Walking Tour: Architecture on the Prado
- Start Malecón & Prado
- End Parque de la Fraternidad
- Length 1.6km; 45 minutes
This walk takes in the whole of Paseo del Prado along with many of the sumptuous buildings that line it. From the northern end of the Prado, head south toward Parque Central, passing the streamlined art deco Teatro Fausto. Dating from 1938, it exhibits the sharp lines and pure cubist simplicity of Depression-era America, and is famous for its light plays and comedy shows.
Contrasting sharply with other modern architectural styles on Calle Trocadero (just off the main drag) is the neo-Moorish Hotel Sevilla, built in 1908 but harking back to a bygone age of Spanish stucco and intricate mudéjar craftsmanship.
Turn right on Agramonte and detour down Ánimas for Havana's most emblematic art deco building, Edificio Bacardí, the ex-HQ of the Bacardi rum dynasty. It's a vivid and highly decorative incarnation of this popular inter-war architectural genre, garnished with granite, Capellanía limestone and multi-colored bricks.
Retrace Ánimas to the Prado and you’ll be eyeballing the Palacio de los Matrimonios, a rival to the presidential palace for opulence. Dating from the 1910s, it was once the Casino Español, a Cuban-Spanish social club. These days it hosts weddings in its lavish 1st-floor ballroom.
At the southwest corner of Parque Central, eclecticism meets neo-baroque at the flamboyant Centro Gallego, another Spanish social club, built in 1915 around the existing Teatro Tacón. Today it’s the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso and has recently reopened after a lengthy restoration.
Facing the theater across leafy Parque Central is the equally eclectic Centro Asturiano, now part of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, with four separate rooftop lookouts and a richly gilded interior.
Restoration is ongoing at the Cuban national assembly, Capitolio Nacional, built between 1926 and 1929 on sugar money. It captures Latin America's neoclassical revival, with sweeping stairways and Doric columns harking back to a purer and more strident Grecian ideal.
Finish your walk in busy Parque de la Fraternidad, sometimes called Jurassic Park for the lines of old American cars parked hereabouts. Busts of famous American leaders punctuate the greenery, including one of US president Abraham Lincoln.
Walking Tour: The Malecón
- Start Malecón & Prado
- End Malecón & Paseo
- Length 5.5km; two hours
Havana’s 7km-long Malecón is one of the world’s great sea drives and without doubt the city’s most quintessential walk. Marking the beginning of the Malecón, the 16th-century fort of Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta predates the sea drive by three centuries. It guards the entrance to Havana harbor and its thick limestone walls face off against the larger Morro fort opposite. The broad esplanade abutting the ocean is a favorite spot for lovers and fishers.
The first break in the sea drive heading west is a small park with a dashing statue of Antonio Maceo, the Cuban Independence war hero, atop his horse. Behind the park rises the concrete mass of the Hospital Nacional Hermanos Ameijeiras. An underpass links the park to the walkway.
Raised on a rocky knoll known as the Loma de Taganana, the Hotel Nacional dominates the Malecón at the intersection with La Rampa. Far more than just a hotel, it’s also a national monument, top cabaret venue, architectural marvel and possibly the best place in Cuba to sit on a breeze-caressed terrace and enjoy rum and cigars.
A rare monument honoring Americans in Cuba, Monumento a las Víctimas del Maine commemorates the 266 US Marines killed when the US battleship Maine exploded in Havana harbor in 1898, an incident that helped spark the Spanish-American War. An eagle atop the monument was toppled in 1959 during a moment of high revolutionary fervor.
The former US Interests Section office was converted back into the US Embassy in 2015, and the Stars and Stripes fly here once again. The political propaganda boards that used to dominate the immediate environs have quietly disappeared, although the parade ground in front is still called the Tribuna Anti-Imperialista José Martí.
Still further west along the Malecón, end your walk at the striking modernist Hotel Riviera. It opened in 1957 as a hotel-cabaret-casino, the property of US gangster Meyer Lansky. A year later the Cuban government appropriated the hotel as Lansky fled to the Bahamas. Today the hotel retains the over-the-top design of its brief 1950s heyday.