Old Havana tries hard to separate you from your convertibles, but you can plaza hop with food and drink for less than 5 CUC ($5). Find out more on our self-guided walking tour of Old Havana.
For backpackers short on money but not on time, start exploring the 5th most popular square in Old Havana. From there, sample the more popular plazas before ending with 6 peso ($0.24) beers and boxing. More information about each section of Old Havana can be found in the corresponding post, by clicking on the link at the end of each segment.
We start our self-guided walking tour at Plaza del Cristo, since it is on the way from the city’s cheapest accommodation, Centro Havana.
Plaza del Cristo and Around
Plaza del Cristo is Old Havana’s least visited plaza, thereby making it appealing. You won’t find large tour groups congregating around their guide, or tourists photo-bombing your picture. Instead, you will be able to take a few shots of the picturesque Parroquial del Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje in peace. Heading down Calle Brasil, you will come across the Museo de la Farmacia Habanera (Free).
Check out our post Plaza del Cristo and Around in Old Havana for more information.
Just before arriving at Plaza Vieja is a trendy peso shop. You can grab a ham sandwich for 10 pesos ($0.40), and a juice for 5 pesos ($0.20).
Plaza Vieja and Around
Continuing down Calle Brasil on our self-guided walking tour will lead you to the northwest corner of Plaza Vieja. In terms of attractions and raw beauty, Plaza Vieja is the best in Old Havana. A major renovation project has been completed for the majority of the buildings, with a few more still underway. Each building currently showcases a before and after shot on their exterior façade.
The center of Plaza Vieja is filled with a fountain, oddly surrounded by a fence. At the time of our visit, an army of inanimate dogs also guarded the fountain. The other art installations in the square were a flower, and a naked girl riding an oversized chicken while holding a giant fork.
Scattered around Plaza Vieja are a number of small attractions along with restaurants, a microbrewery, and accommodation. The attractions include La Casona Centro de Art (Free), Museo de Naipes (Free), Palacio Cueto, Camara Oscura (2 CUC, $2), Planetario (10 CUC, $10), La Factoris Plaza Vieja (Drinks 2 CUC, $2), and Centro Cultural Pablo de la Torriente Baur (Free).
Check out our post Plaza Vieja: The Best Plaza in Old Havana for more information.
Plaza de San Francisco de Asis and Around
Plaza de San Francisco de Asis is our second favorite square in Old Havana. The appealing aspect is that everything seems so open compared to the other plazas. Instead of being boxed in by buildings, the street running alongside the east side of Plaza de San Francisco de Asis actually makes the square feel larger, and adds some much needed vegetation.
There are a lot of attractions in and around Plaza de San Francisco de Asis. These include Fuente de los Leones, Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco de Asis, Museo de Arte Religiouso (3 CUC, $3), El Caballero de Paris, Terminal Sierra Maestra, and Lonja del Comercio in Plaza de San Francisco de Asis.
Around the plaza can be found Museo del Ron (7 CUC, $7), Catedral Ortodoxa Nuestra, the ferry to Casablanca and Regla, Camara de Representantes (Free), Coche Mambi (Free), and Museo de Leonardo da Vinci (2 CUC, $2).
Check out our post San Francisco de Asis and Around in Old Havana for more information.
Merchant’s Street is a great place to wander as you head from Plaza de San Francisco de Asis to Plaza de Armas. Although none of the small museums are top-notch, together they provide a bit of variety. Most, if not all, are free so take a look inside and linger if any catch your attention. The museums that we visited along Calle Mercaderes include Museo del Chocolate, Museo de Bomberos, Armeria 9 de Abril, Casa de Asia, and Casa de Mexico Benito Juarez.
There are a handful of other museums such as Museo del Tabaco, Museo de Simon Bolivar, Casa de Africa, and Museo de Pintura Mural that we chose not to visit. Calle Mercaderes also has two small shaded parks to relax in, or wait for friends while they finish exploring.
Check out our post Calle Mercaderes: Museum Incubator in Old Havana for more information.
There aren’t many peso restaurants scattered around the plazas in Old Havana. That is why we were excited to find Mundo Aborigen Cafeteria on the south side of Plaza de Armas. Spaghetti with cheese is 12 pesos ($0.48), and juice is 3 pesos ($0.12). There are additional options on the menu as well. If you do not want to tip, then you have to remain at the bar for your meal.
Plaza de Armas and Around
Plaza de Armas is one of the greenest plazas in Old Havana. The problem is that the green areas are all fenced off. The central square is comprised of four restricted quadrants divided by intersecting pathways. At the heart of Plaza de Armas is a statue of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes. Despite being restricting, people still frequent the square’s perimeter to take advantage of the shade.
Like the other plazas in Old Havana, the highlights are around the square itself. These include the Museo de la Ciudad (3 CUC, $3) inside Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, Palacio del Segundo Cabo, Castillo de la Real Fuerza and Museo de Navegacion (3 CUC, $3), and Museo el Templete.
Check out our post Plaza de Armas and Around in Old Havana for more information.
Ice Cream Time
If you head one block past the University building on Calle Obispo where everyone is glued to their electronic devices, then you will come across a small piece of heaven. On a hot day in Old Havana, you can’t beat a rich ice cream cone for 3 pesos ($0.12). It is a small stall so make sure you are paying attention. You also have to eat it fast as it literally will disappear before your eyes.
Plaza de la Catedral and Around
Believe it or not, Plaza de la Catedral is the newest main plaza on our Old Havana self-guided walking tour. The crown jewel of course is…you guessed it, the Catedral de San Cristobal de la Habana. The buildings all have a baroque style, and are pleasant for a quick snap. However, besides one quiet restaurant the square doesn’t have any personality.
The surrounding buildings include Casa de Lombillo and Palacio del Marques de Arcos on the east side, the Palacio de los Condes de Casa Bayona with the skippable Museo de Arte Colonial (2 CUC, $2) on the south side, and a restaurant in Palacio de los Marqueses de Aguas Claras on the west side. Our personal favorite attraction nearby was Taller Experimental de Grafica.
Check out our post Plaza de la Catedral and Around in Old Havana for more information.
Old Havana Perimeter Loop
If you aren’t exhausted after tackling Old Havana’s five plazas, then there are still a few more attractions to visit. From Plaza de la Catedral, head down Calle Obispo to start the second leg of your self-guided walking tour.
The perimeter loop takes you to Edificio Bacardi, Museo Casa Natal de Jose Marti, Old Havana City Wall, Centro Cultural Antiguos Almacenes de Deposito San Jose, Iglesia de San Francisco de Paula, and Gimnasio de Boxeo Rafael Trejo. Make sure to grab several 6 peso ($0.24) beers just south of the church before catching a sparring match.
Check out our post Old Havana Perimeter Loop Attractions for more information.
This concludes your self-guided walking tour of Old Havana. You can also check out our other self-guided walking tours at Casablanca Forts: Watching Over Havana, Centro Havana Self-Guided Walking Tour, and Vedado Self-Guided Walking Tour in Havana. As you plan the rest of your Cuban trip, don’t forget to check out these tips on how to prepare for Cuba in our post Cuba Budget Travel Guide & Information.
***The Final Word – Old Havana is unlike anywhere else in the world. However, don’t put too much pressure on visiting every attraction. Do enjoy the architecture and local culture.***
What attractions did you find were worth the entrance fee in Old Havana?
Super easy DIY travel around city centres
Visited in May 2016