Though a small island nation, Cuba has exported its wide and varied culture across the world, encompassing masters of painting, sculpture, music, literature, film and the performing arts. Here, some landmarks of Cuban culture in Havana, from grand structures to avant-garde haunts.
Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso
Built in 1914 around the 19th century Teatro Tacón, this neo-baroque masterpiece is now home to the Cuban National Ballet. In its heyday, the venue hosted performers including Enrico Caruso and Anna Pavlova, though the repertoire has expanded to include contemporary dance productions. After a magnificent renovation in 2016, the theater was renamed in honor of the late company founder Alicia Alonso.
Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Wifredo Lam
Named after one of Cuba’s most important modern artists, this gallery and cultural center was established in 1983 with the mission of promoting art from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America. Today, it maintains a collection of more than 1,000 pieces and is the headquarters of the Havana Biennial.
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
The country’s premier fine art museum, this institution is spread over two buildings: an elegant 1927 structure showcasing ancient and European pieces including Greek pots from the fifth century and works by Gainsborough and Velázquez; and a midcentury-modern wonder featuring such Cuban notables as Amelia Peláez and Wifredo Lam.
Teatro Nacional de Cuba
Perched on the Plaza de la Revolución, construction on this immense curvilinear hall was begun in 1951 but not completed until 1979. Comprising two theaters—one with 2,200 seats and a smaller venue with 805—it is a showcase for theater, opera and dance. A smaller black-box space is also on-site for more experimental works.
An Art Deco gem built as a cinema in 1941, this stylish space—with a zodiac-adorned lobby and 1,700-seat auditorium resembling a mini Radio City Music Hall—now hosts comedy, dance, jazz and salsa performances. Situated in a blocky 11-story rascacielo (skyscraper), its original features have been meticulously maintained.
Cinemateca de Cuba Cine Chaplin
Originally the Atlantic Cinema, this classic venue was renamed to honor Charlie Chaplin in the 1980s. Today, it is an arthouse movie palace— part of the great entertainment district along Calle 23—regularly screening Cuban and international films. Be sure to check out the collection of Cuban movie posters in the lobby.
National Art Schools
A Cuban National Monument, this extraordinary campus was conceived in the early 1960s as a multidisciplinary, multi-structure center for the study of the arts, including ballet, dance, drama, music and the visual arts. Constructed on the site of a pre-Revolutionary golf course, the complex of five domed brick buildings is a modernist masterpiece. Though now in disrepair, the campus is definitely worth a visit.