Havana – capital city of Cuba – is located on the north coast of the island and is one of the most captivating places in the Caribbean.
The colonial old town is a maze of cobbled streets, great buildings and grand plazas, with romantic, crumbling Central Havana to the west.
Colourful 1950s cars still cruise the streets, and there’s a gritty vibrancy few other cities can match.
Spanish and African history has made Havana a hotbed of culture – there’s music and dancing at every turn. There’s no bad time to visit, but it gets more crowded between December and April. New Year’s Eve is a big deal, so book early if clients want to join in the fun.
Get your bearings
09:00: Habana Vieja, or Old Havana, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a great place to start exploring the city. Grab a coffee in one of the old cafes, then go for a wander.
A restoration project is helping preserve the main sites, and there’s a massive concentration of museums and galleries in the area. Check out the colonial Morro Fortress, cathedral and the Museo de la Ciudad on the Plaza de Armas. Housed in an 18th century palace, it’s a good place to get an overview of the city’s chequered history and includes rooms devoted to the Cuban wars of independence.
11:00: If you’ve still got the culture bug, the restored Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Central Havana is a wonderful art gallery. Cuban and international art are separated into two buildings. Central Havana’s other highlights include the Museo de la Revolucion and the Capitolo Nacional, where you can join a tour of the building that once housed the Cuban Congress (today it’s home to the national library and the Academy of Sciences).
13:00: Cuba’s not known for its food, though more restaurants are opening. Floridita on Obispo Street in the old town is one of the most popular and if you tuck in to one of the speciality fish or seafood dishes you’ll soon discover why. It is also an old haunt of novelist Ernest Hemingway. It is advisable to book in advance.
Visit Revolucion Square
14:00:The Plaza de la Revolucion is a city landmark, the site of many a political rally. The huge square is dominated by the Jose Marti Memorial with a museum dedicated to the national hero at its base. Take the elevator to the top for great views over the city (it’s the tallest building in Havana). Check out the famous Che Guevara image on the Ministry of the Interior’s wall nearby.
Shop for cigars and rum
15:00: Shopping isn’t Havana’s thing – unless you’re into cigars and rum. Havana Club rum is the brand to buy, and you’ll find cigar houses scattered around the city. Even non-smokers should check out a cigar factory – it’s an age-old tradition and you can see cigars being rolled by hand. Try the Partagas factory on Calle Industria for $10, the oldest in town.
Relax with a cocktail
16:30: Stop off for tea or a cocktail at the iconic Art Deco Hotel Nacional de Cuba, overlooking the coast in the Vedado area. Opened in 1930, Nat King Cole, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Sinatra and Winston Churchill are among its past guests.
Chillout on EL Malecon
16:00 Stroll along El Malecon, the 1.9-mile-long sea wall skirting the city. Chill out and watch the fishermen, or stop in a bar along the seafront and join the locals for a Cristal beer or shot of rum.
Make like Hemingway
20:00: No visit to Havana’s complete without a trip to La Bodeguita del Medio on California Avenue, where Ernest Hemingway used to hang out downing his beloved mojitos. It’s an atmospheric place with photos and signatures of famous visitors covering the walls – and for daiquiris and mojitos it’s hard to beat. Try local crab cakes or Caribbean curry with shrimp and coconut.
22:00:Tropicana, open since 1939, is a city institution and worth a visit for the Las Vegas-style extravaganza, with scantily clad beauties dancing salsa in an idyllic open-air setting. If you haven’t eaten already you can have food here before the show starts at about 10.30pm. It’s a bit pricey (from $60 per person for the show and drinks), but it’s sure to thrill.
Party into the small hours
After midnight: Havana is the life and soul of the Caribbean – and that’s saying something in a region that loves to party. There’s no end of bars and clubs with a huge range of live music. New places spring up all the time, but try the Casa de la Musica de Centro Habana and the Salon Piano Bar ‘Delirio Habanero’ at the Teatro Nacional de Cuba.