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La Habana (Havana) also known as ‘Villa de San Cristobal de la Habana’ was founded in 1519. In December of 1592 Phillip II granted it the title of city and in 1607 it was acknowledged for the first time as the official capital of the colony. It is considered the largest city in the Caribbean, and one of the most culturally rich urban centers in the world.

The city is the principal tourist destination in the country and its glorious colonial past is full of castles, cathedrals, mansions and museums. The historic neighborhood of Old Havana is a fascinating UNESCO World Heritage site, with over 900 landmarks, including the Presidential Palace and Cathedral Square. But while history is treasured in Havana, culture is celebrated, shared and exuberantly enjoyed here. The city claims some of the world’s best ballet schools and dance companies, and its theatre community is unrivaled in the Caribbean. There are lively film and comedy clubs, art galleries and bookstores everywhere. Havana is a city that inspires writers, poets and philosophers. No wonder celebrities such as Ernest Hemingway and Federico Garcia Lorca put down roots here.

Havana’s long, shimmering coastline offers nearly 15 km of excellent beaches and unspoiled coral reefs that can be admired both above and below the sea.

 

Old Havana’s cultural and tourist heritage:


Morro-Cabana Historic Military complex

Cuba’s military history comes alive at the two museums located here. The park contains El Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro (The Castle of the Three Kings of El Morro), built in 1630, and the fortress of San Carlos de la Cabaña, from 1774. Don't miss the firing of the cannons, a traditional ceremony complete with soldiers in old-style uniforms, nightly at 9pm.


Castillo de La Real Fuerza

It was the first major fortress of the city started in 1558. For almost two centuries was the residence of the General Governor and today it is the Arms Museum. A weather vane was placed there, known today as ‘La Giraldilla’ and it is a symbol of Havana.
Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta (La Punta fortress)
La Punta just like El Morro was designated to protect the entrance to Havana Bay which became an important and strategic entrance way to the harbor since the settlement of the town.


La CatedralLa Catedral

The Cathedral of Havana is the greatest monument of the so called ‘Cuban Baroque’ architectural style which developed in Cuba at the 18th century. The effects that this building causes are based, to a great extent, on the contrasts between the main façade, very ornate, and the side wall, of extreme simplicity and the two lateral towers with plain and austere surface.


Plaza de Armas (Arms Square)

Feast your eyes on the glorious neoclassical architecture at Havana’s oldest square, built in the 1520s. The Arms Square is flanked the ‘City Museum’, the exact place where the city was founded, El ‘Templete’ chapel, Santa Isabel hotel and the Segundo Cabo Palace.


El TempleteEl Templete 

Visit the site of Havana’s first mass and its first town council meeting at this neoclassical chapel located in the Plaza de Armas. Each year, on November 16, locals gather here to observe the anniversary of these momentous occasions.

 

 


SAN FRANCISCO DE ASISPlaza de San Francisco de Asis (San Francisco de Asis square)

This plaza is located between the Convent of San Francisco de Asis and the Lonja del Comercio (chamber of commerce), very close to Havana’s Port Custom House. First established in the 1500s, this is one of the oldest areas of Havana. The famous Fountain of Lions, carved from Carrara marble, overlooks the seafront. The convent of San Fransisco de Asís now holds a beautiful collection of sacred art and artifacts.


La plaza vieja (Old Square)

Built in 1559, this square offers a wonderfully eclectic mix of Havana's architectural styles. It served as the city's bustling social center for centuries. It is surrounded by The Mirador de la Ciudad (lookout), the Santo Angel hotel and the Palacio del Conde de Jaruco (Conde de Jaruco Palace).


Parque Central (Central Park)

This park is surrounded by traditional hotels, such as Inglaterra, Plaza, Telegrafo and modern Parque Central. Its center is marked by the first statue erected in 1905 in honor of Jose Marti built in Carrara marble. It is one of the busiest spots of Havana for its lush trees and palm trees.


Paseo del Prado (Prado Avenue)

Once the central artery of the city, the Prado is a boulevard with a distinctly European feel. This is where you'll find the renowned national ballet school. It was built in 1772, figuring in it eight bronze lion statuses, which seem to guard the ride.


Convento de Santa Clara (Santa Clara Convent)

This was the first nunnery established in Havana. It came into existence due to the lack of an institution that allowed some town’s notables to give
their daughters a proper religious education. The images of the Immaculate Conception, Saint Francis and Saint Clare stand on the high altar of this church. The convent had a cloister, a nursery and an ample orchard.


Iglesia de la Merced (Our Lady of Grace Church)

It is a church and a convent; built between 1865 and 1867, this is arguably one of Havana’s most lush churches. Constructed in Baroque style, features the principal door with its round arch and central niche. The niche, presbytery, cupola and naves were decorated in 1904 by prestigious Cuban artists. The Lourdes Chapel, inaugurated in 1876 and decorated with beautiful mural paintings by prestigious Cuban artists, is the most outstanding pictorial collection within Cuban religious colonial architecture. Its lavish robin-eggshell blue interior has high arches and frescoes covering the chapel and cupola. The Capilla de Lourdes (Lourdes Chapel) has an outstanding collection of religious paintings by renowned Cuban artists: Esteban Chartrand, Miguel Melero, Pidier Petit and Juan Crosa, among others. The other chapel has a peaceful grotto. The convent’s serene courtyard has interesting statuary.


