2 nights in Havana, Part I: Old Havana

Photo by Alexander Kunze on Unsplash

Wherever you turn in Havana, the remnants of the Cuban Revolution ring forth.  Steeped in history, this fascinating city plays host to a wealth of nostalgia.

In this two part series, I will guide you through what to see with 2 nights in Havana in order to get the most out of your time in the city.

Central Park

Central Park, Havana, Photo by Chana Guy

With the Capital Building and Grand Theatre as its backdrop, Parque Central is the perfect place to start your day before walking into the old city of Havana. 

In the centre of the park stands a monument in remembrance of Jose Marti.  Considered a national hero, Marti was heavily involved in political activity towards the end of the 1800s becoming a symbol of Cuba’s bid for independence from the Spanish.

Central Park truly embody the character of Havana.  Vintage cars continually pass the roads around the park whilst horse drawn carriages beautifully adorn its surroundings.  

The buildings that frame the park give a glimpse into both the wealth and the poverty that can be found in Havana, the contrast between pristine and disrepair evident from the offset.  

The National Capitol Building 

Photo by Andy Leung on Pixabay

El Capitólio was completed in 1929 and takes its design from the U.S Capitol building in Washington DC. Currently under extensive restoration, the building will become the home of the Cuban National Assembly once renovations are complete.  

Beneath The Capitol’s entrance stands a statue of La Republica with an impressive replica of the 25-carat diamond that once belonged to Russias tsar Nicholas II, encased in the floor below.  The original diamond is locked away in a secret vault.

A 45 minute guided tour will allow you to see the true opulence of The Capitol’s interior with stunning marble floors and beautifully crafted decor on display throughout.  The multitude of bronze doors located around the building are intricately carved and depict various political events from Cuba’s history.

During the tour you will have the chance to see the original legislative chamber of the Capitol as well as several of the original meeting rooms in which the principles of present day Cuba were founded. 

Grand Theatre 

Photo by Gerardo Sanchez on Unsplash

Home to the National Ballet of Cuba, The Grand Teatro is exquisite and allows visitors an insight into the wealth that was prevalent throughout Havana in its pre revolution era. 

Originally founded as the Teatro Tacon in 1838, the building underwent renovation in 1914 with today’s current facade built in keeping with the original design of the 1800s. 

The architecture of the building is remarkable and visitors can opt to see a ballet production at the theatre or undertake a guided tour of the theatre so as to see its interior.

Upon entrance, visitors are greeted with a lavish marble staircase surrounded by decadent bronze busts of many notable Cubans.  The auditorium of the theatre is breathtaking with an extensive candelabra taking centre stage.

El Floridita

Image by Derek Blackadder on Flickr

El Floridita is known as the birth place of the Daiquiri.  

A favourite hangout for Ernest Hemingway, the author’s statue adorns the bar as a reminder of his love for both the city of Havana and El Floridita itself.   

The bar has wonderfully retained the character of the early 1900s, the barmen and hosts dressed in red coated traditional dress and the opulent 1920s decor in pristine condition.

Live Cuban music enhances the Gatsby-esque atmosphere further and visitors are encouraged to take a step back in time dancing to the lively music on offer whilst taking in the charm and beauty of the bars surroundings.

Plaza Vieja 

Image by Bryan Ledgard on Flickr

One of many plazas in Havana, Plaza Vieja is a wonderful representation of the beautiful architecture that can be found throughout old Havana.

Dating back to the 15th century, the plaza has undergone extensive restoration to restore the façades of the buildings back to what they would have looked like in their prime.  These grand buildings with overhanging balconies highlight the opulence that once adorned the city.  

The square plays host to the famous Cuban drink Malta Hatuey, which can be found in many of the cafes and bars located around the edge of the plaza, all of which provide a welcome place to sit and soak up the warm and vibrant atmosphere of modern day Havana.

