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.