Old Havana describes the central area of the original city of Havana, Cuba. Old Havana is a city of great architectural character, containing many treasures from the city's long and colorful history. Old Havana and its fortifications were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.
A Day At The Oldest Area of Havana
1. Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas is the plaza around which the city was built. It is a must thing to do at Old Havana. Cities constructed by the Spanish Conquistadores in the New World were designed in a standard military fashion based on a grid pattern surrounding a central plaza. The Plaza de Armas is surrounded by governmental buildings, churches, and other structures of cultural or political significance. The name derives from the fact that this area would be a refuge in case of an attack upon the city, from which arms would be supplied to the defenders.
2. Plaza Vieja
Next thing to do at Old Havana is to see its Plaza Vieja. Plaza Vieja was built in 1584. While it contains numerous landmarks, it differs from other plazas in that public and religious buildings are absent. Surrounding it were the homes of the city's colonial elite. Many of these homes fell into serious disrepair and are in various stages of restoration. The Casa de Los Condes de Jaruco in this plaza has been fully restored and stands as an excellent example of a late colonial mansion.
3. Museo de la Ciudad
Housed in the spectacular Cuban Baroque Palacio de los Capitanes, the Museo de la Ciudad unveils Havana's fascinating history. You can explore the Hall of Heroic Cuba for an impressive display of objects from the revolution. Art history buffs will want to visit the Espada Cemetery Room to view the tomb of famous French artist Vermay. In the Throne Room stands a sumptuous chair that was built for the visit of a Spanish monarch, and never used. But perhaps the highlight of the museum is the Salon de los Espejos. Adorned with beautiful 19th-century mirrors, this room was where the official end of Spanish rule was proclaimed in 1899.
4. Castillo de la Real Fuerza
A few steps from the Museo de la Ciudad, the 16th-century fortress, Castillo de la Real Fuerza, was built to fend off attacks from pirates. Unfortunately, it was never used for this purpose, since it was positioned too far inside the bay. Instead, the fort functioned as a storehouse for valuables and a residence for members of the military and gentry. Designed and built by Francisco de Calona, Castillo de la Real Fuerza is an engineering marvel, with a deep moat, a drawbridge, and walls that are six meters thick and 10 meters high. Today, visitors can explore Havana's seafaring history at the maritime museum here, with displays such as model sailing boats, weapons, and treasure retrieved from sunken ships. Do not miss this beautiful place during your Old Havana tour.
5. Catedral de San Cristobal
Also known as the Cathedral of The Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception, this striking example of Cuban Baroque architecture was completed in 1777 by the Franciscans, after the Jesuits began building it 29 years earlier. Two large bell towers flank the façade, which is adorned with inlaid columns. During your visit, wander inside to admire the vaulted ceilings and statue of St. Christopher. It is said that the relics of Christopher Columbus were housed here from 1796 to 1898, however this has never been proven. After a visit to the cathedra l on your Old Havana tour, relax at one of the cafés along the square and gaze at its magnificent façade.
6. El Capitolio
One of the best things to do at Old Havana is to visit the El Capitolio. Located on the border of Old Havana and Central Havana, El Capitolio is a distinctive landmark in the city. Reminiscent of the US Capitol building in Washington, D.C., the structure's magnificent cupola was actually inspired by the Panthéon in Paris. Blending Neoclassical and Art Nouveau styles, the building was inaugurated in 1929 and was the seat of government until the Cuban Revolution in 1959. It is currently being painstakingly restored, but you can still stop by to admire its facade and snap a photo. Once complete, it will become the new home for Cuba's Communist parliament.
How to Get Tickets?
There is no admission fee to visit the Old Havana. The things to do at Old Havana however are not entirely free. There are some places that require a ticket to be visited. You can purchase the tickets at the ticket booth at the attraction in Old Havana area. Bring enough cash to eat and drink during your Old Havana tour, and also for shopping.
How To Get Around?
There isn't much motorised traffic in these streets - mostly pedestrians and bicycle taxis - so simply going off exploring on foot in a random direction in Old Havana makes for an interesting and pleasant experience. Old Havana is also located strategically near the most important tourist destinations in town, you can simply walk or ride a bike to get to these attractions.
What Should I Wear?
You don't need to bring a suit or a formal dress, but something “nice” to wear is highly recommended. A pair of light pants and a cotton shirt will be more than enough, or a light dress. Since Cuba can be such a warm country, the keyword is light. Opt for cotton or linen—something that lets your skin breath.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Old Havana is between October and April. This island has a wonderful Caribbean climate and a long season of loveliness, when the days are warm and sunny and there's very little rain. However, you can always visit Old Havana at any time of the year and it will still be amazing.
Will I Need a Guide?
No, Old Havana tour is better explored by yourself with your own pace.
How To Get There?
As a tourist, the most convenient way of getting to Old Havana is by taxi. You should agree on a price before taking one. There are also local buses in the city, going on various routes. Your best bet is to tell your casa or hotel where you want to go and they'll point you in the direction of which bus to take, and where to catch it.
Since the Old Havana is the most popular place in Havana, be prepared to be approached by people offering tours and carriage rides. Be careful with scammers and pickpockets, always watch your belongings when you're on the street. It is illegal for tourists to ride in anything other than the official government taxis. Around the city, taking illegal taxis should be no problem. However, taking an illegal taxi to or from the airport may attract the attention of the police.