Robaina's plantation

Friday 13 May 2016

My Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Havana

                  Now when I say My Top 10, I'm saying that as a tourist in my opinion these would be the most attractive sites to visit if you could only choose several places to see during your stay. They are in no particular order.

                  1. Plaza San located in Old Havana at the far end of the Malecon where the street is called Avenida del Puerto, facing the Havana harbour and across from the Terminal Sierra Maestra cruise terminal where all the cruise ships come in....many more of them now that things have warmed up between the Cuban & American governments. I don't want to get into the history of the Square or any of the other sites, I just want to let you know what there is to see besides the obvious. The Plaza is named after the church that can't be missed and that's worth a visit. Between climbing the church tower for a great view of the plaza and visiting the convent next door, you can easily spend more than 30 minutes here alone....small fee. Directly across the church you'll find two buildings, they were once someone's home, that have been set up as galleries. One of the galleries houses the works of the famous Nelson Dominguez and the other rotates it's exhibits. On the other end of the plaza is the Lonja del Comercio, built in 1907, now houses offices of foreign businesses. The restaurant 'Cafe del Oriente' that has a great patio and serves up some wonderful cocktails.
                   2. Plaza Vieja.....also located in Old Havana has been a work in progress over the last few years that has finally been fully restored. It boasts an array of attractions that seem to be multiplying as time goes on. I say that because there have been a couple of the buildings that have been recently re-opened that I haven't had a chance to enter yet that have been converted into cafes or restaurants. My favourite place to have a coffee is here at the Cafe El Escorial, in my opinion the best espresso in the city. The bar directly across from it, 'Factoria Plaza Vieja', is a microbrewery that make their own draft beer and was a favourite spot of mine for years. They usually have a band playing traditional Cuban music outside and is good for and hours rest or more during your walkabout of the city. Two other places I've visited and would recommend are the 'Fototeca de Cuba' that show rotating displays of prominent international and local photographers and the 'Camera Obscura' that besides the optical device the rooftop offers amazing views of the plaza.
                    3. Plaza de Armas.........another very important Square during it's inception, has a number of things to see in and around it. The Palacio de Los Capitanes Generales is a huge mansion that was once the former residence of the Governor's of Havana and if toured with time will take close to an hour to visit. Then you have the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, constructed 1558-1578, also worth a visit and which can occupy 20-30 minutes of your time. Above the restaurant 'La Mina' you'll find a number of prominent artists have their studios set up there. If that interests you at all, as it did myself, you can spend a little time up there. The park smack in the middle of the square is a nice spot to have a seat on one of it's benches and watch the people go by as is any one of the couple of patios belonging to the restaurants. You also have 'El Templete', a monument built in 1827, that represents the spot where Havana was founded. What's inside won't take too long to see. Finally you have a whole bunch of good restaurants located just around the corner, NOA and El Templete being two of them.
                    4. Plaza de La Revolucion.......I know it's a political thing, this plaza, but it's kinda a must see. I recommend a trip up to the top of the Jose Marti Monument for some fantastic views of the city....that would be that tall structure that comes to a point. The ground floor is dedicated to Jose Marti and has a gallery that shows an Art Exhibit that's always changing. Other than that, there isn't much more.
                    5. Plaza de La Catedral..........another Square in Old Havana that can be very busy especially with it's close proximity to the Malecon. Obviously the church itself (the plaza's namesake) is a main attraction. You also have the Casa Lombillo that always houses one or more art exhibits as well as the house itself being an attraction. At the far end of the church you have the Museo del Arte Colonial (Colonial Art Museum) which is housed in what used to be the Palacio de los Condes de La Casa Bayona....again, besides what's in the house, the house itself is something to see. Across the church is a short dead end street and at the end of that street is a wonderful and popular restaurant called 'Dona Eutimia' and next to that is the 'Taller experimental de Grafica' which are engravers and printers of some pretty eclectic stuff....they always have a bunch of artwork on display. Not far, 20-30 meters, from this Plaza is also one of the most visited bars in the city (maybe country) where it's claimed that the Mojito was invented and was one of Ernest Hemingway's favourite hangouts, the 'Bodeguita del Medio'. Finally, the corner next to the church houses the popular Centro Wilfredo Lam, another contemporary art gallery set within another impressive renovated mansion. This Square would probably take the most time to visit if you allow yourself to see everything it has to offer in and around it.
                     6. The Malecon.......a road that hugs the city with a wide sidewalk and a seawall which runs for about 8 km along the coast in Havana. I haven't walked the whole stretch of it and neither am I recommending you do but there are interesting pieces to traverse which will offer many terrific views of the city and it's people.
                     7. Cemetario de Colon........I know, it's a cemetery....but it's a landmark and with more than 500 major mausoleums, chapels, and family vaults, it will keep you occupied for some time. Many of the structures within these walls are absolutely of art. If you can get past the fact that it's a cemetery and see it for it's artistic value, it's a wonderful place to spend an hour or so.
                     8. Studio & Home of Artist Jose Fuster........some have called him the Picasso of Cuba. It's said the door to his house is always open and I've visited several times without an appointment and can attest to that. Working with the community and giving back to the people by sharing his good fortune, a visit to his house (studio) is a nice way to spend a little time. Too bad it's a bit distant from all the action in Old Havana but in my opinion well worth seeing if you're into the arts.
                     9. Cigar Factory.........hey, you're in Cuba, you have to take a tour of a Cigar Factory, it's what they're best known for. Several hotels offer group tours for a nominal fee.
                     10. Hotel Nacional...........once the hangout for mobsters before the revolution, today it's a landmark. It still operates as a hotel but I'm not saying to sleep here. You have to spend a little time on the patio and just chill. In my opinion (and many agree) it's the best patio in the city. Walk around the property or maybe take one of the tours they offer, it's a great way to kill a couple of hours.

There you have it, my top ten things to do for tourists visiting Havana (not in any particular order). Some of you may not agree with all of them but for sure some of these are on your list as well.

Basilica and Monastery of San Francisco de Asis (Plaza San Francisco)

Plaza San Francisco

Plaza San Francisco taken from atop the La Lonja del Comercio building

Cafe El Escorial (Plaza Vieja)

Plaza Vieja taken from atop the Edificio Gómez Vila building at the Cámara Oscura

Factoria Plaza Vieja

El Templete (Plaza de Armas)

Castillo de la Real Fuerza (Plaza de Armas)

Parque Céspedes in the center of Plaza de Armas statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes

Plaza de Armas vendors

Palacio de los Capitanes Generales statue of Cristóbal Colón (Plaza de Armas

Memorial to Jose Marti (Plaza de La Revolucion)

view atop of the Jose Marti Memorial (Plaza de La Revolucion)

Catedral de San Cristobal (Plaza de La Catedral)

Callejon del Chorro (Plaza de La Catedral) Dona Eutimia Restaurant & Taller Experimental de Grafica are located here

courtyard of the Casa Lombillo (Plaza de La Catedral)

Bodeguita del Medio steps from the Plaza de La Catedral

The Malecon

The Malecon

The Malecon

Cemetario de Colon

Cemetario de Colon

Cemetario de Colon

Studio & Home of Artist Jose Fuster

Cigar Factory

Hotel Nacional

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