YOUR ULTIMATE MUST-SEE LIST FOR HAVANA, CUBA

 

There is no place on earth that my must-see list has grown as much as it has for Havana! For as long as I can remember, Havana is the place that I’ve wanted to experience and explore. This place for me has always emulated an island steeped in rich culture and history, a land lying deep in the opaque blue Caribbean sea where life is as laid back as can be, stuck in a time warp, which I could only imagine as being so far away a from life as I know it. I hankered for the 1950s atmosphere, to see the myriad of rainbow hued classic cars, the sound of Latino dance melodies, the waft of the finest Cuban cigars and not forgetting sampling Mojitos blended effortlessly with the finest Cuban rum reared from local sugar cane. So you see, in my head this place could do no wrong even before I got there. So where is this all going, you may ask?! In December 2017, I was celebrating a special birthday and it will come as no surprise then that Havana was the destination for acclaiming this milestone in life!

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba

So all in the gallant name of research I have compiled for you, your ultimate must-see list for Havana which I assure you will leave you wanting to revel in the rest of the Cuban culture. It is worth noting that Old Havana was granted the status of UNESCO world Heritage site in 1982 and buy does it deserve it!

 1. Hemingway Haunts

When in Cuba, the ONLY writer’s name that should be on your radar is the American writer, Ernest Hemingway. All you literature buffs will most probably already know about his writings and his love affair with Cuba’s capital. He moved to Cuba in 1939 and his first residence was Hotel Ambos Mundos. He shortly moved into Finca Vigia (lookout farm) and you can take a short cab ride of about 15 minutes from Old Havana to look at the 15 acre estate.

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Hemingway Haunts

2. Visit Plaza de la Revolución and the José Marti Memorial

Revolution Square is the political and administrative centre of Cuba. The most important structures in the Square are a 109 meter tall star shaped tower and the statue of José Martí, Cuba’s national hero and acclaimed poet and journalist.

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Plaza de la Revolucion
Ministry of Interior building in Plaza de la Revolución (Revolution Square), Havana, Cuba. The legend above Che Guevara’s image says: “Hasta la Victoria, Siempre” (Until Victory, Always).
Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Plaza de la Revolucion

Image of revolutionary guerrilla fighter Camilo Cienfuegos in the front of the building of the Ministry of Informatics and Communications, Revolution Square, Havana. The legend says: “Vas bien, Fidel” (You’re doing fine, Fidel).

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Plaza de la Revolucion

The José Martí statue is 18 meters high. The statue was carved in white marble by Juan Jose Sicre, one of the greatest Cuban sculptors. 

José Martí Memorial in Revolution Square, Havana. The star shaped obelisk has an observation deck on the top floor. At the foot of the tower is the statue of José Martí, the “apostol of Cuban Independence”.

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Plaza de la Revolucion

our ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Plaza de la Revolucion


Plaza de la Revolucion

Avenida Paseo

Havana


3. Hang out at the old square, Plaza Vieja

This is the oldest square in Havana and is surrounded by beautiful historic buildings home to cafes and restaurants. The square is also a sun trap in the afternoon so there’s only really one thing for it, grab a table, and enjoy a drink, some grub and plenty of Cuban luve music courtesy of the many bands. One of my favourite cafes on the square is Café Bohemia. Its perfect for light midday snacks, has a great juice menu and focuses on a mediterranean Cuban fusion theme.

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Plaza Vieja

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba cafe Bohemia


Plaza Vieja & Cafe Bohemia

San Ignacio

Havana

Tel +53 7 8603722


4. Visit Plaza de la Cathédral

The last of the main squares to be laid out during colonial times, Cathedral Plaza is perhaps its most intimate square and definitely one of Old Havana’s most beautiful spots.

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Plaza de la Cathedral

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Plaza de la Cathedral

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Plaza de la Cathedral

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Plaza de la Cathedral

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Plaza de la Cathedral


Plaza de la Cathedral

Old Havana

Tel +53 7 8625109


5. Tread the tombs at Necrópolis de Cristóbal Colón

The cemetery was declared a National Monument in 1987 and covers a whopping ten acres. Although I wouldn’t normally go to visit a cemetery, this one contains some interesting statues of bronze and marble tombs. Some say it’s an indication of Cuba’s riches in the past and reflects the strong religious beliefs of the Cuban people. Entry is 7 CUC (£5)

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Necropolis de Cristobel Colon

