Showcasing the very best things to do in Havana Cuba from two points of view. This Havana guide takes the best of two different trips to help you plan the best trip possible.
Many people only spend a day in Havana taking a tour from their all-inclusive hotels, but we highly recommend spending several days in this exciting city. When visiting Havana, you’ll probably be spending most of your time in Old Havana and Centro. But here are other places you will visit in Havana as well.
Things to do in Havana, Cuba
Table of Contents
- Old Havana – A UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with public Squares, cobblestone walking streets, and many restaurants and bars.
- Malécon – Five Mile Long waterfront Promenade stretching from Havana Viejo to Vedado.
- Centro – Perfect for capturing those classic car photographs in front of crumbling
- Vedado – This is the residential neighborhood that houses ex-pats and has a much more upscale feel to it than Centro.
- Miramar – Residential neighborhood filled with embassies and mansions.
- Casablanca – Located across the bay, here is where you’ll find the Fort El Morrow, Christo, and Che Guevera’s headquarters.
About Havana, Cuba
Cuba is an amazing country. It has topped many a travelers’ bucket list, and the Cuba’s capital city of Havana is one of the most exciting places to visit in the Caribbean. Originally named San Cristóbal de la Habana in 1519 Havana has enticed travelers to experience its old cars, vibrant nightlife and historic city center.
Being cut off from America for decades has added to the appeal and attraction of Havana and it lives up to the hype! We have broken down the best things to do in these Havana neighborhoods to help you better understand the city.
Old Havana / La Habana Vieja
The Old City of Havana, La Habana Vieja is filled with plazas and squares. La Habana Vieja is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is worth spending a day exploring each of the plazas of Cuba’s capital. No motorized vehicles are allowed in this area and it is beautifully restored with cobblestone streets weaving through colonial buildings.
1. Take a Classic Car Tour
When arriving in Havana one of the best things to do in Havana is to book a classic car tour to see all the major sites. These impeccable classic cars are the best way to see Havana. Being isolated from the world due to the American Embargo, time has stood still since the 1950s when America left and left its old cars to the locals.
Havana’s classic cars make it one of the most unique destinations to visit in the Caribbean. We went on a with Cubatur and had fantastic guides to take us from our hotel at the Iberostar Grand Packard all around the city. This was an excellent introduction to Havana taking us through all the city’s neighborhoods. It is definitely a bucket list ticket for anyone visiting Cuba’s capital.
- Book your own 2-Hour Classic American Car Tour
2. Walking Tour of Old Havana
Our walking tour of the Old City with CubaTur took us around the UNESCO World Heritage-designated Old Town where we explored all of the squares, the famous cafes, and churches.
This tour will show you all the Old Havana points of interest so you can return in the coming days to explore further.
3. Mojito Mojito
Mojitos were invented in Cuba and are one of the island’s oldest cocktails. The recipe consists of white rum, (a lot of it in Havana cocktails), sugar (traditionally sugar cane), lime juice, soda water, and mint. We recommend the restaurant Mojito Mojito, we were told its claim to fame is that the Mojito was invented there!
4. El Floridita for Hemingway Daiquiri
One of my bucket list items when visiting Havana was to follow the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway spent much time in Havana and wrote many of his great novels including Old Man and the Sea while living outside the city.
He frequented many a bar in Cuba’s capital and no place is more famous than El Floridita. He drank at El Floridita so often, there is a statue of him sitting at the end of the bar with his namesake on the bar. Walking from Parque Central towards Old Havana, you’ll easily spot El Floridita.
It’s packed with tourists visiting on day trips, but head out later at night and you’ll be able to go in with less of a crowd.
5. La Bodeguita del Medio
Another Hemingway Bar is La Bodeguita. There is a note from Ernest Hemingway himself where he apparently wrote “My Mojito in La Bodeguita, My Daiquiri in El Floridita”
There are many spots in Havana Vieja to have cocktails and Hemingway frequented many. You can follow the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway on the Day in Hemingway tour where you’ll trace his life through the Hemingway Museum, Fina Vigía, his home from 1939 to 1960, Hotel Ambos Mundos, the village of Cojimar and his many drinking spots.
6. Los Van Van
Located in Old Havana, we loved the bar Los Van Van. It seemed that everyone else did too! We saw many of the same people night after night! The Mojitos were delicious and strong. (and yet there was no hangover) and the live music was outstanding and entertaining.
