Locals and tourists alike shuffle in and out of shops offering antiques, shoes, books, electrical appliances, film posters, and everything else under the sun. Music pours out of local bars and restaurants, the sounds of Cuban rumba and son filling your ears. The tall buildings lining the narrow street offer some precious shade, sheltering you from the Caribbean sun. This is Calle Obispo, the main pedestrian thoroughfare running through Old Havana.
Dating back to 1519, Calle Obispo (Bishop Street) is one of the oldest in the city. It’s also one of its most characteristic—though its character changes depending on the hour. During the day, Calle Obispo buzzes with an almost overwhelming amount of activity. It’s exciting, but it can also make your head spin! At night, once the stores have closed, things calm down a bit and the narrow passageway takes on an almost romantic air. But no matter the time of day, Calle Obispo is one of the best ways to get around on foot throughout Old Havana. It’s unavoidable—not that you’d want to miss it!
Stretching over the course of more than ten city blocks, there’s more to see and do on Calle Obispo than we could begin to describe. However, let’s take a look at some of the street’s most famous landmarks:
On the western end of Calle Obispo sits El Floridita, a seafood restaurant and cocktail bar that is without a doubt one of Cuba’s most famous drinking establishments. Though opened in the early 19th century, the place’s first claim to fame came about in the 1930s when the young Catalan owner invented a new cocktail called the daiquiri—perhaps you’ve heard of it? For this reason, El Floridita is often referred to as la cuna del daiquiri (the cradle of the daiquiri). Throughout the 1930s and 40s, El Floridita was a favourite hangout of Ernest Hemmingway—he would walk here in the evenings along Calle Obispo from the next spot we’ll take a look at…
Hotel Ambos Mundos
On the eastern end of Calle Obispo one will find the historic Hotel Ambos Mundos (Both Worlds Hotel), residency of Mr. Hemingway from 1932 to 1939. It was here that he began to write For Whom the Bell Tolls, one of his best loved works, and his room #511 is now a small museum that welcomes visitors to see how Hemingway might have lived during this fruitful period in his artistic life.
Founded in 1882, the Taquechel Pharmacy was converted into a museum in 1964. Though small, it’s absolutely packed with interesting relics from the building’s past including thousands of prescription labels, bottles, and medical devices representing various historical eras. The museum is free and makes an excellent place to drop in if only to escape the madness of Calle Obispo in the afternoon for a bit.
Finally, one of the most important notes of interest to tourists is that Calle Obispo contains two currency exchange offices. If you need to change money in the heart of Old Havana, this is a popular place to do it!
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