No-one could fail to be fascinated by the stunning but disintegrating architecture, and ramshackle classic cars that Havana has become famous for. The people however override all of this with their passionate attitude to life, energetic dancing, and contagious beaming smiles. I stayed in Centro Havana which is a poorer area just west of the more touristy Havana Vieja, and I loved wandering through the gritty back streets. Children playing in the dirt, boisterous groups of lads, and nosy old ladies sitting on rocking chairs outside their deteriorating apartment buildings with balconies that look like they will collapse at any moment: for me this represented the real Havana, but there are plenty of other must-see sights.
1. The Malecón
Arguably the top highlight of Havana, the Malecón (promenade) not only offers stunning walks and views over the bay, but is the place where Cubans love to hang out, especially come sunset. Young couples canoodle, groups of friends laugh, chat, and dance, families take an afternoon stroll, and all the while relentless frothy waves smash forcefully upon the walls.
2. Havana Vieja
Take a wander around the cobbled streets of UNESCO World Heritage Site, Havana Vieja (Old Havana), where many of the colonial buildings have been fully restored so you can have an idea of what Havana would have looked like in its glory days.
3. Castillo de la Real Fuerza
You can see a few parts of the old city walls and fortifications still intact, but head to the Castillo de la Real Fuerza which is the oldest fortress in Havana, dating back to 1558 when building work first started. It also houses the maritime museum and is surrounded by art sellers which are pleasant to browse around.
4. Museo de la Revolución
Housed in the former Presidential Palace, the Museo de la Revolución is well worth a visit. The building alone is stunning and it contains some fascinating artefacts and insights into the revolution of the 1950s lead by Fidel Castro.
5. Catedral de San Cristóbal
The famous baroque style Catedral de San Cristóbal is located in the square of the same name which is usually scattered with tables and chairs and where you can enjoy a refreshing, if expensive, drink while taking it all in.
6. Havana Club Rum Factory
Rum is a huge part of Cuba, past and present, and a tour around the Havana Club Rum Factory, followed by obligatory tasting session, is an unmissable experience.
Another product infamous with Cuba is of course, cigars. Take a tour at Partagas which is a working cigar factory where you can see the process and get a chance to buy some official Partagas cigars at their shop afterwards.
8. El Floridita & El Floridita
Pay homage to Ernest Hemingway by hanging out in a couple of his old favourite bars, the elegant El Floridita, and the rather more rustic La Bodeguita del Medio. Food and drinks are way overpriced so make your mojito last as long as possible while you suck in the culture and enjoy the live music.
9. The Plazas
The plazas of Havana are always a joy to walk around, bustling with vendors, cafes, and Cubans and tourists alike. Apart from the already mentioned Plaza de Catedral, the Plaza de Armas, Plaza de la Revolución, and Plaza Vieja are well worth exploring.
10. Paseo del Prado
Walk from the malecón, past the Parque de los Enamorades, and up the tree-lined Paseo del Prado which is the main street through central Havana and offers lively scenes at any time of day. It will lead you to El Capitolio, the impressive neoclassical former government building.
And here are 2 bonus attractions..
11. Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón
The Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón is worth investigating to appreciate the exquisitely decorated and elaborately sculpted memorials and mausoleums of some of Cuba’s most famous and finest former inhabitants.
No trip to Havana, or even Cuba, is complete without a trip to the opulent nightspot of debauchery, the Tropicana. Nowadays it’s more of a dinner show than a nightclub, and even though it’s hideously expensive, the energetic scantily-clothed and lavishly-costumed dancers will have any first-timer enthralled.