Would you like to know about a historic district where you can still find apartments at reasonable prices?
It’s Montevideo’s Ciudad Vieja (Old City) in Uruguay.
Ciudad Vieja is the original eight-by-14-block site where Montevideo was founded in 1730. Today, it’s one of 62 neighborhoods in a city that’s grown to 1.4 million people.
Despite the passage of time, Ciudad Vieja maintains its historic character, which includes the city’s original plazas and period architecture.
And it’s in Uruguay—the most stable and peaceful country in the region.
In looking around Ciudad Vieja, I find attractive one-bedroom apartments listed for sale between $100,000, and $130,000. This includes apartments in refurbished period buildings and apartments in newer buildings. I also find tempting two-bedroom apartments priced between $130,000 to $160,000.
About Montevideo’s Ciudad Vieja
Ciudad Vieja is a mixed-use area. As the city’s historic center, it attracts a crowd of travelers. It’s also a vibrant business center and home to 16,000 residents.
Regarding business activity, Ciudad Vieja is where you find the Port of Montevideo, many government offices, and the city’s financial district. About 100,000 workers pour into Ciudad Vieja each weekday.
And because Ciudad Vieja is Montevideo’s downtown, people from other parts of the city come for its unique shops, restaurants, and cultural events.
The full-time population in Ciudad Vieja includes middle-class, working-class, and low-income Uruguayans. You also find newcomers in Ciudad Vieja, which includes a contingent of English-speaking expats.
The Types of Properties You Find in Ciudad Vieja
You find a mix of property types in Ciudad Vieja. These include:
Apartments in Refurbished Historic Buildings
When you buy an apartment in a refurbished historic building, you can often get period features like high ceilings and custom-milled woodwork. At the same time, you get the peace of mind of modern structural checks and electrical service.
Apartments in Modern-era Buildings of Various Ages
Many apartments on the market are in modern-era buildings. Some are remodeled. Some are in refurbished buildings. And others are original.
Apartments in New Buildings
You also find apartments in newer buildings and in buildings under construction. Not all period buildings possess enough structural integrity to warrant a renovation. In such cases, a new building may replace an old one.
Living in Ciudad Vieja
Ciudad Vieja is an eclectic mix of architecture, activities, and people. If you’re like me, you’ll find the unevenness interesting and vibrant. You can enjoy the street musicians playing for travelers. You can take advantage of the great lunch specials targeted to office workers. And you can attend your pick of live events.
You find everything you need for day-to-day living in Ciudad Vieja. This includes neighborhood markets, butchers, bakeries, health-food stores, pharmacies, and hardware stores. A farmer’s market (called a feria) sets up in Ciudad Vieja two days per week.
Pedestrian Streets Provide Catalyst for Revitalization
Half a century ago, many residents left Ciudad Vieja in favor of new Montevideo suburbs. But, over the last few decades, Ciudad Vieja is gradually filling back in.
A main driver for this revitalization is the construction of pedestrian streets, installed in phases starting in 1995. The pedestrian streets invite foot traffic, which entourages refurbishing historic buildings to provide business and living spaces.
When a new pedestrian street goes in, it attracts small individually-owned businesses and budget renovations. As it becomes an established center, it draws more affluent businesses and more extensive improvements.
Some Ciudad Vieja pedestrian streets forbid all vehicle traffic. Others, allow cars to pass through, but not park.
Sarandí: Ciudad Vieja’s Most Gentrified Pedestrian Street
The most gentrified pedestrian street in Ciudad Vieja is an eight-block length of Sarandí, from Plaza Independencia to Alzáibar Street. Between these two points, it passes along the south side of Plaza Matriz, Montevideo’s first plaza—with tall trees, diagonal paths, and a white marble fountain.
Along this section of Sarandí, you find well-established shops, quality restaurants, and interesting museums. Many of these businesses are in beautifully-restored historic buildings with apartments above the retail spaces.
Several expats I’ve met, own short-term rentals on this popular section of Sarandí.
Bacacay: Popular Cafes Near the Solís Theater
Near the east end of Sarandí, near Plaza Independecia, you find Bacacay. It’s a narrow one-block-long pedestrian street with a rarely-used vehicle service lane.
If you go south on Bacacay from Sarandí, you’ll pass a couple of popular cafes before it ends at Buenos Aires Street, across from the Solís Theater. The Solís is a beautiful Italian-style performance theater completed in 1856. It hosts local symphonies, ballet, and opera, as well as visiting guest productions.
Alzáibar: Connects Sarandí to Plaza Zabala
Alzáibar extends one short block from Sarandí, north, to Plaza Zabala. It’s a pedestrian street, which includes a car lane.
Plaza Zabala is both peaceful and close to everything. While travelers visit this plaza, it’s mostly used by locals. They come to eat a home-made lunch, chat with friends, or take their kids to the playground. You’ll often hear the chirping of parrots in the large trees, here.
You find restored buildings with apartments near this plaza.
Sarandí’s Westward Extension: From Alzáibar to Perez Castellano
The Sarandí pedestrian street continues west, two blocks past Alzáibar, to the corner of Perez Castellano. This is a more recent pedestrian street installation with a higher percentage of mom-and-pop businesses and yet-to-be refurbished buildings.
Perez Castellano: Connecting Sarandí to the Mercado del Puerto (Port Market)
The Perez Castellano pedestrian street starts at Sarandí and goes north four blocks, ending at the Mercado del Puerto (the Port Market).
The Mercado del Puerto is a large train-station-sized building with several high-end barbecue restaurants under one roof. It’s across the street from the Port of Montevideo, where cruise ship passengers come ashore.
Perez Castellano is also a more recent stretch of pedestrian street. Here, you find both refurbished and unrefurbished buildings, with many family-owned businesses.
On Perez Castellano (near the corner of Washington), you find the restaurant Primuseum. It offers locally-influenced international cuisine along with an authentic tango show. Out of a 1,000 restaurants in Montevideo, many rate Primuseum as the best of the best.
At the north end of Perez Castellano, by the Mercado del Puerto, you find souvenir shops catering to travelers.
Washington: Connecting Plaza Zabala and Perez Castellano
Washington Street connects Plaza Zabala to Perez Castellano, right by Primuseum—a distance of one-and-a-half blocks. The street is comprised of paving tiles with a vehicle lane made of cut granite bricks.
Piedras Pedestrian Street
The Piedras pedestrian street is one block long. It’ starts at the Mercado del Puerto and extends east to the corner of Piedras and Colón.
On Piedras, you find a craft-beer bar. You also find the Montevideo Wine Experience, the top-rated wine bar in Montevideo. Across the street from the wine bar is Es Mercat, the city’s best fish restaurant.
On and near Piedras, you find a selection of attractive apartments in refurbished period buildings.
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