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In November 2019, Havana will celebrate a rare milestone that few cities in the Western Hemisphere have reached: the Cuban capital will celebrate its 500th anniversary. Over its tumultuous half millennia, Indians, Spaniards and other Europeans, Chinese and Americans have all contributed to Havana’s colorful character. These groups have imprinted their ideas, traditions and passions onto the city, all of which are apparent as you walk the streets and piece Havana together like you would an intricate jigsaw puzzle.
“Havana is a fascinating city, starting to emerge from a time warp and bursting with new-found energy. The Cubans have unquenchable spirit, and are filled with joy. The experience will exceed your wildest expectations.”
— Freddie from Carmel, Indiana —
Top Attractions in Havana
Since its founding in 1519 by the Spanish, Cuba’s cosmopolitan capital has developed its own personality that is best personified by artistic influences and brightly colored classic cars. Havana’s colonial plazas, Neo-classical architecture and complicated history leave a new surprise around every corner.
Brimming with 17th-century colonial architecture, Old Havana — La Habana Vieja — was founded in 1519 and contains the original city center. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was built in the Bay of Havana for Spanish galleons crossing between Spain and the New World and prospered as one of the main shipbuilding centers. Centered around the 16th-century Plaza Vieja, Neoclassical and Baroque architecture have undergone extensive restorations in preparation for Havana’s 500th anniversary.
The Malecón is a favorite for locals and visitors alike. This famous seaside promenade is lined with parks and monuments dedicated to Cuban history, with the Paseo del Prado built by the American government to celebrate the completion of the first 500 meters (1640 feet). The Paseo del Prado is a favorite spot for local musicians and performers. You can get a glimpse of local life along the Malecón as fisherman cast their lines and local business spring up amidst new economic reforms and an increasingly free market.
Modeled after the U.S. Capital Building, Cuba’s National Capital Building was constructed from 1926-1929 and was the seat of the Cuban government until the Cuban Revolution in 1959. At the time of its construction, the top of the Capitolio was the third-highest dome in the world. Once you climb the 55 steps and enter the grand Neo-classical structure, you will be greeted by the Statue of the Republic — the third largest indoor statue in the world.
Named for Christopher Columbus, the Colon Cemetery was founded to replace the Espada Cemetery in 1876. This Catholic cemetery is the final resting place of some of Latin America’s greatest thinkers and contains more than 500 major mausoleums. Organized by social rank, the tombs and mausoleums within Colon Cemetery became increasingly ornate as families sought to display their wealth and power.
One of the largest plazas in the world, the Plaza de la Revolución served as a gathering place for numerous revolutionary rallies, with Fidel Castro giving speeches to millions. The 11-acre plaza is situated to the south of the 357-foot Jose Marti Memorial, which predates the revolution, and is surrounded by several important buildings including the National Library, National Theater and several government buildings. Perhaps the most famous of these buildings is the Ministry of the Interior, with its wire mural of Che Guevara.
In 1940, Ernest Hemingway purchased Finca la Vigía — meaning “lookout farm” — eight miles outside Havana’s old town in the working-class suburb of San Francisco de Paula. From this modest house, Hemingway would fish from his boat, Pilar, and came to enjoy the best of island life. It was during these years that he wrote “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “A Movable Feast,” and “The Old Man and the Sea.” Following Hemmingway’s death in 1961, the house fell under control of the Cuban government. After years of neglect, the government restored the house and opened it up to visitors in 2008 as a museum.