7. Plaza Vieja
Our favorite square in Havana, Plaza Vieja is a historic square dating back to the 16th century. Colorful colonial buildings surround the square that is alive with bustling activity. This is a great place for a frozen lemonade or cocktail to take a break from sightseeing.
8. Plaza de Armas
This is the oldest square in Havana has a lovely garden and a picturesque line of royal palms surrounding the white statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes. He was the initiator of the Cuban independence movement.
The City Museum and the lovely book market in its center are also located at the Plaza de Armas.
When walking along the Plaza de Armas, be sure to look down when walking here, the cobblestone street is actually made of wood. It is said that the wooden walkway kept carriages quiet so the governor would not be disturbed.
9. Plaza De La Catedral
The Catedral de San Cristobal (also known as Catedral de la Habana) stands at the head of the Plaza de la Catedral. This photogenic square is lined with stone buildings and covered porticoes making for nice shaded walking within the square. The entire atmosphere will make you feel as if you have been transported to a city in Spain.
10. Plaza de San Francisco
Plaza San Francisco is yet another beautiful square to wander through in Havana. Located at the Havana Harbour, it is one of the first plazas in Havana welcoming ships arriving from Spain to trade in the West Indies. It houses an 18th-century basilica, the old Havana stock exchange, an imposing tower, and many cafés.
11. El Malecon
El Malecon spans 5 miles (8km) all the way from Old Havana to the chic neighborhood of Miramar. You can walk the entire way! During sunset, it is very busy with locals going to relax after a day at work.
12. Sunset at Iberostar Grand Packard 6th Floor
The Iberostar is one of Havana’s newest and most luxurious hotels with the best sunset view in the city. Have a cocktail on the 6th-floor bar overlooking the infinity pool and the Malecon.
13. Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta
El Malecon spans the waterfront, but the best place for sunset is at the Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta. This old fortress dating back to 1590, juts out from the coastline offering full views of the waterfront of Havana and El Morrow across the bay.
14. Fabrica de arte cubano
The newest hippest hot spot in Cuba’s capital city is The Cuban Art Factory is open from Thursdays to Sundays from 8pm to 2 am. It is a multisensory display of art galleries, performance art, cultural center, and nightclub all in one.
Fabrica de Arte Cubano is a must for people wanting to immerse in Cuban culture. Its aim is to promote Cuban artists of all kinds from musicians, and and photographers to writers and film makers. The display changes weekly.
15. Hotel Nacional
Further along the Malecon, in the Vedado District is the historic Hotel Nacional. Dating back to 1930, it is a mammoth hotel that has seen celebrities and dignitaries grace its doors including Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, and Rita Hayworth.
It is still a popular hotel and we suggest popping in for sunset on the terrace to listen to music while enjoying a mojito.
16. Revolution Square / Plaza de la Revolución
Also located in Vedado is the Plaza de la Revolución. Revolution Square is a must stop in Havana to see monument to the people and the facades of Che Guevara and The Ministry of Interior.
Plaza de la Revolución was here that Fidel Castro made many of his long-winded speeches to the people. We were told that thousands of people would sit for up to three hours in the heat listening to what he had to say.
17. The architecture of Centro Havana
Our hotel was located right beside Centro Havana and we loved wandering the streets for amazing photography moments. The buildings are literally crumbling before our eyes.
We took a pedicab through Centro Havana to cover the distance quickly, but the joy of walking through here is getting lost in the streets. It is safe and people are friendly. When walking home at 3 am one evening the streets were alive people.
18. La Guarida for Dinner
La Guarida in Centro Havana is also a popular spot for sunset. It is one of the most expensive restaurants in the city with meals costing only around $40 per person. Made famous by the Academy Award-nominated movie Fresa Y Chocolate.
It’s not easy to find as it is on the third floor of an old mansion. When you are there, have one of their Pina Coladas, they claim to have the best in the city, and we can attest, they are tasty!
19. Paseo Del Prado
This walking street stretches from the Malecon to Parque Central and is a relaxing shaded walk. It also divides Havana Viejo with Central Havana. At night many locals will be hanging out dancing, listening to music or playing sports.
20. Parque Central
It is probably the first place you’ll venture to in Havana. Parque Central is where everything happens. This is the spot where you’ll see all the old cars lined up waiting for tourists to take a taxi particular ride. Central Park is surrounded by grand hotels like the Iberostar Parque Central and The Kempinski.
