29 things you
Havana is one of those places that you always think would be cool to visit, but you never quite get around to it. You definitely should though, because the city is about to explode with popularity, and you want to get around it before it’s swarmed with tourists.
Cuba’s capital city truly is electric; from the salsa dancing on the streets to the live music, classic 1950s cars in every colour you could imagine, and some of the most famous cocktails in the world. It’s not easy to necessarily know what to do in a city so full of life, but don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
Here’s your go-to guide for all the things you should see and do in Havana.
Take a stroll along the Malecón
The main waterfront in Havana, the Malecón stretches for 8km along the coast. It’s perfect for long walks by the sea or grabbing a 1 CUC pizza from a “hole in the wall” café. Reviews pending, but apparently, they’re pretty good?
Despite all the cars on the main road, it’s actually pretty peaceful, and really pretty with the sea views. Especially at sunset. Yeah on second thoughts, visit at sunset. You can start at La Habana (Old Havana) and go all the way past Centro Habana in Vedado.
Take a ride in a 1950’s Cadillac
Cuba is famous for its 1950s cars that line the streets. Seriously, try and think of a single pic you’ve seen recently of Cuba that didn’t have a classic car in the foreground/background, and we’ll talk. So, makes sense that the number one thing to do while you’re in Havana is taking a spin in one of these classics – and what’s better than a 1950s Cadillac? The majority of the cars double up as taxis, so you can pop in one to get to the other side of the city, or you can hire it out for the day and do some proper, old-school sightseeing. Up to you.
Hunt down some cuban street music
The old stereotype about Cuba is that you’re never far from a bit of live music, no matter where you are, and this is still true today – especially in Havana. Literally every corner you turn, you’ll find someone playing the guitar, or shaking a maraca. Obviously pretty much all the bars will have live musicians and bands, but if you don’t fancy that then just head to any of the main plazas, grab a beer, and relax. You’ll be entertained all evening.
Take a tour of Teatro Nacional de Cuba
Otherwise known as the National Theatre of Cuba, the Teatro Nacional de Cuba is one of the most impressive buildings in all of Havana. The theatre first opened in 1915, before closing for renovations for a number of years. It has recently reopened, however, and now its magnificence is a stark contrast to the rest of the city. Get tickets to the ballet – if you can, but if you’re not lucky enough then you can have a guided tour of the building for 5 CUC. Basically, the same, just without people on the stage.
Visit a typical cuban craft & fruit market
The best place to visit if you’re looking for a fresh piece of mango, or watermelon, or literally any fruit you can think of, to be honest. It’s also great for picking up little souvenirs, although remember that they probably take pesos rather than CUCs.
Stay in a Casa Particular
Sure, you can stay in a hotel, but you just don’t get the same holiday and that’s the truth. Renting a casa particular is not only cheaper, but it also puts you front and centre into daily Cuban life – not something you’re going to get at a hotel designed to make westerners feel at home. Check out our full guide to staying in a casa here.
Take a city tour of Hemingway’s favourite haunts
Hemingway was a famous Cuban enthusiast – he even died here. He was a big fan of Havana, and you can take a walk in his footsteps by visiting La Bodeguita del Media, and La Floridita, or have a nosey at the very place he’d sleep off his hangovers: Hotel Ambos Mundos.
Visit Vedado, Havana’s ‘New’ Town
Kind of like Old Town, only newer. Hence the name. it’s the place to go if you want restaurants, bars, or even a salsa-rock fusion band if that’s what you’re after. Apparently, that’s a thing here.
See a Tropicana show
Tropicana first opened in the 1940s, and it’s since seen the likes of movies tars, presidents and more. It was one of the most glamourous clubs in the world, famed for its open-air cabaret shows. Even today, this is still the star attraction of the club; it’s barely lost any of its glitz and glamour over the last 70 years.
Take a tour of a traditional cigar factory
Everyone who goes to Cuba for a holiday has the same idyllic moment in mind: to smoke a famous Cuban cigar on their last night, probably in an outdoor bar, overlooking the ocean or the city. Sound about right? Well, if you want to find the perfect cigar, your best bet is Partagras factory, where the best cigars in Cuba are made. You can also have a tour where you get to learn about how they’re made, if that sounds like something, you’re interested in. Totally get it if you just want to smoke the cigar though.
Take a traditional cuban salsa lesson
Probably going to need a lot of rum for this one, but salsa is one of the biggest things associated with Cuba – apart from cigars, of course. A quick salsa lesson will help you learn the basic steps – essentially, just enough so you can dance to the live street music without making a total fool of yourself.
Talk to the locals & learn their histories
Cubans love to talk and tell you their stories – which is something you’ll definitely work out if you’re staying in a casa particular. It obviously will help if you can speak Spanish, but a lot of them speak English too, so don’t let that deter you from learning about the rich culture of the people that live and breathe Havana.
Discover up and coming artists at Fabrica de Arte
Fabrica de Arte is very, very new, but that doesn’t mean it has less merit than all of the historical sites across Havana. Essentially an art gallery built inside an old olive oil factory, it’s a very vibey place to discover new artists.