National Museum of Natural Sciences


The CapitolEl Capitolio (National Capitol Building)

The iconic dome of what was once the congressional building is a classic Havana landmark. Embedded in the floor directly beneath the dome is a 24-carat diamond (replica). The distance between Havana and all other Cuban destinations is marked from this point.


Bacardi Building

The building was commissioned by the SA Bacardi rum company and it is a gem of arc deco. Its construction was completed in 1930 and was at that time the highest structure in town. The outside part of the entrance hall was decorated with wine-red marble, exemplifying the color of rum honeys.


Palacio de Aldama (Aldama Palace)


Railroad Central Station


Gran Teatro de La HabanaGran teatro de La Habana

It is one of the largest opera houses in the world; its façade is decorated with four sculptural groups representing charity, Education, Music, and Theatre. See some of the world’s best ballerinas and singers perform on this stage, the home of both the Ballet Español de Cuba and the Cuban National Opera.

 


National Museum of Fine Arts 

Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman art, as well as European and (of course) Cuban masters makes this easily the finest collection in the Caribbean.

 

Other significant places in Havana City


Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagás

Admire the skill with which the experts hand-roll those famous Montecristos and Cohibas at one of Havana's oldest cigar factories.


Cristo de la Habana

At the entrance of the port of havana, to the left from ancient San Carlos de la Cabana fortress and Casa Blanca town, stands majestically a colossal statue known as El Cristo de La Habana. The Christ was inaugurated on December 25th 1958. It was built in Italy and shows the figure of Jesus standing with one hand on the chest and the other up as if blessing and and his face is set to the city. One of the only three existing in the world and it is composed of 67 white Carrara marble pieces.


Cementerio Colon

It was declared National Monument and built in the 19th Century (1886). This cemetery preserves famous Cuban and foreign sculptures that, along with other artistic works, form one of the most important places of the universal funerary art. It also keeps the remains of prominent personalities of our history


Havana-Chinese town

This is a wide area where the oldest chinese traditions are combined with modernity…enjoy food, candies, dances, martial arts, medicine and language in this versatile world of chinese people in Havana.


Latin American Stadium

Get caught up in baseball fever by taking in a game at this Havana stadium.


Iglesia de Jesus de Miramar


Tarará Marina

Head over to this marina located about 19 km east of Havana to schedule a sail around the area’s spectacular coral reefs.


Marina Hemingway

Home of the famous Ernest Hemingway fishing tournament, this is one of Cuba’s best-known marinas, and can accommodate incoming yachts, cruise ships and sailboats.


Cojimar

Just east of Havana lies Cojimar, where Ernest Hemingway kept his boat, El Pilar. The town served as the model for the fishing village in The Old Man and the Sea.

 

Beaches:


Jibacoa

Snorkel among the colorful reef formations, gallop on horseback along the shoreline or bike through the nearby hills at this pristine beach located 45 km from Havana.


Santa Maria del Mar

This scenic beach is located within the Playa del Este stretch. Enjoy the soft, white sands and a leisurely lunch at the beachside Marazul Hotel.


Playa del Este

Soak up the rays along this 15 km stretch of white-sand beaches, a mere 20 minutes from downtown Havana. Clear, aquamarine waters are ideal for underwater nature-watching.



Places to stay


Hotel Nacional

Stroll through the gardens surrounding this eight-storey hotel to catch the stunning ocean and city views. This national monument was built in 1930, and is ideally situated in downtown Havana. The Nacional de Cuba Hotel, a classic establishment in the Island's tourism sector, has a privileged location from where guests can enjoy a beautiful view of the Bay of Havana, the Malecón (Seaside Promenade) and El Vedado neighborhood. The hotel, which is 20 kilometers away from Havana's international airport, ranks among the world's ten Palace Hotels and was the only five-star hotel in the Caribbean region from the 1930s to the 1950s. It has been visited by hundreds of celebrities from the spheres of art, science and politics.


Saratoga

The Saratoga Hotel is a stylishly luxurious establishment which combines charming early century elements with inventive and tasteful modern décor and facilities. Though the interiors were completely rebuilt and refashioned, the eclectic, chiefly neo-classical façade has been restored to resemble its days from the 1930s.


Melia Cohiba

Located in downtown Havana and across from the popular Malecón Avenue (seaside promenade), the Meliá Cohiba Hotel benefits from a beautiful view of the sea. It has become an ideal destination for businesspeople who stay in its Royal Service section. The hotel is in the residential neighborhood of El Vedado, where the city's main cultural centers are located. From the Meliá Cohiba Hotel, guests can easily go to sites that are located within a 12-kilometer radius, including Old Havana, Revolution Square, and the Havana International Conference Center.


