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Walking Guide – 17 BEST Things to See in Habana Vieja

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Overview

Havana in a short version? Charismatic, slightly rocked, extraordinary, absolutely unique. Havana is incomparable. In Habana Vieja and Centro Habana, you are surrounded by beautifully restored palaces, colorful houses, old forts, exciting museums, and many small cafés with live music. The mix of Hispano-colonial, baroque and modern styles and the brightly colored vintage cars create a unique setting. Stroll through the beautiful alleys and enjoy the rhythm of the city. Plan enough time for Havana, at least two full days – the more, the better.

Video

We've written down all our favorite spots of Habana Vieja and Centro Habana here and made it the ultimate city walking guide – you can visit all the places one by one. Of course, we've included a refreshment stop or two. There is so much to see and experience; be sure also to check out our free guide about the Best Things To Do in Havana.

1   El Capitolio

El Capitolio, an impressive monument to pre-revolutionary Cuban history. The architects drew inspiration from the Capitolio in Washington, D.C., the Pantheon in Paris, and St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The Capitolio Nacional's dome towers over Havana's skyline and is visible from almost anywhere in the city, very handy for orientation.

Inside, by the way, you'll find the Estatua de la Republica. The third-largest indoor sculpture in the world (after the Buddha statue in Japan and the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the U.S.). Covered in 22-carat gold leaf and 39 ft (12 meters) high. An idealized representation of Cuban nationalism, the model, was a Cuban model named Lily Valty. Guided tours cost about 12 US-Dollar.

2   Gran Teatro De La Habana

One of the most prominent opera houses in the world is actually located in the middle of the Caribbean. Belgian architect Paul Belau designed the theater, and in 1915 it opened its curtains for the first time. It is the main venue of the National Ballet of Cuba. By the way, ballet is one of the national sports and to dance here once is for every dancer to fulfill their dreams.

In 2015, it was renamed Gran Teatro de La Habana “Alicia Alonso”. In honor of her contributions to Cuban and universal culture, her love for her homeland, and her loyalty to the Cuban Revolution. Should you have the opportunity, attend one of the performances – an unforgettable experience.

3   Parque Central And La Esquina Caliente

In the middle of the park stands the mighty statue of the poet and national hero José Marti. Stand right next to it and enjoy the view of the park and the surrounding magnificent buildings. The crème de la crème of impressive buildings, star hotels, and vintage cars line up here. Our favorite is something entirely different here: “La Esquina Caliente.” The men discuss and gesticulate wildly, impulsively, and heatedly about…baseball. The gentlemen prove extremely impressively how fast one speaks in Cuba. Watch and listen carefully, and participation is allowed.

4   Museo Nacional De Bellas Artes

Art in Cuba has always found its way to evade state censorship and subtly protest colonial (and post-colonial) oppression. Since the 1950s, art curators have been secretly amassing a vast and genre-spanning collection. The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes displays a large part of these collections, with works by José Nicolás de la Escalera or Raúl Martínez. Some of the best Cuban and Caribbean art in the world can be found here, such as the unique marble sculpture “Form, Space and Light” at the museum entrance. Admission is approx. 6 US-Dollar.

5   El Floridita

El Floridita – absolutely a must! Nowhere history is so tasty. Maybe not the birthplace of the daiquiri, but definitely the place where the drink gained international fame and where celebrities flocked. Ernest Hemingway was a regular – so get in there and drink some history.

“My Mojito in La Bodeguita, my Daiquiri in El Floridita” (“My Mojito in La Bodeguita, my Daiquiri in El Floridita”).

6   Paseo Del Prado

Beautiful avenue for a leisurely stroll, plus shady trees with marble benches underneath. It could not be better. By the way, some of Havana's wealthiest families lived along the avenue. So did Dr. Carlos Finlay, who discovered that mosquitoes spread yellow fever.
You will find the Hotel Sevilla with its beautiful Moorish style and Havana's most famous wedding chapel, the Palacio de los Matrimonios.

7   Museo De La Revolución

The Museo de la Revolución is located in the former presidential palace. It shows the history of Cuba. Be it everything about Che Guevara, caricatures of enemies of the revolution like Ronald Reagan and George Bush, as well as wax figures of Che and Camilo Cienfuegos in full battle gear. The bullet holes from March 1957, when students tried to assassinate President Batista, are also on display. In front of the museum is the Granma yacht. Fidel Castro managed to come to Cuba from exile in Mexico in 1956 to begin his struggle. Admission costs about 10 US-Dollar.

8   Calle Obispo

A lively pedestrian street with a bit of everything: old architecture, many cafés, and stores with local handicrafts. The road runs from El Floridita to Plaza de Armas. No matter what time of day, the street is always busy. Points of interest along this stretch include the Ambos Mundos Hotel, where Ernest Hemingway lived for seven years, and the Taquechel Pharmacy Museum.

