Why a walking tour of Old Havana? Can I not hire one of those cool classic convertibles to drive me around? Fortunately or Unfortunately, the answer is: No. The cobbled streets of Old Havana are so narrow and cramped that the only way to explore this part of the city is by foot. I recommend you forget your high heels for this trip ladies and stick to your comfy Converse.
The main attractions of Old Havana are the four famous plazas. A sample itinerary of the walking tour is as shown in the map. You can start from San Francisco de Asis Square(A) followed by Plaza Vieja or Old Town Square(B), Plaza de la Catedral(C) and then Plaza de Armas(D):
San Francisco de Asis Square
Just across the harbour-front you will find a small square with an old church and a fountain in the center. This square is the San Francisco de Asis plaza. Since this square so close to the port, it is usually the starting point of the walking tour of Old Havana for people getting off a cruise and for people coming on day-trips to Havana. It is less prominent than the other squares in both size and grandeur and easy to miss if you don’t know where it is. However, there are some good photo opportunities in San Francisco de Asis as you can find a lot of classic cars parked near the square.
The most popular plaza is Plaza Vieja, also known as Old Town Square. Colonial buildings, with balconies facing the square, surround the square on all four sides. These balconies allowed its affluent residents, in the early 16th century, a panoramic view of all the public demonstrations and activities such as bullfights, processions and the most morbid one – executions, that went on in the plaza. Nowadays, tourists enjoy this lively square which has many café and bars often with live music and dance.
Plaza de la Catedral
Havana Cathedral dominates Plaza de la Catedral with its Baroque-style architecture and two towers. However, you will notice something strange about these two towers. They are asymmetrical! If you notice, in the video, the right tower is wider than the left. Even if you are not the religious type, this Roman Catholic Cathedral is a must-visit if you visit Havana.
Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas has a more laid-back and less-touristy feel compared to the other plazas of Havana. The main highlight of this plaza is the park with beautiful palm trees as shown in the video. In the center of the park, you will find a marble statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes. This plaza also used to host a flea-market that sold antique books. Sadly, this flea market has moved to the end of Obispo street.
It is possible to walk from one plaza to another in about half a day as many itineraries of travel companies suggest. However, in my opinion this type of half-day tour does not allow you to explore the plazas in detail. With such itineraries, you barely have 10 minutes at each plaza to grab some quick photos with too many tourists blocking your perfect shot. Your eyes will be busy keeping track of the travel guide instead of appreciating the pleasant pastel colored buildings. This, coupled with any temperature above 30 degrees could quickly drain you of your patience and enjoyment of the tour.
In my opinion, to truly experience Old Havana, you should reserve a day or two to leisurely walk through these beautiful streets. Sample the street food, chat with locals, indulge in chocolate at chocolate museums and wait for the perfect moment to click your camera’s capture button because the views are certainly worth it.
Going to Cuba? Check out my post on What To Pack For Cuba. Don’t forget to pack these 10 Essential items for an enjoyable trip!