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.

12 tips for backpacking Cuba

12 tips for backpacking Cuba

Cuba’s captivating, colourful streets and carnaval­ feel make it appealing for travellers year­-round. The country's popularity is skyrocketing, and visit…

10 May 2016 • Freya Godfrey insert_drive_file Article
Delving into the Daiquiri: Havana’s favourite drink

Delving into the Daiquiri: Havana’s favourite drink

Cuba’s cocktails chart the country’s ambivalent relationship with its neighbour to the north, America. This is most obviously demonstrated by the Cuba Libre…

24 Feb 2016 • Henry Jeffreys insert_drive_file Article
What's new for Cuba in 2016? 10 developments to watch out for this year

What's new for Cuba in 2016? 10 developments to watch out for this year

Record numbers of visitors have been racing to get to Cuba ‘before it changes forever’ since President Obama’s historic announcement in December 2014 that…

18 Jan 2016 • Matt Norman 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