The capital Havana – or La Habana – is the cultural center of the island. The historic Old Town of Havana has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Sights worth seeing include the Plaza de Armas, the Castillo de la Real Fuerza – the city’s oldest fortress, the Capital and La Catedral. A stroll through the local arts and crafts market is also worthwhile. In the evening you have the opportunity to visit the famous “Tropicana” show at the Parisienne – a cabaret and nightclub. On the outskirts of the city, the “Casa Hemingway” is a must see. This is where Ernest Hemingway settled in 1939. Havana offers something for everyone: culture, museums, ballet, restaurants, bars…. And even sun lovers can enjoy the sea at the local beach Playas del Este. Havana is lively – the city pulsates with joie de vivre. History buffs get their money’s worth here, as do music lovers and lovers of colorful vintage cars. These characterize the cityscape.
Tip 1: Castillo de la Real Fuerza
The fortress is located on the western side of the port near the Plaza de Armas. Its purpose was to protect the city and harbor from pirate attacks, but it was in a strategically poor position too deep inside the harbor. The Castillo de la Real Fuerza is the oldest fortress built by Europeans in the Americas and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982.
However, the 20-year construction of the building was the fruit of the labor of African slaves as well as French prisoners. In 1634, the lookout tower was adorned by the famous Giraldilla – a bronze weathervane designed by Jeronimo Martin Pinzon, which has since become a symbol of the city of Havana. To this day, it adorns the labels of Havana Club rum bottles. In the fortress itself there is a museum dedicated to the history of the castle and the archaeological underwater world of the island.
Tip 2: La Bodeguita del Medio
Near the Plaza de Armas is the first bar that you should not miss. The Bodeguita del Medio is one of the most famous bars in Cuba. Hemingway already liked to drink his mojito here. It opened in 1940 as a former corner store, and even today the walls are decorated with the signatures of many prominent guests, such as Pablo Neruda, Nat King Cole, Fidel Castro and Brigitte Bardot.
Even though it might only be noon now, treat yourself to a traditional mojito here and listen to the live music being played. After all, such breaks are an indispensable part of the typical Cuban way of life!
Tip 3: Plaza Vieja
In the middle of the old town of Havana is the very beautiful historic Plaza Vieja. This is especially worth seeing for tourists who want to look at the old town of Havana.
The buildings that frame the square square all date from the second half of the 16th century. The Spanish colonial rulers who ruled the island at that time built magnificent mansions in Havana Vieja to demonstrate their wealth and power. Many of the buildings on the Plaza Vieja have been lavishly restored and are well worth seeing. They are reminiscent of the historic old towns of southern Spain, such as Cadiz or Seville.
The most beautiful building in the Plaza Vieja is probably the palace of the Conde de Jaruco San Esteban de Cañongo. Like all the houses in the square, it has been rebuilt several times. Today it has a neo-classical facade with beautiful columns and arcades. Now the palace houses a picture museum. Opposite to it there is a large building that houses a very interesting object – a camera obscura. This is a dark room in which the light of an illuminated scene hits the opposite wall through a narrow slit. This creates an upside-down and side-inverted image on this back wall. The principle of the camera obscura is ancient. Even Aristotle knew it. Walk-in camerae obscurae can be found in many cities around the world.
Tip 4: Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas is the oldest square in Havana. Nowadays, a book market is held there almost every day.
The Square of Arms, Plaza de Armas, with its marble benches, is one of the most beautiful in Havana, surrounded by the most interesting colonial buildings.
To the west of the Plaza de Armas is the Palace of the Captain General, built in 1776. It is one of the most beautiful examples of baroque architecture in Havana. In 1902 the Republic was proclaimed there and the palace became the Presidential Palace of the Republic until 1920.
The inner courtyard is especially beautifully decorated with plants and a figure of Christopher Columbus.
To the east of the square is the neoclassical style building “El Templete”, built in 1827 to commemorate the founding of Havana in 1519 and the first fair.
The Palace of the Second Captain of the City is located to the north of the Plaza de Armas. Built between 1772 and 1776, it was the seat of Congress from 1902 to 1929 and now houses two publishing houses.
Not far from the square is the Palace of the Marques Justice of Santa Ana, one of the oldest in the city. It is decorated with beautiful mosaics.
Another palace near the Plaza de Armas is that of Gaspar Riberos of Vasconcelos, built in 1637 and one of the oldest in Havana.
Tip 5: El Capitolio
The Capitol is considered the most famous building of Cuba and is the symbol of the city of Havana. At the beginning of the 20th century, after gaining independence from Spain, a seat for the president and the government was needed. The Capitol was first planned exclusively as a presidential palace, but was then built as a seat of government.
The U.S. Capitol, which also served as the seat of government, had a great influence on the design, although the Cuban version has a more harmonious appearance and is also three meters higher than the top of the U.S. Capitol. Inside is the 12-meter-high Estatua de la Republica, the third largest indoor sculpture in the world. Another exhibit is the “Star of Cuba” in the entrance hall. It is a 25-carat diamond set in gold, originally it marked the kilometer zero of Cuba. In 1945 it was stolen and subsequently returned to Cuba, but for security reasons the exhibit space has now been replaced with a replica. The names of all the halls in the Capitol commemorate the places that played an important role in the Cuban liberation struggles at the end of the 19th century.