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Things to do in Havana
Published on 06 Aug 2020
The capital of Cuba, heavenly Havana is a Caribbean city with a Latin American twist. Founded in 1519, Havana is full to the brim with incredible architecture, charming streets and vivacious locals. Though its history is short, it is fascinating, with the Cuban Revolution evident on every corner. On a cruise to Cuba, your trip to the city may only be fleeting so we’ve done all the hard work for you and created three itineraries to choose from. Which will it be?
If you’re interested in the history of Havana, a visit to the Museo de la Revolución, or Revolution Museum, is a must. Housed within the former Presidential Palace, the museum depicts the period leading up to, during and after the Cuban Revolution. The Cuban Revolution started under Fidel Castro’s leadership to overthrow the tyrant batista regime and marked a period of immense nationalism which caused international repercussions.
There are permanent exhibitions on the history of Cuba, from the 15th century to present, including Che Guevera’s pipe and the uniform of Cuban cosmonaut Arnaldo Tamayo. Head outside and you’ll witness the Pabellón Granma, a memorial to the 18m yacht that carried Fidel Castro and 81 other revolutionaries from Tuxpán, Mexico, to Cuba in December 1956 to launch the Revolution. The boat, displayed behind glass, is surrounded by planes, vehicles and weapons used during this time.
Built in the 1720s, the Plaza de la Cathedral is one of the most popular squares in Havana. The cathedral, which is dominated by two unequal towers, is classed as an early Cuban baroque facade as it is an ornamental landmark rather than structural. It is where the remains of Christopher Columbus were kept before being transferred in the 19th century to the Seville Cathedral in Spain.
You can climb to the top of one of the unequal towers to witness the stunning views of Havana from above. Back on the ground, you’ll find beautiful murals, hidden restaurants and some of the grandest mansions in the city.
Salsa is in the Cuban’s blood. A Latin dance associated with the music genre of the same name, Salsa originated in New York but is an amalgamation of Cuban dances that were popular in the ballrooms and nightclubs of Havana. There are many styles of salsa dancing but the most popular involves a dancer balancing their weight 50/50 while their upper body remains level and their legs rotate in a figure of eight to cause the hips to move.
There are many salsa lessons available across the city with some offered on Havana’s hidden streets. If you don’t wish to take part in a lesson, there will always be someone willing to drag you to the dancefloor and teach you on the spot.
Start the day with a visit to one of Havana’s most infamous tourist spots. Plaza de la Revolución, or Revolution Square, is part of Havana’s “new city.” Surrounded by grey concrete buildings which were constructed in the late 1950s, the square is the base of the Cuban government. It “is most definitely the political and administrative epicentre of Cuba,” says Bejal, travel, lifestyle and sustainability blogger at Be-Lavie. “Those wishing to learn more about its past and involvement should consider a visit.”
Bejal recommends touring the area with a local guide who “will be able to bring the story of the square alive. As you close your eyes and listen, you’ll be able to hear the mass crowds of people who once gathered here to witness the movement of the great Fidel Castro,” the Prime Minister of Cuba between 1959 and 1976.
A five-minute taxi ride from Revolution Square lies a tropical oasis of palm trees. Efe is a restaurant and cafeteria well-known for its refreshing mojitos. During the day, Efe is very chilled but at night, it comes alive with live entertainment and vibrant energy. It is the perfect spot for a pre-show cocktail and also a great excuse to hop in a vintage taxi (which you’ll notice pepper every thoroughfare across this truly atmospheric locale).
The Teatro Nacional de Cuba is one of Havana’s most important cultural venues. Built at the beginning of the revolution as part of Jean-Claude Forestier’s grand city expansion, the theatre opened in 1960 and originally housed propaganda and arts. Today, the theatre, which is one of the largest in the city, hosts landmark concerts, foreign theatre troupes and La Colmenita children’s company. The main hall, Sala Avellaneda, stages big events such as musical concerts and Shakespearean plays and regularly promotes dance, drama, theatre, music and visual arts for adults and children alike. Even if you don’t watch a show, the building is worth a visit as it is surrounded by beautiful gardens, ponds, winding paths and original sculptures created by Cuban artists.
Cigars play a huge part in Cuban culture. The country has centuries of experience and thanks to its excellent tobacco growing conditions, Cuban cigars are known to be the finest in the world. Though you’ll find cigars on every street corner of Havana, the Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagás has the best selection. For over 160 years, the famous factory has been hand-rolling cigars.
The factory is one of the only in Cuba that allows visitors. During one of their tours, you’ll see how they sort the tobacco leaves, how they press and roll the tobacco and how the final product is packaged. You’ll also gain insight into how using different proportions and types of tobacco leaves (scent, taste and burning) is what makes each cigar brand different. Even if you’re not a smoker, we’d highly recommend a factory tour as seeing the process in action is a great way to get a little closer to the culture of the country.
There are many incredible restaurants in Havana but none are as unique as a traditional paladar. An in-house family-owned restaurant, paladars are one of the best ways to enjoy classic homemade Caribbean cuisine. They truly are a one-of-a-kind experience and the only way to enjoy Cuba’s true flavour - rich, dense and heavy on spices.
Since they are generally quite small, the best paladars often have a long wait or require a reservation in advance but trust us when we say the wait is worth it. Waiters may even treat you to a complimentary shot of rum or a Cuban cigar.
One culinary gem we’d recommend is San Cristóbal. Located within an early 20th-century mansion, this paladar is one of authenticity and charm - the fillet steak skewers are a must!
El Malécon is one of the most peaceful places in the city. A five-mile-long historical stone wall that separates the pronounced city of Havana from the ocean below, El Malécon is a truly majestic sight at any time of day but specifically at sunset.
The unofficial symbol of the city provides lovely views of Havana’s iconic architecture and its beautiful coast. El Malécon translates as ‘the pier,’ and like many piers across the world, locals flock to fish, relax or simply sit and watch the world go by. A visit here is a must.