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A Walking Tour of Old Havana

SmarterTravel

When most people think of Cuba, it’s La Habana Vieja — in English, Old Havana — that springs to mind. Picture pastel-colored buildings fronting wide, gracious squares; vintage American autos rolling through streets lined with iron lampposts; and street musicians singing and strumming guitars.

The following photos were snapped on a recent walk through this historical neighborhood, founded in 1519 and now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Read on to take a stroll into the past.

Plaza de San Francisco

This cobblestone plaza near the waterfront dates back to the early 16th century and is currently home to the city’s cruise terminal. Watching over the square is a beautiful 18th-century basilica, now a museum and concert hall. You can climb the stairs into the church’s tower to look out over the city.

Artwork for Sale

Galleries around the city display everything from striking modern pieces to paintings aimed at tourists, such as these colorful canvases near Plaza de la Catedral (Cathedral Square). If Old Havana’s galleries aren’t enough, visitors can visit the massive Almacenes San Jose, a converted warehouse on the waterfront, for a dizzying array of paintings, jewelry, hats and other souvenirs.

Classic Cars

There’s no more iconic image of Havana than a classic American car from the 1950s or 60s — often dubbed a “Yank tank.” Since the American embargo took hold in 1962, the difficulty of acquiring new vehicles (or parts for existing ones) has forced Cubans to find creative ways to keep these cars on the road. Thanks to their popularity with tourists, many classic cars are currently operated as taxis.

Typical Street in Old Havana

While other parts of the city are crumbling, Old Havana has been the beneficiary of dedicated restoration efforts over the past few decades. Some of the funds come from local businesses such as hotels, restaurants and museums.

Cuban Sandwich at Sloppy Joe’s

Sloppy Joe’s Bar was a popular watering hole in the early 20th century, patronized by celebrities such as Ernest Hemingway, Clark Gable and John Wayne. It was nationalized following the Revolution and closed in 1965, only to reopen in 2013 after a thorough restoration. On the menu are tapas, sandwiches and — of course! — mojitos.

Colorful Windows

As you wander through Old Havana, be sure to look up — you’ll spot countless architectural details such as balconies covered with flower pots, historical iron lampposts, and brightly colored windows and shutters such as these.

Great Theater of Havana

The Gran Teatro de La Habana, or Great Theater of Havana, is a Neobaroque landmark that dates back to the 1830s. It is home to the Cuban National Ballet and hosts numerous other cultural events such as opera performances and films.

Photo Op with a Local Woman

A woman dressed in traditional costume takes a break from posing with tourists and selling her wares. She is one of numerous costumed locals that roam through Old Havana in search of photo ops; if you snap a picture with one of them, be sure to leave a tip.

Havana Cathedral

This stunning Baroque cathedral was built in the 18th century by the Jesuits and has an unusual asymmetrical facade — one tower is broader than the other, allowing for better drainage of the plaza after heavy rain. The relatively plain Neoclassical interior doesn’t quite match the cathedral’s ornate facade.

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