The historical colonial city of Havana is the monumental capital of Cuba, a World Heritage Site since 1982, which is full of churches and historical monuments.
Walking through its streets trapped in time is an experience that is more enjoyable on foot than any other transportation. Tough getting aroung on a convertible 1958 Buick is priceless, going on foot and meeting the Habana Vieja (Old Havana) taking as benchmarks its four main squares, you will enjoy one of the most attractive urban areas of the Caribbean. Only in this way you’ll discover corners, life, art and culture in the streets that connect these four places.
During five decades of communism, meaningful and most emblematic parts of Old Havana have been carefully restored, preserving tha wonderful architecture spanning four centuries of styles, with an eclectic mix of baroque and neoclassical monuments.
The Plaza de San Francisco (San Francisco square) was the center of commercial life in Havana. The Sierra Maestra port terminal has two piers overlooking the square, it is also the place where the cruise ships are currently stopping at Cuba. Passengers disembarking on the cobbled streets of Old Havana, have in this space their starting point and first stop, as it is a place steeped in history and colonial beauty. Dominating the square is the Lonja del Comercio, an old market that today has offices for foreign and joint ventures in Cuba.
Over the Plaza de San Francisco arises the Baroque Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, with a bell tower 43 meters high, from where you have a wonderful view of Old Havana and its port. Both the cloister as the adjacent houses and a museum of sacred art form an environment that bring you to Spain for a while.
The Plaza de Armas was built in 1584 for military exercises. Today as most mornings, the square is filled with stalls of used books, where you can find used books mainly on the history of Cuba and Cuba after the revolution. Here it is also the museum of the city that allows to learn more about the history of Cuba and Havana.
In the Calle Oficios – a few steps from the Plaza de Armas – is the House of Arabs or “The Arab House“, which are two mansions of the seventeenth century that are now a museum and the “Al Medina” restaurant.
The Plaza Vieja (Old Square) served as a civic and popular square in the Spanish colonial era. It was a place where occurred executions, processions, bullfights and popular festivals, in the presence of the richest citizens of Havana, watching from their balconies. The square was radically reformed in the 1990s. In this part of the city was built the first Spanish aqueduct of America.
The tallest building in the Old Square is the Villa Gómez building on the northeast corner; at its top floor, there is a Camera Obscura optical reflection that rotates 360 degrees and project an image in real time of Havana.
The Old Square is also a good place (and typical Spanish) where you can have a beer or a soft drink in the outdoor terraces while listening to live music; here you can feel like to be in the Plaza of one Spanish city.
The cobbled Cathedral Square is the most visited place in Old Havana. The Catedral de San Cristobal was described rightly, by a Cuban writer, as a “set of music in stone”. Asymmetrical towers – a church is wider than the other – allow water that accumulates in the square (a former swamp) to flow freely through the streets.
Cathedral Square is surrounded by some of the oldest buildings in Havana, the richest families built their mansions here.
With the towers of the cathedral lit every night, the Cathedral Square is a great place to visit at night too. Also, the restaurants have tables outside, where both locals and tourists come together and relax with a drink and listen to music.
One block away is “La Bodeguita del Medio”, refuge of the famous Ernest Hemingway. It is the best place to drink a Mojito in Havana; because every tourist wants to taste the famous Mojito or smoking a good Cuban cigar, prices are high.
Worth a stop the Centro Wilfredo Lam (Wifredo Lam Center), located in the northwest corner of the square, where pieces and works of the internationally renowned Cuban artist Wilfredo Lam (1902-1982) are on display, which was able to capture the spirit of his age Afrocuban. Lam grew up in Cuba with his grandmother, who practiced voodoo rituals. The center promotes contemporary art from around the world and has a wide music store. The Centro Wilfredo Lam is open from Monday to Friday and some Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
The outdoor market, which is open Wednesday to Saturday, is a good place to shop for Cuban art and crafts, where you can find everything from handmade jewelry, paintings of famous cars from 1950 painted on paper and other works made in Cuba.