Old Havana has earned the reputation of being a party destination, but it uniquely offers travelers historic sites and architectural gems packed in narrow, endlessly interesting streets.
World Heritage Site
Made a World Heritage Site only in the 1980s, the neighborhood has been the heart of Cuba since Spain commanded fleets in the 1560s to use Havana Bay as a fort against pirates.
Havana has played an integral role in shaping not only the Caribbean region but also most of South America. A stroll down streets of Baroque churches, neoclassic buildings, and art deco facades, heavily contrasting with half-finished apartments, reveals an area steeped in history and a constant restoration in progress.
Visitors need three days to cover major landmarks, and another three just to explore and have fun.
Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas, for starters, is flanked by political and cultural points of interest. It was originally known as a place where defenders could fortify themselves in the event of an attack.
The scenic fortress on the promontory across the harbor is called Castillo del Morro. Both the British and Spanish forces used it. This world heritage site closes at 7 pm.
The massive fortress situated in the same park is the complex, La Cabana. Che Guevara’s cohorts used it as headquarters. Today, it houses museums. Every 9 pm, a cannon is still fired to indicate the city gates’ closure. General admission to each fort costs CUC $6.
National Capitol Building
Before the 1950s, El Capitolio was the tallest edifice in town. The former seat of government still contains the third biggest indoor statue in the world—La Estatua de la Republica. The gilded Roman goddess is believed to be Jupiter. Entry costs CUC$3 and closes at 5.
Plaza de la Catedral
Considered the center of Old Havana, its principal landmark, the Catedral de San Cristobal, was named after the explorer Christopher Columbus. It features the only surviving example of a Baroque structure with an asymmetrical design. Its towers were built with differing heights to permit water to spill into the streets.
Guests with more time are encouraged to catch live performances at Gran Teatro de la Habana and Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis. The theater, which has become the home of the National Ballet of Cuba, is a splendid example of German neo-Baroque style. It hosts various concerts and cultural event.
The church and monastery also host music performances, aside from exhibits on religious art.
For lavish samples of architectural trends in the colonial era, it’s worth getting lost among the mansions of Plaza Vieja, particularly the oldest on the block—Casa de Los Condes de Jaruco. The limestone house of Mudejar-baroque style hosts the country’s principal cultural foundation.
Museum of the Revolution
The Presidential Palace houses the Museo de la Revolucion. Highly visual exhibitions are dedicated to the 1950s revolution onwards. Bullet holes in the stairwell bear witness to a thwarted assassination of Batista in 1957. The museum closes at 4 and costs CUC$8.
The yacht used by Guevara and Fidel Castro may be found in the neighboring Granma Memorial.
Museo de las Bellas Artes
The city’s prized collection of paintings may be viewed in the buildings of Museo de las Bellas Artes. One hosts modern Cuban art, while the other conserves work by international masters, such as Canaletto, Goya, and Rubens. Entry to both buildings is CUC$8. They close at 5 most days, and at 2 on Sunday.
A walk down the vibrant esplanade of El Malecon at sundown guarantees a wonderful evening among laid-back locals. As seen on nostalgic Hollywood movies, music blares from a restored car straight out of the 1950s. You’ll also find the best nightlife in cuba here.