Photo Courtesy: Lonely Planet Images


Necrópolis de Cristóbal Colón

Calle 12,

Havana

Tel +53 7 8321057


6. Enjoy a Private classic car ride and city tour of Old Havana

Well how on earth can you go to Cuba without having a ride in one of the many classic cars in the city? Well basically the answer to that is, you really have to do it. We opted for a two hour classic car ride through the districts of Havana followed by an hours walking tour. This is a fantastic way to get your orientation of the city and learn and explore more of the city with the advantage of a local guide. I don’t usually name drop, but our pink and white number was the car that Madonna and president Obama had a spin in when they were in town! Well, if it’s good enough for that Material Girl, then it’s good enough for this humble chick! Just in case you’re wondering why there are just so many of these classic cars in Havana, well when the Americans left Cuba in the 1950’s, they left many of the cars, which the Cubans have kept in absolute mint condition! Just one thing to bear in mind, we found certain British tour operators don’t endorse classic car rides due to the cars not having seat belts. It’s therefore worth doing your research before you book as opposed to just getting one from the touts on the streets.

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba classic car ride

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba classic car ride

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba classic car ride

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba classic car ride

You can find details of our classic car ride through Cuba Travel Network  and it was priced at £44. This includes a driver and a bilingual guide.

7. Gaze up at El Capitolio Building

This is a building that at least deserves a mention. You can actually go inside it and I believe it will soon be home to the president of Cuba but currently is the home of the national academy of Sciences. Up until the Cuban Revolution in 1959, it was a government organisation building. El Capitolio has a beautifully formed dome and poses as a landmark backdrop of many photos and pictures you will see of Havana. In my opinion the best view of it is from The Saratoga Hotel’s roof terrace, which I’ve covered in my Mojito haunts post.

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba El Capitolio

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba El Capitolio

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba El Capitolio


El Capitolito

Paseo de Marti

Havana 10200

Tel +53 7 8603411


8. Stroll through the palm-lined Parque Centrale

This lovely palm tree covered park is right in the centre of Old Havana and is opposite the theatre. It contains a statue of the national hero, Jose Marti in white marble and is a nice hangout for both visitors and locals. Beware of picking up friends in the form of stray dogs, as I did who followed me back to the hotel!

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Parque Centrale

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Parque Centrale


Parque Centrale

Paseo de Marti

Havana 10200

Tel +53 7 8613096


9. Admire the exterior of the Grand Teatro de la Habana

The Tacón theatre is located just opposite the park and has a beautiful façade decorated with sculptures and stone and marble ornaments. The building stands out and oozes opulence with its gold exterior. 

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Grand Teatro de la Habana

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Grand Teatro de la Habana

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Grand Teatro de la Habana


Grand Teatro de la Habana

Paseo de Marti

Havana 10600


10. Promenade along the Malecón

Described as Havana’s outdoor lounge, the Malecón is the citys famous sea side avenue. This the perfect hangout on one of the many stiflingly hot and humid days in Havana and is an outside space that can be enjoyed for free. On the opposite side of the road are beautiful old buildings, some converted into bars and cafes but others have rooms that can be rented. If you walk from Old Havana along the Malecón, for about 30 minutes, you will arrive at my next must see destination, Hotel Nationale de Cuba.

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba The Malecon

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba The Malecon

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba The Malecon

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba The Malecon

11. Have a drink at the iconic Hotel Nationale de Cuba

This is one of Cuba’s most iconic hotels and is definitely worth a visit in my opinion, especially for its 1930’ art deco styling and its location. It’s easily accessible by walking down the Malecón as mentioned previously but also for the vistas from its location facing Havana habour. The hotel is located in the district of Vedado, in the centre of Havana. Hotel nationale de Cuba has attracted a huge proportion of celebs such as Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Alexander Fleming and more recently Madonna.

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Hotel Nationale de Cuba

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Hotel Nationale de Cuba

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Hotel Nationale de Cuba

Try and get a seat in the outdoor patio area which directly face’s the Malecón for spectacular panoramic views whilst sipping on your favourite beverage.

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Hotel Nationale de Cuba


Hotel Nationale de Cuba

y O, Vedado

, Calle 21,

Havana 10400,

Tel  +53 7 8363564


12.Take a Private day trip out to the Viñales Valley or Las Terrazes

If you are staying in Havana for a longer period of time than a couple of days, I would thoroughly recommend taking a day trip out in to the countryside and experiencing a different pace of life.

Viñales Valley

Take a private jeep drive into the countryside for two hours and visit a local tobacco farm and how the famous Cuban cigars are made. There is also the opportunity to buy some of the best cigars directly from the farms at reasonable prices compared to in the city. A local lunch is included and you drive further into the Sierra de los Órganos (mountain range), where the valley is located and make numerous stops at points of interest. Meet the people and learn their traditions and fall in love with another part of Cuba. Read my post for further information about my day in the Viñales Valley.  

