5 places you have to visit in Old Havana
Are you ready for your first trip to Cuba? Well! Get ready for a colored and fantastic experience. The places to see are several in this fantastic island.
If you are going to visit the entire island, your first stop will probably be l’Havana. That’s why I have selected five places you absolutely need to visit in Old Havana.
L’Havana, the capital of Cuba, is the major city of the island and the third largest metropolitan area in the entire Caribbean area. The city has a population of over 2.1 million citizens and a total are of 728.26 km2
The Spanish founded the city in the 16th century and, because of its position and strategic location, it was the main port of the Caribbean Sea and the stopping point for the treasure-laden Spanish galleons. It was the conjunction point between the Old World and the New World.
L’Havana can be divided in three areas: The Old Havana, Centro Habana, Vedado and Miramar. With over 1 million tourist a year (increasing every year) l’Havana the most visited place in Cuba.
The origin of the name of the city, San Cristobàl de la Habana, combines San Cristóbal, patron of Havana, and Habana, derived from Habaguanex, a native American chief who controlled that area.
Today we’ll focus on Old Havana and some of the places that you need to see.
Ok, wear a loose outfit, light t-shirt and a panama. It’s time to visit the city!
1. Plaza Vieja
Plaza Vieja or Old Square in english, is a large square located in the heart of the Old city. It was originally named New Square or Plaza Nueva since the foundation in 1559. The square was the place of executions, processions, bullfights, and parties.
The area was one of the wealthiest neighborhood of the city and in the 17th century the square was an important commercial hub. At that time its name was in fact Plaza del Mercado or Market Square.
Today the square is a wide and fascinating location recently completely renewed and declared World Heritage Site by Unesco, as the entire Old Havana. In the middle of the square there’s a fountain, surrounded by four dolphins. It has been completely rebuilt after Gerardo Machado demolished it in the 1930s to build an underground parking lot here.
The best time to be there is in the late afternoon or during the sunset. You can enjoy an artisanal beer in one of the oldest bar of the city in the north west corner of the square. In Plaza Vieja you’ll be fascinated by a mix of music and colors.
Yes, it’s very similar to the Capitol in Washington DC and Cubans are proud that it’s 30 cm taller than the American one 🙂
The project began on April 1926, during the Gerardo Machado administration and prior to the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the Cuban Congress was housed in the building. It’s one of the largest building of the city and it was the tallest building in Havana until the 1950s.
Right now (May 2015) it’s closed for renovations but you can admire all its greatness from outside. Inside, the cupola, was inspired by the Panthéon in Paris but it was constructed in the United States and imported to Cuba.
The area in front of El Capitolio is a crossroads of cabs, old cars (almendrones) and coco taxi (the scooter cab). It’s the best place to start visiting the Old city and it’s close to the Parque Central (Central Park), another “must” place to visit in Old Havana
Calles Obispo is a long and pedestrian street that starts from the south of Parque Central and continues till Plaza de Armas. If you start your tour from the north (Parque Central) you will see the famous El Floridita, the place where Ernest Hemingway used to drink his Daiquiri. In fact he used to say: “My mojito at La Bodeguita, my daiquiri at El Floridita”
If you are thirsty, this is a good time for you to stop by for a moment and taste this famous cocktail. The place is very “touristic” but the inside it’s very nice and everything is just like it was in the 30′. If it’s your first time in Cuba, it’s among the places you need to visit in Old Havana. If you are getting in, take a picture with the Hemingway’s statue at the bar, and say him hello from me 🙂
Well, now you can continue walking along Obispo. This is the street of the art and galleries. You will see several small boutiques full of paintings. Pay attention to the stores : many of them are still original and you will noticed it by small or bigger details, an old watch, an ancient windows or wood finishes.
The street is usually pretty crowded with stores and bars where you can stop to eat and relax. Many waiter and “sales-rep” will stop you asking if you want to eat, drink or buy something. Just be kind with them and watch out to the cigars sellers in the street. Sometimes they sell good quality cigars, sometimes not 🙂
Along the street are also several beautiful hotels. One of those is the Hotel Florida with an amazing internal patio you can visit.
There are several incredible patios in the Old Havana, if you want to visit them just ask to the owners or tenants if you can get in for a quick visit. Cubans are very kind and warm and they will give you permission without any problem.
Walking along the street you will also see museums and historical building and the Johnson and Johnson drug store. The street is so full of attractions that deserves an entire post! 😀
Absolutely a top place you have to visit in Old Havana!
4.Plaza de Armas
At the end of Obispo you’ll find Plaza de Armas. It is the name for the main square in many Hispanic American cities. The entire square is surrounded by big and shady trees which make the temperature pleasant even in the hottest hours. Except for August and July 😀
It is one of the most characteristic spot of the city and absolutely a place to visit in Old Havana. The first thing you’ll notice here is the book stores all over the square. These newsstands have a lot of ancient magazines and books. Some of them are of the last century.
Moreover you’ll find antiques of all kinds. It’s like an open-space museum 🙂
In the south of the square you’ll also find el Castillo de la Real Fuerza and El Templete. Amazing places, but I had to select just five in this post.
Anyway I will add other posts with other places to visit in Old Havana.
5. El Morro and la Cabaña
Last but not least, El Morro Castle. This is a must place to visit in Havana.
The complete name is Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro, the Spanish “morro” means “nose”, a rock which is very visible from the sea.
Close to el Morro there’s la Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña, it is an 18th-century fortress complex, located on the elevated eastern side of the harbor entrance in Havana, Cuba. It’s the third-largest in the Americas.
The best time to visit la Cabaña is in the late afternoon and during sunset. The reason is because every day at 9pm you can assist to the ceremony of “El Cañonazo de las 9”. And also because you won’t die of dehydration during summer.
It’s a cannon that every night fires at 9. It once warned the closing of the city gates. An experience that deserves to be lived and a place to visit in Old Havana!
The entire visit will take about 2/3 hours, so you might go there around 6 pm. To get there, you can grab a cab from the city (it is on the other side of the bay) and the ride is cheap.
These are just 5 places to visit in Old Havana but, of course, there are several more that will be listed later on in this blog. This is the FIRST post so if you liked it give me a like and a share 😉
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If you haven’t take it yet here is a great guide for your travel to Cuba: Lonely Planet Cuba (Travel Guide)