Havana’s Quinta Avenida

Visitors to Havana are often stunned by the wide, palm-tree lined Quinta Avenida, or Fifth Avenue, after emerging from the narrow, winding streets of Old Havana. Coming out of the tunnel that connects Fifth Avenue with Calzada Street in Vedado, it feels like you have entered a completely different city. If the straight and level road complete with a grand pedestrian boulevard are not enough to settle the nerves after a trip through the backstreets of Vedado, then the mansions, fountain and clocktower should at least provide a welcome distraction. Then, there is the once famous Coney Island Amusement Park.

Tourists acquainted with New York City often chuckle at the Coney Island Amusement Park before a confused look passes over their faces. Yes, it is not a coincidence. The well-known twentieth-century American architect John H. Duncan, who designed the Wolcottt Hotel and Grant’s Tomb in New York City worked alongside the Cuban architect Leonardo Morales, a graduate of Columbia University, in designing this thoroughfare. It is not by chance that Miramar, with its rectangular blocks of 100 x 200 meters, is reminiscent of Manhattan.

The avenue’s original name was the Avenida de Las Américas, or Avenue of the Americas, which explains why the fountain situated at its very entrance is called the Fountain of the Americas. A little farther west sits the clock tower whose four bells reproduce the sound of Big Ben in London. Both landmarks were built by Duncan.

Many legends abound about this splendid avenue, most of which are connected to the mansions that line the street and the people who once inhabited them. Make sure not to miss the manion on the corner of Fourteenth Street that was ironically nicknamed “The Shack” by its owner, President Ramon Grau San Martin. The “humble” abode contains nineteenth bathrooms, not counting the ones in the garages and pool of course. The mansion of the Countess of Buenavista on the corner of Sixth Street is also worthy of attention, This grand building, which won the 1929-1930 Facade Contest of the Rotary Club, is now a tenement house home to 23 different families. The most famous house is perhaps the Green House on the corner of Second Street. Somewhere in the great house, they claim, lays hidden a magnificent treasure. Today this mansion is a center for the promotion and study of modern architecture, so you will have to fake interest in architecture if you want to go in search of the treasure.

Walking or driving down Quinta Avenida is a treat in itself. Not only is it one of the longest arteries in Havana, it is one of the loveliest. Whether you join the multitudes of joggers who run the street in the morning or the hordes of families who take their children skating or bike riding in the evening, Fifth Avenue is not to be missed.

  • Plaza de Armas

    Plaza de Armas  LH 5+

    The early city was formally founded in 1519 on the northeast side of what would soon be laid out as Plaza de la Iglesia—named for the simple church that stood here until 1741, when it was destroyed fo …

    Gran Parque Metropolitano (Parque Almendares)

    Gran Parque Metropolitano (Parque Almendares)  LH 5+

    Along the banks of the Almendares River is Parque Almendares, also known as Bpsque de La Haband (Havana’s Forest). This is the only urban forest in the city and is a recreational area for Habaneros th …

    Plaza de San Francisco

    Plaza de San Francisco  LH 5+

    Right across Havana harbor, Plaza de San Francisco is one of the first three built in the 16th century. It takes its name from the Franciscan convent built there. The plaza became the site of a market …

    Plaza de la Catedral

    Plaza de la Catedral  LH 5+

    The last of the main squares to be created, this is one of Old Havana’s most beautiful spots. Originally, it was named Plaza de la Ciénaga (Swamp Square) because of its muddy terrain, but by the 18th …

    Hotel Nacional de Cuba

    Hotel Nacional de Cuba  LH 5+

    In response to the increasing influx of American tourists in the late 20s (mainly those who were escaping Prohibition, in force in the United States at the time), the construction of a luxury hotel wa …

    Callejón de Hamel

    Callejón de Hamel  LH 5+

    The narrow two-block long alley between Aramburu and Hospital streets in Centro Habana has over the years become a shrine to Afro-Cuban religions through the art created by Salvador González. The buil …

    Necrópolis de Cristóbal Colón

    Necrópolis de Cristóbal Colón  LH 5+

    History & architecture Declared National Monument in 1987, this is the most important cemetery in Cuba and its 57 hectares (10 acres) makes it the largest in America. According to Enrique Martínez …

    Catedral de La Habana

    Catedral de La Habana  LH 5+

    The entry of the Jesuits in Cuba was formally requested in 1656, and in 1727, a plot was granted for their school and church. Bishop Brother Gerónimo Valdés explained to the King of Spain that Havana’ …

    The Malecón

    The Malecón  LH 5+

    The Malecón, first named Avenida del Golfo, is Cuba’s most famous sea-side avenue. The project was undertaken by Don Francisco de Albear, Cuba’s greatest engineer at the time. Albear came up with a co …

    Museo de la Ciudad (Palacio de los Capitanes Generales)

    Museo de la Ciudad (Palacio de los Capitanes Generales)  LH 5

    History & architecture Considered the most important example of baroque architecture in the city, this grand building on the west side of the plaza was built in 1792, on the sight of the former pa …

    1 of 21 pages »