Things to see in Havana

Tourist information

The following travel agencies, open daily from 0830-1800, are operated by the Cuban government and provide traveller information:

Cubatur
Calle 23 corner of Calle L, Vedado
Tel: (7) 833 3569 or 834 4135.
www.cubatur.cu

Havanatur
Calle 23, corner Calle M, Vedado
Tel: (7) 838 4884.
www.havanatur.cu

Infotur
Obispo #524, between Bernazas and Villegas, Habana Vieja
Tel: 866 3333.
www.infotur.cu/default.aspx

Information is also available at the airport's Terminal Three (tel: (7) 642 6101).

El Capitolio

El Capitolio is one of Havana's landmark sights. Its neoclassical facade distinctly recalls the US Capitol building in Washington, DC – on purpose. It took three years to complete its construction in 1929, but work on the intricate interiors continued for another decade. With its towering granite columns, a huge statue-flanked stairway leading to grand entrance, and a 91m-high (300ft) dome topped by a replica of a 16th century Florentine sculpture of the god Mercury, inside is a sight to behold. A major, restoration project – the largest of its kind ever undertaken in Havana Vieja - began in 2012, with the iconic dome currently under scaffolding. Works are due to be completed in 2015; until then, it remains closed to visitors.

Opening Times: Closed.
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Paseo de Marti, Havana, Cuba
Telephone: (7) 861 5519.
Museo de la Revolución y Memorial Granma (Museum of the Revolution and Granma Memorial)

Formerly the Presidential Palace in 1920, this glorious example of neoclassical architecture was appropriated to house the Museum of the Revolution in order to display the struggle of the Cuban people to gain sovereignty over their own island. Exhibits include photographs, clothing, original documents and weapons. Don’t miss the life-sized wax sculptures of revolutionary heroes Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos emerging from the forest. Encased in a glass pavilion is the Granma Memorial - the boat Granma in which Fidel Castro and 81 combatants made their way to Cuba from Mexico in 1956. Outside is the eternal flame, surrounded by various vehicles used in the revolution.

Opening Times: Daily 1000-1800.
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: Calle Refugio 1, between Calle Monserrate & Calle Zulueta, Habana Vieja , Havana, Cuba
Telephone: (7) 862 4092/3/4.
Plaza de Armas

This Habana Vieja gem with its antique book market held in the shade of majestic trees is one of the city's most inviting plazas and is where the city is said to have been founded in 1519.

A small chapel, El Templete, with an interesting fresco by French artist Jean Baptiste Vermay, was built in 1828 to mark the spot. A ceiba tree, similar to the one under which the first mass in Cuba was held, faces the chapel. Every 16 November, Habaneros take a turn around the ceiba for good luck.

Also here is the Museo de la Ciudad (City Museum), in the magnificent Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, once home to the highest colonial authority in Cuba. This museum gives an overview of Havana's history and has a good gift shop - don't miss Cuba's only wooden 'cobblestone' street in front.

The oldest building in this square is the impressive Castillo de le Real Fuerza, a 16th-century colonial fortress surrounded by a moat, today housing the Museo de la Cerámica Artística.

Admission Fees: No
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: Plaza de Armas, Havana, Cuba
Plaza de la Catedral (Cathedral Square)

Plaza de la Catedral is one of Havana's best-preserved squares, with the cathedral and surrounding buildings almost all restored to their original splendour- perhaps nowhere in the Americas does history come so alive in stone than here. The Catedral de San Cristobal de La Habana is an 18th-century baroque building occupying the north side of the square.

Collecting famous works both old and new, the Centro Wilfredo Lam, just around the corner, is a must for art buffs. Across the plaza is the oldest building, which dates from 1720, the Museo de Arte Colonial, an architectural masterpiece built around a plant-filled central courtyard, which is complemented by the collection of colonial furniture gathered from Havana's palaces and mansions. Other sophisticated buildings line this square and now house cafes, restaurants, cultural centres and gift shops.

Admission Fees: No
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Plaza de la Catedral, Cuba
Hemingway's Havana

No visit to Havana would be complete without paying homage to one of its most famous residents, Ernest Hemingway. On a stroll between Plaza de Armas and Plaza de la Catedral, consider a stop at Hotel Ambos Mundos, a stylish 1920s building (with bland rooms), where Ernest Hemingway stayed during much of the 1930s. In room 511, he began to write For Whom The Bell Tolls. Hemingway's room has been preserved pretty much as it was when he was a guest - and is now open as a museum.

