Kempinski Blog Article
Made up of a rich tapestry of history, Havana is a city full of contrasts. Spanish colonial buildings sit side-by-side with art deco structures, while influences from Cuba’s past with both the US and the USSR decorate the city. It feels like something of a jigsaw puzzle with pieces that perhaps shouldn’t fit together, but most definitely do.
While you could easily spend weeks exploring this fascinating country, for most people this just isn’t practical. We have therefore created a useful two-day itinerary for Havana, so you can get a flavour of the colourful capital in just a weekend or short break.
Most international visitors to Cuba will arrive via plane into Jose Martí International Airport and it is just a short 20-minute taxi journey into the heart of Havana. That’s where your adventure really begins.
Start your day off right with a delicious breakfast at Café del Angel Jacqueline Fumero - a trendy spot in atmospheric Old Havana serving fresh coffee and waffles.
From here it’s just a one minute walk to the highly rated and culturally-necessary Museum of the Revolution. The museum tells the story of how the Cuban Revolution overcame the brutal Batista dictatorship in the 1950s.
The building itself is visually stunning, with its colourful dome, marble staircase and decorated walls reminding visitors of its former life as a Presidential Palace. But it is the exhibits within that draw the biggest astonishment, with a wide-ranging display of artefacts describing the horrors that prompted Fidel Castro to lead the rebel cause. As gruesome as it may be, with lots of references to torture and murder, the museum is an essential visit for those seeking to understand how Cuba came to be how it is today.
For lunch, if you haven’t lost your appetite, stroll to the nearby Lo de Monik, which is known to produce one of the best Cuban sandwiches on the island.
Walk off your meal by exploring the surrounding streets of Old Havana. From Moorish-style Spanish buildings of the 1500s to French baroque styles, the timeless beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage site draws visitors from all over the world.
Newly restored and renovated structures sit comfortably alongside buildings that have long fallen into disrepair, though ironically, the more dishevelled streets and plazas each hold on to a unique and flawed beauty in their own way.
Make sure to stop off at the imposing Capitolio Nacional, one of the most magnificent buildings in Havana. It now houses Cuba’s national assembly and within its glorious limestone and granite walls, visitors can come face to face with the third largest indoor statue in the world, ‘La República’ - a giant bronze statue inspired by the Greek goddess Pallas Athena.
After a long day of exploring, treat yourself to some fine dining at La Guarida, one of Havana’s most famous and unique private restaurants. The site is full of character, with rustic decorations lining the walls, and its food is amongst the best in the city. Sample South American classics like guava gazpacho and grouper caimanero, but be sure to book in advance as its reputation is legendary.
Finish your day with a visit to the stylish El Floridita bar, one of Ernest Hemingway’s old favourites and the birthplace of the world-famous Daiquiri cocktail.
To get the most out of your trip to Havana, it might be worth considering a hire car for at least one of your days. Not only does it make some of the attractions more accessible, but in Cuba, the vehicle itself is part of the fun. Rent yourself a classic car and effortlessly step back in time, blending in with the authentic, old-fashioned feel of the city.
Drive out to the quiet avenues of Miramar and take in the pre-revolution architecture, before stopping by Café Bahía for a rustic breakfast.
Afterwards, walk to the nearby Parque Almendares - Havana’s single urban forest - to relax among the lush vegetation and maybe even see a performance at Cuba’s only amphitheatre.
Continue driving eastwards, over the Almendares River, to the Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón. The cemetery is the most important in Cuba and with over 800,000 graves it is one of the largest in North America. Visitors can’t help but admire the beautiful statues as they stroll through the 57 hectare-site, with the marble and gold structures memorialising people from all walks of life.
Your next stop - the Plaza de la Revolución - also pays tribute to Cuba’s past and is a must-see for anyone visiting Havana. The enormous square features buildings with large murals of iconic figures from Cuba’s history. The faces of heroes from the revolution, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, are displayed on a great scale as a tribute to their monumental contributions to the country.
Retrace your steps back across the river and head to Otramanera for lunch. With an extensive wine selection and dishes containing the freshest local ingredients, the stylish restaurant has something for everyone.
After your meal, consider returning your car (if you hired one) and then head to the ocean - specifically El Malecón. El Malecón is a sea wall that runs for about 8km along the waterfront and is home to a series of vibrant restaurants and bars. You can walk along its entire length to take in the views, with highlights including Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro.
The castle was built in the late 16th century and is one of the most iconic sights in the whole of Cuba. It has seen military action on numerous occasions and has a number of intriguing features, such as the holes at the rear of the building, which were once used to feed prisoners to the sharks below.
Stay at Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro until sunset and watch as lights spring up all along Havana’s shore. It is one of the best viewpoints in the city and the evening light showcases the waterfront in all of its glory.
Continue walking along El Malecón and take in the lively atmosphere. It is an incredibly social area and is sometimes colloquially known as ‘the world’s longest sofa’.
Eventually you will reach Restaurante el Templete, which is an excellent spot for dinner and specialises in seafood.
Finish your 48 hours in Havana by visiting La Bodeguita del Medio. This popular but cosy bar has been visited by countless celebrities and features hundreds of signatures on its colourful walls. Make sure to try a Mojito cocktail as La Bodeguita claims to be its spiritual home.
Where to stay in Havana
Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana has six bars and restaurants, each unique in their own ways. The San Cristobal Panoramic Restaurant specializes in Caribbean seafood and offers the best views from its terrace, while El Surtidor Pool Terrace and Bar on the rooftop is the perfect place to enjoy a refreshing Mojito after a dip in the infinity pool.
Havana is a city that captures the imagination and excites the senses with its beauty, food and culture. Please contact our team at Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana if you would like to make a visit.