The Camera Obscura, located on top of one of the buildings on the south side of the square allows for remarkable views over the city of Havana and is a must for anyone visiting the area.

Havana Cathedral

Photo by Juan Cavalleiro on Unsplash

The Cathedral de San Cristobal overlooks the central square of Plaza de La Catedral. 

Designed by Italian architect Francesco Borromini and completed in 1767, the neoclassic architecture of the cathedral is truly remarkable.  The cathedral pays testament to the wonderful craftsmanship that was prevalent at the time of completion with the original infrastructure of the building still fully intact.

Adorned by two towers, visitors have the option to climb to the top of the smaller of the two to soak in the wonderful views of the old town of Havana. 

Plaza de Armas

Image by Laura LaRose on Flickr

The Plaza de Armas is said to be Havana’s oldest plaza and is steeped in history.  The buildings date back to the 1500s and are colonial in style with the house of Havana’s first Governor standing proudly on the north side of the square.

Outside the Governor’s house, the cobblestones that adorn the square have been replaced with ornate wooden flooring.  This unique feature was installed during the reign of Diego Velazquez de Cuellar in the early 1500’s so as to soften the noise of the horse drawn carriages that passed by the outside of the house.

In the centre of the square, a beautiful garden houses a statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, who is known as the father of Cuba due to his revolutionary actions that paved the way for Cuban Independence.  

Castle of the Royal Force

Photo by Scott Fleming on Unsplash

Castillo de la Real Fuerza, stands at the entrance to Havana’s harbour overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.  The castle was strategically built as a defensive castle to protect the city of Havana after it was raided by pirates in the 1500s.

Completed in 1577, the castle’s exterior features magnificent stone walls and wooden drawbridges whilst its surroundings are adorned with a grand protective moat and defensive iron cannons. 

Inside the castle, various artifacts and exhibitions allow a glimpse into the history of the Castle and of Havana itself with models of the boats that carried the first westerners to Havana in the 16th century on display throughout.  

A walk to the top of the castle allows visitors to take in the wonderful views of the harbour of Havana and its surrounding area. 

Prado Boulevard 

Photo by Augustin de Montesquiou on Unsplash

The Prado Boulevard runs from the sea front of Havana to the Capitol Building.

This beautiful and bustling street is awash with Havana’s artists who sell paintings and crafts whilst groups of musicians entertain with a variety of styles and sounds.

The buildings that frame the street are mostly in disrepair but one can easily envision how eloquent they would have looked in their prime giving another glimpse into the wealth that was once prevalent throughout Cuba’s capital.  

The walk along Prado Boulevard will end at the Capitol Building meaning you will have completed a full circle of old Havana whilst taking in its key sights along the way.

Top Tips

  • Wifi is few and far between in Cuba! Wireless internet is only available in public parks and is accessed via a pre paid Cuban phone card.  Phone cards cost 1 CUC for 60 mins of internet access

  • Download maps.me before you get to Cuba! This off-line app will allow you to navigate city of Havana, no internet connection needed.  Users have the ability to mark the key sites they wish to visit prior to arrival which proves invaluable in helping to navigate the city

  • Check visa stipulations before your visit! Most countries require visitors to obtain a visitor visa in order to enter Cuba so make sure to check specific country stipulations and apply for a visa in advance of your trip

  • There are two currencies in Cuba, the Cuban Peso and the CUC! The CUC is a currency strictly used by tourists within the country 1 CUC being the equivalent of $1USD.  The Cuban Peso is a closed currency that is only available once you have landed in Cuba but has a much lower value, 1 Cuban Peso converting to 0.03 USD.  

Have you been to Havana?  If so, what would you recommend as a must-do whilst in Old Havana?   Comment below to let me know!

Stay tuned for part two of my guide to 2 nights in Havana where I explore life outside Old Havana with a focus on the Cuban Revolution and how it has shaped life in modern day Havana.

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Happy exploring!👣

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