Go exploring in Havana’s green space: El Bosque de la Habana
Cities can feel really claustrophobic, but lucking Havana has an antidote for that. El Bosque de la Habana is a stone’s throw from the centre of Havana, home to Almendares River – and a popular spot for wedding shoots if that’s something you need. Or might need.
Take a trip in a pedicab
If you don’t fancy a 1950s Cadillac (what is wrong with you), then jump in a pedicab. Like a taxi (hence the name) but great for short distances, and cheaper too. Plus, you get to feel the wind on your face and properly take in your surroundings.
Explore the tobacco fields and caves in Viñales
The valleys of Viñales are were all the big tobacco fields near Havana are – and these are the ones that provide the tobacco for Partagas factory, so they’re pretty big news. Take a trip and learn all about them and their history and take a bit of time to explore the caves a bit closer to the coastline while you’re there. All that lush, jungle landscape makes for great photos as well, FYI.
Food & Drink
Try Hemingway’s favourite drink on the rooftop of Ambos Mundos Hotel
There’s a bit of Hemingway theme going on here, which makes sense, I guess. But if you’re doing the Hemingway thing, then one place you must, must, must visit is the Ambos Mundos Hotel. It’s the very same hotel Hemingway used to pass out in after a night of drinking daiquiris, and you can sample his favourite drink at their rooftop bar, gazing over the city.
Try the world-famous daiquiris at El Floridita
It was Ernest Hemingway who first declared El Floridita to have the best daiquiris in the world, and people have been visiting the little bar ever since. There are about 20 flavours to choose from though, and obviously you need to try them all, so make sure you line your stomach first.
Drink a piña colada out of a pineapple
All you want on a hot day is a good piña colada, right? But you don’t necessarily want to waste your whole day sitting in a bar (I don’t see why not, but that’s not everyone’s cup of tea I suppose), and we’re not here for single-use plastic or cans in 2019. So, the alternative? Get a piña colada served up in a pineapple.
Test the mojitos in the garden at Hotel Nacional
Hotel Nacional is an iconic landmark in Havana. Literally, no matter where you are in the city, you’ll be able to spot the hotel. Built in the 1930s, it has a massive palm tree-lined entrance, plus a beautiful garden with a prime view of the ocean and Malecón. Plus, mojitos are their claim to fame.
Eat at a Casa Paladares
Just like Casa Particulares, these are local, authentic, family-run restaurants. They’re typically built inside big houses or building that people live in, and a small section has been converted into a restaurant. If you have a proper hunt for one, you can find some seriously good little hidden restaurants serving some seriously good food.
Visit Plaza de la Revolución
Plaza de la Revolucion is the place where Fidel Castro held his political rallies – both during and after the Cuban revolution. Apparently, the square holds up to a million people, and it’s flanked by two huge memorials to Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos. Plus, there’s a giant monument to Jose Marti – catch the lift and go up to the viewing platform, and you’ll be able to see the whole of Havana.
Get lost in Havana’s Old Town
Known locally as Havana Vieja, Old Town is the main tourist hotspot in the city. Seriously, this is where you go, whether you want live music, craft stalls, food markets, supermarkets, you name it you can find it here. However, it’s not super touristy, and the streets are bright and vibrant enough that you forget about your fellow travellers anyway.
Visit the Revolution Museum
If history is your thing, you need to take a trip around the Revolution Museum. It’s here you’ll find legitimate clothing worn by Cuban soldiers during the revolution, as well as newspaper articles and authentic bullet holes. There’s also the striking old Presidential Palace building, surrounded by Cuban artillery.
Explore the Cuban Missile Crisis tunnels
The grounds of Hotel Nacional de Cuba are littered with different points of history – including this most infamous chapter, involving the Cuban Missile Crisis. In fact, it’s actually the exact site where Cuba’s missiles were pointed directly at the United States. The tunnel door might remain closed, but there’s still a very eerie feeling here.
Go and see the old mansions in Vedado
A lot of people visiting Havana will stay in a casa particular here in Vedado, and they’ll probably all have the same thought: “what the hell are all these mansions doing here”. Not even just the fact of the mansions being there, in a city that is not associated with opulence, but the architecture of them is straight-up grandeur to the max.
Turns out, these mansions once belonged to mafia and mob leaders from the US, plantation owners, and other heavily influential members of Cuban society. Apparently, the Bacardi family once lived here when Batista was in power and Havana was considered the “Las Vegas of the Caribbean”.
Watch the canon show at Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña
Every night at 9 pm on the dot, locals re-enact an 18th-century shoot out over the water at Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña. Perfect for the history buffs, plus if you go at sunset you get to the sky flood with baby pinks and blues before it gets dark.
Visit Morro Cabańa
This massive fort can be found just across the bay from Havana Vieja, and you can get a tax through an underground tunnel to get to it – if you don’t fancy braving it on foot, that is. Morro Cabana was built in the late 1800s and is still home to many of the old cannons that were once used to fire at invading ships over the centuries.
Havana is one of those places you could easily spend a week in, or just a few nights as part of a wider exploration of Cuba as a whole. Whether you plan on being a long-timer or a d ay tripper, hopefully our guide proves that you’ll never run out of things to do. Enjoy.