Melia Habana

The Meliá Habana Hotel is located by Havana's seashore. Situated in the residential neighborhood of Miramar, the hotel is close to diplomatic and commercial offices concentrated in that sector of the Cuban capital. It is 15 kilometers away from José Martí International Airport. It is considered an excellent choice for businesspeople, due to its proximity to the Miramar Trade Center and the International Conference Center (the latter is the main venue of national and international events in Havana). The hotel is also a good option for weddings and honeymoons.


Habana Riviera

Founded on December 10, 1957, the hotel still maintains a very romantic and cozy ambiance. It is right across Havana′s ocean drive and just a few minutes away from the oldest part of the city.


Habana Libre

Habana Libre hotel is located in downtown Havana, where the "La Rampa" district begins. The district is home to the most important ministries and the University of La Habana, and well-known for the animated nightlife.


Capri

The Hotel Capri is a historic high rise hotel located in central Havana. It reopened in 2014 as the Hotel NH Capri La Habana, following a major renovation. The NH Hotel Capri is located in the central area of Vedado few meters from the Malecon Habanero. It has been completely renovated according to contemporary trends without departing from its original conception. Retains its charm from the 50s, it is cozy, comfortable and functional well. Ideal for business, incentive groups, leisure breaks and honeymoons. It is 10 minutes from Old Havana and 30 minutes from "José Martí" International Airport.


Palco

The Palco Hotel, a key element in congress and incentive tourism programs in Cuba, benefits from its proximity to Havana's International Conference Center, of which it is a complement. Located at a few-minute drive from Old Havana, the hotel is linked to the country's main convention center by a gallery of commercial establishments, where paintings by Cuban artists are exhibited. In addition, guests have easy access to the residential neighborhood of Miramar, where the main embassies and commercial firms have their offices.


Sevilla


5ta Avenida Habana, Hotel

The Hotel is located in the residential area. Its location also has the benefit of providing access to an area where shops and diplomatic representations are concentrated, to which is added a beautiful sea view and the particular touch provided by Quinta Avenida. The hotel is 18 kilometres from José Martí International Airport, 10 kilometres from the city centre, 12 kilometres from the colonial area.
Casa Particular (check complete listing at airbbnb.com)


Places to eat


Mediteraneo – Havana

Great private restaurant; International style of food with a great variety and excellent taste. The ambience and the service are also great.
http://www.medhavana.com/
Calle 13 #406 entre F y G, Vedado, La Habana


La Bodeguita del Medio

La Bodeguita del Medio is a typical restaurant-bar of Havana. It is a famous tourist destination because of the personalities which have patronized it; La Bodeguita lays claim to being the birthplace of the Mojito cocktail, prepared in the bar since its opening in 1942. The rooms are full of curious objects, frames, photos, as well as the walls covered by signatures of famous or unknown customers, recounting the island’s past.
Empedrado entre Cuba y San Ignacio, Habana Vieja, La Habana


Bar-Restaurant Floridita

More upscale than La Bodeguita del Medio yet authentically Cuban nonetheless, La Floridita is home to Hemingway's favorite daquiry - proclaiming it the best in the world. Today, the place is very popular with tourists. Hemingway's bar stool has a velvet rope to keep the crowds at bay. A statue of the writer stands nearby.
Obispo No.557 esq. a Monserrate, Habana Vieja, La Habana


El Aljibe

El Aljibe is located in the residential area of Miramar, a few minutes from downtown Havana. A flavor created and maintained by the family tradition since the first restaurant was founded on the El Aljibe farm. The specialty is the El Aljibe Chicken, which combines roast chicken with French fries and fried plantain, delicious black beans, white rice, salad and, for dessert, national sweets.
Calle 7ma, entre la 24y 26, Miramar, La Habana


La Vicaria

La Vicaria is located at a quiet area of the residential neighborhood of Playa, surrounded by lots of vegetation, there is the possibility to eat at the garden. Serving large portions of Cuban and international dishes at affordable prices. There is also Italian food. Shrimp salad with rice, fried sweet potatoes. The staff is great and effective.
5ta. Ave. esq. a 13, Siboney, La Habana


La Ferminia

This restaurant is nicely appointed with antiques and old pictures. Food is very good and tasty; grilled pork, beef and chicken along with the usual rice and beans and salad. Service is friendly.
Av 5 No 18207, Flores, La Havana


El Bodegon

Located in Old Havana; the wine is excellent, and so the tapas.


Café Laurent

Cafe Laurent has an excellent view of Havana and it is near the National Hotel. The restaurant has that bohemian chic aesthetic so in vogue right now. A Basque bistros buzzing with beautiful people in the heart of Vedado.
Calle M # 257 entre 19 y 21 Vedado, La Habana


La Gitana

Lovely restaurant on San Lazaro street. Good value for money. The service is good and friendly.

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