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Havana is a living, breathing museum piece. Live salsa and son can be heard at almost any time of day, while in the evenings, everyone flocks to relax on the malécon, the waterfront esplanade that gazes out over the Gulf of Mexico.

Havana Streets, CubaArchitecturally, Havana has an assortment of styles brought over from successive waves of settlers: Moorish-inspired Spanish colonialism, French

Havana is a living, breathing museum piece. Live salsa and son can be heard at almost any time of day, while in the evenings, everyone flocks to relax on the malécon, the waterfront esplanade that gazes out over the Gulf of Mexico.

Architecturally, Havana has an assortment of styles brought over from successive waves of settlers: Moorish-inspired Spanish colonialism, French neoclassicism, and European Baroque and art nouveau. There’s even American mimicry: note how Cuba’s Capitol Building bears more than a passing resemblance to the USA’s. Post-revolution, Havana was tattooed with a rash of political slogans, while a few severe Sovietesque monuments and edifices sprang up.

Thanks to the soupy Caribbean heat, hurricane winds and years of economic hardship, the whole city has gained a careworn look. Stucco and paintwork are peeling, walls are cracking, plaster crumbles.

An air of nostalgia pervades everything: vintage Cadillacs and classic sedans in bright fruity shades rumble through the streets and there’s a distinct lack of commercial billboards, signage or fast-food restaurants. Cuba’s resistance to capitalist norms is under threat ― private enterprise, for example, is on the up ― but, for now, Havana wears its political and historical heart very much on its sleeve.

Havana Vieja, the old town, is a good place to focus your explorations, and you can see much of it on foot. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s a cobbled confusion of plazas, churches, al fresco cafes and art galleries. Some houses, including a stretch along the malécon, are painted in sugary pastel shades.

Cuban big bands often set up inside bars or on their porches, playing their distinctive blend of New-Orleans-inspired jazz and Latin rhythms. Locals gather to dance salsa and rumba, sometimes spilling out onto the streets. Humble fruit carts and drink stalls sit side by side with grandiose palaces (now museums) of the 16th century, when, under the Spanish, the city grew rich on the sugar, rum, tobacco and coffee trade.

Havana Vieja also has a handful of guesthouses, known as casas particulares. Consider staying in one, as they’re known for offering a more authentic, personal experience than Havana’s hotels.

Classic cars in HavanaTo get a broader feel for the city, it’s best to take a tour in a classic car. You can zip along the length of the malécon and see monuments to communism, such as a concrete tower dedicated to national hero José Martí. Just opposite, the faces of the fathers of the revolution, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, stare out from the façades of buildings.

Ernest Hemingway looms large in connection to Havana. You can visit a couple of his former drinking holes, the Floridita ― all masculine, dark-wooded interiors ― and the hip La Bodeguita del Medio, whose walls are scrawled with the signatures of visiting writers, intellectuals and politicians from all over the world.

Although both bars are touristy, both also attract a dedicated local clientele who call in for a regular after-work drink. And, both bars still serve Hemingway’s beloved daiquiris and mojitos.

If you’re particularly interested in Hemingway, you can take a tour to visit his former home just outside of the city, Finca Vigía.

Best time to visit Havana

Head to the city between November and April for pleasant temperatures and more reliably sunny weather.

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Start planning your tailor-made trip to Havana by calling one of our Cuba specialists on 1 800 817 639

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