1. Visit Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas is where Havana was born, it is the oldest and most significant square in the history of Havana. This is an excellent place to start exploring Habana Vieja. The square was created to serve as a center of the city and a safe haven for the citizens to hide in case of an invasion.
Later on, in the 18th century, it became a place for rich residents to gather and take a stroll. In the 19th century the area became quite worn out, renovation works started in 1935, and it is being preserved ever since.
In the middle of the square, you will find a monument dedicated to Carlos Manuel de Céspedes also named as a Father of The Nation, that started a fight against Spanish colonial rule in 1868. On the east side, you will find the famous Palace of the Captain Generals, it was the official residential place of the Spanish Governors of Cuba, currently, it is home to a museum of the City. Plaza de Armas is surrounded by many important buildings, El Templete a temple marking a place wherein 1519 Havana was founded. Also, a palatial mansion Casa del Conde de Santoveni built in the 18th century is now being used as a hotel. On the north side you will find a Castillo de la Real Fuerza the first fortress constructed in the 16th century and many more historical spots to see in the Plaza de Armas.
2. Stay in Hotel Inglaterra
Hotel Inglaterra is the oldest hotel in Cuba, it was first opened to the public in 1875. Many famous people have stayed in the Hotel Inglaterra as it is in the very heart of Havana. Many artists, musicians, poets, as well as professors and travelers visited this place throughout its existence. At the moment it has 4 stars and is one of the most classic hotels in the area. It is located in the Old Havana not far from the Paseo del Prado, Central Park and the Great Theater of Havana.
The hotel has a rooftop terrace with a bar, grill and amazing views of Havana, you can also enjoy the Jacuzzi and sunbeds here. In the evening visitors are invited to have cocktails with live music performances in the background.
Hotel Inglaterra was built in a neoclassic style and has a horseshoe-shaped reception. On the left side, you will find a bar that has beautiful, colorful and rich in patterned ceramic tiles brought from Seville, Spain. To dine Hotel Inglaterra offers its visitors traditional restaurants as “El Colonial”, and a coffee shop “El Louvre” that shares the history of the war of independence.
To sum up, Hotel Inglaterra is not the most superior hotel in Havana, but for sure the most authentic and charming one.
3. Stroll through Plaza de San Francisco
The 16th century Plaza de San Francisco de Asis can be found right across the Havana harbor, it is a public square that was once considered to be the best place in the city. In the past Plaza de San Francisco was home for the police station, jail, customs office, and markets. Later on, in the 17th and 18th century the plaza was overtaken by the rich and wealthy who built their homes making all the business owners move to the Plaza Vieja. Similarly, as the famous Plaza Vieja, Plaza de San Francisco de Asis has a long history of being rebuilt, redesigned, destroyed by the natural disasters as well as fully restored in the 1990s.
The Plaza de San Francisco de Asis is famous for the sculptures – Fuente de Leones designed in 1836 and El Caballero de Paris as well as one of the newest additions – La Conversacion sculpture designed by the French artist Etienne.
Most importantly you can find the Basilica Menor of San Francisco de Asis constructed in 1548, as well as the Convento de San Francisco de Asis, built later on in 1591.
The Plaza also has some modern additions as restaurants, bars, cafes and hotels that attract thousands of visitors every month.
4. Discover the Capitolio
The El Capitol Nacional de Cuba is one of the most known buildings in Cuba, you can find it in Centro Habana. The construction started in 1926 and at the beginning, it was used as the building for the Cuban Congress and since 1959 it was home for the Cuban Academy of Sciences and Technology National library.
The National Capitol of Cuba required over 8000 builders over the 3 years of the construction process, used over 60 different types of marble from Europe, was decorated with statues and art elements from Italy and Spain and interior elements from France.
The tour of the Capitol starts at the grand entrance which is surrounded by massive Doric columns that are 14 meters high and guarded by the 7 meter high sculptures by the Italian sculptor Angelo Zanelli. Once you enter the building, you will see the Hall of lost steps where you can see the beautiful bronze Republic statue which is the third-largest indoor statue in the world.
The tickets can be purchased upon arrival for 10 CUC (10 USD), make sure to visit early in the morning to avoid the large tourist groups as this is one of the most visited monuments in Cuba.
5. Spend an afternoon in Plaza Vieja
The history of Plaza Vieja dates back to 1559 when it was used for military exercises as well as the marketplace. You can find the Plaza Vieja in the district of Old Havana, the square today is used as a meeting point as well as a perfect place to grab a cold drink on a hot day.
Plaza Vieja has seen a lot of changes in its past, it was used for military and administrative reasons, rebuilt into a car park and even home for an amphitheater. After years of reconstruction and redesigning, today it is one of the most visited places in Cuba. In the center of the square, you can see a replica of the 18th century Carrara fountain which was demolished in the 1930’s. The square is surrounded by stunning and colorful Cuban baroque and art nouveau buildings, that are currently used as residential as well as commercial spaces.
We recommend visiting the Café Bohemian or the Micro beer brewery where you can try many types of beers and some Cuban snacks while enjoying street performances by locals.