See Havana in 2 days - top places you do not want to miss!
If, like me, you came to visit Cuba but your itinerary is quite packed and you do not have all the time in the world to spend in Havana then this post may interest you. I had 2 days in Havana (it was meant to be 3) and tried to make most of what I could see, so I'm sharing my highlights.
Havana Vieja - Old Havana - probably the best way to discover Old Havana is by foot and wander around the city streets. You can plan out the walking tour and see majority of sights. All the below mentioned places we visited without a need of transport (apart from Fusterlandia and Revolution Squar). If you get lost in the streets of Old Havana you are likely to stumble cross a gem of a place.
Photo: Museum of Revolution - corner of cretins Cuba
El Floridita - it is worth stopping for a daiquiri or mojito, although you may find more cheaper places to have a cocktail, El Floridita attracts tourists because of its most famous patron - Hemingway. In 2003 a life-size statue of Hemingway was placed in the corner where he used to enjoy his drinks so you can snap a photo as well (check my IG). For me the appeal was because of Hemingway but it was a pity not to see many Cubans around. The constant crowds of tourists give it limited appeal to Cubans as a place to spend their evening. It s said to serve the best daiquiris and it is claimed to be a "cradle of daiquiri". The vibe is busy and you can see people enjoying their drinks while listening to a live band performing. For Havana's best mojitos, according to Hemingway, head to La Bodeguita del Medio.
Photo: El Floridita - The Cradle of the Daiquiri
Museum of Revolution - even if you are not a big fan of museums and you find them boring, this is a museum worth visiting. It is an ex presidential palace, with great interiors. The opulence inside is a huge contrast to the surrounding area (even the exterior walls are!). However Cuban history is described in a way that is very easy to follow and you get to really grasp all the historical nuances especially post-revolution Cuban history. I highly recommend visiting. There's a "corner of cretins" as well as "The Granma" a vessel in which Castro sailed to Cuba with his guerrilla army.
Photo: The Granma - vessel that brought Castro to Cuba
Capitol Building - the landmark of many postcards and a characteristic building resembling Washington D.C.'s capitol building. The diamond in the floor beneath the dome is the point from which all distances in Cuba are measured. I was unlucky as when I visited, the building was under renovation and had scaffolding all around.
Partagas - directly behind Capitol building is the biggest cigar export factory in the country also very close to China Town, so you can visit while you are seeing the other two. It's a working factory so you are able to see how 200 roller make around 5 million cigars a year. Unfortunately you are not allowed to take any photos inside. It has fine tobacco shop and smoking lounge. Bear in mind that you can only take home 23 individual cigars and fakes are likely to be confiscated.
Photo: the oldest cigar factory in Cuba
Plaza Vieja - the old square has been restored with the help of UNESCO. It is a beautiful square which shows off colourful facades of the buildings and shows how great Havana could look like if the buildings were up kept and renovated. The fountain at the heart of the square is exact replica of 17th century original.
Photo: Plaza Vieja
Catedral de la Habana - baroque style dominating over cobbled plaza, it is located not long walk from Plaza Vieja, the adjacent square is surrounded by grey buildings with blue windows and balconies which gives this square a distinctive look. On this square you will also find quite a few restaurants with live music. From here it is a short walk from Plaza de Armas with largest cobbled square in Old Havana and city's first castle. Also in one of the siede streets from the Cathedral square you will find La Bodeguita mentioned before.
Photo: The Cathedral
Calle Obispo - running from Plaza de Armas this is pedestrian only street lined with book shops, eclectic stores, art galleries, and a coin museum. On this street you will also find few restaurants great for lunch or dinner. We dined here at Cafe De Paris.
Ride on the Malecon - see how Cubans spend their time in the evening by mingling there as well as dancing salsa. It's Havana's seafront boulevard - lined with Mafia-era hotels and some eclectic apartments. If you are looking for great shots of classic cars, Malecon is one of few perfect locations.
Photo: You can ride a classic car taxi or cocotaxi (which is a cheaper option)
Go and see live performance e.g. The Tropicana in Havana which is very popular and called the queen of cabarets and very often quickly booked, or try any other live performance - I went for Buena Vista Social Club live and it was fantastic. I think it was more intimate, and in addition I love BVSC so I could listen to my favouirte songs all evening.
Photo: Jose Fuster neighbourhood - Fusterlandia
Neighbourhood of Jose Fuster - Fusterlandia - we came across this neighbourhood by accident, on our last day in Havana. We asked taxi driver to take us somewhere we haven't seen yet. So he took us here and what a surprise and delight it was. If you have seen Gaudi's works you will see a great influence in Fuster's work, although he was also influenced by other European artists as well but Gaudi's work is most apparent. His house is probably making the biggest impact, but the whole neighbourhood benefited from his work. Bust stop, fences, nearby houses - the area is his work of art. It was even bigger surprise as I did not hear about this place before I came to Cuba.
Plaza de la Revolucion - vast square were political rallies are held, otherwise it's empty. The square is dominated by grim ministry buildings and a giant Jose Marti obelisk which looks like a rocket launch pad. The Ministry of Interior building facade has a giant iron sculpture (or mural) of Che (you can find photo of it in my other article here.)
Photo: Revolution square and Marti's obelisk
Miramar - drive through this residential neighbourhood with pre-revolutionary villas of the rich, which now have been turned into apartments or offices, but embassies Along Avenida 5 give it a privileged feel (P.s. look out for Russian embassy).
Apart from going to a performance, just enjoy the music band playing live, you can sit at the cafe or restaurant and just enjoy the music played live by the musicians. It creates an incredible atmosphere. I would recommend Cafe De Paris for lunch and live band.
Let me know if you found this article useful for your travels, and enjoy Havana!