Havana Vieja is perhaps one of the most attractive and interesting parts of the city. It is the part where you may want to base your stay. The old town is defined in the main by splendid colonial architecture, either finely restored as in some parts, or falling into rack and ruin in other parts. In this part of the city it is possible to imagine the Havana of times past, prior to the end of colonialism and the difficult years that followed.
Aside the grandly restored squares with their finely kept churches, you just have to head a couple of blocks away to see the real Havana Vieja. Here, children play marbles and basketball in the crumbling streets and less well-kept squares. Washing is strewn from the balconies of the beautiful, but shabby old colonial buildings, while men drink rum on the kerb. You can peek into the open houses to get a better understanding of Cuban life. If youâ€™ve booked to stay in a Casa Particular, it is likely to be located in this maze of backstreets. There are some fine hotels in Havana Vieja, but these are generally located in the more gentrified and cleaned up areas, such as close to the Capitolio and Parque Central.
Bustling Calle Obispo is the main artery that runs through this part of town. For orientation, it can be useful to head here first to get the lie of the land, and just to take in Cuban life. Along this street you will find all variety of shops, a number of reasonable restaurants and pratical traveler services, including money change (two branches of Cadeca), a branch of Infotur who can help to oriente you in the city and sell you tours, and decent Internet service in the government-owned Etecsa. For those on a tight budget, there are a good selection of â€śpeso pizzaâ€ť stalls in this area, which will sell you a cheese and tomato pizza for CUC1.
North of Obispo, the greatest number of sights can be found, including the fascinating Museo de la Revolucion and Granma Memorial, the Plaza de Armas and Plaza de la Catedral. In this northern section, it is also possible to find relics of armaments for visiting, such as the Castillo de Real Fuerza, the Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta, and across the Bay of Havana, the Parque Historico Militar Morro-Cabana. There are a number of other museums to take in, including the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes and the Museo de la Musica.
Heading south of Obispo, thereâ€™s not as much to see, but there are still some not-to-be-missed sights. It is possible to head to the Capitolio Nacional, the Plaza del Cristo, Plaza de San Francisco, Plaza Vieja and also, straddling the north and south of Obispo is the Parque Central, featuring a monument to the hero Jose Marti. All of the old town sights of interest are within walking distance of one another, making life easier. If you want to see as much as possible you may need to allow a few days.