When visiting Havana the feeling of being trapped in time is inevitable, and perhaps here lies one of its greatest charms of Havana: a living museum where you can discover the beauty of history. That’s why during your trip to Cuba with Espíritu Travel you can’t miss visiting Havana because without a doubt it is the heart of this country.
For those who seek to discover the essence of the city and not just settle for a superficial visit, a journey through its history is essential. A history that can well be learned from the main colonial squares that exist in Old Havana and that our local guide will show you.
The four colonial squares that you must visit in Old Havana
Unlike the rest of the colonial cities of the country, Havana did not follow the pattern that governed the life of the villas around a square or park, but was structured in four main squares, with different functions: military (Plaza de Armas ), commercial (Plaza de San Francisco de Asís), social (Plaza Vieja) and religious (Plaza de La Catedral). With the passage of time and the growth of the city, the meanings of the squares are no longer the same, but the charm that surrounds them is still there.
A good way to visit Havana is walking from square to square! Check out our Cuba trip plans and discover Havana with the best local guided, a good point to start is our Long Weekend in Havana trip plan.
Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas has been a social hub in the city for more than five centuries. Cafes and restaurants beckon from its perimeter. It is the perfect place to escape from the hit of the city. Due to its location, close to the bay, the vitality of Obispo Street, with bars and small restaurants, and the silence of that other less-traveled part of the city, it is an excellent starting point.
Presiding over the plaza are a bevy of Baroque beauties, including the magnificent Palacio de los Capitanes. Today, it is home to the Museo de la Ciudad (City Museum), don’t forget to check if during your visit to La Havana, Museo de la Ciudad is hosting a concert on its beautiful courtyard!
Also on the Plaza de Armas, you will find the mid-16th-century colonial fort, Castillo de la Real Fuerza, another major landmark. In the center of the square, look for the statue of the Cuban patriot, Cespedes.
Plaza Vieja is one of Havana’s most vibrant gathering spots. Originally laid out in the mid-16th century, the square was once used for military exercises and was also a popular marketplace. In the 1950s, the plaza was transformed it into an underground car park. Thanks to the citizens of Havana, Plaza Vieja has been restored and is now one of the most popular squares in Old Havana.
Be sure to visit the Casa del Conde Jaruco and climb the 35-meter tower of the Camara Obscura for fantastic city views. Finish your visit to this beautiful square with a drink in one of its magnificent cafes.
San Francisco de Asis Square
Plaza de San Francisco faces the harbor at the entrance to Old Havana. The restored buildings impart a well-loved feel to this cobbled square. Two famous buildings grace Plaza de San Francisco: the Lonja del Comercio, with its stunning central dome, and the Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis. In the center of the square, you will also find the Fountain of the Lions.
Don’t forget to stop at the bronze sculpture that represents the Knight of Paris, an iconic figure on the streets of Havana, and which according to popular belief is lucky if you rub your finger or your beard, has become a custom among Cubans.
The waterlogged and relatively isolated terrain known as the Ciénaga gave birth to one of the most important squares in the city: Plaza de la Catedral, which has iconic buildings of colonial architecture, the Cathedral and the Casa del Márquez de Arcos. Its location, unlike the rest, is the pleasure of unexpected discovery as it is not as exposed as the rest. Exponent of those contrasts that characterize the city so well, it combines the monumentality of its buildings with the intimacy of small spaces.
Visit our blog post about top things to do in Old Havana to find out more!
The squares are points that draw the way to go from one point to another. Their encounter is never separated from the discovery of the life that hides in the narrow streets that lead to them, those of music and bustle, or the most solitary and mysterious. It is just another way of knowing the city, a map that superimposes history and the most everyday reality. Visiting Havana through its squares is a fantastic way to explore Havana. What are you waiting for to start planning your trip to Cuba with Espíritu Travel.