Things To Do In Havana
Modern office buildings and apartments have sprung up all over Havana, the capital city of Cuba. Despite the fast rising signs of modernization, the city still retains its many old and colonial buildings, in fact some parts of the city date back as far as 1538. A city with timeless and unparalleled charm, Havana perfectly captures every visitor with its lively dance music and old world glamour evident from its open air bazaars, crowded walkways, and street parties along with its rich political and cultural history.
For photographers, Havana is the place to be. It is wonderful to spend hours wandering with a camera around your neck through the city. You will find that you cannot stop shooting around because every corner or behind every building lies something beautiful again. It is an ancient city that every passionate traveler must see and experience even once in their life.
When To Go:
The best times to visit the city are during the shoulder season months April- May). The atmosphere amid this time is generally average; with tolerable warm days and a small amount of rainfall. If you schedule a visit after the Holy Week (usually occurs in the first week of April), you can get incredible deals on lodging arrangements and flight deals.
The peak season occurs in the middle of December and the first week of May, it is also officially the summer season. But, this doesn't imply that it doesn't rain around this month whatsoever, the truth is it rains all around the year in Havana. Nonetheless, you could expect a lesser downpour amid this time, primarily in the evenings. The normal temperature at this point registers 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Book your reservations early because at this time the city is stormed with travelers from all around the globe. Getting reservations could be exceptionally troublesome and costly amid this time.
The off season happens during the stormy season (June to November). Despite the fact that you will get great deals on your hotel accommodations and airfares, you will also discover less visitors swarming the avenues while the atmosphere gets exceptionally hot and sticky. The rains are indeed a great deal during these months and tropical storms are a typical around this season, particularly in September and October. While the winds howl and the skies continue its downpour of rain, most tourist attractions close shop making the rainy months the most inappropriate time to visit the city.
A cosmopolitan city that is full of colorful sights, sounds, and fun, here is a rundown list of the top things to do when in the city of Havana.
A part of the metropolis is unfortunately quite run down, but it's still good to see how beautiful this city has ever been. Old Havana is completely restored and you can fully appreciate how it used to be during the early times. The streets are very atmospheric, with terraces, beautiful buildings and all those pastel colors that are just lovely to look at against the blue sky. The landmark houses of famous Cuban artists, writers, musicians, philosophers, and painters can be found here (Simon Bolivar, Benito Juarez, Jose Lezama Lima, and so on).
It is wonderful to stroll through the streets, take pictures, socialize on a patio, or do some shopping. Within this proximity you can find the Havana Centro (Plaza Vieja) and by just walking through it, you will see the real Havana. It's the most charming square of the capital. There are children playing, teens engage in football training, oldies chatting on benches, trolleys with some merchandise, a restaurant, and backpack travelers roaming around and amused at every corner. Take the time to experience the real Havana and go talk with the people, this is the best part to interact and make friends with a local. Rightly so, because Old Havana is atmospheric, colorful, safe, lots of music and very friendly people.
There are several museums, galleries, and other noteworthy attractions. This part of Havana can be visited on foot completely. It is nice to visit, lined with beautiful parks with a unique atmosphere. The contrast between the dilapidated areas and the modern structure is enormous; thousands of people live in slums and with a few steps here and there you can find a Paladar (restaurants with homemade Cuban meals) where the owner do their utmost best to prepare a trademark Cuban dish (Arroz con Pollo, Boliche, Ropa Vieja, etc.) for every guest.
National Museum of Beautiful Arts of Cuba
The National Museum of Beautiful Arts of Cuba has 2 locations in the neighboring Parque Central of Havana. The first site (Internacional de Arte) contains world class art collections and masterpiece paintings gathered from all over the world and cannot be found anywhere else. It includes exhibition of lithographs by Salvador Dali. The rest of the collection provides an interesting journey between American, Spanish, French, Egyptian and Greek art exposition. The international collections are all housed and well-maintained within this modern building. The presence of the early twentieth century styles such as Cubism and Post-Impressionism is very extensive and if you have seen and like other museums in Europe, you should definitely visit this attraction.