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Vinales Valley

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Vinales Valley

You can read more about my day in the Viñales Valley here. We booked through Cuba Travel Network and paid £91 per person.

Las Terrazes

Again take a private jeep drive for an hour out of the city to the private reserve of Las Terrazes in the Artesima province. This ecotourism centre only 73 km west of Havana is part of a 5000 hectare area, where an ongoing tourism project aims to provide sustainable economic development based on the rational use of natural resources. It dates backs to 1968 when the Cuban government launched a massive reforestation project on the terraced hills ringing the area. This trip is very much focused about meeting the locals of this area and learning about the formation of their community with  a lovely local lunch included beside a beautiful lakeside location. The day excursion has been covered in a separate blog post if you require further information.

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Las Terrazes

 

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Las Terrazes

You can have a read of my day in Las Terrazas here. Again, we booked through  Cuba Travel Network and paid £91 per person.

13. Educate yourself about the only spirit in town at The Museo del Ron

Ok so you are in one of the Rum capital’s of THE world and if like me you’ve lived off Mojitos then you HAVE to go and learn about the history and production of this spirit. Since Christopher Columbus bought sugar cane to Havana, the plant adapted to the unique soils and climate and grew in abundance. After an 18 month period of ageing, sugar cane is blended with treated water and pure spirits producing a young rum which is filtered and bottled as Silver Dry (White Rum). Or it is aged some more in white cedar wood barrels that are scraped and burnt, acquiring special characteristics that are impregnated in the future rum during ageing. The longer the rum is kept in the barrels, the darker it becomes. Its taste also changes, but it is not until, when the blend is made that rum becomes rum. It is then that master rum makers combine different types and ages to obtain the desired product. You can purchase all of the varieties of Havana Club rum at the museum shop starting from £5.5p per litre bottle of white rum.

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Museo del Ron

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Museo del Ron

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Museo del Ron

A point to note, which I discovered, the store does not pack for transportation so if you know you may make a purchase beforehand then take some bubble wrap in your case. After all you don’t want to waste the good stuff with spillages in your luggage!

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Museo del Ron


Museo del Ron
Ave. del Puerto #262

Habana Vieja

Tel +53 7-862-4108 / 862-3832 / 861-8051

Tours in Spanish, English, French, German and Italian
Entry Fee CUC 7


14. Sip on Mojitos

This is a total must if you drink alcohol but if you don’t you can still experience a virgin Mojito! Hemingway made them uber famous and fashionable but only Cuban run can hit the spot. The minty lime cocktail that packs quite the punch suddenly can be enjoyed in numerous places, which you can find on my Mojito haunts blog post. Yes in the name of research I tried virtually every fine Mojito establishment in Havana! You can always read all about my fave Mojito haunts in Havana!  Not trying a Mojito in Havana is like not living!

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Mojito

15. Munch on freshly made Churros

Who doesn’t love these doughy deep fried snack dusted in sugar? They are available on street stalls on virtually every street corner and are so cheap. Served with chocolate sauce of course are my favourite Cuban dulce de leche, a thick caramel sauce. Seconds on your lips but ounces on your hips – never mind your on holiday!

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Churros

16. Dine in a traditional Paladares

Over the years since 2010, there has been a wave of new private restaurants or Paladares opening up around Cuba and in particular in Havana. These come in the shape of family operations to stylish and slick new restaurants. Now I’m not going to spill too much about these places as I have a separate post about the Paladares, which certainly will get your taste buds in the mood for some private dining! But for now, my absolute favourites are La Guarida and San Cristobal for its location, service, ambience and of course, its menu.  Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Paladares

17. Spend an evening at the hottest show in town, The Buena Vista Social Club.

Apart from the local bands you see playing in the streets, bars and restaurants of Havana, this is THE only show you need to spend an evening at. It is sensational if you are a fan of Cuban music.

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Buena Vista Social Club

Buena Vista Social Club is an ensemble of Cuban musicians established in 1996 to revive the music of pre-revolutionary Cuba. They are all recording artists and put on an unmissable dance and music extravaganza, which be sure to have you tapping and dancing along. The singers are all the old stars of the show with the musicians and dancers being a lot younger. It’s an interesting mix of the evolution of Cuban music following the revolution of Cuba.

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Buena Vista Social Club

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Buena Vista Social Club

Booking is essential with or without dinner. You are given a private table for your party. Dr C and I were given a table right at the front, in front of the stage, providing excellent views of the ensemble. We opted not to have dinner and drinks are included with your ticket, we paid 32 CUC per person and the show starts at 21:30 if you’re not having dinner and lasts 3 hours.

