Laundry dries from balconies overlooking narrow, cobblestone alleys; shady squares and sunlit plazas hide around corners; and kids hurry to school along whimsically named streets including Aguacate, Luz, Sol – even Cuba and Habana. This part of the city embodies a living history, both past and present.
Much of it began at Plaza de Armas - the first square the Spanish paved and home to the neoclassical El Templete, built on the spot where it’s believed Havana was founded in 1519. The Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, today the City Museum, outlines this rich history and fronts Havana’s only remaining wooden street. Just opposite, you can relax on the terrace of the Hotel Santa Isabel with a coffee, drink or lunch and watch antique book sellers peddle their wares around the plaza’s park.
Sunny Plaza Vieja is a favorite with locals and visitors. The buildings here, recently restored to all their former gleaming grandeur, are some of Havana’s most impressive examples of colonial architecture. Restaurants and cafés ring the plaza – the Factoría Plaza Vieja ‘microbrewery’ is wildly popular, along with El Escorial, the café and coffee roaster.
Plaza de San Francisco de Asis was once home to Havana’s beloved, bohemian inhabitant Caballero de Paris, but now hosts sightseers and serves as backdrop for happy couples taking wedding photos. Enjoying an aperitif in El Mercurio next to the Lonja de Comercio (Stock Exchange) and catching a concert in the Basilica de San Francisco are highly recommended, as is dinner at superlative Cafe del Oriente.
Nearby, the peerless Cathedral Square is a must see for its beautiful cathedral.