As the word “Havana” immediately conjures up mystery, allure, beauty, and images of a storied and turbulent history, it’s little wonder that the largest colonial city in Latin America is such a popular destination. Known as La Habana Vieja, the city’s 500-year-old historical district Old Havana is filled with a wonderful mix of colorful architecture, diverse museums and spirited piazzas coupled with a burgeoning contemporary art scene. Between the salsa rhythms, lively nightlife, virtual eye candy, vintage pastel 50s convertibles and cuisine that often redefines the word creative, experience all that this captivating city has to offer.
Best seen on foot, Old Havana is a stroller’s paradise. Take a leisurely walk down the cobbled streets (with nary a car in sight) of Calle Mercaderes (Merchant’s Street) which has been restored to its 18th-century grandeur. Here you will find shops, restaurants and museums along with the statue of Simón Bolívar, the famous Latin America liberator who poses for many a selfie. Old Havana’s four plazas—namely Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza de las Armas, Plaza Vieja, and Plaza de San Francisco are great for sightseeing, cathedrals and people-watching.
The thoroughfare known as the Malecón comes within an ocean spray of the Atlantic and is famous after sunset when the area is quite lively as a popular meeting place. Go for the array of architecture (everything from Art Nouveau to neoclassicism) and an up-close look at the real culture of the city.
Old Havana is also known for its museums. If you want to learn about the city at the time of the revolution, visit the aptly named Museo de la Revolución. Housed in the former Presidential Palace, the opulent interiors (decorated by Tiffany’s) features a replica of the Palace of Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors along with exhibitions from the 15th century to the present. If it’s art you are interested in, visit the Museo Nacional de las Bellas Artes (National Museum of Fine Arts) which exhibits both Cuban and international art in two separate buildings. The Museum of the City is a great place to learn about how the rich and powerful lived during the 18th and 19th centuries. And speaking of wealth, the Decorative Arts Museum is located in the opulent mansion of one of the country’s wealthiest families of the 1950s. Today it houses some of the world’s finest examples of interior décor from Art Deco and Art Nouveau to objects from Louis Confort Tiffany, Emile Gallé and René Lalique. China collectors will enjoy some of the 33,000 works including pieces from Limoges, Sèvres and Wedgewood.
While you are feeding your senses, immerse yourself in the cuisine of Cuba that is quickly making a name for itself on the gastronomic scene. Be sure to dine in a paladare which was started by leader Fidel Castro who allowed citizens to open up a restaurant in their own homes. Many are cozy and casual with simple checked tablecloths that beat the hustle and bustle of a crowded restaurant – just be sure to make reservations in advance. Empanadas, plantains, roasted pork, duck ceviche and lobster salad are just a few of the dishes made Cuban style and best washed down with a mojito, Cuba Libre or canchanchara. For more local flavor, visit a farmer’s market and enjoy sweet bananas at breakfast with your dark morning coffee.
And last but not least, no visit to Havana would be complete without a cocktail at the El Floridita. Located at the end of Calle Obispo by the National Museum of Fine Arts, it gained notoriety as the favorite hangout of author and part-time resident Ernest Hemingway as well as the home of the daiquiri. Be sure to snap a selfie with the bronze life-size figure of the bar’s most famous writer.
Learn more about Havana on a special voyage in the Caribbean.