9   La Bodeguita

If the walls of La Bodeguita del Medio could talk… What looks like a student bar is actually the birthplace of the mojito cocktail. For almost 80 years, people have been mixing, eating, singing, dancing, and of course, drinking here.

Celebrities have also been coming here since time immemorial: Nat King Cole, Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Salvador Allende, and many others have left their signatures on the walls. Ernest Hemingway was a regular here, too – so get in there and drink in some history.

“My Mojito in La Bodeguita, my Daiquiri in El Floridita” (“My Mojito in La Bodeguita, my Daiquiri in El Floridita”)

10   Plaza De La Catedral

Guess what Plaza de la Catedral (“Cathedral Square”) is famous for? Yes, you're right, for the cathedral of Havana. The cathedral might trigger your inner Monk because it has two totally different towers. It is one of the oldest cathedrals in America. Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have visited the little cathedral. It even housed the remains of Christopher Columbus for a time until they were transferred to the Spanish Cathedral of Seville.

11   Plaza De Armas

Plaza de Armas was built in the 1520s and is the oldest square in Havana. Its open-air market for revolutionary literature and souvenirs is famous everywhere. All around, you'll find cafés and restaurants, shady gardens, and many gorgeous Baroque buildings:

Museo De La Ciudad

The Cuban baroque palace of Los Capitanes now houses the Museo de la Ciudad. It reveals the fascinating history of Havana. You can see an impressive selection of objects from the Revolution, the tomb of the famous French artist Vermay, and the Salon de los Espejos where the official end of Spanish rule was proclaimed in 899. All tours and displays are in Spanish, but admission is worth it just to walk through the palace and the beautiful courtyard. Admission is approx. 5 US-Dollar.

Castillo De La Real Fuerza

Built in the 16th century to repel attacks by pirates. However, it was actually never used for this purpose, as it is located too far in the bay. Instead, the fort served as a residence for members of the military and nobility and as a storehouse for valuables. You can walk the fort and explore Havana's maritime history at the Maritime Museum, admission is 5 USD.

12   Plaza De San Francisco De Asis

The Plaza de San Francisco is located at the entrance to Old Havana and is cooled by a sea breeze. The perfect place to take a short break at the café or at the Fuente de los Leones, a white marble fountain. By the way, the Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis is known for the best acoustics in all of Cuba and is therefore often used for concerts.

13   Calle Mercaderes

Calle Mercaderes is a lovely and lively pedestrian street lined with pretty buildings, museums, and cafés. Take a leisurely stroll along and check out some small museums. The entrance to the Museo de Bomberos for firefighters and the Museo del Tabaco are free.

14   Plaza Vieja

This beautiful and picturesque square has been through quite a bit: once used for military exercises, then a popular marketplace, and in the 1950s, it was also pretty much converted for an underground parking garage. Fortunately, a rethinking has taken place in recent decades, and the Plaza Vieja and its surrounding buildings have been lovingly restored. Today, a popular meeting place in Havana, and the many bars and cafés invite you to relax.

At the top of the Edificio Gomez Vila hides a well-kept secret: A mysterious device called the Camera Obscura. An optical device invented by Leonardo da Vinci and a gift from Spain to Cuba. The camera offers a fascinating 360-degree panorama of the old town of Havana. It is truly a brilliant way to experience the beautiful city! There is also a fantastic view of the old town from the roof terrace. The entrance fee is 4 US-Dollar.

15   "El Morro"

The Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro “El Morro” stands on the other side of the entrance to Havana Bay in the Parque Historico Militar. It was built in the late 16th and early 17th centuries to protect against pirate attacks. In fact, it still looks the same, except that the original lighthouse has since been replaced by a new one made of solid stone, but the original lamp still shines today. The fortress is now used as a museum, and the breathtaking view is not to be missed! Admission is approx. 8 US-Dollar.

16   Fortaleza De San Carlos

Right next to El Morro is Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana, or “La Cabaña” (Spanish for “The Cabin”). The most expensive and largest Spanish fort in the Americas was built in the 1770s. It is versatile in its transformation: During the Batista regime, the fort served as a military prison, Che Guevara used it as a headquarters after the revolution, and today it is a museum.

17   El Cristo De La Habana

You'll get a fantastic view of Havana Bay from El Cristo de La Habana, especially at sunset. The statue is the work of Cuban sculptor Jilma Madera, about 20 meters (66 ft) tall and has a fighting weight of about 320 tons. It was built from 67 marble blocks brought from Italy after being personally blessed by Pope Pius XII. El Cristo stands with his right hand near his chin and his left hand near his chest. Cubans explain it this way: in the right hand a cigar and in the left hand a mojito – no one needs more.

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