Relax in the cafés and browse the art galleries, which fill the grandiose mansions that frame this lively square in Old Havana.
In a city famous for its many attractive squares, Plaza Vieja (Old Square) stands out as being one of its most architecturally diverse. Find a predominance of elegant colonial mansions, which sit next to Baroque palaces and art nouveau buildings. They play host to everything from cafés and a microbrewery to artist studios and galleries.
Established in the mid-16th century, Plaza Vieja actually started life as Havana’s Plaza Nueva (New Square). It took on its current name in the 1800s and has witnessed several changes. Among other things, it has been the site of an outdoor food market, a bullfighting arena and a car park, built by the dictator Fulgencio Batista.
At the heart of the square is a graceful white Carrara marble fountain. It’s a copy of Giorgio Massari’s 18th-century fountain, which was destroyed when the square became a car park. This is a good vantage point for viewing the mix of architecture on display. Watch as local children play games, friends meet to chat and street performers entertain the crowds.
In the southwestern corner is the Casa de los Condes de Jaruco, home to exhibitions by native Cuban painters and contemporary artists. Browse photography displays at Fototeca de Cuba, inside the Casa de Juan Rico de Mata. See real-time shots of Havana at the Cámara Oscura gallery, housed within Edificio Gómez Vila. The Casa de las Hermanas Cárdenas has temporary exhibitions by the Center for the Development of Visual Arts.
Enjoy the impressive scenery and partake in some people watching from the square’s cafés and restaurants. Grab a seat at an outdoor patio or peer down on the action from a balcony. Sample a range of craft beers at a microbrewery and listen to the infectious rhythms of live Cuban music.
Plaza Vieja sits to the east of the Old Havana neighborhood. Major city attractions, such as Cathedral Square and Plaza de Armas, are less than a 10-minute walk away. Teniente Rey street runs along the square’s northern side and leads directly to El Capitolio. The dome of this landmark is visible from the edge of the square.