other (in order to be heard!), its packed with people bumping into each other while looking at all the menus or staggering after a huge meal with wine and there are all sorts of nice smells from the enormous cuts of meat on the grills. Not for the vegetarian it has to be said!
You have the choice of sitting at tables in the thick of it all, or at the bar facing the grills watching the cooks work or the best bet as far as we are concerned are the few restaurants which have a second floor so you can see everything that is going on from a good vantage point, plus you have a great view of the historic clock. As in most touristy places in Latin America there will be a couple of musicians doing the rounds, in this case playing and singing traditional gaucho songs probably. The grills to share can be good value as a “parillada para dos” (for 2) could be enough for 3 people really and with wine being local it is an affordable price. Even if you choose not to eat here make sure you get down to the port market to have a wander around and experience the atmosphere and historic significance of the place. Note that the restaurants close down around 5 pm so it is not a place to eat dinner, but it is a lunch that will rate up there as one of the more memorable.