But to pay true homage to the master of literary economy, do as he did and start the evening with a mojito, a delicious blend of rum and mint, in La Bodeguita del Medio, and continue with another of his favourite tipples, a daiquiri, in El Floridita.

Opening Times: Daily 1000-1600 (the room).
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Calle Obispo 153, corner Calle Mercaderes, Havana, Cuba
Telephone: (7) 860 9530.
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts)

The collection of the Museum of Fine Arts is housed in two separate buildings, both very close to Parque Central. The Colección de Arte Universal (international collection) is housed in one of the most beautiful buildings in the city, and has a wide collection of Asian, Italian, Greek, Latin and North American art. Be sure to check out the stained glass skylight here. Meanwhile the Colección de Arte Cubano (Cuban collection) offers the world's best collection of Cuban art; if time only allows for one of the two, make it the Cuban collection. Unique, unforgettable concerts are held in the intimate theatre here.

Opening Times: Tues-Sat 1000-1800, Sun 1000-1400.
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: Calle San Rafael, between Agramonte (Zulueta) and Monserrate, Havana, Cuba
Telephone: (7) 861 5777.
Plaza de la Revolution (Revolution Square)

Blazing sun, nowhere to sit, not a cold drink sold anywhere nearby: Revolution Square is probably one of the least attractive tourist spots in Havana but its place in the city's history is unquestionable. One of the biggest squares in the world, this is the place where many political rallies from Batista’s time until today have taken place and where Fidel Castro used to address Cubans.

The square is distinguished by the José Martí Memorial, a 109m-high (358ft) tower dedicated to Cuba's national hero. There’s a museum on the ground floor of the Memorial and an elevator goes to the top; the 360˚ views are spectacular. Opposite the memorial is a giant image of Che Guevara and another of Camilo Cienfuegos; surrounding the plaza are other government buildings.

Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: Plaza de la Revolution, Havana, Cuba
Telephone: (7) 859 2347.
Acuario Nacional

Havana’s national aquarium is appropriately located at the seaside in the Miramar district and features endemic and imported marine life including dolphins, sea turtles, sea lions and the dreaded lion fish. While far from the environmentally-conscious or extravagant installations found in other parts of the world, it’s a good spot to mingle with Cuban families and makes a fun day out, especially if you’re travelling with children. Despite Cuba’s commitment to marine preservation, there are daily sea lion and dolphin shows – which are always packed with locals. There is no shade in the viewing stands; bring a hat and sun block.

Opening Times: Tues-Sun 1000-1600.
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: 3ra Avenida and Calle 62, Miramar, Havana, Cuba
Telephone: (7) 203 6401.
Necrópolis Colón

Cuba’s biggest cemetery is 56 hectares (138 acres) of spectacular statuary, multi-story mausoleums, and flower-bedecked tombs of famous (and forgotten) Cubans. While visiting a cemetery isn’t for everyone, the innumerable Carrara marble sculptures – from the sacred to the whimsical – make a stop here worth it, at least for a few photos. In Cuba, the dead are buried in stone crypts with aboveground capstones and wandering among the manicured streets within the cemetery can be an eye-opening experience.

Among the graves worth a look include ‘La Milagrosa,’ who died in childbirth and was buried with her child at her feet; legend has it when she was exhumed, the infant was in her arms. Pregnant women visit the grave to make offerings in return for a healthy birth. Other notable gravesites include those of author Alejo Carpentier, actress Rita Montaner, and student activist Eduardo Chibas. Maps are sold at the entrance (CUC1).

Opening Times: Daily 0800-1700.
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: Zapata and Calle 12, Vedado, Havana, Cuba
Telephone: (7) 830 4517.
Parque Histórico Militar El Morro-La Cabaña (Historical and Military Park)

Built by the Spanish in the 16th century, this military fort across the bay at the entrance to the harbour offered Havana protection from enemy ships and pirates. The fort, the biggest Spanish defensive complex built in the Americas, contains a collection of old weapons including a huge catapult and the first office of Commander Ernesto Che Guevara after the triumph of the revolution. Today it's a museum with plenty of photographs and Che's personal belongings. Every evening at 2100, a cannon is fired across the bay by soldiers in 18th-century military uniforms. From the Malecón, you can see the Morro lighthouse swinging its beam to and fro, guiding sailors as it has for centuries.

Opening Times: Daily 0800-2200.
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Carretera de la Cabaña, Habana del Este, Havana, Cuba
Telephone: (7) 862 7653.
Edited by Tina Banerjee
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