Sit beneath the shade of a palm tree, browse the stands of a book fair and visit museums set in grand palaces at Havana’s oldest square.
Follow in the footsteps of Cuban aristocracy, military leaders and royalty at Plaza de Armas. Learn about the nation’s past and natural history at museums. Admire Baroque masterpieces and shop for secondhand literature at a book fair. Stroll around pretty gardens and watch the world go by from a palm-shaded bench.
Established as Plaza de la Iglesia in the early 1500s, Plaza de Armas is Havana’s oldest square. During the colonial years, it served as a military parade ground and location for pompous celebrations. Much of today’s square dates back to the 18th century and it underwent a restoration in 1935, when architects used antique sketches to bring it back to its former glory.
Go to the center of the square to see a marble statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, a leader of Cuba’s independence war against Spain. Paths lead from the statue and around manicured gardens decorated with fountains. Sit on a bench, take some shade from the hot sun and enjoy a moment of people watching. From Tuesday to Sunday, booksellers set up stands around the square and offer the chance to poke through a collection of used tomes.
On the east side of the square is the Baroque-style Palacio del Conde de Santovenia, a one-time home of noble city residents that now houses a luxury 5-star hotel. Adjacent to here is El Templete, a monument erected to honor the foundation of Havana. Visit the formidable Castillo de la Real Fuerza, a Spanish-built fortress home to an exhibition of model ships.
Spot artillery, horse-drawn carriages, military regalia and religious artwork at the Museo de la Ciudad. It’s housed in the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, which is the old governor’s palace and a magnificent example of Baroque architecture. See displays of national and worldwide fossils, flora and fauna at the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural de Cuba.
Plaza de Armas sits in the heart of the Old Havana district and is a short walk from Cathedral Square. A hop-on hop-off tourist bus stops outside the Castillo de la Real Fuerza.