Old Havana’s eccentric magnificence is undoubtedly photo-friendly: you don't find perfectly kept old convertibles parked next to historic baroque buildings just anywhere. While the whole city is a visual treat, there are some picturesque landmarks that should definitely be in your smartphone’s gallery once you head home. Here is a selection of postcard-perfect plazas and places, and ideas for activities nearby once you've snapped that perfect shot.
Raise a mug at Plaza Vieja’s brewery
Emerging as the place to settle in for a couple of hours and take in the essence of Old Havana, Plaza Vieja is an ideal backdrop for a myriad of Instagrammable shots. After you frame your photos, head to Factoria Plaza Vieja, known succinctly as la cervecería (the brewery), for homemade draft beer, live music and grilled seafood. For an authentic retro-style ambiance, choose La Vitrola; located on the corner of San Ignacio and Muralla streets, this charming spot dishes out tapas and Cuban cocktails at excellent value for your money with great service (the latter can be hard to find in Cuba).
Dance with Antonio Gades at Plaza de la Catedral
Laid out on an expanse of cobblestone, Havana’s Cathedral Square is arguably the most iconic plaza in town thanks to its colonial splendor. Surrounding palaces remind us of the city’s Hispanic-influenced social life of the 17th and 18th centuries, when señoritas waited patiently for caballeros to take them to the ball. Today, you can flamenco your way over to the Antonio Gades statue and pretend you are showing the famous Spanish dancer a step or two. Head to the plaza's western corner and take a short detour down El Callejón del Chorro for an authentic Cuban lunch at Doña Eutimia: rice and beans, picadillo (finely shredded meat) and fried bananas are among favorites here.
Unveil Havana’s colonial past at Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas was developed around the city’s founding site, and today it serves as a welcome urban green spot where you can walk among secondhand booksellers and illustrators posted along Havana’s Calle de Madera, a street made entirely of wooden 'cobblestones'. It's also home to Cuba's most modern museum, the Centro para la Interpretación de las Relaciones Culturales Cuba-Europa, a center housed in the Palacio del Segundo Cabo that examines the cultural relations between Cuba and Europe. It was designed to make history more accessible and more fun: peek through a caravel’s porthole, zoom in historical images on smart TVs and learn how to dance danzón and cha cha cha.
Share a bench with Chopin at Plaza de San Francisco de Asís
Plaza de San Francisco de Asis is the first place cruise passengers photograph when they walk out of the customs building, and for good reason. It's also known as the Pigeons’ Square (hundreds of birds constantly flutter around), and drivers park their photogenic horse-hauled buggies and vintage convertibles here, ready to give tours. This plaza is also home to one of Havana’s best acoustic music halls, the Basilica Menor del Convento de San Francisco de Asís, as well as the faded bronze statues of Frederic Chopin and the Caballero de Paris. Interesting fact: the Caballero did not actually hail from Europe, but was instead a beloved local named José María López Lledín known to frequent Havana's streets in the 1950s and 60s with old papers in hand, talking about life and love. Visitors usually miss out on Jardin Madre Teresa de Calcuta at the square’s southern corner, but it is an oasis of tree-filled gardens.
Find the colorful bathtub at the Callejón de Hamel
Where should you begin photographing Callejón de Hamel? Anywhere. Everywhere. There’s no room for blank walls at Hamel, wedged between Espada and Aramburu streets – take a seat on a painted bathtub bench and ask about the stories behind the street murals and the psychedelic sculptures lining the alley. Although this is not within Havana Vieja, it is worth the visit if you are looking for an introduction to Cuba’s syncretic deities. If you head over on a Sunday around noon, tumbadoras (conga drums) set the beat for an unparalleled demonstration of Afro-Cuban dances and chants.
Take Chacón street to Plazuela del Santo Ángel
Modest but unforgettable, camera-ready Plazuela del Santo Ángel – tucked away behind the Iglesia del Santo Ángel Custodio – connects five street corners in a small atmospheric setting, and is home to a variety of culinary options, including Italian, Cuban and international cuisine. On your way from the Museo de Bellas Artes to the Museo de la Revolución, stop here and pull up a chair at the newest eatery in town, Chacón 162. Whether you choose to sit outdoors or enjoy Harley Davidson motifs at the bar inside, you’ll appreciate this place’s innovative gastronomy; try the grilled lobster paired with fruity variations of the mojito (it doesn’t get more Cuban than that!).
Lock up your love next to the Alameda de Paula
Back in the 1800s, the Alameda de Paula seafront promenade was lovers’ favorite walk long before there was any malecón. In 2015, a floating maritime promenade was added next to it, and it didn’t take long before couples started using padlocks to lock up their love just like on the bridges of Paris. Pose for a picture with your honey, and then head to the end of the Alameda and buy souvenirs at Havana’s biggest handicraft market, Almacenes de San José. If you're feeling a bit thirsty, take a break at the Antiguo Almacén de la Madera y el Tabaco, a large brewery next to the market with live music and grilled Cuban comfort food. Lesser visited is Iglesia de San Francisco de Paula (hence the promenade’s name), so allow yourself to sneak in and take a final photo at Havana’s most charming church.
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