Havana is everything I hoped it would be and so much more. The city is an artistic haven; intense yet calm, exciting but relaxing, colonial but revolutionary, basically a paradox in every single way. Full of bohemian cafes and bars and music pouring out of every corner, Havana should be on everyone’s list of places to see! Come here with an open mind and leave your pre-conceptions behind – this is truly the best way to immerse yourself into all things Cuba (as well as jumping in to a fifties Buick or Chevvy while you’re at it!).One of my favourite things to do in Havana was to walk through the streets in the old town, Habana Vieja. Even though many buildings are in disrepair, if you look closely, you’ll see hints of grandeur from a bygone time. Beautiful tiles, ornate windows, the whole shebang! And, even though you’re in tourist central, it doesn’t feel touristy – the locals are everywhere, talking to each other and just living life.
I was in Havana for 3 days which was a good amount of time to see the main sites the city offers but a couple more days wouldn’t hurt, particularly if you’re keen to visit the beach, Playa del Este.
Things to do:
1) Explore Habana Vieja (the old town) – this is a must. The three main squares that you should definitely visit are all within walking distance: Plaza Vieja, Plaza de Armas and Plaza del a Catedral. All squares have stunning architecture including the 16th-century Castillo de la Fuerza and the Palacio de los Captions Generales, in Plaza de Armas, and the stunning baroque cathedral with it’s mis-matched towers, in Plaza del a Catedral. Don’t miss Plaza de San Francisco, dominated by an 18th century basilica.2) City views – Get excellent aerial views of the city from the numerous rooftop hotel bars on offer. The best ones I went to include Hotel Raquel, Ambos Mundos Hotel and Hotel Inglaterra. Top tip: most hotels have wifi hotspots so a good place to connect with the rest of the world!
You should also go across the bay to El Morro and San Carlos de la Cabaña Fortresses for skyline views of Havana.3) Visit the Capitolio Building with its White House inspired architecture. Right next door is the National Ballet. I didn’t manage to get tickets but I know many that did and they absolutely loved it! You can get tickets on the day from the theatre box office. 4) Take in some culture – Museo de Bellas Artes is dedicated (in two buildings) to Cuban and international art. I went to the Cuban art building and loved it. The only downside (and you’ll find this in most Cuban museums) is that the explanatory text is usually in Spanish and very few places have English translations.
5) Learn about Cuba’s revolutionary history – Plaza Revolucion is a huge square that has iconic monuments to national heroes, Che Guevara and José Martí. You should also head to the Museo de la Revolucion which is housed in the former presidential palace. The building itself, including the hall of mirrors, is worth seeing. 6) Walk in the footsteps of Al Capone and Winston Churchill – Spend a few hours in Hotel Nacional, Havana’s most famous hotel, and grab a bite to eat. You can also visit the bunker in the hotel grounds that was used during the Cuban missile crisis in the 60s! 7) All guidebooks recommend going to the Malecon, a 7km long road that runs along the waterfront. This is meant to be THE Cuban hangout place. I personally didn’t enjoy this as a solo female traveller and found that I got harassed quite a bit so left pretty soon! I’m sure it’s fine if you’re with a group (or a man!) though.
8) Listen to live music in the many bars around Havana. We went to Café de Paris which had an amazing band.
9) Try Cuban food – Paladares (privately run restaurants) are a cool way to experince Cuban food. Paladar Los Mercaderes has three dining rooms, plus a lively bar at the back.
La Guarida is a stunning paladar (very shabby chic) with amazing views of Havana (also great for any instagrammers out there :P)La Imprenta had a really interesting building as it was a former printing works – check out the brickwork and rusting machinery while enjoying the food.
For breakfast or lunch head to Cafe O’Reilly (they have two branches which serve different food) and Cafe Bohemia, one of the few places I found a tuna sandwich – for anyone who has been to Cuba, you will know that this is like finding gold-dust. There are only two types of sandwiches in Cuba – Ham and cheese or just cheese so anything other than that is just amazing! For ice-cream, go to Coppelia.As I was only in Havana for 3 days, I definitely still have a wish list of things I wanted to see – an excuse to go back I think! These include, Colon Cemetry, Hemingway’s House and Fusterlandia (if you like Gaudi, this will be right up your alley). Add these to your list of things to do if you’re in Havana for longer!
Hope this post has given you some travel inspiration. Stay tuned for my Cuba survival guide coming very soon!