The sun rises late in Havana. It’s November and the Tornado season has just ended.
I have pulled aside the curtain and through the window, I could see the majestic Malecon and National Hotel
Anxiously we begin our walk in Havana starting from Hotel National, the pearl of the 50’s. In its glory days, this hotel was visited by the most important world personalities from actors to kings. Even Mafia conferences were held here. Americans built it to offer luxury, entertainment, and gambling. Now it is owned by the state and they try to revitalize this symbol that was once the pearl of Havana.
My boys are captivated by the classic cars, and to be frank, It’s difficult not to be. It’s like a step back in time. Immediately we arrived at Malecon, an 8 km promenade surrounding Havana. Nowadays this avenue seems like a mirage emerged from another world and we are like at the 50’s car parade.
How to not want to photograph these wonders?
After a short walk on Malecon, we arrived at Castillo San Salvador de la Punta which together with Castillo de Los Tres Reyes del Marro, on the opposite shore, are guarding the entrance of the Havana Bay.
In colonial times, every night they rose a thick chain between this two fortresses so pirates could not enter the golf.
From here, the famous Paseo de Prado, starts. The promenade was built since colonial times and was very popular among rich people who have built impressive houses along the street. It consists of four areas: the promenade itself, Central Park, the Capitol and the Fraternidad Park.
Central Park is the gateway to Old Havana and here you can find the most impressive buildings of Havana: Gran Teatro de Havana, Palacio de las Bellas Artes, Museo Nacional de las Bellas Artes, Capitol.
Captivated by the charm of old cars, we stopped here and we rented a car for a ride through Havana. It was a convertible Buick from the 50’s.
Anyone can rent one of these cars by the hour, at prices of between 25-35 Euro. Or you can simply go by taxi. There are many such cars converted to taxis.
Satisfaction is guaranteed. We felt great. It is a must have experience.
Still giddy and happy after taking the city tour, we fund ourselves in Central Park again, starting our visit of Old Havana by foot, mingling among locals.
The city still retains colonial design even if it is almost in ruins. It is a city filled with life and color, and the best way to discover it is to get lost on the many streets and markets. You will see hundreds of people on the sidewalks. Elders who sit outside the door, scantily clothed girls moving along the music rhythm, boys who try to steal their smiles, children playing soccer in the street, partying and cars from the 60;s passing freely …
In the evening everyone comes out to socialize on the streets and the city comes to life. It looks like a ghetto and you think that you will get robbed, but this is far from the truth because Cuba is a very safe country.
How to visit Havana?
On foot – is the best way to stroll the old town. It isn’t large and can be done in a day
Habana Bus Tour – a concept already known in many cities. Pay a ticket valid for 1 day (3-5 Euros) and see the city from the above deck of the bus. This way you can have an overview of the city and if you want to go deeper you can get off at any time.
Rent a classic car – you can rent a classic car with a driver who will take you through Havana and will show you the highlights. An hour can cost between 25-35 Euro.
12 things that have to do in Havana
1 – Walk the Malecon at sunset
An 8 km promenade surrounding Havana.
It was built to protect the city from the waves of the sea, but quickly became the most popular place among locals. The evening here is the place to be. Whether you are in a classic car or on foot, for sure you will love what you see. Hundreds of colonial buildings, terraces ideal for a cocktail at sunset and the locals who gather here for various activities.
2 – Walk on Paseo Del Prado
Street initially became very popular among rich people. Now it is a fancy promenade through old colonial mansions.
3 – Central Park
Another crowded market in Havana. Here you can find some of the most exclusive hotels in the city and some of the most important buildings like:
Gran Teatro de la Havana
Tacon Theater was inaugurated in 1838, the most important theater in Havana and also in the rest of Cuba, which is well known for its style. A few years later, in 1914, the theater and surrounding buildings were bought and converted into Gallego Center. The construction company was, of course, American. The Complex was renamed the Gran Teatro in 1981. Today hosts international events and the National Ballet of Cuba.
It is perhaps the most emblematic building in Havana. It was built between 1912-1929, hosted the Senate and House of Representatives and later turned into a museum. Today is being renovated to become the headquarters of the Cuban Parliament
4 – Discover Old Havana through its magical squares
Plaza de la Catedral
This square is one of the city’s landmarks. Here you can find the cathedral of St. Christopher and colonial art museum. The cathedral is a symbol of Cuban baroque and one of the most beautiful in America. In the corner of the square is the famous Bodeguita del Medio.
Plaza de Armas
The town formed around a church in Plaza de la Iglesia, in 1519, which was destroyed by the explosion of a ship which crashed over the church. After that, the square was renamed Plaza de Armas.
During colonial times this was the place where military parades, music concerts, political speeches took place. In the center, there is the statue of Cespedes, initiator, and father of Cuba’s war for independence. In the southern part of the market, there was a school for orphan girls, now converted into bar restaurant called La Mina.
The square is bordered by important buildings: Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, Palacio del Cabo Secundo.
After Plaza de Armas and Plaza de San Francisco a new market was necessary to be built, where all commercial activity were conducted away from the convent … oh well, not so far, 100 m away. It was originally called New Market. And it has received several names before the current one was found.
Here was the place where they hold fiestas and the slaves market, but now is full of cafes and restaurants.
5 – Try a mojito in Bodeguita Del Medio
Initially this was a normal restaurant. But because it was a place where intellectuals met, including Ernest Hemingway, it became very famous.
You must come to drink a Mojito here.
6 – Try daiquiri in Floridita
It opened its doors more than 200 years ago and still, it serves the best daiquiri in town. This bar has become famous worldwide thanks to Hemingway who was a loyal customer.
7 – Revolution Museum
In 1909 the General Governor decided to build a building for hosting the Government, but the first lady at that time, Lady Mariana Seva, was in love with the building that was created, so her husband did everything possible to take possession of it and became the Presidential Palace. When the building was finished, its opulence contrasted with the surrounding areas. The interior was decorated by Tiffany Studio in New York.
Since 1974 it hosts a museum dedicated to the Cuban revolution. In 1957 a failed attempt to assassinate Batista was held here and apparently, you can still see traces of it.
Behind the museum (included in ticket price) there is a memorial of the revolution. Here there is the yacht that brought Castro and 81 revolutionaries from Mexico.
8 – Plaza de La Revolución and Hasta la Victoria Siempre
The largest market in Cuba is located in the Vedado neighborhood, one of the richest neighborhoods of Havana. The market was built by Batista and renamed after the revolution. Here there is the monument of Jose Marti (poet and national hero of Cuba) and two buildings that show on their facades the faces of Camilo Cienfuegos and Che Guevara
9 – Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña
Fortaleza was built after the British conquered Cuba, and they called it San Carlos de la Cabana, in honor of King Carlos III. Constructed by a military engineer, at that time it was equipped with the most advanced military technology of the 18th century and it cost so much that King Carlos III sent spies to report him what was going on with the build.
In the 20th century, the fortress was used as a prison and storage space. After the revolution, Che Guevara moved here. Its restoration was done by revolutionary armies and the Office for the history, restoration that ended in 1992.
10 – Rent a classic car
Not to be missed in Cuba
11- Go to a cabaret show
Tropicana is a place to be. Cabarets are still popular in Cuba.
12 – Take the bus and go to the beach of Santa Maria
Just 20 minutes from the city you can find wonderful beaches, where you can relax freely. There is a bus that takes you straight there.