Plaza de la Catedral
Plaza de la Catedral is a good place to start off a tour of the old city. It was the last square to be laid out within the city's fortifications and is a charming spot where the architecture of the old town is revealed in all its splendour. In its centre is the Catedral de San Cristóbal de La Habana, which boasts one of the most beautiful Baroque facades in all of Latin America.
Plaza de Armas
The Plaza de Armas is the oldest square in Havana. It is graced with a park with flowering trees under which you can take shelter from the midday sun, surrounded by tables of second-hand books for sale. The park is home to the splendid Museo de la Ciudad (Calle Tacón, between Calle Obispo and Calle O'Reilly), definitely a must-see for all visitors to the Cuban capital city.
A short walk from the Plaza de San Francisco via Calle Brasil will lead to you Plaza Vieja. As early as the 16th century, Plaza Vieja was the site of an outdoor market and, for some time, the city's largest slave market. Today, this charming square features a pretty central fountain and is surrounded by restored palaces and old houses that have been transformed into solares.
South of Habana Vieja
The magnificent Convento de Santa Clara (Calle Cuba, between Calle Sol and Calle Luz) is definitely worth a visit (note however that it has been undergoing renovations since 2009). Built between 1638 and 1643 to house the town's rich young girls, its patio, the largest on the island, is absolutely stunning.
Iglesia Espíritu Santo (Calle Cuba, between Calle Acosta and Calle Jesús María) is Havana's oldest church. It was built in 1638 and has retained all the typical features of its era. Its severe facade, huge side doors and superb wood ceiling are all perfectly charming.
Featuring some of the city's loveliest neo-colonial buildings and large trees, this is a particularly pleasant sector. Of all the buildings that surround the park, the most beautiful is probably the Palacio del Centro Gallego, which is home to the Gran Teatro de La Habana (Paseo de Martí, between Calle San Rafael and Calle San José), one of the city's cultural beacons.
Established in 1929 by dictator Gerardo Machado, the Capitolio (Paseo de Martí, between Avenida Dragones and Calle San Martín) was the seat of the Senate and the House of Representatives until the Revolution of 1959. Inspired by Washington's Capitol building, Rome's Basilica of Saint Peter and Paris' Les Invalides complex, the Capitolio is remarkable for its sheer size.
The Prado, or Paseo de Martí, was inaugurated in 1772 under the name of Alameda de Extramuros and became Havana's main promenade in Havana during the 19th century. Posh residences sprang up on both sides of the central lane, reflecting the new wealth brought about by sugarcane cultivation. In its present shape, which dates back to 1928, it remains one of the most attractive spots in the city. Furthermore, if you wish to make a few acquaintances among the locals, just take a seat on one of the stone benches under the shade of the Prado's tall trees.
The Palacio Presidencial (Calle Refugio no.1, between Avenida de las Misiones and Calle Zulueta) is set in a magnificent, eclectic building that once again marries neoclassical and Art Nouveau styles. Many political figures have addressed the citizens of Havana from its balcony, from Grau San Martín to Fidel Castro. Built between 1913 and 1920, the palace is now home to the Museo de la Revolución, which retraces the long path travelled by the revolutionary elements of Cuban society up to Batista's final overthrow in the first few days of 1959.
Cuban art is displayed in the renovated old building of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (Calle Trocadero, between Calle Zulueta and Calle Monteserrate, tel.7-863-9484). The colonial gallery is essentially devoted to 19th-century Cuban landscapes, and prints from the same era offer a glimpse of what the city looked like and how its inhabitants used to live.
The Malecón, a boulevard that borders the ocean, is the pride of Havana residents. Not only is the view stunning and the sunsets spellbinding, but the air is good and there is plenty of life. Constructed at the beginning of the 20th century, the Malecón extends over some 12km. It is lined with lovely pastel-coloured houses that face the sea and give the boulevard a charm that it gradually loses as you venture further west.
The Cementerio Cristóbal Colón
Undoubtedly the country's loveliest cemetery and one of the most famous in all of Latin America, the huge Cementerio Cristóbal Colón (Calle 12, at the corner of Avenida 23) was laid out in 1876. It contains over 800,000 graves, and many of its tombstones are veritable works of art.
Built between 1763 and 1774, the Fortaleza San Carlos de la Cabaña is a very pleasant spot where you can stroll peacefully for hours on end. From the walls of what was one of the most important citadels in the New World, there is a captivating view of the surrounding area, both on the Havana side and on the Cojimar side, to the west, where the British arrived during the campaign that led to the capture of the city.