The range of things to do in Havana is incredible, and you will inevitably fall in love with this crumbling, charming city.
Full of mystery and charm, Cuba is a favorite of travelers who, despite the difficulties they encounter, are fascinated by it. Originally known as San Cristobal de la Habana, the Cuban capital is the obvious starting point of a trip around the country. Dusty, noisy, crowded and with bad traffic, it may at times feel overwhelming. Yet, this is where you will get a proper introduction to Cuban culture and history, and to its people.
My recommendation is to spend at least 3 full days in Havana (or, as they say, La Habana) to visit all the main attractions – the city is actually quite spread out. If you have an extra day or two to spare, even better – this way you will have a chance to explore it more in depth.
This post highlights all the unmissable things to do in Havana, and shares a few tips to make the most of this incredible city.
40 Incredible Things To Do In Havana
Ride a vintage car
One of the things La Habana is most famous for are the beautiful old cars. They are everywhere – on any street corner, traffic light, parking lot. Some of these cars are incredibly well kept: perfectly restored and well-preserved, shiny 1950s Fords dating back to pre-revolution times and that are the pride and joy of their owners. Others are falling apart – but in a country where nothing goes to waste, they get fixed and keep running. Needless to say, one of the most fun things to do in Havana is riding one.
If you are keen on going on a ride, you have three options:
TAKE A TAXI PARTICULAR: If your Spanish is up to scratch, just hail an old taxi particulares (private taxis) for a ride to your chose destination. This is cheapest option, as taxis particulares are actually shared so chances are that some local will jump on board too and you’ll get to mingle. However, you’ll only stay in the car for the duration of the ride, and haggling is a must.
GO ON AN OFFICIAL RIDE: This can last anything between one and two hours and is easy to find – chances are that a vintage car driver will try to catch your attention. Beware that it is likely that the driver will inflate the prices: you’ll have to haggle fiercely to get a fair rate.
BOOK YOUR RIDE ONLINE: This is the easiest option, and it will spare you the hassle of having to haggle with the driver, which can be exhausting and take a lot of time. You can book your Havana 2 hour classic American car tour here.
Walk around Havana Vieja
Going for a walk in Old Havana (which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site) most definitely is one of the unmissable things to do in Havana. This is a great way to discover the city and see most of its attractions.
Among the must-see there are:
PLAZA DE LA CATEDRAL – A gorgeous square where all the buildings, including the Cathedral (Catedral de San Cristobal) are in Baroque style.
PLAZA DE ARMAS – The oldest square in Havana and where the statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, who initiated the fight for Cuban independence, is located
PLAZA VIEJA – The most eclectic square in the city and baroque style buildings sit right next Art Nouveau ones. You’ll also have a chance to see the crumbling building Havana is famous for.
PLAZA DE SAN FRANCISCO – The second oldest square in town, it’s located in Havana Harbor and it’s where you’ll find an 18th-century basilica and the old Havana stock exchange.
A guided tour may be a good idea if you are pressed for time and yet don’t want to miss out on the most important attractions. These are the best tours:
- Welcome to Havana private tour with a local
- Discover Old Havana: this is a small walking tour of Old Havana
- Havana walking tour: this is a great budget friendly option
Visit Cámera Obscura in Havana Vieja
Located in Plaza Vieja, the Gómez Vila building is the tallest in Old Havana and houses the only Camera Obscura in Latin America and the Caribbean. The camera projects real-time images of the city onto a dark screen. The views from the rooftop terrace are definitely an added bonus. Admission is just $2 USD.
Discover the hidden gems of Calle Mercaderes
Calle Mercaderea has been beautifully restored to its original 18th century splendor, and walking along it is one of the nicest things to do in Havana. It is packed with small museums (most of them, such as the Museo de Bomberos dedicated to firefighters, or the Museo del Tabaco, are free), shops and restaurants, but you can also pop in to get to know one of the many social projects that have their headquarters here.
Buy a book or two in Plaza de Armas
Book worms will be happy to know that the oldest square in Havana hosts a daily book market. Make sure to stop by the stalls and search for your next read.
Mix with the locals in Calle Obispo
To get a flavor of local life heat to Calle Obispo, the main street in Old Havana, where a series of art galleries, shops, and bars are located. It’s one of the busiest pedestrian streets in the city.
Go to the Capitol Building
The former seat of the government until the Cuba revolution, the Capitol Building – El Capitolio – now hosts the Cuban Academy of Sciences. It’s a gorgeous, imposing building where visitors aren’t admitted, but you can surely look at it from the outside: it’s one of the unmissable things to do in Havana.
GOOD TO KNOW: Not far from El Capitolio you will find the Parque Central, where a bunch of luxury hotels such as the Kempinski and the Iberostar Parque Central are located. It’s also a cool place to spot local life!
And the Gran Teatro
Built in 1838, the Gran Teatro is one of the prettiest buildings in Havana, and where the Cuba ballet performs. You can go on a tour to visit the magnificent interior, and if you happen to walk around Old Havana at night, make sure to head in its direction as it is simply splendid when all lit up!
