By Laura BurkeThe creativity of Havana is hard to ignore, with an up and coming art scene, the city offers so many surprises and is a colourful burst of Caribbean flavour. Audacious, contradictory and always beautiful, the history marked by two independence wars, a revolution and a US trade embargo has left its mark on the place and on the people. Havana is gritty and gorgeous, a stay here will slowly seduce you and leave you wanting more.
At Escape2 we have chosen our top things to do in Havana, so all you have to worry about is enjoying yourself.
The Malecón is Havana’s 7km long waterfront drive, one of the most soulful parts of the city it is a must see spot for quintessential Cuban style. This is the favoured meeting spot for lovers, travellers, poets, fishers and minstrels for decades gone by. At night the Malecón buzzes with activity as locals go to drink and socialise as they watch the sunset as the sky fades to an orange and pink glow while the air cools down. Often nicknamed the ‘world’s longest sofa’ this is where the whole city comes to meet and make friends.
The most important example of baroque architecture in the city, the museums grand building was built in 1792 on the site of a former church. It served many purposes in its time from acting as the Spanish colonial government headquarters, to the Cuban president’s residence and eventually becoming the city hall. Today the two-story limestone building is the Museo de la Ciudad, the beautiful City Museum which tells the story of Havana’s history. During a visit you will see private quarters of the captains general as well as displays of old carriages, uniforms and artillery pieces as well as religious and funerary art. A must see while in Havana.
The taxi service in Cuba is not the same as at home, in Cuba private taxi services are operated more like buses and will drive along a set route allowing passengers to hop in and out as they like wherever they choose to. Not only is this a fun way to make friends, but the Communal Taxi Particulars are classic American cars such as 50’s Chevrolets which adds a touch of Hollywood glamour to your journey. They’ll often pick up that you’re a tourist and try to overcharge you for the journey, so be wise and negotiate a price before you get going. Often they’ll cost around 10 pesos to use and are great for making your way around Havana cheaply.
Havana is bursting with delicious street food, fragrant and varied meals are served roadside by bicycle vendors and if you want to save yourself a fortune, it pays to eat like a local. On the streets of Havana you will find tempting food for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. Street pizza is one of the best budget choices in Cuba, served in basically every street shop in the country you can get individual cheese pizzas for around 5-10 pesos (10-40 cents) add meat as you like and eat folded in half like a taco, delicious! For dessert try coconut pie or sugar sprinkled churros, sure to keep your tummy happy.
At least one day of your Havana holiday should be spent on one of the beautiful beaches. The biggest and best known of the Havana Cuba beaches is Playas del Este which is a 9 kilometre strip of stunning beaches, it can be incredibly busy during summer seasons and is best enjoyed in May and October when the weather is still great but crowds are smaller. Do like the locals and relax in Playa Guanabo, Guanabo is a village on the outskirts of Havana and while the village is quaint and rustic, the beach is a little slice of heaven. Much quieter and less of a party spot than Playas del Este it’s the perfect relaxation spot.
This wave struck fort with its signature lighthouse was built between 1589 and 1630 to protect the entrance to Havana harbour from pirates and foreign invaders. High above the Atlantic on a rocky bluff above the Atlantic, the fort withstood numerous attacks by French, Dutch and English privateers and was eventually captured by British forces. Not only is this lighthouse a beautiful example of Renaissance military architecture, it also has a maritime museum and stunning views over the ocean.
This is the Havana as it appears on the post cards, declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1982. It’s here in Old Havana where you will find old monuments, fortresses, churches and palaces filled with Cuban gems. Stroll between the four main Colonial squares on cobblestone streets and admire in particular the coloured buildings of Plaza Vieja Square taking the perfect holiday photos as you go. You’ll find here museums such as the City Museum, Rum Museum and Colonial Art Museum, this is an area of Havana which is rich in culture and makes for a beautiful background to explore.
Affectionately known as being Cuba’s GaudÍ, José Fuster has turned his home neighbourhood into a masterpiece of detailed tilework in rainbow colours which makes for a street art explosion that puts Park Güell to shame. After visiting Europe, Fuster came home and started to transform his own small home into a ceramic wonderland. Little did he know how big it would become, after his neighbours saw they soon followed in his path and now over 80 homes have been transformed into colourful mosaic artworks. A little outside of Havana city, it’s a must see while on a Havana holiday.
Cabaret Tropicana was built in 1939 in Havana, once considered as being a risk to build, it is now a world famous cabaret show known for the tropical theatrical shows under the stars of Havana. In 1992 the American Academy of Restaurant Industry awarded Tropicana with an honourable award for being the best cabaret in the Americas. Book a show and dance along to Cuban rhythms as you admire the over the top costume and dream-like set, definitely a night to remember.
Music pours out of every bar in Havana, colourful and inviting, you’re at no shortage of places to enjoy the cities famous rum during your visit. Start off with a daiquiri in the famous El Floridita, known for being Ernest Hemingway’s favourite bar. There’s a metal statue of Hemingway at his favourite seat for some company and the daiquiris are tasty and refreshing, it’s a must see. If you’re looking for somewhere that doesn’t quite have that cheesy touritsty feel then head to El Chanchellero de Tapas which has a playful sign outside reading ‘Hemingway was never here’, favoured by locals it’s the answer to your local dive bar, graffitied walls and staff in overalls make the rooftop bar that bit cooler. No matter where you choose though, the rum is always going to be spectacular.
See all of these sights and more during your unforgettable Havana adventure!
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