A unique city, it’s the home of one of the kindest and most talkative people in the world, it’s full of historical heritage, and has a one-of-a-kind atmosphere that makes you want to celebrate and explore its most unknown spots. Even the crumbling buildings in its historic center are charming.
The historic center Habana Vieja and the forts that used to defend is one of the UNESCO Sites In Cuba since 1982, but the attractions of the city are much more than a group of classified heritage sites.
The surrounding neighborhoods are just as wonderful and a stroll down Malecon, the seaside avenue with the Caribbean Sea on one side and the old colonial-style buildings on the other are truly unforgettable.
You can’t visit Cuba without spending some time in Havana. If you don’t include this city in your itinerary, you’ll be missing out on a must-visit destination.
The Spanish colonization and the arrival of slaves from Africa in the 16th century make local culture in Havana a peculiar one. Both these groups influenced Cuban culture a lot and the mix is quite noticeable.
The city is one of the world’s richest cultural centers and offers tourists countless places worth visiting. The range of architectural styles you can see here is impressive and includes castles, cathedrals, museums, and spectacular manors. The unique music styles of salsa, rumba, and mambo were born from the combination of the Spanish language with African musical heritage.
When visiting Havana, you have to include all the must-sees in the city. Those include Paseo de Martí, Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta, Old Havana, the Havana Cathedral, and Castillo de la Real Fuerza. Havana is the largest city in the Caribbean and the capital of Cuba.
In addition to all this, beach-goers will love the 15 km of beaches with beautiful coral reefs. Don’t skip the Lenin Park in the city center that makes you feel like you’re surrounded by nature and at an urban spot at the same time.
Havana is a very interesting city, a mix of tropical and colonial vibe. The old part of Havana is gorgeous, and this was the sixth city founded by the Spanish on the island. Expectedly, UNESCO classified the Old Havana (Havana Vieja) neighborhood as a World Heritage Site in Cuba. There are about 1,000 monuments of cultural interest in the city.
Culture in Cuba, and especially in the capital city, is a basic social need more important than health or education and Cubans celebrate it regularly. The taste for music, dancing, and theater is instilled in all Cuban citizens. Everywhere you look, you’ll see manifestations of Cuban culture, which is one of the reasons why artists from all over the world come here for inspiration.
Quick travel tips to visit Havana:
- Wake up early to be the first in monuments, museums, and other landmarks;
- Take a free walking tour;
- The sunset by the famous La Cabaña hill is gorgeous;
- Although it’s a tourist cliché, take a stroll on the Malecón (promenade) in Havana;
- To know when to go to Havana gather all information about the seasons and the local climate. The best time to visit Havana is between the warm season, from May to October, and the dry season, from November to April;
- Street food is incredibly cheap and you can have a full meal for under 1 Euro;
- After a day exploring the streets of Havana, you can watch the sunset from the bar outside the charming Hotel Nacional, with a gorgeous sea view, while drinking a pinã colada or a daiquiri;
- Paseo de Marti or Paseo del Prado, the avenue that goes all the way to Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta, is the main tourist area of the city;
- Every day at 9:00 pm you can attend the cannon ceremony, Ceremonia del Cañonazo, on the other side of Bay of Havana near the Fortificaciones y Armas museum and Plaza de Armas;
- Go up the San Carlos de la Cabaña fortress.
Castle of Royal Force
Castle of Royal Force was built between 1558 and 1577 on top of a previous fortress that was severely damaged during an attack by French corsairs. It’s one of the oldest forts in America. Its four-point plan it’s typical of the Renaissance military engineering and it inherited some of the features of Spanish castles from the Middle Ages. Speaking in military terms, the building was a fiasco. It was too small to be practical and too far away from the Bay of Havana to prevent enemy ships from entering. Thus, it was used as the governor’s official residence, with several modifications over time. The National Archive was established here from 1899 onward, and the National Library from 1938 to 1957. After the 1959 Revolution, it became the headquarters of a department that supervised the museums, later there was an attempt to create a military museum, and finally, in 2010, it became the Maritime Museum.
The Havana Cathedral is in the historic center of the city, at Cathedral Square, one of the most picturesque squares in the Cuban capital. The full name of the church in Spanish is La Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada de La Habana. It was finished in 1777 and the predominant style is Baroque with Tuscan influences. It has two bell towers, the one on the right is wider as is usual in typical Baroque religious buildings. The Jesuits were in charge of the construction, who, ironically, were ousted from the island by King Charles III ten years before the church was finished. The interior is richly decorated but the frescoes are copies from others you’ll find in Italian churches.
Castillo del Morro (Morro Castle)
Also known as Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro, the Morro Castle was built in the mid-18th century and designed by Italian military architect Juan Bautista Antonelli. It was put to the test for the first time in a conflict in 1762, with extremely poor results. It was under siege and taken by the English. Nowadays, the castle is worth the visit not just to see the interior but also for the exhibitions like the one dedicated to the lighthouses of Cuba. If you don’t want to pay the admission fee or you are visiting outside of the opening hours, you can still visit the exterior and see some of the gorgeous views over Havana.
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National Capitol Building
The National Capitol Building of Havana was built between 1926 and 1929 and housed the Cuban Congress until it was dissolved following the 1959 Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro. The Neo-Classical and Art Nouveau building was designed by Eugenio Rayneri Piedra and inspired by the Capitol in Washington, but the dome is based on the one at the Paris Pantheon. Inside you can visit the third largest statue inside of a building in the world, Italian Angelo Zanelli’s Statue of the Republic. For a long time, the Capitol was used as the headquarters of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Development but it’s being prepared to house the National Assembly of Cuba again.
Christ of Havana
The statue of the Christ of Havana is at the top of La Cabaña hill, across the bay, near Casablanca. The statue was made by Cuban sculptor Jilma Madera and inaugurated on Christmas Eve of 1958. It’s made of white marble and 20 meters tall, placed on a pedestal with about 3 meters. She used 67 blocks of marble imported from Italy, which were blessed by Pope Pius XII. Fifteen days after the statue’s inauguration, Fidel Castro marched into Havana leading his revolutionary army. To visit the statue, take the ferry across the bay from Havana to Casablanca.
Paseo del Prado
Paseo del Prado, also known by its new name Paseo de Martí, begins near the Capitol building and stretches alongside the sea in front of the San Salvador de la Punta Castle. This street that works as the border between Centro Habana (Center Havana) and Habana Vieja (Old Havana) was originally designed in 1772 by Don Felipe Fonsdeviela y Ondeano. In 1925 it was redesigned by French Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier to include the trees and marble benches you can see there today. Magnificent buildings flank the avenue, some of them quite neglected while others are well-preserved like Hotel Sevilla. Wealthy and privileged people began to move from here to other neighborhoods like Miramar or Vedado long before Castro’s Cuban Revolution.