Getty Images

Hotel Nacional


Far more than just a hotel, the Nacional, built in 1930 as a copy of the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida, is a national monument and one of Havana's architectural emblems. Even if you're not staying here, reserve time to admire the Moorish lobby, stroll the breezy grounds and have a drink in the famous terrace bar overlooking the Malecón. Ask in the lobby about free tours.

The hotel's notoriety was cemented in October 1933 when, following a sergeants' coup by Fulgencio Batista that toppled the regime of Gerardo Machado, 300 aggrieved army officers took refuge in the building hoping to curry favor with resident US ambassador Sumner Welles, who was staying there. Much to the officers' chagrin, Welles promptly left, allowing Batista's troops to open fire on the hotel, killing 14 officers and injuring seven. More were executed later, after they had surrendered.

In December 1946 the hotel gained infamy of a different kind when US mobsters Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano used it to host the largest ever get-together of the North American Mafia, who gathered here under the guise of a Frank Sinatra concert.

These days the hotel maintains a more reputable face and the once famous casino is long gone, though the spectacular Parisian cabaret is still a popular draw.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Vedado attractions

1. Monumento a las Víctimas del Maine

0.19 MILES

West beyond the Hotel Nacional is a monument (1926) to the 266 American marines who were killed when the battleship USS Maine blew up mysteriously in…

2. Edificio Focsa

0.25 MILES

Unmissable on the Havana skyline, the modernist Edificio Focsa was built between 1954 and 1956 in a record 28 months using pioneering computer technology…

3. Hotel Habana Libre

0.32 MILES

This classic modernist hotel – the former Havana Hilton – was commandeered by Fidel Castro's revolutionaries in 1959 just nine months after it had opened,…

4. Mella Portraits

0.41 MILES

Opposite the Monumento a Julio Antonio Mella outside the Universidad de la Habana are black-and-white Mella portraits permanently mounted on the wall in…

5. Edificio López Serrano

0.41 MILES

Tucked away behind the US Interests Section is this art deco tower, which looks like the Empire State Building with the bottom 70 floors chopped off. One…

6. Monumento a Julio Antonio Mella

0.44 MILES

At the bottom of the Universidad de la Habana steps is a monument to the student leader who founded the first Cuban Communist Party in 1925. In 1929 Cuban…

7. Torreón de San Lázaro

0.45 MILES

This tiny watchtower was built by the Spanish in the 18th century and quickly fell to British troops during the invasion of 1762. You can admire it from…

8. Convento & Iglesia del Carmen

0.46 MILES

This little-visited church’s bell tower dominates the Centro Habana skyline and is topped by a huge statue of Nuestra Señora del Carmen, but the real…