Old Havana Habana Vieja
Habana Vieja or old Havana is a well preserved slice of Cuban history. This wonderful area of Havana was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1982. The area has been undergoing an extensive renovation and has a plethora of historical, cultural, and architectural highlights to see. Habana Vieja is a pleasant place to stroll around and get a sense of what life in Cuba used to be like 200 years ago.Old Havana is popular with tourists, but does not have the feeling of being overrun. If you look carefully around you, sights of everyday living can be seen. Several of the major attractions within Habana Vieja are the Plaza de la Catedral, the Catedral de San Cristobal, and the legendary restaurant Bodeguita del Medio. Visitors should allow at least a half a day to explore this area and more if time permits.
Perhaps Havana's most vibrant street, Calle Obispo is a great spot for an evening stroll. Well lit and perfectly preserved, the feeling of being there is like that of stepping back in time. The street has a pulse, a beat that makes it feel alive. Rich in history, architecture, and entertainment, the Calle Obispo is famous Cuba-wide.The narrow roadway throngs with life in the evening and many restaurants are available including the world famous El Floridita. Also of note is the Hotel Ambos Mundos, which will sound familiar to those who know of Ernest Hemmingway's life.Fans of homeopathic and organic items should not miss Taquechel, a pharmacy selling Cuban notions and potions. If you are thirsty from all your walking around Havana, be sure to stop in at Casa del Agua la Tinaja which sells water filtered using an ancient method of ceramic filters.The buildings that line the Calle Obispo are a mixture of Cuban baroque at one end and change to Art Nouveau Eclectic at the other.
The Plaza Vieja has had an interesting history, falling from grace to bouncing back and becoming one of Havana's most vibrant gathering spots. Originally laid out in the mid 16th Century, Plaza Vieja was an important marketplace for the citizens of Havana. Due to some street construction in the 1950s, the plaza vanished from view and became an underground car park.With the hard work of the citizens of Havana and the support of the government, the Plaza Vieja has regained its former glory. It now has beautifully restored buildings and arcades surrounding the central area where a small fountain from the late 18th Century stands.The main building of note is the Casa del Conde Jaruco. Built in the early 18th Century the building features interesting stained glass windows on the first floor. Also on the square is the camara obscura which allows for fantastic views from its 35m / 105ft tower. There are several galleries on Plaza Vieja and an unique museum devoted to the history of playing cards.
Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta
A pleasant place for a seaside stroll, the Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta is rich in history and has played a key role in the maritime defense of Havana. It was designed by three men; Giovanni Battista Antonelli, Juan de Tejeda, and Cristobal de Roda and built over a 21 year span from 1589-1610.Located strategically on the western edge of Havana's harbor, the Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta was linked with the other fortress, Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro, via a brass and wood chain during times of uncertainty. In the case of an attack, this link was tightened up and enemy ships were prevented from entering the harbor.There are several monuments of interest at the fortress, the most important being the equestrian statue of General Maximo Gomez. A fantastic view across the harbor and the sea air make the trek out to Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta well worthwhile.
Located at Number 8 Calle Oficios just off Havana's Plaza de Armas, the Museo Numismantico is a pleasant diversion for visitors specifically interested in numismatics. The collection of over 1500 pieces is arranged in chronological order from the very beginning of the development of Cuba to present day. Also on display are a wide variety of other forms of currency including lottery tickets, bonds, and some interesting attempts at counterfeiting.Of particular interest at the Museo Numismatico is the valuable collection of twenty gold coins. For those less interested in the collection inside, the building the museum is housed in is in some people's opinion, much more interesting. This late 1700th Century building has a beautiful façade and is said to be inhabited by the ghost of a Colonial lady dressed in white. Perhaps she is the defacto guard of the gold coins?