The second site (De Arte Cubana) is located two blocks away and stands near the sea and contains a collection of Cuban art collections that is absolutely not to be missed. After a humid stroll along the Monserrate road, it is very pleasant to enter and wander through the cool, spacious halls of a large modern building and plunge into the world of talented Cuban artists. However, the premises of both separate museums cannot be photographed. The historical museum has a Rubens, Goya, and a lot of classical paintings, all in excellent condition, plus, there is ethnographic and archaeological exhibition. Check out the stunning stained glass window in the building. It deserves a special mention, and at least half an hour of sitting on the stairs with your head looking up to this breathtaking artwork.
La Habana Vieja
A tour of the La Habana Vieja is one of the first things to do when you visit Havana, Cuba. There are many museums and restaurants that are located right next to each other on this promenade square. It is at walking distance from the Malecon which is about 200 meters from the Old Havana. You can visit many cultural museums and old houses and at night the central park becomes a huge ballroom for locals who love dancing the salsa. It is so big that it will take approximately three days of tour to absorb what every corner can offer.
Besides the fact that there are many notable sites described in most guidebooks, there are still many things to discover around here like; the La Plaza Vieja and its almost completely restored façade, the corner of Muralla, the coffee roasting at the "Cafe el Estorial" which is very entertaining as you get to enjoy a freshly ground beans and enjoy their coffee along with a snack of their famous coffee cake. Just opposite from the other side of the square is a brewery with a cozy terrace that gets busy on Sundays and where Cubans sit and drink tap beer from their table as the good old Salsa music permeates through the air. You can combine the tour with a visit to the Parc Central‘s Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.
The Fusterlandia Village is located in the neighborhood of the Jaimanitas Fuster, a village that is about 15 kilometers west from the center of Havana. The artist Jose Fuster, who is inspired by Gaudi has created a social model in their barrio and created artistic wall impressions that are really interesting. All the outer walls of the houses were covered with its colorful mosaics and a workshop with an adjacent museum of his works, sculptures, mosaics that contains both paintings, is located within the village. His two sons work with him in the studio and all the villagers are involved in the project.
This attraction is an off the beaten track in the old town and you must pass by the Marina Hemingway to reach this village. It is a beautiful neighborhood where Fuster makes you dream or draw inspiration from his works as you discover walls that are entirely covered with ceramics and re-assembled broken porcelains. It is certainly worth a visit and located just a few kilometers from the city center. Entrance is completely free, the place is very colorful and if you are lucky you will get to meet the artist and receive a warm welcome from his family and some of the resident tour guides of the community.
Plaza de Catedral
The Plaza de Catedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the heart of the Old Town. The square takes its name from the Baroque Catedral de La Habana which dominates the plaza. For a few years the famous cathedral retained the ashes of Christopher Columbus, but when Cuba became independent the ashes were sent back to Seville, Spain. The flooring is all bricks and there are other old buildings on its 4 sides that look spectacular with their imposing presence.
To the left side of the cathedral you can find the La Bodeguita Del Medio a popular meeting point for all tourists to drink the best Mojito of Cuba. It is also one of the bars that the famous author Ernest Hemingway frequently visits.
The plaza deserves to be visited at night because it offers a magical spectacle of light, music, fun, and dancing. The atmosphere is cheerful and welcoming and between a chat and a coffee you can spend a couple of hours in a place that breathes the air of life, from every pore along with the soulful Afro-Cuban music ruling the atmosphere. A visit is highly recommended and the photo opportunity with the pretty Cuban girls in national costume that animate the square is also a must.
Old Square (Plaza Vieja)
What is currently called the Old Square (Plaza Vieja) was initially called the Plaza Nueva (New Square), constructed as a well known option to Plaza de Armas, the military and government logistic office. It is also classified as the Plaza del Mercado (Market Square) as Havana's main shopping and commercial area. But during the earlier times the Plaza Vieja was the official place for criminal executions, national parades, bullfights, and religious as the wealthiest and elite personalities of Havana watch from their balconies.
The first Carrara Fountain encompassed by four dolphins was destroyed in the mid- 1930’s when President Gerardo Machado (1871-1939) constructed an underground parking garage around this territory.