21. El Cristo de La Havana
Havana has its own Christ the Redeemer. It is second in size only to Rio. Take a taxi, a ferry, or a tour across the bay from to Casablanca Pier to see El Christo. This Christ of Havana stands 20 meters (66 ft) high and is located on an outcrop overlooking the city of Havana.
El Christo’s location offers excellent panoramic views of the Havana Skyline. It’s not far from El Morro, so you can stop here and then make your way to the fort for the nightly canon.
22. Visit the Morro
El Morro is the castle dating back to 1589. It’s Havana’s most prominent landmark and can be seen from the Malecon. Located across the bay, it offers some great views of the Havana skyline.
El Morro was initially built to protect Havana from pirates, in later years it was used to protect Cuba during the Spanish American War. You can tour the fort and explore the many guard boxes and tunnels.
23. el Cañonazo de las Nueve
Havana used to be surrounded by a city wall (much of it can still be seen today) and at 9 pm the canon was shot to warn people that the gates would be closing. Every night in the Fortress of San Carlos de la Cabaña (aka La Cabaña), the ceremony of “el Cañonazo de las Nueve” takes place reenacting that tradition that dates back to 1774. El Morro Soldiers dress in traditional costumes and shoot the cannons at 9pm sharp.
24. Che Guevera’s Headquarters
Just across from El Christo statue is the headquarters of Che Guevara that you can tour the museum for about $6. This is where Ché Guevara held many meetings when planning his revolution.
25. Cuban Missile Crisis Relics
It was the beginning of the entire isolation of Cuba. The Soviet Union pointed missiles directly at America from Cuba. The missiles that have been moved from their original locations are now on display at the museum of La Cabana fortress in Havana,
26. Visit The Capitol Building
The Capitol Building is one of the best places to visit in Havana. Built-in 1926 – 1029 it is often compared to the United States Capitol building. And it’s true, it really does look like it.
27. Gran Teatro de La Habana
The Gran Teatro de la Habana (Grand Theatre of Havana) dates back to 1838. It is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. Make sure to go inside and either see the Cuban National Ballet or take a tour to see the grand stage, and we recommend taking a walk downtown at night to see it lit up.
28. Barrio Chino – Havana Chinatown
There is a Chinatown in Havana. But there are no Chinese people there. In fact, there once was a huge Chinese community in Cuba. What’s left today is just about 2 blocks of Chinese restaurants. Still interesting to see. I enjoyed it for sure.
29. Cuban Music
Cubans are very musical. At every corner in Havana Vieja, someone will be playing some great tunes. Most bars and restaurants in Havana also have live music, at just about any time. If you go into a restaurant for a drink, chances are a band will start playing.
- Note: They will come up to you to ask to buy one of their CDs. We bought one for as low as $5 and we spent $20 on a set of two another night. The prices range quite a bit. I suggest paying more around $5-10 tops.
30. Learn to Salsa
One of the best things to do in Havana is to dance. There are endless possibilities to go dancing in Cuba’s capital. Claudia took a salsa lesson in Havana and it made for good afternoon fun. There are several places to learn salsa in Havana, all you need to do is Google “Salsa Lessons Havana.”
Or you can do what we (Dave and Deb did) just go up and dance with the band, they’ll lead the way for you. The nightlife doesn’t stop in Havana and you can go bar hopping and dancing all night long. They even dance in the streets.
31. Cuban Cigars
Cuba is so famous for its tobacco and cigars you must explore the culture of cigars even if you are not a smoker. Visit Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagás (one of the oldest and most famous cigar factories and Cuba to learn how they are made and buy some souvenirs for friends.
- Did you know cigars are best kept in the fridge, on a wet cloth? When you take your cigars home from Cuba make them last this way.
32. Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
Arguably one of the finest art galleries in the Caribbean, this is a must-visit for art lovers. This incredible museum houses international art from 500 AD onwards. The museum is now divided into two buildings, one is dedicated to Cuban art and another dedicated to art from around the world.
33. Revolution Museum
If you want to learn more about the Cuban Revolution, the Museo de la Revolucion in the 1950s, this is the place to go. Located in Old Havana, it is housed in the old Presidential Palace.
34. Bonus Tip: Try Guarapo
I find the heat exhausting and at times I need a good dose of sugar to recharge my batteries. Nothing beats Guarapo for this: it is pure sugarcane juice, freshly squeezed. Add some lime to cut the sweetness for a refreshing drink.
Suggested Havana Tours
- A walking or driving tour is one of the best ways to get your bearings. Get Your Guide is a company we have used for city tours around the world and it is easy to book last-minute tours or cancel up to 24 hours in advance.
