Five places to see in Havana
Havana is a spectacular destination whenever you visit, with its pastel-hued old town and classic Americana cars motoring along the Malecon. But on November 16th, Havana marks the 500th anniversary of its foundation as Villa de San Cristobal de La Habana, meaning 2019 is an extra special time to enjoy this unique destination. In preparation for the anniversary, the government has been restoring the city: retaining its unique charm and beauty while making it a better place to live.
Epic celebrations are unsurprisingly planned to mark the date, including electrifying cultural events and fascinating tours. But whether you’re planning to visit during Havana’s anniversary year, or further in the future, there’s so much to see it’s tough to work out the unmissables.
From the rickety delights of Old Havana to Ernest Hemingway’s former house, here’s the Citybond team's pick of the five most important places to include on any trail around Cuba’s capital.
When you imagine the Cuban capital the picture-perfect old town is probably what you’re envisioning. Endlessly evocative, Old Havana should undoubtedly be your first stop on touching down. Get lost in the labyrinth of crumbling houses painted pastel purples, yellows and greens, and admire the intoxicating architecture and atmosphere – kids playing football outside their homes and the fascinating street art add to the buzz of it all. Every so often the streets open up into polished squares, surrounded by ornate churches, restaurants and bars, where you can sample delectable mojitos mixed with iconic Havana Club Rum.
El Capitolio, or the National Capital Building, is similar to Washington DC’s Capitol Building but - vitally - is one metre higher, one metre wider, one metre longer, and more intricately detailed. Built in the late 1920s, the building was originally used as headquarters of the Cuban Congress but since the 1959 Revolution has instead housed the Cuban Academy of Sciences and the Science and Technology National Library. The building’s interior is just as enthralling as its exterior with highlights including a bronze statue of a woman measuring 1,460m high and weighing over 30 tons. There’s also the Hall of Lost Steps, named for its unusual acoustics, and Bolivar Hall, containing original Venetian furniture. Entrance costs just 3 CUC (£2.40) without a guide or 4 CUC with one.
Cuban history has been made time and time again in Revolution Square. It’s the site where historic figures including Cuban revolutionary leader and long-time president Fidel Castro, and Pope John Paul II, addressed huge crowds. Surrounding the vast square are office blocks with famous revolutionary faces such as Che Guevara emblazoned on the sides to striking effect. The square is also home to the 109-metre-tall José Martí Memorial: a striking memorial to an important Cuban patriot. Revolution Square is also an excellent location to watch Cuba’s classic cars zoom by. These beautifully-preserved colourful motors date back to before the Cuban revolution, and are evocative of 1950s America. There are roughly 60,000 classic cars on Cuba’s roads, including 200 convertibles.
John Lennon Park
John Lennon never visited Cuba - in fact, Fidel Castro banned the music of the Beatles, along with other western artists, for years. So why is there a statue of the British icon in a leafy park in Havana? The answer is simply that, after decades of censorship, Castro had a change of heart. Unveiling the bronze statue in 2000, the president said: “What makes him great in my eyes is his thinking, his ideas. I share his dreams completely. I too am a dreamer who has seen his dreams turn into reality.” These days, Lennon lounges on a bench under a tree and a government worker hovers nearby at all times: their sole job is to ensure the musician’s iconic circular spectacles don’t get stolen.
American author Ernest Hemingway was an adopted Cuban: he lived and wrote in the country, on and off, for more than 30 years. In fact it’s said that his book, For Whom the Bell Tolls, inspired Fidel Castro’s guerrilla strategy when he was battling in the Sierra Maestra. If you want to find out more about Hemingway’s life in Cuba, where better than his old Havana abode where he wrote most of his famous novels. The house, which dates back to 1886, is now a museum. It’s been preserved by the Cuban government since 1960, when the author was forced to leave due to deteriorating relations between the US and Cuban governments. Finca Vigia is located around a 30 minute drive from central Havana and is an unmissable attraction on a trip to Cuba.
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