Founded on the western banks of a fabulous natural harbour, what was once the entire city of HAVANA now forms the most captivating part of Habana Vieja, the old city and the capital's tourist centre. This UNESCO-declared World Heritage Site is one of crumbling magnificence and restored beauty. Any sight seeing you do will fan out from here, taking in the fine museums, colonial buildings, elegant plazas, sweeping boulevards and narrow, atmospheric streets bristling with life.
Most visitors restrict themselves to Habana Vieja and Vedado, where many of the post-colonial mansions have been converted into public works and ministry offices or museums. The best way to appreciate Vedado's compact, quiet suburban streets is on foot. From here, you could walk the couple of kilometres to the famous Plaza de la Revolucin, where giant monuments to the two most famous icons of the Cuban struggle for independence, Che Guevara and Jos Mart, present unmissable photo opportunities. Beyond Vedado to the west, on the other side of the Ro Almendares, Miramar modelled on mid-twentieth-century Miami ushers in yet another change in the urban landscape. A commercial district is emerging on its western fringes, accompanied by a number of luxury hotels, whilst some of Havana's most sophisticated restaurants are scattered around Miramar's leafy streets.

What to see:

Cementerio Cristobal Colon
The beauty and magnificence of this cemetery has made it famous throughout the Latin American continent. Established in 1876, it holds nearly a million graves, many of whose headstones have been embellished by major Cuban sculptors such as Ramos Blancos, among others. The Afro-Cuban religious practice of, santera is common throughout the island, and this cemetery is no exception; thus it is not unusual to find colourfully dressed rag-dolls lying next to the graves, placed as offerings to one or other deity. And a popular local legend tells the story of the Milagrosa or Miraculous Lady, who died in childbirth along with her infant; although they had originally been buried separately, both were foundsome time laterlying in the same grave, now a shrine for devout Catholics.

La Catedral
A fine example of 18th century ecclesiastic architecture, the faade is full of columns, niches and other baroque embellishments, in contrast to the asymmetry of the spires. Close to the sea and dominating one of the main squares within the old city walls, it was once inhabited by Jesuit priests until they were evicted, the building was then consecrated as Havana Cathedral in 1789. On the inside there are copies of paintings by Rubens and Murillo on the alters, and at the top end of the choir section one can see part of frescoes by Italian artist Giuseppe Perovanni. Some of Columbus' remains were kept here between 1796 and 1898, and there is a finely crafted sculpture of Saint Christopher, Patron Saint of Havana, which dates from 1632 and was made by Martn Andjar in Seville, Spain. Admission is free.

El Capitolio Nacional
Built in 1929 to house the island's Senate and House of Representatives, and with a dome that dominates the Havana skyline, this building looks rather similar to the Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington DC. Inside there is a statue of La Republica, the biggest indoor bronze effigy in the world. There is also an enormous and historic gallery called the Saln de los Pasos Perdidos (The Hall of Lost Steps); a 28-carat diamond that marks the exact centre of the city; and the headquarters of the Cuban Natural History Museum, housing the country's largest natural history collection.

Where to eat:

La Ferminia
La Ferminia is one of the best Cuban restaurants in town. It is also among the best places to sample the local Creole cuisine. It is located in the exclusive area of Miramar, in a beautiful mansion with numerous individual rooms, each one of them with a capacity to accommodate between 20 and 30 people. The service is excellent and the establishment offers courses in gourmet cooking as well. The menu is exquisite and varied with Seafood and local flavors. The dishes are carefully prepared on a barbecue or in the oven, and are accompanied by delicious Salads and Cuban delicacies such as Congr.

Bar Ambos Mundos
The elegant furniture, piano music, marble walls and floor help create an intimate and relaxed atmosphere at this restored cafe. Soft lighting makes this the ideal romantic hangout at night. The establishment offers a selection of spirits, beers, light meals and traditional Cuban cooking. Beverages include a house cocktail known as the Ambos Mundos, the daiquiri and Cuban mojitos. Frequented by Earnest Hemingway during his first stay in Cuba during the 1930s, this establishment has since become an obligatory haunt of writers and artists.

El Floridita
One of the most popular restaurants in Havana, not only for its award winning fish and seafood dishes, but also for its cocktails, this place is locally referred to as the "cradle of the Daiquir." The atmosphere is peaceful, even though all the 10 tables are right next to the bar. Decoration includes a large mural that dates from the 1930s depicting the city harbor in the 18th Century. Meals are often accompanied by a trio playing traditional Cuban music. Specialities of the kitchen include the Rueda de Pargo Ambos Mundos (snapper steak), the Gran Plato Hemingway (Hemingway Big Plate) and Langosta Mariposa (Butterfly Lobster).

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