Plaza Vieja picture
Jacques van Dinteren/Getty Images

Key Info

Price & Hours

Free

Details

Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/Area Type
Less than 1 hour Time to Spend
4.5

scorecard

  • 5.0Value
  • 4.0Food Scene
  • 4.5Atmosphere

Of all the picturesque plazas that dot Old Havana, Plaza Vieja is considered to be the neighborhood's main square. The cobblestone-lined plaza is flanked by brightly colored baroque and art nouveau-style buildings housing restaurants, art galleries, residences and even a camera obscura. Built in 1559, this plaza has had many faces and has played host to a bevy of historical events – both good and bad. Fiestas and festive processions were commonplace back in the day, as were bullfights and public executions. Plaza Vieja used to be a space for military exercises before becoming the site of an open-air market. After that, it was converted into a park, then transformed into an underground parking structure, if you can believe it.

Luckily those days are behind Plaza Vieja, with travelers finding the current rendition of the square to be a true feast for the eyes. Visitors also praised the individual artwork that's spread throughout the square (including a bald nude woman riding a chicken while carrying a fork) and the fact that locals hang out in the square, not just tourists. If you have time, some say the best way to soak in the atmosphere of the plaza is to grab a drink alfresco and just kick back, relax and watch all the people pass by. Being in the pedestrian-friendly Old Havana, Plaza Vieja is easily accessible by foot.

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El Malecón1 of 8
Old Havana (Habana Vieja)2 of 8
Type
Time to Spend
#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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