Animated and chock-a-bloc with visitors, Plaza Vieja, at the southern end of Mercaderes, more than any of the other old town squares, hums with the energy not just of a tourist attraction but as somewhere to come for a drink, a meal or to while away some time, for Cubans as well as foreign tourists, though certainly there are more of the latter. To a lesser but significant extent the square still reflects its original purpose as a focus for the community, with some of the buildings around its colourful borders still home to local residents and others occupied by educational and cultural institutions. This has been one of the most redeveloped spots in Habana Vieja over the last decade, distinguished with a central fountain, a museum, a planetarium, a photography gallery, an arts centre and primary school, a rooftop camera obscura and some decent shops, restaurants and several excellent cafés. The only significant edifice yet to be restored is the Art Nouveau Palacio Cueto in the southeastern corner. Built between 1906 and 1908, it became a stunning hotel in the 1920s and is set to be one again if the renovations ever finish, having started over a decade ago.

Despite its name this is not the oldest square in Havana, having been established at the end of the sixteenth century after the creation of the Plaza de Armas. It became the “Old Square” when the nearby Plaza del Cristo was built around 1640, by which time Plaza Vieja had firmly established itself as a centre for urban activity, variously used as a marketplace and festival site. Most of its beautifully restored, porticoed buildings, however, were built in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, long after its foundation.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Cuba features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Go solo: the 20 best places to travel alone

Go solo: the 20 best places to travel alone

Solo travel can be one of the most rewarding ways to explore the world. Whether you'd rather spend it on a desert island or in a frenetic new city, here are th…

21 Dec 2016 • Rachel Mills camera_alt Gallery
15 of the most romantic places in Cuba

15 of the most romantic places in Cuba

Cuba and romance go hand-in-hand. The isolated island's whitewashed beaches and balmy climate make for a romantic escape in the traditional sense of the word - …

14 Dec 2016 • Greg Dickinson camera_alt Gallery
18 brilliant pictures of life in Cuba

18 brilliant pictures of life in Cuba

It has been a big year for Cuba. After US-Cuba relations were improved in summer 2015, an influx of tourists started to head to the country – the first half …

09 Dec 2016 • Rough Guides Editors insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month