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What to See in Havana as it Celebrates a 500 Year Milestone

Soak up history, lively street art and Hemingway’s favourite libations in vibrant Havana, Cuba

The Viva Cuba slogan and the Cuban flag decorate doorways in Havana

Happy birthday, Havana! The city is celebrating its 500th anniversary, and any trip to Cuba should absolutely include a stroll through Havana’s UNESCO-designated historic quarter. Do these five things to make the most of your visit.

Discover the streets

Musicians play a show in the streets of Havana

Havana is all about street culture. Callejón de Hamel showcases Afro-Cuban culture with Sunday rumba parties, street art and a gallery of Salvador Gonzáles Escalona’s art. Get there in a coco taxi, a yellow, rickshaw-style vehicle shaped like half a coconut shell. In Old Havana, visit the quirky Museum of Playing Cards and the giant scissors sculpture at the foot of Hairdressers’ Alley (Callejón de los Peluqueros).

Eat like a local

A woman sells fruit in Havana

Skip the resort buffets and seek out paladares, small private restaurants. Relish an intimate experience at Hecho en Casa, which has just seven tables. The kitchen is run by Alina Menendez Lamas, who changes the menu frequently based on what’s available from local farms and loves catering dishes to guests. You should also take advantage of the city’s lush fruit stands and the street food, especially churros, a sweet, doughnut-like pastry that makes the perfect on-the-go treat. 

Follow in Ernest Hemingway’s footsteps

A bartender muddles mint in cocktail glasses

Ernest Hemingway lived and wrote here, and his presence can still be felt. Pose with the bronze sculpture of him in El Floridita, where bartender Constantino Ribalaigua Vert tweaked the daiquiri for the writer to create the Pap Doble. Explore the Hotel Ambos Mundos, which turned Hemingway’s long-time room, number 511, into a museum. Whether the framed Hemingway inscription in La Bodeguita del Medio is real or not, the rollicking bar is still a fun stop for authentic Cuban mojitos.

Check out some unique hotels

Artwork lines the walls of the Hotel National de Cuba lobby in Havana

Whether you stay the night or just stop in for a drink, the art deco Hotel Nacional de Cuba is worth a visit. Constructed in 1930, it’s now a national monument with restaurants, bars, a cabaret and a bomb shelter from the Cuban Missile Crisis era. Sweeping city views from the rooftop El Surtidor pool terrace and bar at the luxurious Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski are unbeatable—and the cocktails are creative.

See wild street art

Mosaics adorn much of the neighbourhood of Fusterlandia

Fusterlandia, on the outskirts of the city, is a must-see spot for its mosaic art. Visual artist José Rodriguez Fuster decorated his home, Casa Fuster, with bright mosaic tiles shaped into things like fishermen, mermaids, hearts and hands, then went on to splash his artistic vision across the neighbourhood. 

At Proyecto Comunitario Muraleando, located in the Diez de Octubre area, you can catch the house band and enjoy a meal (preferably with the El Tanque cocktail) while local kids take art lessons.

Feeling inspired?

Talk to an experienced CAA Travel Planner who can help book every part of your trip.

And if you’re a Plus or Premier Member, you can get free passport photos taken at your nearest CAA Store

Image Credits:iStock.com/lenawurm, alamy.com/dbimages, alamy.com/Lucas Vallecillos, alamy.com/Hemis, alamy.com/imageBROKER, iStock.com/ferrantraite