Here’s a quick lineup of my seven favorite museums of the ones I visited in Havana, Cuba! I’ve included collage images of each of the museums as well as a description of what each offers. Hopefully it will provide inspiration for your trip to Havana!
1. Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes – Cubano
I loved this museum! There’s some really gorgeous art here, and it’s also like a sort of history lesson through Cuba, starting with colonial art on the third floor and working your way downstairs and through history–past the Cuban Revolution and the most recent exhibits from the hard times Cuba experienced in the 1990s. There are a lot of influences at play in Cuba–the native Taino, European and African cultures, the unique syncretic religion of Santeria, and the ideals of the Cuban Revolution–and they create a rich environment for art. I actually liked this museum so much that I went twice during my time in Cuba, and bought a great guide that details most of the artists and famous works featured there.
2. Museo Hemingway – Finca Vigia
If you’ve read The Old Man and the Sea, you are probably aware of the impact of Havana on Ernest Hemingway. Just outside of the city, you have a unique opportunity to see where he lived. When the embargo was put in place, Hemingway had to return to the US. His house wasn’t changed from when he left, so you get to glimpse what it really looked like when he was there. You can see from the pictures above that he has an impressive book collection, and he was such a bibliophile that there was even a bookshelf in his bathroom! You can’t actually go into the house, but on a clear day they open all the doors and windows so you can see the well-preserved inside, and you can also see his pool, grounds, and his boat, the Pilar. I’m told the pina coladas made there are also excellent, although I didn’t try one myself. I definitely recommend visiting if you’re in Havana!
3. Museo de la Revolucion
The Revolution Museum in Cuba is housed in the old Presidential Palace, which means you can enjoy gorgeous architecture as well as the history of the Revolution. You can even see bullet holes in the courtyard from when the overthrow of Batista went down. There’s also a fun “Wall of Cretins” which ridicules three US Presidents & Batista, artifacts from Che and Cienfuegos, and across the road the Granma Memorial which houses the yacht that Fidel & Che came on from Mexico, as well as other military vehicles and planes.
4. Regla Museum
If you want to learn more about the most practiced Cuban religion, Santeria, the Regla Museum is the place to go. There are some great exhibits about the different orichas (gods/saints) and ceremonies of the religion. They also have two rooms with a number of colorful paintings, a sculpture of Napoleon, and a section with historical artifacts from people important to the city of Regla. It’s located across the bay from Old Havana. We drove there around the bay but you can also take the ferry to get there, which I think would be fun!
5. Castillo de la Real Fuerza
I have loved pirates ever since I read Treasure Island in 2nd or 3rd grade, so I was really excited about this maritime museum in Cuba! It’s conveniently located in Old Havana, and is in an old fort so it’s really fun to explore. They have exhibits of all kinds of ships (so I got to work on my Spanish pirate/nautical vocab), sailing tools like spyglasses, and treasure! (Coins, gems, jewelry, etc.–who doesn’t love treasure?!) The museum staff were also really friendly and happy to practice Spanish with me. I recommend stopping by while you’re wandering around Old Havana!
6. Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes – Universal
This is the other National Art Museum in Havana, but this one features art from around the world. The first floor when I went had a really interesting exhibit that was traveling between Havana and Brooklyn, NYC. The second floor is all Spanish paintings, and there are some really beautiful ones! I just barely got to the third floor on my visit (and couldn’t go past the first on my next visit because it was too hot and the AC wasn’t working), but the third floor had a lot of really cool ancient Greek pottery and sculpture. I suspect the fourth floor had some interesting treasures too, and I will just have to go back and find out. Just maybe not in 90-degree June weather!
7. Casa Natal de Jose Marti
This is the house where Jose Marti was born. Let me take a second to explain who Jose Marti is–he was a Cuban writer who became a revolutionary figure (around 1898), and a lot of his ideals actually went along with the more recent Revolution in 1959, so he is super popular. Going to Cuba, I expected Che’s face to be everywhere, but nope. It’s all Jose Marti. There are these white busts of him everywhere. We were told that every educational place is actually required to have a bust of him, and all the Cubans we asked about him said something along the lines of “he was a great thinker, the father of our country.” So, anyway, this museum is the house where he was born. It was small but interesting. My favorite items were a pair of earrings made out of the chains he had been in when he was imprisoned and a spork that he used in Mexico in the mid 1800s. Yes, apparently there were sporks in mid-1800s Mexico. Anyway it was a fun visit and I think it would be cool to do a comparison between this house and Monticello or Mt. Vernon or a birth home of one of our favorite presidents from the American Revolution, because Jose Marti’s certainly wasn’t fancy!
Havana is a city of many museums, but I definitely recommend you visit a few of these seven if you will be in the city! Were there any great Havana museums I missed? Comment below!