The part of the city that really draws the crowds is Old Havana, or Habana Vieja, where each street reveals something new. There are lovingly restored mansions and those that have left to the elements, narrow, cobbled alleys overlooked by wrought-iron balconies and grand squares lined with pretty colonial buildings. Wander along the car-free Calles Obispo, which is the setting of one of Ernest Hemingway’s most famous haunts, El Floridita and leads to the tree-shaded Plaza de Armas which is surrounded by book and news stands, bars and restaurants.
Head to the harbourside part of the Old Town and you’ll come across the Castillo de la Real Fuerza which was built to defend the city against one of the biggest threats of the 16th-Century Caribbean – attack by pirates. Other attractions in the area include the Museum of Natural History, the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales and the Havana Rum Club Museum. On the western edge of Old Havana and adjacent to the Centro Habana neighbourhood is the imposing El Capitolio, a building that may look familiar if you’ve ever visited Washington D.C.. It’s just a short walk from here to Parque Central, and then a lazy stroll along Argramonte to the National Museum of Fine Arts and the unique Museum of the Revolution which is housed in an the old presidential palace.
The formidable Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro sits across the harbour from Old Havana. It was built to defend the original town of San Cristobal de la Habana from pirate attack and the threat of foreign forces. It was here that the British attack on the island, the Siege of Havana, took place during in the mid-18th Century as part of the Seven Year’s War. Today, you can visit the castle and take in the views back towards the city and the Caribbean and visit the maritime museum.
Where is Havana
On the north coast of Cuba at the point where the Gulf of Mexico joins the Atlantic Ocean, Havana is Cuba’s capital and a living museum of a 500 year old history.
The hop-on/hop-off bus is one of the easiest ways to travel around Havana and Cubataxi is the authorised taxi service. Havana is fairly flat and a great place to explore on foot - especially Old Havana and along the Malecón both which are pedestrian friendly. Most of the main attractions are within walking distance of each other.
Food & drink
There’s a misconception that the food scene in Havana isn’t going to hit any high notes. Restaurants used to be government controlled and owned, allowing very little leeway in terms of innovation and excitement, but in recent years there has been much change in Cuba and with that change regulations have lessened. One of the most exciting developments is the paladeres (privately-owned restaurants) that are cropping up in Havana which give chefs the chance to produce innovative menus to the beat of their own drum. Expect to find trendy eateries in the Vedado neighbourhood and vibrant restaurants hidden behind crumbling facades in Old Havana, with menus offering everything from Cuban fusion to local comfort dishes including shredded lamb, fresh fish and tapas. Street food is always fried and calorific, but certainly tasty and worth the bite - fresh fried potato, churros and plantain. Cocktails are centred around Cuban rum and there’s always a daiquiri, mojito or pina colada to be had at hip bar or on a balcony or terrace overlooking the historic centre.
GMT -5 hours
• US dollars and US traveller’s cheques aren’t as widely exchanged as they used to be.
• Traveller’s cheques are mostly accepted, but not all hotels exchange them – go to an international bank instead.
• There’s a minimum fee of 8% to exchange currency and 3% on credit card payments.
Spanish. English is also spoken.
A discreet tip here and there is welcome!