Visit the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
Art lovers will agree that visiting the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes is one of the best things to do in Havana. The collection is truly interesting, with pieces of international art that date back to 500 AC! Keep in mind that the museum is spread across two buildings.
Visit the Museo de la Revolución
If you decide to only visit one museum, make sure you go to the Museo de la Revolución (Museum of the Revolution). Located in the former presidential palace, for a really small fee it will walk you through the history of the revolution in Cuba. The collection comprises a lot of documents and photos, so there is a lot of reading to be done.
Then head to Plaza de la Revolución
Plaza de la Revolución is a must see when in Havana. To be fair, this isn’t exactly the prettiest square in town – the area is grey, somewhat dim. But its historical and political significance are undeniable: this is where political rallies and gathering take place; where politicians appear to address their electorate; and where Cubans gathered to give their last farewell to their former president Fidel Castro.
The memorial square is dedicated to one of the heroes of the Cuban revolution, José Martí. On the other side of the square, there is a huge image of Ernesto Che Guevara and his famous motto “Hasta la Victoria Siempre.” The image of Camilo Cienfuegos, another Cuban revolution hero, was added in 2009 on the nearby telecommunications building.
TIP: Keep in mind that Plaza de la Revolución is a bit far from everything else and you are better off going by taxi.
Visit El Morro
You can see El Morro, located in the district of Casablanca, from the Malecon of Havana. This castle dates back to 1589 and it was originally built to protect Havana from pirates. It was then used at the time of the Spanish America war. The views of the city from the castle are impressive.
Spot El Cristo de la Habana
Second in size only to the one in Rio, El Cristo de la Havana stands 20 meters tall and overlooks the city. It’s close to El Morro, and you can get there by taxi or by ferry – from Old Havana to Casablanca Pier.
GOOD TO KNOW: Across the street from where the statue is located you will find Che Guevara’s headquarters, the place where he established his offices at the time of the Cuban Revolution. You can visit the museum for around $6 USD.
Walk along El Malecon
You can’t write a post about the things to do in Havana without mentioning El Malecon – visiting is simply a must, and you get bonus points if you go at sunset!
This 8 km paved road connects the outside of the Old Havana (where the Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta, a fortress dating back to 1590, is located) with the residential Vedado and is where Havaneros hang out in the late afternoon – and hence a great place for people-watching. Along the Malecon you’ll be able to spot a lot of beautiful, old and crumbling buildings.
TIP: For a truly local experience, you may even go fishing on the Malecon!
Or along Paseo del Prado
One of the most famous streets of Havana, it includes the length of Paseo Martí from the Malecon all the way to Calle Máximo Gómezand and divides Centro Habana from Old Havana.
Take a small detour to visit the Callejón de Hamel
The Callejón de Hamel is a really tiny street not far from El Malecon and a real must-see. Here, you can find some interesting street art and get a feel for the Afro-Cuban culture that is so typical of the country. Beware of the touts that hang out in this area, and be prepared for a lot of cat calling.
Make a stop at Hotel Nacional
The most famous hotel in Havana is Hotel Nacional, and it is right on the Malecon. This neoclassic / art decò building has a beautiful garden and a fantastic terrace with views of the ocean. It’s where some Cuban army officers sought refuge in 1933, hoping to get help from the US after Fulgencio Batista’s coup d’état.
Nowadays, the hotel remains a great place to visit; it hosts events, wedding celebrations and parties such as “quinzeneras” (15 years old birthday celebrations) and it’s a great place to enjoy a sunset drink.
Explore the Cuban Missile Crisis Tunnels
Right behind the Malecon, on the far right corner of Hotel Nacional, you can look for the signs that point towards the tunnels where the missiles set up and aimed at the US were kept during the Cuban Missile Crisis (learn more about it here). It’s a rather interesting place to explore and to understand more about the story of the country and of its place in the international arena.
Go to the Vedado
This is one of the nicest areas in the Cuban capital, with gorgeous colonial style homes, beautiful gardens and where the traffic is much less compared to the rest of the city, and significantly less touristy. The main highlight is Parque Almendares, also known as Parque Metropolitana.
TIP: The Vedado is a great area to stay and you will find some excellent casas particulares.
GOOD TO KNOW: Another lovely residential area of Havana is Miramar, where embassies and large mansions are located.
Visit the Cementario de Cristóbal Colón
Outside the center of Havana, Colon Cemetery is a massive cemetery of 141 hectares and more than 800000 graves, with beautiful statues and the tombs of some of the most prominent people in the country. Admission fee is $5 USD, and you will need to get there by taxi,
Visit a tobacco factory
One thing Cuba is really famous for is its cigars. The Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagás is one of the places to visit if you want to learn a bit more about how Cuban cigars are made, and to buy a few that you can carry home with you. If you do, make sure to store them in the fridge covered with a wet cloth to keep them nice and moist (I learned this from a local!).
Walk around the Barrio Chino
There is a Chinatown in Havana. Or perhaps I should say there was. Once upon a time there used to be a large Chinese community in Cuba, but nowadays there are no more Chinese people left. Yet, the Barrio Chino is a cool place to visit: it’s so small it won’t take you more than 15 minutes to walk through it and browse at the various Chinese restaurants.
