When you visit Cuba, you’ll be immersed in a melting pot of cultures, with influences from Europe mingling with the Afro-Caribbean society. Wherever you go on this intriguing island, you’ll discover something new around every corner, and nowhere is this more the case than Havana.
The capital of Cuba is also the nation’s largest city and the historical importance of its old centre was recognised by UNESCO in 1982 when it was declared a World Heritage Site. If you’re planning a break in Havana as part of your trip to Cuba, here are a few attractions you shouldn’t miss.
Castillo de la Real Fuerza
This colonial fortress is not only the oldest in Havana, but also in the whole of the Americas. Constructed by the Spanish in the mid-16th century, it was once the home of the Spanish governors. One of its most interesting features is the bronze weathervane on the west tower, which was added in 1631. Known as La Giraldilla, the original is kept in the city’s museum and a replica has taken its place. In addition, the fort now houses the Museum of Ceramics.
Plaza de Armas
Not far from Castillo de la Real Fuerza is the Plaza de Armas, one of the city’s most important political, military and social locations. There are many interesting buildings lining the square, including the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, the Palacio del Segundo Cabo and El Templete – a charming neoclassical building dating from 1828 where three paintings by Juan Bautista Vermay are now displayed.
The National Museum of Natural History can also be found on Plaza de Armas and it’s well worth exploring the collections here, as you’ll discover exhibits relating to Cuba’s wildlife and plants, as well as displays covering minerals and fossils unearthed on the island.
Plaza de la Catedral
As you might have guessed from its name, this square is home to Havana’s impressive Baroque cathedral, as well as several other notable buildings. Among them is the Palacio of the Marquis of Arcos, the House of Count Lombillo and the House of the Marquises of Aguas Claras, which has now been converted into the El Patio restaurant.
House of African Culture
To learn more about Cuba’s inhabitants of African origin, head to the House of African Culture in the La Habana Vieja district. Inside, you’ll find exhibits detailing the cultures of those who were brought to the island from Africa and see how their presence has shaped the country’s national identity.
Ernest Hemingway Museum
American author Ernest Hemingway was a well-known resident in Havana and his former home – Finca Vigia, which is just outside Havana – has now been preserved as a museum. You can see where the famous writer penned For Whom the Bell Tools, view his collection of books and his old typewriter, as well as see his fishing boat, which is now on display just outside the house.
San Carlos de Cabana Fortress
Situated on a hill behind the city, the San Carlos de Cabana Fortress is an excellent place to get stunning views of Havana below. It was constructed between 1763 and 1774 behind Morro Castle, which protects the entrance to Havana’s bay. It’s a large complex that is now home to a military museum, and cannons are fired from the battlements every day at 9 pm local time. This practice dates from colonial times, when a shot was fired to mark the closure of the doors in the city’s walls.
Have you been to Havana? Which sights would you recommend?