- Private Half-Day Tour of Havana – Book a private walking tour, up to 6 people for your own introduction to Cuba’s capital.
- Havana City Tour – A more affordable option is to join a group and take a city tour of Havana as you check out all the sights.
- Vinales Valley – This 5-hour guided tour takes you out of Havana to visit a local tobacco factory, plantations, and a cruise the Cueva del Indio by boat.
- Tropicana Cabaret – Admission to the historic Tropicana Cabaret. Includes welcome drink, Cuban rum and more!
Getting Around Havana
When staying in the Old City or at the Iberostar, you really don’t need a lot of transportation, we could walk anywhere. But if we were going to a bar or restaurant that was a little out of the way, we took taxi particular. And you really must do this!
35. Taxi Particular
One of the best ways to get around Havana is to take a taxi particular. Taking a taxi particular is an excursion unto itself. You’ll have great conversations, make new friends and spend a fraction of the price of a tour. Taxi particular (privately owned taxi) rides are shared taxi rides. Meaning that when you got in one, other people can also get in.
The old classic convertibles are the pride of the drivers and for just $5 or $6, they will take you to where you need to be. (within a reasonable distance)
36. Pedi Cabs
We also hired pedicabs that were a lovely way to see the back streets. They charge about $6 (6 Cuban pesos) as well. This is a fun way to take a tour around Centro Havana.
37. playas del este
If you are looking for a bit of beach time in Havana, Playas del Este is the closest beach town to Cuba’s capital city just 20 minutes out of town. This 6km long (4 miles) stretch of sand makes for the perfect escape. There are even a few tourist hotels if you want to spend the night.
Where to Stay in Havana
Iberostar Grand Packard – The 5-star hotel overlooking Malecon between Old and Centro Havana It has an excellent location, great sunset views, infinity pool, spa, and luxurious rooms.
The Iberostar Grand Packard surpasses the three-star experience, (that Cuban 5-star hotels are guilty of) but it is not quite up to European or American standards as far as five-star service and amenities. Check out reviews and rates on Havana Trip Advisor
Budget Travel in Cuba
If you are traveling on a budget, one of the best ways to save money is to stay in a Casas Particular. it is easy to book private accommodations around Havana. These are known as Casas Particulares. We met many people staying in a Casa Particular and they loved it. They paid anywhere from $20 – $40 per night. You can see the hostels that are open to tourists by looking for the umbrella/anchor above the door.
A beautiful boutique AirBnB we visited was Malecon360. I was in an excellent location and had great views of the Malecon.
- TripAdvisor has many options for booking vacation rentals in Havana.
- Airbnb is a popular booking site for Havana and this is a great choice because the money goes into the local Cubans pockets.
- CubaAccommodation.com is another popular booking site.
Cuba Resources & Information
- 1 Cuban Peso = 1 USD. Be sure to select CUC (not CAC) CUC is the tourist Cuban Peso. The other is for locals only.
- Bring US cash with you in small bills to be able to change at your hotel upon arrival.
- Are you a U.S. Citizen? Learn more about the legality of traveling to Cuba as an American by visiting the Treasury Department’s Cuba FAQ.
- Make sure you have travel insurance. In Cuba, you may be asked to show it when landing at immigration. We recommend World Nomads for short term trips. If you are looking for something more long-term check out Allianz Travel. Read more about the value of Travel Insurance here.
- Looking to plan your trip? We recommend checking out Lonely Planet Cuba
- Don’t forget that the water in Cuba is not drinkable. We recommend bringing along the Lifestraw Go Waterbottle. We bring this with us everywhere.
- Be sure to download offline maps before traveling to Cuba. The Internet is terrible there and it helps to have maps stored on your phone.
- Internet: It is available through the ETECSA telecom company and you can buy prepaid cards for around $2-3 per hour.
Have you ever been to Havana? What were the best things you did there?
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Do you have other suggestions of things to do in Havana that I may have missed?
Note: This post was originally published by contributor Claudia Tevani. Since publishing, we have been to Havana ourselves. Dave and I have updated this with our Havana travel tips and recommendations a comprehensive guide to visit Havana.
Claudia Tavani is from Cagliari (Sardinia). A former human rights lawyer and academic, after devoting her life to the protection of cultural identity, Claudia decided to give in to her biggest passion and started traveling. You can follow her adventures at My Adventures Across the World and on Facebook and @Claudioula