Today the square's encompassing structures offer variety in their current conditions, showing a good irony of the old and the new marvels of engineering making this part of the square worth a visit. It has really done a great job of restoration as the photos on the billboard that show the “before and after” will prove so. The beautiful flooring, the excellent choice of using cannons and cannonballs, fountains, and two clothing stores of luxury, makes this plaza truly unique.
El Morro Castillo
The El Morro Castillo or the castle of the three kings of the hill stands in a strategic area in the city of Havana. It is nestled on top of a hill overlooking the entrance to the eastern part of the bay. You can visit the lighthouse, which is also at the top and the galleries of the old batteries that are now converted into a bar.
There are also 2 restaurants where you can enjoy fine dining (Twelve Apostles and Divine Pastor). This whole system of fortification of the city can be reached by car or taxi through the tunnel next to the castle of La Punta that leads to the opposite side of the city. From this castle you can see a spectacular view of the city, the El Malecon and the Caribbean Sea.
Castillo de San Carlos de la Cabana
The Castillo de San Carlos de la Cabana is the best place to see sunset over the city of Havana. To reach this castle you must pass through the tunnel by car or taxi. Schedule an afternoon visit to see all of the activities in this historic castle. Once inside you will have the opportunity to stroll around, do some window shopping, and get something to drink or eat and wait until 9:00 PM to witness the firing of the cannons to the sea by men dressed in period costumes and with a small presentation.
Before this act guards ride on their boats to patrol the area and clear the waters to prevent accidents and injury before the actual cannon firing ceremony. But certainly, the best part of a visit here is to watch the sunset and its mix of orange and red colors spread over the city of Havana. The scene must not be missed for it is simply breathtaking.
The El Malecon in Havana is the perfect place to unwind and be one with the locals. This boardwalk is part of the daily life of the Cubans and it is here where they; converge, go fishing, engage in walking or running as the rough waves of the Caribbean Sea pound its walls and rocky shore. Do not forget a visit to the quaint and historic buildings that are located in the vicinity.
It is a place where Cubans and foreigners are concentrated and exudes an atmosphere full of joy, life, and fun. You can spend day and night walking, singing, laughing and learning the rhythm of Cuban music with the polite locals. It is definitely a place not to miss on your visit to Havana.
San Francisco de ASIS Square
At the San Francisco de Asis Square, you can sit on the bench of Chopin at the entrance of the Hotel Marques de San Felipe and watch the world go by while enjoying a glass of their famous Mojito mix. The entire complex of San Francisco, the bell tower, and the rooster that sings from the balcony of the building to the side of the hotel makes the atmosphere of this part of Old Havana wonderful and unique.
But some tourists focus their attention here on the statue of "El Caballero de Paris" otherwise known as "the beard". It is located at the entrance of the Basilica of San Francisco de Asis, and locals say brings good luck if the beard and the finger is touched (which in fact are now discolored). Urban legend or not the church and this quiet plaza deserve a visit when in Havana.
The Camera Obscura is an interesting attraction that allows every guest to see the city from an unusual perspective. It discusses all the major points of interest in the vision and can also be useful when the actual site is visited. You can see all of Havana from above with a system based on the idea with mirrors by Leonardo da Vinci. The explanation is in Spanish (sometimes also in Italian) but it can be easily followed. From the adjoining terrace there is a beautiful view of the whole city and the square below.
Museo Hemingway Finca Vigia
The Museo Hemingway Finca Vigia is designed for anyone who loves Hemingway, his books, and his interesting life story. It takes a step back in time and everything is kept intact in this abode and about his favorite city like; the collections of photos while fishing in the waters of Havana, his drafts/manuscripts, family vacation pictures, and personal things.
Everything is kept as how he would have wanted it to be and it gives the impression that he is still wandering around his house, or drinking a Mojito on the deck of the pool, or sitting in deep contemplation while watching the beauty of Havana from the windows of his room while he is writing his next best-selling novel. The place is a must, not just for lovers of the great author, but for the chance of understanding the city from the eyes of a literary genius.