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Havana City Trip

A must: a daiquiri at El Floridita

72 Hours in Havana, Cuba

by Christopher P. Baker

One of the most captivating cities in the world, La Habana enthralls. Founded in 1519 by conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuella, this remarkable city of 2.2 million souls, wears its history on its sleeve. A remarkable restoration has resurrected Habana Vieja (Old Havana), the colonial core, brim-full of castles, cathedrals and cobbled plazas.

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Farther out, 1950s autos from the heyday of pre-revolutionary sin rumble down lively boulevards lined with more modern buildings in a fascinating amalgam of styles. Dramatic monuments and museums honor Cuba's Communist Revolution. Ernest Hemingway's ghost still sips mojitos at his favorite bars. And the Latin nightlife is spicy. You could spend a month here and still be captivated, but three days is better than none at all.

HAVANA DAY 1

El Capitolio
El Capitolio

Start your tour by getting an overview of the city. For that, head to Parque Central, which boasts one of Cuba’s preeminent museums, its finest theater and other major attractions nearby. Parque Central is also the social hub of Havana and a starting point for the HabanaBusTour. The way to go is to ride upstairs on the London-style open-air double-decker bus. Catch the bus at its beginning point on the west side of Parque Central. You'll see the main sights of Habana Vieja, then visit the 20th-century Vedado district, including the majestic Hotel Nacional rising over the Malecón seafront boulevard. The Plaza de la Revolución features the Palacio de la Revolución, which is actually the Cuban government's primary building: this gargantuan structure is off-limits to visitors. Across the plaza, on the north side, is the Ministerio del Interior, bearing a five-story-tall likeness of Che Guevara, wearing his trademark beret with five-pointed star.

Back at Parque Central, you can have lunch on the outdoor patio of the Hotel Inglaterra — a Grand Dame hotel with a patio restaurant facing the park. Afterwards, stroll south half-a-block to the Gran Teatro, with its incredible baroque exterior. You can take a guided tour before continuing south to the Capitolio — the former Congress building modeled after the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. Be sure to explore the ornate interior, which features elaborate marble hallways.

Then head north to stroll the Prado — the pedestrian walkway sloping down to the Malecón. Artists display their work, and share the tree-lined space with schoolchildren taking classes, chess and checker-players, and kids on skateboards. The Hotel Sevilla, a Moorish-style property at Calle Trocadero, is a good place for a mid-afternoon mojito.

Edificio Bacardi
Edificio Bacardi

From the Hotel Sevilla, walk one block east to Calle Agramonte, and turn north one block to the Museo de la Revolución, fronted by a Soviet tank that Fidel supposedly used during the Bay of Pigs. The museum is in the former Presidential Palace. (Although this museum is open daily, most museums are closed on Mondays, and most charge a fee.) Be sure to explore the courtyard to the rear of the museum, where the Granma Memorial displays the boat that Castro and his revolutionaries used in 1958 to return from Mexico. Then, one block south, visit the Cuban section of the Museo de Bellas Artes, the Fine Arts Museum, displaying Cuba's artwork spanning five centuries. Your entrance ticket is good for access to the museum's international section, two blocks south, in the old Centro Asturiano palace, on the east side of Parque Central. It displays ancient Roman and Greek treasures, plus art pieces spanning the Great Masters of Europe and the Americas. Linking the museums is Calle Monserrate. En route, you'll pass by the Edificio Bacardi, a drop-dead gorgeous, 1929 Art Deco building that was once the headquarters of the Bacardi Rum Company. End your day back at Parque Central.

Continue to Day 2

MORE HAVANA INFORMATION

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