Old Havana (Habana Vieja)

#2 in Best Things To Do in Havana
Old Havana (Habana Vieja) picture
Jose Manuel Azcona/Getty Images

Key Info

Price & Hours

Free

Details

Cafes, Churches/Religious Sites, Entertainment and Nightlife, Historic Homes/Mansions, Monuments and Memorials, Museums, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/Area Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
4.8scorecard
  • 5.0Value
  • 4.0Food Scene
  • 4.5Atmosphere

Skipping Old Havana is tantamount to missing Parliament if you're in London or the Eiffel Tower if you're in Paris. This picturesque neighborhood is not just iconic to Havana and Cuba, but also to the world. In the early 1980s, Old Havana was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, thanks to the impressive preservation of some of the area's centuries-old architecture. Walking through Old Havana, you'll see a plethora of architectural styles, including baroque and neoclassical design elements, decorated in the brightest of colors. The neighborhood is also brimming with equally picturesque cobblestone-lined plazas, automobiles that look like they belong in museums and throngs of equally interesting people, whether they be Cuban street entertainers or awestruck world travelers.

The perimeters of Old Havana are actually the old borders of the city present in the 16th century. In the beginning of its heyday, Old Havana was a thriving port town owned by the Spanish. Often called the "Key to the New World," Havana was attractive for offering access to the Atlantic, which made shipping new riches from the Americas back to Spain an easy feat. Although the Spaniards' occupation eventually came to an end, they left behind a significant architectural style.

When visiting, stop by one or all of the five plazas left behind by the Spanish, including Plaza de Armas, and marvel at the walls of the city's fortifications, including the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, the first stone fortification built in the Americas. The neighborhood is also filled with restaurants, shopping, entertainment options and top attractions, including the Museo de la Revolución and the Museum of Fine Arts, which are a block away from each other. Even though the neighborhood is notoriously referred to as the tourist part of town, recent visitors enjoyed taking a stroll and recommended everyone do the same at least once. Others also suggested springing for a guided tour, as it's easy to miss the rich history that once lived among these vibrant streets. Havana Tour Company and Intrepid Urban Adventures offer tours of the neighborhood with English-speaking guides that last 3 to 3½ hours, for a fee. Old Havana is open year-round and there's no admission charge.

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More Best Things To Do in Havana

El Malecón
Plaza Vieja
Type
Time to Spend
1 of 8
#1 El Malecón

To tourists, Old Havana may be the city's heart and soul, but to Cubans, it's El Malecón. Technically speaking, El Malecón is a 5-mile-long boulevard that stretches along the water, with Havana Bay on one side and the edges of Old Havana, Vedado and Central Havana on the other, depending on where you are. But metaphorically speaking, El Malecón is both a meeting point and place of refuge for locals looking to catch a breath of fresh air after a long day or night.

During the day, you're likely to see some residents along with a tourist or two, but at night, especially come sundown, is when you'll see flocks of Cubans holding loved ones close as they watch the sunset, crowds of young people laughing and drinking, fishermen waiting for a catch or even a small dance party. And sometimes, you may not see anybody at all. On particularly stormy days, waves crash up against El Malecón and much of the sea spills onto the roads, making for a great photo op.

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