Castillo de la Real Fuerza guarded the entrance of the Havana Bat back in the 16th Century.

©Diana Rita Cabrera/Lonely Planet

Castillo de la Real Fuerza

Habana Vieja

On the seaward side of Plaza de Armas is one of the oldest existing forts in the Americas, built between 1558 and 1577 on the site of an earlier fort destroyed by French privateers in 1555. The imposing castle is ringed by an impressive moat and shelters the Museo de Navegación, which covers the history of the fort and Old Town, and its connections with the Spanish empire. Look out for the huge scale model of the Santíssima Trinidad galleon.

The west tower is crowned by a copy of a famous bronze weather vane called La Giraldilla. The original was cast in Havana in 1632 by Jerónimo Martínez Pinzón and is popularly believed to be of Doña Inés de Bobadilla, the wife of gold explorer Hernando de Soto. The original is now kept in the Museo de la Ciudad, and the figure also appears on the Havana Club rum label.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Habana Vieja attractions

1. Palacio del Segundo Cabo

0.04 MILES

Wedged into Plaza de Armas' northwestern corner, this beautiful baroque building was constructed in 1772 as the headquarters of the Spanish vice-governor…

2. Statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes

0.06 MILES

In the center of Plaza de Armas, ringed by royal palms, is a marble statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, the man who set Cuba on the road to independence…

3. Plaza de Armas

0.07 MILES

Havana's oldest square was laid out in the early 1520s, soon after the city's foundation, and was originally known as Plaza de Iglesia after a church –…

4. Museo El Templete

0.07 MILES

This museum is housed in the tiny neoclassical Doric chapel on the eastern side of Plaza de Armas, and was erected in 1828 at the point where Havana's…

5. Museo de la Ciudad

0.08 MILES

Even with no artifacts, Havana's city museum would be a tour de force, courtesy of the opulent palace in which it resides. Filling the whole western side…

6. Palacio de Los Condes de Santovenia

0.08 MILES

Lining Plaza de Armas, Los Condes de Santovenia is the former stately palace of the counts of Santovenia and today houses the five-star Hotel Santa Isabel…

7. Museo Nacional de Historia Natural


An average museum that contains examples of Cuba's flora and fauna; it overlooks Plaza de Armas in a building that once served as the US embassy.

8. Museo de Pintura Mural

0.11 MILES

A simple museum that exhibits some beautifully restored original frescoes in the Casa del Mayorazgo de Recio, popularly considered to be Havana's oldest…