Havana is a city finely attuned to its past, its anguishes, its ruins, and its soaring spirit. Nothing speaks better of this than the city’s historical center – Habana Vieja (Old Havana), a place that has been ravaged by time, unscathed by sprawling modern urban development, and is being carefully burnished back into the most radiant jewel in the Caribbean.

Over the last decade the Office of the Havana City Historian has accelerated a campaign to preserve the historic center's truly amazing and illustrious architectural and historical heritage.

Declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1982, Old Havana is home to 900-odd historical buildings from the baroque to the neoclassical, museums to churches to Cuban courtyard mansions. You'll walk arcades, and gaze at balconies, that date from the 16th to 19th centuries. The heart of the old city is the iconic Calle Obispo, neatly lined art galleries, shops, music venues, paladars, connecting Havana’s promenade, Plaza de Armas to the Parque Central. The area’s other prominent plazas – Plaza de San Francisco, Plaza Vieja, Plaza de la Catedral – are all part of the most striking urban tableau in the Caribbean.

It’s only natural that tourists are enthralled by the old city's charm, and refreshed by its colors, plazas, colonial architecture, 16th century fortress, lively street lives, and endless salsa dancing.

But beyond that, and behind the curvaceous waterfront known as the Malecón, Old Havana’s dust, dirt and mud have blended into locals’ daily existence. There is an unmistakable pride in Cuban’s eyes everywhere you look. From dilapidated buildings that seem to be frozen in collapse, people crane their necks out, gazing upon, joining in, and bringing spirit to life on the street. Identity is shaped by centuries of colonial rule, decades of revolution, and constant hope for continued progress. Life moves forward, in dignity and purpose, even in the most listless-looking buildings. This is the essence of Havana.

Where to eat: Doña Eutimia, El Templete, O’Reilly 304, Nazdarovie, La Dominica, Café del Oriente, Cervecería Antiguo Almacen de la Madera y el Tabaco
Where to stay: Hotel Conde de Villanueva, San Felipe y Santiago de Bejucal Hotel Santa Isabel
Where to drink: O’Reilly 304 bar, El Floridita, La Bodeguita del Medi
Coffee break: Café El Escorial, Bianchini

July 21st, 2015
By Havana Insider

Video: A Visit To Havana Barber Shop

Like many things in Havana, getting a shave is like stepping into a time-machine. While I was in Havana attending the Habano Cigar Festival in February, I couldn't resist stopping by a local barbershop. Where else in the world can you get a shave and smoke a cigar at the same time? Now that's what I call “the good old days.”
July 21st, 2015
By Havana Insider

Museo del Ron Havana Club

This is a stop that visitors to Cuba have to make. Otherwise, what’s the point of visiting a country that is famous for its national drink - rum? Opened in 2000 by the country’s most famous rum brand Havana Club, the museum uses visuals and models to guide visitors through the whole rum-making process, from harvesting at sugarcane plantations to the final bottling process.
July 21st, 2015
By Havana Insider

El Floridita

El Floridita is an institution in Havana for its daiquiri and its association with the towering literary figure Ernest Hemingway.
July 21st, 2015
By Havana Insider

Hotel Conde Villanueva

The former residence of Count Villanueva was turned into a courtyard-style boutique hotel in Old Havana in 1998. One of the 20-odd hotels run by the city’s hotel brand Habaguanex, the nine-room hotel has a red façade that opens up to a lush courtyard. A café is hidden in the back of the courtyard, where free-roaming birds and peacocks amble lazily. The lobby and reception are well furbished and the front desk staff are more than willing to provide suggestions for visiting Old Havana.
July 21st, 2015
By Havana Insider

Café del Oriente: Best Burger

This is one of the most upscale restaurants in Havana, located in Plaza de San Francisco in Habana Vieja (the very professional and jacketed waiters traded off-street salsa with classic live piano performance). The decor is striking and grandiose; you'll regret it if you dress down.
July 21st, 2015
By Havana Insider

Plaza de Armas

This is the oldest square among Old Havana’s five squares built in the early 16th century. Plaza de Armas, was originally known as Plaza de la Iglesia.
July 21st, 2015
By Havana Insider

Plaza Vieja

Originally known as Plaza Nueva, meaning “new square” in English, Plaza Vieja was constructed in 1559, and was considered Havana’s...
July 21st, 2015
By Havana Insider

French-style bakery in Havana

French-style bakery is still a new concept in Havana, and you’d be surprised by how some local bakeries can turn out jaw-dropping, hard-as-a-rock chocolate muffins. Bianchini is in a class of its own, a bakery-cum-café that first opened near Plaza de Sanfrancisco over ten years ago.
July 21st, 2015
By Havana Insider

Café El Escorial: Best Coffee In Havana

Café El Escorial is the closest thing Havana has to Starbucks, minus the takeout services. If you insist, bring along your own mug or even a Ziploc bag (like Cubans do) for a café con leche, the holy grail at this quaint café shop on Plaza Vieja, for only $1.2 CUC!
July 21st, 2015
By Havana Insider

Castillo del Morro

Castillo del Morro (Morro Castle), short for Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro, standing at the mouth of Havana Bay, is an iconic landmark in Havana.