Heritage highlights of Havana and 5 other Cuban cities

Step into Havana...

Soak up the sensual atmosphere of Cuba's cultural capital, bursting with bright colours, stunning Baroque architecture and musicians on every corner

Why go to Havana?

History has dealt the Cuban capital a fistful of aces: once-magnificent Baroque buildings, the traumas and triumphs of revolution, salsa, rum, cigars, musicians on every corner... Home to over two million Habaneros, this sensual and intoxicating city is as much about soaking up the atmosphere as seeing sights. The plazas of Habana Vieja, the Old City, are the best place to start exploring, followed by landmarks like the Capitolio Nacional, so similar to Washington DC’s Capitol, and the huge image of Che Guevara on the Ministerio del Interior in Plaza de la Revolución. Must-see museums include the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, which has the largest art collection in the Caribbean (concentrate on the Cuban works) and the Museo de la Revolución, bristling with weapons, tanks and rockets.

Don't miss...

A ride in a classic car. It may be a tourist cliché, but cruising down the avenidas in a 1952 purple-and-cream open-top Oldsmobile is a blissful moment of time travel that you never forget.

Local flavours...

Havana is city where you have to plunge in. Book a salsa lesson, ride in a coco taxi (which looks like a big yellow crash helmet with a scooter on the front), tour a cigar factory, dine amid faded grandeur in the long-established paladar (private restaurant) La Guarida and order a potent Papa Doble cocktail at La Floridita, Ernest Hemingway’s drink of choice at his favourite haunt. If you need a breather, grab some seaside downtime on the beaches of Playas del Este.

Our tip...

Get some perspective on life with a visit to the Necrópolis de Cristóbal Colón. One of the world’s great cemeteries, it covers over 0.5 sq km and has some 800,000 graves, including many grand mausoleums and family vaults built for the well-to-do.

Travel further afield...

Cuba is a similar length to Britain with a wealth of heritage cities to explore

Santiago de Cuba

Located in the mountainous east, Santiago de Cuba is the island’s second-largest city and the most Caribbean. Santiagueros are renowned for their love of music and partying – both exploited to the full during July’s Carnival – and don’t leave without drinking a daiquiri (rum with lime, sugar and ice), which originates from here. Key sights are the Moncada Barracks, an important location during Cuba’s revolution, and (10km to the south) the UNESCO-listed Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca del Morro, with fortifications and a museum devoted to pirates. At the weekend, head to pedestrianised Calle Heredia, where there’s always music, while the Museo Emilio Bacardí Moreau has a collection of pre-Columbian and colonial artefacts amassed by a former mayor.


Set amid the broad plains of central Cuba, the island’s third-largest city has been awarded World Heritage listing for its historic heart of ‘serpentine streets and irregular urban blocks’. These were a defence to confuse pirates in the lawless 16th century and are unusual for Spanish colonial settlements. Plaza San Juan de Dios is an impressive square framed with bright pastel facades, where the Museo de San Juan de Dios covers the city’s history; while there, also seek out the Campana de Toledo restaurant, which has a courtyard garden ideal for a lazy lunch. The city is renowned for its tinajónes, large earthenware pots used to store water, and has a lively cultural scene evident from numerous art galleries and the world-class Camagüey Ballet.

Santa Clara

Some 300km east of Havana, the city of Santa Clara is where memories of Che Guevara loom largest. It was the Argentine revolutionary’s liberation of the inland city in 1958 that sealed the overthrow of the Batista regime, and so was the fitting place for him to be buried. Cuba’s reverence for Castro’s right-hand man is writ large in his mausoleum and monuments such as Tren Blindado, which commemorates an attack on an armoured train using a bulldozer. University students energise the city’s faded streets and cigar lovers can take a tour of the Constantino Pérez Carrodegua tobacco factory. For a whiff of life before the rebels stormed in, pay a visit to the Museo de Artes Decorativas, which displays elegant china, art nouveau mirrors and mahogany furniture.


On the south coast, Trinidad was founded in 1514 and has been justifiably declared a World Heritage site for its well-preserved buildings created during the early 19th century sugar boom. For an overview, climb the bell-tower of the Museo de la Lucha Contra Bandidos, or just wander the maze of cobbled streets and picturesque plazas adorned with flower-filled balconies and decorative rejas (window grilles). Fans of period interiors should seek out the city’s Museo de Arquitectura Colonial while the Museo Romántico, housed in a two-storey palatial mansion dating from 1740, displays art and antiques beneath splendid carved cedar ceilings. When you’ve had enough exploring, head for the beach at Playa Ancón, 12km south.


On the south coast, Cienfuegos was founded by the Spanish in 1819 to exploit Bahía de Cienfuegos, a superb natural harbour spanning 88 sq km. The architecture here is more modern than in other heritage cities and the spacious streets include Paseo del Prado, the longest in Cuba. “This must be one of the quietest ports in the world,” reflects a character in Graham Greene’s 1958 novel Our Man in Havana, and the city still has an unhurried air. The main square, Parque José Martí, is graced with the ornate 1890 Teatro Tomás Terry, a 900-seater auditorium decorated with Cuban hardwoods. The vast Jardín Botánico Soledad was created in 1901 and now has prize collections of orchids, palms and cacti.

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