Travel Guide: 24 Hours in Havana

by Jackson Caleb

At the El Floridita bar in Havana’s Old Town, where the American novelist Ernest Hemingway is said to have sat, we ordered a Daiquiri and were shocked to see that the bartender cranked them out at a rate of one every 15 minutes. He expertly served drinks to a demanding crowd, filling eight cups at once. Continuously. Every hour of the night.

Classic Daiquiri at El Floridita – A Tribute to Ernest HemingwayImage source: Luca Querzoli/

Of course, it’s great to have this opportunity, but at that moment, we were very happy to be in Havana. The city is bustling today, but we’d wager (though not in Cuba, where there are no casinos) that the number of visitors and the number of tour groups will increase to the point where the thrill of discovery will be lost. To spend the evening in El Floridita would be almost impossible unless you were to be a sardine.

To avoid missing out on the colorful antique American cars (Cadillacs, Chevys, Dodges, Buicks, and Fords), which may vanish owing to a shortage of parts, or the delightfully ramshackle 16th-century structures that nestle beside luxury architecture, you should visit soon. We can attest to the fact that Havana’s roads are already overrun by perfectly serviceable but not nearly as entertaining Japanese Kias and Hyundais.

Must explore

You can get to Havana Vieja, the old town, through Parque Central. Prepare to be impressed by the neoclassical Capitol on Prado Street, the former site of the Cuban Congress and previously home to the Cuban Academy of Sciences.

This beautiful structure, which housed Cuba’s national parliament for eight years, has finally returned to the public after being renovated. If you’re trying to find your way around Old Havana, this structure will serve as a useful marker since it’s located on the eastern edge of the old town.

Classic American Cars in Havana – Nostalgia on WheelsImage source: Anna Jedynak/

The Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso, named after Cuba’s most renowned prima ballerina, can be found nearby and is often considered to be the town’s most aesthetically pleasing structure. Those passing by should stop and see the marble and bronze statues. Giuseppe Moretti’s four groups of white marble statues in the foyer stand for the arts (theatre, music, and charity).

To visit a monument to Cuban poet and writer Jose Marti, go to Parque Central, a palm tree-lined square with plenty of trees to provide shade. Although he was not a soldier, he was the revolution’s strategist

Statue of Jose Marti in Cienfuegos – Tribute to a Cuban HeroImage source: Lena Wurm/

In contrast, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes—Arte Cubano—is widely regarded as the region’s premier art museum. You should keep an eye out for pieces by Cuban master Guillermo Collazo, as well as those by Rafael Blanco, Ral Martnez, of Cuban pop art renown in the 1960s, and Wifredo Lam, whose work is sometimes likened to that of Picasso.

You can walk the two minutes to Calle Obispo, a long, narrow street lined with towering buildings and interesting stores, including an apothecary museum selling headache pills and an exciting outdoor art and craft market.

One of the most well-known retail areas, it meets up with Calle Mercaderes near the Hotel Ambos Mundos, where the author Ernest Hemingway once stayed. In need of a break? Head up to the hotel’s rooftop bar for a cold one and a nice view of the harbor.

To reach Plaza Armas, one must first walk through the magnificent Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, the former seat of the governors of Havana and the current home of the City of Havana Museum. This is the city’s oldest square, and it’s a beautiful spot, shaded by palm trees and full of lush vegetation. It also has a monument to Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, a key figure in Cuba’s 1868 war of Independence. El Templete, a monument to Christopher Columbus for creating the city, stands nearby, as do the Archeology Museum and the Castillo de la Real Fortaleza, a fort from the 16th century.

Continue on foot toward Havana Bay, where cruise ships dock. Get yourself to the terminal, where you can take a cab to the Plaza de la Revolución. The late Pope John Paul II (during the first-ever papal visit in 1998) and the current Pope Francis both celebrated massive Masses there during their respective papal visits.

The José Mart Memorial, one of the city’s highest points, also has an elevator. The Plaza is home to the National Library and other government ministries; some of these buildings have murals of Che Guevara and his companions.

Must go for a ride

Classic Cars of Havana – Timeless Beauty on the Streets of CubaImage source: Suzanne Tenuto/

The best way to see the sights and gain your bearings in Havana is in one of the city’s iconic classic cars. The government has decreed that they are to be on constant tourist duty since these occasions are considered national events. You may get one by sea, in front of Parque Central, in Revolution Square, or next to the Capitol. Use it as a cab service or inquire about available tours.

Must eat and drink

El Floridita, made famous by Hemingway, is one of a handful of hip bars in the area. Also, there’s Sloppy Joe’s Bar, which was the epicenter of Hollywood in the ’40s and ’50s and is a favorite hangout for famous people today.

Consuming a Cuba Libra (rum and coke) here still has a certain cachet, despite the fact that the establishment’s heyday has passed. Try the Mojitos at La Bodeguita on Empedrado Street if you’re a Mojito fan. They claim to have developed the mojito and have been serving it since 1942, which is a long time to perfect the recipe.

Vibrant Street Dining Scene in Havana, CubaImage source:

The staples of Havana’s cuisine include pork, lobster, chicken, and seafood. Beans and rice are common accompaniments. Located in a converted printing press on Mercaderes Street 208, La Imprenata serves up this fare for lunch. The dishes aren’t quite a cordon bleu, but they’re delicious anyway.

American brands like Coke are unavailable, but the locally produced Ciego Montero Kola is just as effective while being somewhat sweeter. Take a stroll around the grounds in between sessions to check out the old printing presses and locate the turtle pond.

Must go for a stroll at sunset on El Malecón

Captivating Sunset Scene along the Malecon Avenue, Havana, CubaImage source: Kamira/

In general, the atmosphere around Malecón, the waterfront promenade, is lively. For no other reason than to take in the fading light at sunset, many Habaneros congregate along the Avenida de Maceo and the esplanade that stretches for five miles (eight kilometers) along the shore. Somewhere in the air, you can hear the rhythm of the waves or maybe even some stray salsa notes.

Must take in the Museum of the Revolution

Historical Artifacts at Museo de la Revolución, Havana, CubaImage source: ItzaVU/

This museum is a must-see for everyone interested in understanding Cuba’s long struggle against U.S. imperialism. The insights it offers are sharp, despite its rather shabby appearance.

Bullet holes that have been kept in the building’s walls provide a revealing glimpse into the building’s history as the presidential palace. Numerous sources detail Fidel Castro’s guerilla victories and his friendship with Che Guevara.

Must take home

Key West Cigars: A Taste of AuthenticityImage source: Ricky Viccarini/

Invest in some rum or cigars if you’re looking for a memorable souvenir. The Cubans provide the best examples in this category.

Must stay

Preparations at the Capitolio Building in HavanaImage source: Gabor Kovacs Photography/

The Parque Central Hotel, with its convenient location and charming colonial architecture, is an excellent choice. It’s up-to-date in every way and has a fantastic rooftop patio with panoramic views of the city.

Get there

From Gatwick to Havana, Virgin Atlantic flies three times weekly. The José Mart International Airport is located 16 kilometers (10 miles) southwest of the city center.

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