Casa de Los Arabes
An unusual museum to be sure, the Casa de Los Arabes may not appeal to everyone but is interesting to say the least. The museum boasts of a wide variety of items in a collection from the 18th & 19th Centuries. Items range from amazingly beautiful robes to intricacy woven rugs to camel saddles. Be sure not to miss the extensive collection of gold and silver plated weapons and the very unusual "desert rose".Housed in a an old Colonial home representing the Mudejar construction style, the building has a stunning red brick arcade and the pride of ownership shows with the plethora of plants and flowers on display. For those of the Muslim faith, this is the only location in Havana with a prayer room complete with a Koran and other religious objects.
Museum of Colonial Art
Housed in a famous home that was once the residence of Don Luis Chacon the Military Governor of Cuba, the Museo de Arte Colonial is an interesting place to visit. The building has been beautifully restored and the twelve rooms within have many interesting displays.Most of the items on display at the Museo de Arte Colonial date from the 18th and 19th Century and the furniture and room decorations tell of a luxurious time many years ago. The museum is particularly noted for its beautiful medipunto stained glass windows. These unique windows were typically placed above doorways and windows in the mansions of Havana.The Museo de Arte Colonial has been operating in this location since 1963. The pleasant courtyard is a wonderful spot to rest and beat the heat and humidity of Havana.
Plaza de San Francisco
Plaza de San Francisco is a pleasant place to enjoy a cool drink or a meal in Havana and the well restored buildings and the marble fountain in the center are a feast for the senses. Cool sea breezes blow through and remind visitors that in Cuba, the sea is never far away.Plaza de San Francisco is blessed with two famous buildings, the Lonja del Comercio, with its stunning central dome, and the Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis featuring a tower that provides beautiful views out over Havana. The Basilica is now used for musical concerts; check in to see what is playing.Hard to miss on the Plaza de San Francisco is the Fuente de los Leones. This white marble fountain, once a fresh water supply to passing ships, was carved by Giuseppe Gaggini and donated to the country in 1836.
Seminario de San Carlos y San Ambrosio
The Seminario de San Carlos y San Ambrosio is a functioning seminary and has been in operation in Havana since the mid 18th Century. Originally built by the Jesuits, the seminary has been a hotbed of scholarly pursuit for Cuban patriots and intellectuals for many years.The exterior of the Seminario de San Carlos y San Ambrosio is not overly spectacular, however, the interior courtyard is unique in Havana and Cuba in general. The interior courtyard has three levels surrounding it and each level is unique in its design ranging from single and double columns right up to wooden posts on the highest level. There are two portals of interest and both have their own architectural design. One is done up in Neo baroque, the other older one done in the relatively rare Churrigueresque style.
Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis
Dominating Havana's Plaza de San Francisco is the Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis. This building was built in the late 16th Century and redone in the baroque style in the mid to early 18th Century.Due to political strife the Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis was actually taken over by the Spanish government and its functions as a church ceased for a number of years. Reputed to have the best acoustics in all of Cuba, the church is used primarily for musical concerts, check in with the attendant to see what is playing.The Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis has a 42m / 138ft high bell tower that provides visitors with a stunning view out over Havana and out to sea.
The street in Havana called Calle Oficios should actually be called the street of museums. With three unique museums, this street is well worth a visit. The museums located on Calle Oficios appeal to a wide variety of interests - from antique cars at the Museo del Auto Antiguo, to coinage at Museo Numismatico, to ancient Arabic objects at Casa de los Arabes.Calle Oficios is easily located in the center of Havana as it runs directly off the Plaza de Armas. This fascinating street is a great snapshot of Havana the way it used to be. Be sure to check out the plethora of interesting shops and don't miss the beautifully preserved buildings, which boast of beautiful facades.
Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Merced
For visitors who may not normally be interested in visiting churches, the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Merced in Havana provides something different and interesting you may enjoy. This church provides a fascinating glimpse into what happens when Catholicism and African cult religion combine.The Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Merced is perhaps one of Havana's best known churches for those who follow the Santeria religion and are devoted to the worship of the divinity Obbatala.The Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Merced was built in the early 17th Century and was reconstructed in the 19th Century. The 19th Century reconstruction added the gilded altars and the frescoed vaults.
