Earning itself a top spot on our must-visit destinations is the Cuban capital city of Havana. Thanks to its signature vintage cars, flavorful cuisine, welcoming people and much more, Havana is a one-of-a-kind destination that begs to be explored. Here, take some time to get acquainted with the city before you visit.
Nickname: City of Columns
Founding date: 1519
Official language: Spanish
Neighborhoods of note
La Habana Vieja
This historic borough is where you’ll find the colorful, columned buildings that the city is known for. Built by Spanish colonists in the 17th century, these crumbling structures are currently part of a restoration initiative to return the area to its former splendor.
Old Havana was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982 for its unique architectural character.
Plaza de Armas – The city’s main square, where military ceremonies once took place.
Museum of the Revolution – Housed in the former Presidential Palace, the exhibits here detail the events of the Cuban Revolution that took place from 1953-59.
Plaza de la Revolución
As its name suggests, this district has close ties to Cuban politics. In addition to the José Martí Memorial, you can find the official seat of the Cuban government and Communist Party in the neighborhood’s main feature, the Plaza of the Revolution.
At 358 feet tall, the main tower of the José Martí Memorial is amongst the city’s tallest points.
Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos memorials – These twin tributes to two of Cuba’s most influential revolutionaries are prominently displayed on the buildings where the Ministries of the Interior and Communications have their offices.
These in-home restaurants are where diners can get a taste of Cuban cuisine at its most authentic. Usually with small, intimate dining rooms and lovingly prepped menus that change by the day, the paladares of Havana offer a unique dining experience that’s not to be missed.
For a meal you won’t forget, stop in to…
Calle 5, #511, between Paseo and Calle 2, Vedado
Head here to enjoy imaginative Cuban fusion flavors in a welcoming space, either in the paladar’s homey dining space or out on the rooftop patio.
Calle San Rafael, #469, between Lealtad and Campanario, Central Havana
Known for its Creole-influenced Cuban fare and eclectic décor, this popular spot treats guests to tasty dishes in an early 20th-century mansion.
Used in two of the island nation’s signature cocktails, the mojito and Cuba libre, rum holds a prominent place in any Cuban bar. Today, the country has a reputation for producing some of the world’s smoothest grades, known for their fruity notes.
For a taste of Cuba a little closer to home, try one of these classic Cuban recipes:
10 mint leaves, fresh
2 tablespoons superfine white sugar
1 cup ice
1 ½ oz. white rum
½ cup club soda
Cut lime into four wedges. Place one lime wedge and all mint leaves into a collins glass and crush with a muddler. Add two more lime wedges and sugar to the glass and crush again. Fill the glass with ice, then pour in the rum followed by the club soda. Stir and garnish with the remaining lime wedge.
2 oz. rum
½ oz. lime juice
¾ cup ice
2 oz. cola
In a highball glass, combine rum and lime juice. Add ice and top off with cola.
Things to see
Stretching five miles along the Havana coastline, this grand esplanade affords some of the best ocean views in the city.
Did you know?
• In the 51 years between 1901 and 1952, it took three separate construction projects to make the Malecón as long as it is today.
• With monuments to Antonio Maceo, General Calixto García and the victims of the USS Maine located here, the boulevard is also a great place to take in culturally significant tributes.
Part of what gives Havana its frozen-in-time feel is the abundance of classic cars that still drive the streets. Up until the 1960 trade embargo, Cuba imported American cars by the thousands—and in the years since, the ingenuity of the Cuban people have kept them on the road.
Did you know?
• Private citizens who own pre-revolutionary cars are legally permitted to make a little extra money by driving visitors around Havana.
• There are an estimated 60,000 of these classic “yank tanks” still being driven throughout the country.
Do you want to visit Havana on tour in Cuba? Let us know in the comments!