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A unique destination and one of the most famous cities in the world, Havana is a living time capsule of days gone by, from its Spanish colonial history to the enduring legacy of the Revolution. It is characterised by such icons as the 1950s American cars and famous mural of Che Guevara overlooking Revolution Square. An intensely atmospheric city, it contains some superb architectural gems and many other cultural and historical sights besides. Havana can be divided into 4 main areas: the old quarter, which as the name suggests is the historic heart of the city and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982; central Havana, containing the famous Paseo del Prado, Capitolio building and many outstanding museums; Vedado, the modern political and cultural centre including Revolution Square; and Miramar to the west, Havana's most elegant quarter, whose main tree-lined avenue Quinta Avenida is flanked by splendid villas, many now home to foreign embassies.
Places to Visit
Plaza de Armas
This historic square, where the Spaniards were reputed to have started their first settlement in 1519, was home to the city’s most prominent personalities as well as colonial government offices. Attractions include the Palacio de Los Capitanes Generales, a stunning baroque building where the Spaniards surrendered to the US in 1898, now housing the City History Museum; the monument to Columbus in the grounds of the palace, the oldest statue in Cuba dating back to 1892 and modelled on a portrait still on display in the National Museum in Madrid; the Templete, a neo-classical building marking the spot where the first mass was supposedly held after the founding of the city; the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, Havana’s oldest military fortress and one of the first built in the New World; and the Palacio del Segundo Cabo, a beautifully preserved example of the city’s 17th century architecture, which once housed the Senate and Supreme Court.
This square in the heart of the city is a fascinating place to sit and watch the world go by. It is flanked by the Paseo del Prado, the city’s most elegant promenade characterised by its imposing bronze lions, and by the Capitolio building with its breathtakingly beautiful vaulted ceilings and majestic halls. It houses the world’s third largest indoor statue, the Statue of the Republic, which is 17 metres in height and weighs 40 tons. Also in the square is the Gran Teatro.Constructed in 1915, this glorious building towering next to the Inglaterra hotel is erected in Renaissance/Rococo style and was built using mortar, at that time a novel technology which allowed for much greater detail of craftmanship.
Museum of the Revolution
This museum is housed in the former Presidential Palace and commemorates Cuba’s historic heritage. It includes the Granma Memorial, the boat used by Castro and his followers in 1956 to travel from Mexico to Cuba to begin the struggle against the then dictator Fulgencio Batista.
Memorial to Jose Marti
The scene of many huge rallies and parades, Revolution Square is home to several important government buildings but is also famous for its huge obelisk commemorating Jose Marti, the famous patriot and forger of Cuba’s independence. Completed in 1959, the memorial houses a small museum and a multi-purpose chamber for concerts and other events. Visitors can take a trip to the top of the obelisk, which measures 138 metres above sea level, giving panoramic views over the city.
Some of Havana’s more notable museums include: the National Museum of Decorative Arts, housed in a former mansion and exhibiting collections of china, furniture and paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries; the Museum of the City of Havana, whose collection provides a fascinating insight into the history of the city from its founding to the present day; the National Museum of Fine Arts, exhibiting Cuban and European art from the 17th century to the present as well as ancient pieces from Egypt, Greece and Rome; the National Museum of Natural History, with invaluable collections of flora and fauna from Cuba and other parts of the world, as well as an anthropology room with valuable Cuban Indian archaeology depicting the daily life of these ancestors; and the National Music Museum, where visitors can learn about the history of Cuban and World music and observe a unique collection of original scores and rare and curious instruments from the past.
Places to Eat
A deservedly popular restaurant situated on the edge of Old Havana, El Templete serves excellent Galician style cuisine. Be sure to get a table by a window to watch the Regla ferry bustling to and fro across the harbour.
Bodeguita del Medio
A very popular restaurant nestling close to Havana’s famous cathedral, this characterful location is bursting with atmosphere and specialises in traditional Cuban dishes, notably its roast pork, black beans and fried plantains. Reservations in advance strongly advised.
La Divina Pastora
This hacienda-style restaurant is wonderfully situated below the Morro Fortress, which from its inception in the late 16th century acted as a watchtower and lighthouse for the city. At the neighbouring San Carlos fortress, a cannon is fired nightly at 9 p.m., a colourful ceremony commemorating the old tradition of closing the city walls.
Sitting under a cool bamboo roof, you will be served the famous house dish, chicken roasted in a special sauce - the recipe of which is a closely guarded secret! A lovely atmospheric restaurant popular with Havana dignitaries and visitors alike.
Housed in a beautiful neo-classical building full of chandeliers and antiques, this elegant restaurant has six private rooms as well as a large outside patio with a cool fountain. The house speciality is a delicious mixed grill of shrimp, lobster, fish, chicken and scallops.
Set in a handsome colonial building in Cathedral Square, you can choose to eat either in the square itself outside the cathedral or in the cool interior. Either way, this is a very atmospheric and convenient place to take a break from sightseeing and offers both international and Cuban fare.
This world famous show features a troupe of over 200 performers dressed in flamboyant costumes and takes place in the open air Salon Bajo Las Estrellas (‘Under the Stars’) nightly at 10.30. An extravaganza not to be missed!
A good place to mix with Cubans and with a very modest entrance charge, this lively spot is located one block from Revolution Square and is one of Havana’s most atmospheric nightspots.
This is a very elegant spot opposite the Melia Cohiba hotel and features some of the best Cuban exponents of jazz, including the world famous Chucho Valdes. We advise you to take a light jacket as the air conditioning is set to extreme cold!
The décor of this themed nightclub and restaurant is a homage to Cuban life and music of the 1950s and before, and includes fascinating memorabilia including old American cars and an entire one-engine plane hanging from the ceiling!
Casa de la Musica
If you like salsa, there is no place that compares with this bustling and atmospheric club situated in the Miramar district. Some of Cuba's most famous bands are regular performers, making it a venue and experience to remember.
El Gato Tuerto
This nightclub is located in the Vedado district and plays mainly bolero and son, making it an excellent place to savour traditional Cuban music.
The National Theatre in Old Havana is home to the Cuban National Ballet Company, founded by international ballet dancer Alicia Alonso. As well as ballet, the venue also plays host to opera and other theatrical productions.