Cuba’s colonial past is palpable in colorful Old Havana, where the dilapidated yet magical states of the buildings reflect the country’s storied past. The capital of Cuba and UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to classic cars from yesteryear, but it’s best explored by foot. Plan to visit the big-ticket attractions, but allow time to wander at whim through the nearly 100 blocks of cobbled streets.
Explore Old Havana’s Plazas
Of the five historic squares in Old Havana, the must-see Plaza de Armas is the oldest; the current incarnation dates to the 1700s. The colonial wonders here include the Castillo de la Real Fortaleza, a fort that dates to the 16th century. In the center of the square is a park flush with palm trees and other tropical plants. Monday through Saturday, Plaza de Armas hosts a used book market that is a literature buff’s dream. A few blocks away is the Plaza de la Catedral, also a requisite stop, where Havana’s famed cathedral dazzles with its Baroque exterior and mismatched bell towers.
Step Back in Cuban Time
Set foot into Havana and enter a world that brims with history. Old Havana is home to some of the city’s most important museums. In Plaza de Armas, within the Palace of the Captains General, is the Museum of the City, where you can view furniture and military uniforms from eras past, as well as other artifacts. Havana’s Museum of Fine Arts also has two sites in the old city—one dedicated to Cuban works and a second that displays art from around the world going back to antiquity.
Stroll Down a Pedestrian-Only Street
No walking tour of Havana’s old city is complete without a stroll along Calle Obispo, the artery that connects Plaza de Armas and Parque Central on Old Havana’s western edge. It’s packed with shops, bars, small special-interest museums and other businesses. This pedestrian-only street is the place to shop for anything from musical instruments to cigars. You’ll also find apothecaries that are working pharmacies, yet have so much history that they double as museums. Other spots of interest include the Mural Museum, which displays restored frescoes, and the Silverwork Museum.
Fill Up on Cuban Fare
Hungry after exploring Old Havana? Head to El Floridita, a famous Ernest Hemingway haunt considered the birthplace of the daiquiri. By day, it’s a seafood restaurant. Order the Papa & Mary, a surf-and-turf dish inspired by the Nobel-prize winning writer and his wife that consists of a lobster medallion in a shellfish sauce and young beef medallion in a béarnaise sauce. The jury is out on who has the best mojito in Old Havana, but the most famous are those served at La Bodeguita del Medio, another Hemingway spot. For authentic Cuban snack fare, stop by Nao Bar Paladar, where you can munch on honey-topped malanga fritters; yucca chips; tamales; and croquettes.