Around the World

Cuba’s Calling – Experience All Havana Has To Offer

Dec 2022 | By Pat Brennan

Cuba is one of the most popular go-to destinations for all-inclusive beach vacations on account of its pristine beaches and beautiful climate, but there’s more to this Caribbean island than white sand and turquoise water. Whether you tag it onto the end of a resort getaway or organize your visit as a trip unto itself, Havana is a must – especially if you’re a history buff.

Architecturally, Havana boasts a colourful, eclectic cityscape thanks to the many styles that have influenced it over the past six centuries – from colonial and baroque to neo-classical, art nouveau, and art deco.

Old Havana is particularly worth a visit. Brimming with art, music, and culture, it’s a delight to explore independently. However, hiring a local guide will grant you a more thorough grasp of Cuba’s history and help ensure you don’t miss out on important highlights – like a daiquiri at El Floridita, one of Ernest Hemingway’s favourite hangouts. 

If you’re a Hemingway fan, you’ll want to visit Museo Hemingway Finca Vigia. About 24 miles from Havana’s city centre, this Spanish-colonial building is where the novelist lived from mid-1939 to 1960, and where he wrote much of his novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, as well as his most famous novel, The Old Man and the Sea.

Havana is a photographer’s paradise and one of its most iconic and photographed landmarks is El Capitolio – the city’s Capital Building. Built between 1926 and 1929, El Capitolio is a symbol of Cuba’s prosperity during the post-war boom. While it bears a striking resemblance to the Capitol in Washington, the inspiration of its impressive dome (once the world’s third largest) actually came from the Panthéon in France, which was inspired by Tempietto in Italy.

Also brimming with photo opportunities is Plaza Vieja. This Old Square has seen plenty of action in its time. Originally, the wealthy locals who lived there would look down from their balconies for entertainment, be it in the form of an execution, a procession, or a bull fight. Unfortunately, a series of poor decisions compromised the square over time but restoration is underway in an effort to restore it to its former glory. Today, the area is buzzing with small museums, art galleries, and other commercial establishments.

Another sight to behold is Fusterlandia, the creation of Cuban artist José Fuster who decided to brighten up his impoverished neighbourhood by adorning the outside of his studio in colourful mosaic. Mission accomplished, he then appealed to his neighbours, many of whom allowed him to decorate their homes and businesses, too. Within a decade, the neighbourhood went from weary to wonderfully whimsical. Today, it’s a thriving destination for new generations of artists and tourists that visit by the busload.

Wondering how many days you should dedicate to Havana? If you have a week or two to spare, you won’t be bored, but three or four days are enough to give you a great sense of what this fabulous city has to offer.