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Buena Vista Social Club

 


The Buena Vista Social Club

Zulueta 660 Apodaca y Gloria

Havana

Tel +53 7 8617761


18. Mooch around an array of Museums

As with most historic cities, Havana is no exception in the fact that it has a number of museums to ensure all of you culture vultures out there, get your fix! My recommendations would be to check out Tripadvisor’s list based on your interest.

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Museums

19. Stay at The Iberostar Parque Centrale

In my humble experience The Iberostar Parque Centrale is the place to stay in terms of location, amenities, service and ambience. Usually I’m a fiend for Boutique hotels but Havana’s hotel scene is very different to what we are used to. The hotel is warded five stars and is located right outside the Parque Centrale, has a fantastic atmosphere with a great concierge service, which can help with reputable bookings, taxis etc.

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba The Iberostar Parque Centrale

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba The Iberostar Parque Centrale

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba The iberostar Parque Central

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba The Iberostar Parque Centrale

We were lucky enough to be upgraded to a 6th floor suite so had fantastic views of the El Capitolio and Parque Centrale.

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Iberostar Parque Centrale

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Iberostar Parque Centrale

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba Iberostar Parque Centrale

The breakfast is said to be the best available in the whole of Havana – they have chocolate fountain!!

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba The Iberostar Parque Central

One of the best parts of this hotel is that it has a pool and a poolside bar/restaurant on the roof terrace with FANTASTIC views! Additionally the hotel provides entertainment in the  form of Cuban bands in an impressive lobby area and at certain times of the day there is a cigar sommelier on hand!

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba The Iberostar Parque Centrale


Iberostar Parque Centrale

267 Agramonte,

Havana

Tel +53 7 8606627


20. Hang out with the locals

Havana’s local people are amongst the friendliest I have met in the world. They are truly happy to help and always want to chat. Whether they want to show you some local sights or just tell you about the fact that you CANNOT miss the Buena Vista Social Club! Grab a seat and use their knowledge. Due to the Cuba’s communism, the average wage is incredibly low and locals still use ration books for their groceries and medicines. If you have spent the day with a  guide, please give them a generous tip. Hotel maids are often over looked too. They use this to supplement their ration allowances and buy items that you or I would not consider a luxury.  Travel responsibly and give back a little.

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba The locals

So now you see why I loved Havana so much. It is truly a unique destination in my opinion. For the first few days, you will feel like you’re stuck in a bygone era and then suddenly you will start to feel right at home with the laid back pace of life and begin to admire the lifestyle, which includes free education for all ages.  This is a place that will reaffirm that money really is not everything.  Instead of looking down at your phone every few minutes, it’s amazing to look up once in  a while and see the beaming smiles of the people as they go about their daily business. In  my opinion there is nothing more beautiful than happy people.

Your ultimate must-see list for Havana. Cuba

I have to admit, I was pretty sad to leave this beautifully vibrant country and just like Camila Cabello sang ‘My heart is in Havana ooh na na’ but definitely for different reasons!

I hope you found my post useful and informative. If you are planning a visit to Havana, I hope this is helpful. Either way I’d love to hear your views, so please get in touch via the comments below.

                    Until the next time…

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8 Comments

  1. Neha
    January 28, 2018 / 13:27

    Great post. We had a few different experiences, good and bad. x

    • January 28, 2018 / 15:04

      Thanks Neha. Oh I’m intrigued to know what you experienced. Feel free to let me know via email if you wish. Thanks for stopping by though and I hope the good out weighed the bad!

  2. lisannevanbeurden
    February 3, 2018 / 11:17

    This looks so amazing, the photos are stunning. I would love to go to Cuba!

    • February 3, 2018 / 15:35

      Thankyou! It’s such an amazing place and I definitely recommend you visit one day because it really is like you see in the pictures! Thanks for stopping by!

  3. February 3, 2018 / 14:47

    Sounds like you had an amazing time Bejal. I hope it lived up to your expectations. We were just in Cuba too, a couple of months ago and like Neha we also had good and bad experiences.

    • February 3, 2018 / 15:38

      Yes, Tanya we had the best time. The thing is we didn’t really have any expectations except of those classic cars! I hope your bad experiences were not outweighed by the good, it is a very interesting country. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Joanna Davis
    February 3, 2018 / 14:56

    Your post reminded me of my trip to Cuba, I have such fond memories from back then. I loved having a drink at hotel Nacional as well, after taking the tour and seeing the famous rooms in which the American gangsters used to stay.

    • February 3, 2018 / 15:40

      Cuba definitely leaves you with the fondest memories, I agree. THAT hotel is so historical and like you, I loved the fact that I was sitting where those 1950s gangsters and their dolls sat sipping their Mojitos!

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