Havana, crown jewel of Cuba, is the island’s largest city, with more than two million inhabitants. Coming or going, chances are you’ll pass through this magical metropolis. Be sure to slow down and experience all Havana has to offer.

Founded by the Spanish in the 16th century, Havana is the perfect destination for history buffs. The capital city is situated on the harbor, with grand old forts including Morro Castle, the fortress guarding the entrance to Havana Bay. The fort’s famous walls defended against pirates for over a century. Every night, the closing of the walls is announced by firing a canon at 9 o’clock, and the tradition remains alive and well. In the evening, join the locals at the Malecón, the 8 km seawall along the coast, also known as “the longest bench in the world,” to hear the canon fired across the bay. Likewise, architecture buffs can revel in the city's baroque and neoclassical architecture constructed during the Spanish colonial period. Explore Old Havana’s five main plazas in a Classic American vintage car on a city tour, or stroll Obispo Street, the main pedestrian thoroughfare that dates back to 1519, to discover art galleries, shops, music bars and people-watch. Stop along the way for a refreshing mojito or daiquiri at some of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite haunts. Check out Plaza de la Catedral, with the grand eponymous cathedral, and Plaza de Armas, Havana’s oldest square with royal palms and the former colonial governor’s castle. Here, a wood brick street was constructed so that passing carriages would not disturb the sleep of a Spanish politician’s wife.

While Old Havana (La Habana Vieja) is the most well-known neighborhood in Havana, with its historic buildings, cobblestone streets, and lively plazas, there are a few other options for you to consider. Vedado is like “the Brooklyn of Havana,” with a younger, hipper vibe, and a number of tasty restaurant options. Here, you’ll find Havana’s hottest nightlife option, La Fabrica del Arte, an old oil factory that's now a thriving arts space frequented by locals and tourists alike. Further afield, the Miramar neighborhood is a more “highbrow” option, home to mansions, foreign embassies, diplomatic residences, and Cuban artist José Fuster’s “La Alegría de Vivir” – a fascinating community mural project. Siboney is the farthest and most suburban neighborhood, with large lawns and swimming pools, where Fidel Castro lived. Note: If you stay in Old Havana you are less likely to require a driver or taxi. If you stay in one of the other neighborhoods, chances are, you will require transportation to Old Havana and elsewhere.

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Elizabeth Gordon