Hotel Nacional de Cuba is probably the most famous hotel in Havana, and also the most historic. Built in 1930 where the Santa Clara battery was (one of the many spots built by the Spaniards to protect the city from the attack of privateers and pirates) it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage in 1982, together with Havana’s historical center.
The remnants of this defense system, two cannons (one of them the world's largest in its day) are still on display in the garden, from where one can enjoy the stunning views of the sea, the Morro Castle and the city thanks to the hotel’s great location, atop a small cliff in a centric junction of the Vedado neighborhood, only a short walk to The Malecón (Havana’s seaside promenade) and other attractions in this district.
This "grande dame" hotel of 442 rooms was designed by the same architects (Mckim, Mead & White) who designed The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, which it closely resembles.
From the palm-lined drive one access a porch that opens to the impressive lobby, adorned with dark precious woods and Mudejar patterned tiles. Beyond it, the U-shaped terrace coming before the beautiful gardens invites to enjoy a Cuban drink accompanied by live music and peacocks strolling around.
One can definitely see how grand it was in its heyday. Today it could benefit from an update, starting with rooms which are a bit dated, although undeniably charming, sober and elegant.
Breakfast is large with many options. There are three restaurants plus several bars and cafeterias; two pools, one of them with a nice area offering plenty of loungers and a snack bar…and of course, the renowned Cabaret Parisien, where the selfsame Nat King Cole performed in the 50’s.
A tour of the hotel is offered (highly recommended) with many interesting historical information along with the long list of celebrities that have, since 1930, stayed here: Luminaries from Winston Churchill and the Prince of Wales to Ernest Hemingway, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner. One can even choose to stay in one of the rooms these personalities occupied.
No doubt, a hotel worth visiting, even if staying somewhere else, because of its history, the lovely terrace and gardens, the views, and the memorabilia.