What to do in Havana
One of the most fascinating cities on earth, a place of great paradox and tremendous presence
A city of more than 2 million inhabitants, Cuba’s capital offers far more than just its astonishing colonial core. Havana is exhilarating, exhausting, with a neurotic, anxious edge to life. As well as Cuba’s political and economic center, it is also the focus of Cuba’s artistic life, its youth culture, and its aspirations for the future.
The city literally offers every visitor something special. As Havana can be quite overwhelming at first, we recommend one of the guided city trips in order to get a good feeling for the city. This renowned local tour operator with multi-lingual licensed guides allows you to discover Havana by Bike, Modern Havana, Colonial Havana, or to follow the Hemingway Trail in quite unique ways.
If you are a Cigar or Rum aficionado, we can highly recommend you the Cuba Real Tours Tobacco & Rum overview and if you are just too impatient or perhaps a bit short on time, the Panorama Havana condenses all the not-to-be missed sights into a single program. For evening entertainment we can refer you to as many cafés, bars, paladares, restaurants and night-clubs as you desire, however time should be made to attend the Havana Queens modern dance spectacle or to bring a visit to the legendary cabaret Tropicana Club.
Due to its unique location, Loft Habana offers the perfect basis for people who truly want to explore the city of Havana. The neighborhood surrounding the lofts "Old Havana" is, without doubt, the finest showcase of colonial architecture in Cuba. Two small blocks walking from Loft Habana is Plaza Vieja (Old Plaza), built in the 1500s to create a space for bullfights and fiestas.
Three blocks further up north you will find the Plaza de Armas, Havana’s oldest square. In the evening, it is lit by antique filigree lamps, and on many nights an orchestra plays in the open air. It is the focus for much of the street life of the restored city, and is surrounded by cafés, bars, paladares and restaurants. Just 2 streets further is the Plaza de la Catedral. This beautiful square was once a rather seedy place, known as Plazuela de la Ciénaga (Little Swamp Square). One of Ernest Hemmingway's favourite places with plenty of atmosphere just around the corner is the Bodeguita del Medio.
The enormous, grandiose Capitolio dominates the skyline all around. Built in the 1920s, it closely resembles the design of the Capitol in Washington DC. Standing aside is the flamboyant Gran Teatro de la Habana, where the Cuban National Ballet performs. The Gran Teatro occupies part of one side of the Parque Central, which always seems to be buzzing with activity from early morning until midnight. The corner of the park is called the Esquina Caliente or “Hot Corner” where men gather and debate (hotly), mainly about baseball. Next door is the splendid, neo-Baroque facade of the Hotel Inglaterra, so named because it was popular with early travelers from England.
On the east side of the park is the Museo Nacional Palacio de Bellas Artes, it contains Latin America’s largest collection of antiquities, as well as works by Goya, Rubens, Velázquez, Turner, Gainsborough, Canaletto, and more. Closeby, Hemingway’s favourite bar can be found, El Floridita. It is claimed that the daiquirí cocktail was perfected here, and Hemingway even invented his own version, the “daiquirí special” which is still served.
Running north from the Parque Central is the Prado, officially known as the Paseo de Martí, the historic, popular promenade that stretches all the way to the Malecón. The Prado officially divides Central Havana from Old Havana, and forms an easy landmark in the transition between the touristy Old Town and the real city of working habaneros. Centro Habana is a run-down but colorful place with crumbling tenements and crowded markets, while Vedado’s broad streets are quieter, more elegant, and the centerpiece is the stark, impressive Plaza de la Revolución. The area around Havana contains an eclectic mix of things to see – from classy Miramar in the west to the Parque Lenin, a delightful botanical garden, a couple of Hemingway sites, and an eastern beach.
From Old Havana, in the other direction a tunnel dips beneath the bay to the Castillo de los Tres Santos Reyes Magos del Morro. This 16th-century fortress, with 3-meter-thick walls took more than 40 years to complete. It still dominates the eastern skyline together with the main lighthouse. It is absolutely stunning at sunset.