Iglesia del Espiritu Santo
The Iglesia del Espiritu Santo is the oldest church in Havana. The church has an interesting history and used to possess a power normally found only in government, the power to offer asylum to those being persecuted.Built in the early 17th Century in the Hispanic-Arab style, the Iglesia del Espiritu Santo was changed quite dramatically in the 19th Century and looks much different today.Perhaps more interesting than the Iglesia del Espiritu Santo itself is the marketplace located around the church. Here visitors will find an unusual assortment of vendors selling special herbs used in the treatment of various ailments. Of special interest are the votive items used in the Afro Cuban cult religions.
Palacio de Aldama
The Palacio de Aldama is considered by many to be the finest example of 19th Century neo-Classical architecture in Havana and throughout Cuba. Originally built in 1840 for Domingo de Aldama y Arrechaga, the bulk of the work was done by black slaves.The Palacio de Aldama is not open to the public, but if visitors are pleasant enough, the guards may let you in to take a peek at some of the buildings interior highlights. These include a marble staircase and two beautiful inner gardens. Even if you are unable to enter the building is still worth seeing.No longer owned by the original family, the Palacio de Aldama is now used as the home of the Instituto de Historia de Cuba.
Birthplace of Jose Marti (Jose Marti Museum)
For those devoted to delving deep into Cuba's history and finding out what makes Cubans proud, the Museo Jose Marti should be on the must see list. This 19th Century house containing the Museo Jose Marti is where the famous Cuban hero was born.Jose Marti was the Cuban author who became a national hero when he died fighting against the Spanish. A long time thorn in the side of the Spanish, Jose Marti was a writer, activist, and exile.The Museo Jose Marti is devoted to the man and provides many interesting exhibits chronicling his life and achievements. Also on display is furniture and rare editions of the writer's works.
Bodeguita del Medio
If hanging out with history is your hobby, then the Bodeguita del Medio is the place for you. Founded in 1942, this Havana restaurant has been visited by practically every famous person to set foot in Cuba.Famous patrons include Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nat King Cole and of course, Ernst Hemmingway who famously remarked: "My Mojito in La Bodeguita, My Daiquiri in El Floridita". Every square inch of the Bodeguita del Medio is covered in various forms of memorabilia and some consider it to be quite tourist focused.The Bodeguita del Medio attracts visitors both for the food and the notoriety.
Casa de Africa
Africa has played an important part in Cuba's history. The Casa de Africa in Havana does an excellent job of bringing forth this information. The museum traces the history and culture of the various groups of slaves that were brought to Cuba. A majority of the items are from the collection of Fernando Ortiz, a famous Cuban ethnographer. The Casa de Africa has over 2000 items of interest laid out in informative displays, pictures and glass cases.The Casa de Africa is housed in a well preserved 17th Century home, interestingly enough once owned by slave masters themselves, the plantation owners.
Casa de Mexico
The Casa de Mexico in Havana was built in the late 18th Century for the Pedroso family. The home is well preserved and houses exhibits on Mexico and Cuba and the strong relationship they share.Of note is the Alfonso Reyes library. This library contains over five thousand texts on Mexico and is considered Cuba's best resource center for items and history related to that country.Also on display are exhibits of silver items, terra cotta, and fabrics. The museum is easy to find, located at the junction of two of Havana's most famous streets, Calle Obrapia and Calle Mercaderes.
Casa de la Obra Pia
For those fascinated by the architectural style of Cuban baroque, the Casa de la Obra Pia in Havana is considered to be one of the finest examples in a home. The Casa de la Obra Pia was owned by Martin Calvo de la Puerto y Arrieta and it is his benevolent nature that provides an interesting history for the home.Every year at Casa de la Obra Pia Calvo would provide monies for five orphan girls so they could either get married or enter a convent. The home is richly decorated and has several luxurious salons once used for societal functions.
More Havana Attractions
Popular Destinations Nearby