Your first impression of the Cuban capital may be shocking or maybe even disappointing, because, just like the majority of travelers, we are used to taking photos of well preserved and maintained historic places, as well as adorable old buildings in the city centre, which is something you will rarely see in Havana.
The fact is, Havana used to have such a city centre, but the US embargo that lasted for 55 years has resulted in extreme poverty of the Cuban people and a slow decay of their architecture. It is very sad to walk the streets of Habana Vieja (the historic hub) and watch these magnificent colonial buildings crumble down, but at the same time you become overwhelmed with positive feelings, caused by the warmth of local dwellers and relaxed atmosphere of many small bars and restaurants which, mind you, all offer live music all day long. It is not uncommon to see people dance salsa in a bar at noon! It is probably the only capital city where you will feel totally safe even at night, as there is no street violence. However, make sure you do not fall prey to jineteros, the local swindlers who target the tourists in order to sell them some black-market goods or, usually unsolicited, personal services.
The main attractions in Havana include: Plaza Vieja, Plaza de Armas, Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza de San Francisco de Asis, Paseo del Prado, El Capitolio, Gran Teatro and El Morro. Most of them are located centrally and it is fairly easy to spot them while you are strolling around la Habana Vieja. To visit el Morro or to go to Vedado (where most clubs, restaurants and hotels, as well as the famous Plaza de la Revolución, are located) you will have to take a taxi (a regular one or a coco taxi).
One of the most popular locations in Havana is Malecón, a broad esplanade that stretches along the coast in Havana, where many Cubans gather when the sun goes down, as it is a lively place buzzing with music and other forms of entertainment. Hemingway fans may want to visit the famous bars the writer frequented when he lived in Cuba (la Bodeguita del Medio and El Floridita) and his estate, La Finca Vigia, a 15 minute ride out of Havana.
When you grow tired of all this buzz and heat, you can seek refreshment at Playas del Este, in the vicinity of the city.
All in all, Havana may be shabby and dirty, but gets under your skin and it will lure you to come back.