In this blog post I will show you the most important Havana must-sees with many pictures for your inspiration.
Havana, like all of Cuba, can be a culture shock. No offense – it’s just that Cuba is so unlike any other destination. Not because Cuba is one of the poorer countries, but because it is a journey through time. Here the clocks really do tick differently, and this is what makes it one of the most interesting destinations ever.
By the way, Cuba is developing further and so it can be that it is already quite different today, than when we were in Cuba. When we were there, the trade embargo against Cuba was still in force. Since then it has been repeatedly relaxed and tightened again and again. This does not allow me to say anything about the situation at that point of time you read this post.
Good to know
Havana is quite a big city for the Caribbean. With about 2.10 million inhabitants it is even the second largest metropolis in the Caribbean after Santo Domingo.
Like all of Cuba, the city is rather run-down. The houses are in need of renovation and, depending on the district, you could think that a day ago there was a war going on here. Broken houses are standing next to ruins.
Don’t get me wrong – I found Havana incredibly great and interesting and the city radiates an incredible atmosphere. Thus, I would definitely recommend a trip there. But I also don’t want to give a wrong impression. If I only write about how beautiful Havana is, you could go there with completely wrong expectations.
Besides, not everything is run-down. The main squares and sights are perfectly renovated, which can give you an almost unrealistic impression of Havana. Therefore, I really recommend to walk through the city. You should have a look at the streets away from the main attractions, as this is the only way to get a real feeling for Havana.
Even if Havana might look unsave, it really isn´t. If you use your common sense and behave the way you should generally always do, you don’t need to be afraid of being mugged.
We spent two full days in Havana, which I think is enough to see the most important sights. Staying longer is always possible, of course, but we wanted to see the rest of Cuba as well.
Round trip in a vintage car
On day one we had booked a private guided tour through our Casa Particular. That was the best decision ever. Our guide could not only tell us all kinds of things about the sights, but also a lot about life in Cuba, its history and culture. Moreover, he drove us through the area in his private vintage car, which he had already inherited from his father. Therefore, he was one of the lucky and few Cubans with an own vehicle. Unfortunately, I can’t say exactly what we paid but it was about 60 – 80 USD, including tip.
If you can’t find a private guide, you can always ask a normal taxi driver to show you the sights. Also, the taxi drivers can tell you a lot about the country and the people. But you should speak Spanish, because only few people here speak English well enough to have a conversation.
The old town, Habana Vieja
Our tour started in Habana Vieja, which is the historical old part of Havana. This collection of old architecture is one of the most beautiful historic city centers in Latin America. Therefore, it was declared World Heritage Site of Humanity by UNESCO in 1982.
Habana Vieja is an enchanting mixture of old buildings and squares, lively streets and music. It is a neighborhood frequented by tourists and Cubans alike. I therefore recommend taking some time to walk through its streets, since the whole area is one of the Havana must-sees and not only the main sights.
Plaza de la Catedral
Our first stop, was the Plaza de la Catedral. The Cathedral here has the simple name “Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada de La Habana”. The church was completed in 1787 and is the epitome of Cuban Baroque. The remains of Christopher Columbus rested here until 1898, when they were brought to Seville during the Spanish withdrawal from Cuba.
The place is really great and was one of my favorite Havana must-sees. It invites to numerous photos. There are actually a few cafes here where you can have a coffee or a snack.
Farmacia Drogueria Taquechel
It is worthwhile to have a look at the Farmacia Drogueria Taquechel. The old museum pharmacy, founded in the year 1898, is not only a museum but also still sells therapeutic and homeopathic medicines from Cuba. The mahogany shelves on the walls are decorated with hundreds of painted pots, bottles and jars of porcelain and ceramics, many of which date from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These are still in use today.
Already Hemingway got drunk here.
Ernest Hemingway spent more than 20 years in Cuba and is therefore also called “Papá” by the Cubans. Of course, the writer didn´t just visit one bar, but it is said, that La Bodeguita Del Medio was one of his favorites. And he was right, because the atmosphere is really great. Most of the time a live band plays old salsa music, people dance and drink cocktails. The Mojito is super delicious and you should have one or two. When I think about it, it’s probably not only one of the Havana must-sees, but also one of the Havana must-do’s.
By the way, our guide told us that the Mojito was invented here. Of course, I don’t know if this is true, but I like to tell you so anyway.
Main Street Calle Obispo
The former main street of Havana is called Calle Obispo. It is as suitable for a proper city stroll as for an evening tour through the bars of the city. Here, where most of the shops and bars are located, the city is most lively.
Plaza de San Francisco
The picturesque square borders on the port and was for a long time the centre of handling and trade.
Palacio de los Capitanes Generales
A mighty baroque building that was once the official residence of the Spanish generals and then housed the American military governors. In the course of history, the building became the presidential palace and today it houses the city’s museum.
This large square in the centre of Havana’s old town has been completely restored and is probably one of the best-preserved squares in the city.
The Capitol of Havana
The Capitol’s resemblance to the Capitol in Washington is by no means coincidental. The construction of the former residence of the Cuban head of state was inspired by American architecture.
Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro
Worth seeing is also the fortification Castillo de los Reyes del Morro from the year 1630, that is today a museum. The complex is equipped with twelve large cannons bearing the names of the twelve apostles. Every evening at 9 p.m. a shot is fired to remind us that in the past cannons were used to announce the closing of the gates of Havana.
Also, those who do not want to visit the museum should not miss the great sunset with Havana’s skyline in the background.
Seaside promenade: El Malécon
The second day we started at the famous Malécon. With about seven kilometers length you can walk here for quite a long time. But the most beautiful part is between the Parque Antonio Maceo and the Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta.
In the 50ies, the most important traffic connection between the city districts Habana Vieja, Centro Habana and Vedado was completed. By the way, on some days, the road is closed for cars. Whenever the waves are too high, it is possible that the road is under water.
Therefore, the Malécon is definately one of the Havana must-sees. Especially in the afternoon and early evening, when both local people and tourists gather here in order to stroll, sit on the wall, have something to drink and wait for the sunset.
Plaza de la Revolución
Plaza de la Revolución is a city district in Havana. The square of the same name is the largest inner-city square in Cuba with 72,000 square meters. Official political rallies regularly take place here. Fidel Castro spoke here annually on special occasions to more than one million Cubans.
The Ministry of the Interior with the huge Che Guevara head and the Ministry of Communication with the head of the Cuban revolutionary Camilio Cienfuegos are particularly striking.
José Martí Memorial
At the square there is also the José Martí Monument, which commemorates the national hero José Martí. José Martí was a Cuban poet and writer and is considered a symbol of his country’s struggle for independence.
Afterwards we walked through the city and let Havana take effect on us.