Shop at a local market
Visiting the local markets (such as San José market) is one of the nicest things to do in Havana. There are various small fruit open-air markets where you can buy fruit for a real steal. There also are some crafts market where you can get small souvenirs – the same you can see in souvenir shops, to be fair.
Eat at a paladar
When in Havana, you have to try local food. The best food in Cuba is found either in local homes or at paladares, privately owned restaurants. There, for a real steal, you can have huge portions of the most delicious local dishes. The price of a meal at a paladar can be as cheap as $7 USD and as expensive as $35, depending on what you eat and on the location.
Or from a hole in the wall
Scattered around all Cuban towns big and small you will find tiny holes in the walls – literally a window – where you can get all sorts of street food. Sandwiches such as the Cubano, churros and “mariquitas” (fried plantains) or yuca chips are the most obvious choices, but for a truly local experience go for the pizza.
You can imagine how I, the pickiest Italian on earth, reacted at the idea of a pizza served through a window and cooked on a tiny charcoal or wood oven. But I must admit it is quite tasty! What makes it so is the sofrito – a mix of onion, garlic and bell peppers fried in oil, to which tomato sauce is added. Sounds more like the kind of sauce we’d put on pasta here in Italy, but why not?
GOOD TO KNOW: The best spots for pizza in Havana are Bella Ciao and 5 Esquinas Trattoria.
Enjoy dinner at La Guarida
One of the best paladares in town is La Guarida. Not only it serves excellent food, but the atmosphere is incredible and the building really impressive, with a staircase that you will want to climb and take photos of. To give you an idea, it’s where the movie Fresa y Chocolate was filmed. Reservations are recommended.
Sugar cane juice can be found in all Caribbean countries. It’s an incredibly sweet drink, but if you add a good dose of fresh lime juice, it can be nice and refreshing, and give you a boost of energy and a break from the exhausting heat. Besides, seeing how guarapo is prepared is one of the coolest things to do in Havana.
Have a good cocktail
Speaking of lime, lemon and drinks, there is no denying that cocktails in Cuba are good. La Bodeguita del Medio, in 156 Calle Empedrado, near Plaza de Armas, was Ernest Hemingway’s favorite cocktail bar and remains the most popular spot for a mojito (though I think the best mojitos are those that you can get at any random bar in the city).
The best place for daiquiris is definitely El Floridita. It’s just as touristy as La Bodeguita (and another of Hemingway’s spots in town), but who cares when they are so good?
GOOD TO KNOW: Another great bar serving good mojitos and playing live music on a regular basis is Los Van Van. For the best Cuba Libre, head to El Presidente Hotel.
Have a sip of Planchao
Before my trip to Cuba, my friend who’d been there before me told me that Cubans drink “rum in a box.” It didn’t take me long to come across a liquor store that sold it, for less than $1 USD for a box of 200 mil. It literally looks like a carton of juice, except it’s for adults only. I tried Planchao and can testify it’s pretty bad quality. You may want to try your luck with Tumbao, the other brand.
Get to know the locals
One of the biggest perks of traveling is getting to meet the locals. Cubans are friendly enough people, but you really need to watch for scams – pay particular attention when they appear overly friendly. If you are into baseball, a good idea to catch some local actions and get a chance to talk to the locals may be attending a baseball game at Estadio Latinoamericano.
Listen to great music
Music is everywhere in Havana, and all that it takes to listen to some is turning a street corner (there’s bound to be some band playing in the street) or getting into a bar, since most in Havana have live music.
If you are into jazz, you will be in for a treat. Many bars in Old Havana play jazz music! The most popular one is La Zorra y el Cuervo.
Practice salsa dancing
Try to listen to salsa music without wanting to dance. It’s impossible! One of the best things to do in Havana is enrolling in a salsa dancing class. And if you want to have a proper night out, go to Casa de la Musica, in the Miramar district. It’s a huge, indoor nightclub but the cool thing is that they play live music. This is where young locals go to dance salsa, but it’s becoming increasingly more popular with tourists too.
TIP: Make sure to either reserve a taxi back home, or to ask the driver who took you there to pick you up, or else it will be a fierce haggling game until you find a taxi that can take you back to your accommodation at a honest price.
Enjoy the hippest night scene at Fabrica de Arte Cubano
One of the most popular clubs in town is La Fabrica de Arte Cubano – AKA the Cuban Art Factory. Founded by musician X-Alfonso and set inside an old cooking oil factory, it’s a fantastic mix of club, art gallery and performing center. It’s open from Thursday to Sunday.
See a Tropicana show
The Tropicana is a world-famous Cuban show, and seeing it is a cool thing to do in Havana. You will need to buy tickets in advance, as the place fills up really quickly. Once you get in, you will be offered a cigar. You can even eat dinner there. You can buy tickets to the Tropicana show online here.
Stay at a casa particular
One of the top things to do in Havana is to stay at a casa particular (literally “private home”). Pretty much anyone who has a spare room or two in Havana rents it out, preferably to foreign tourists, to make a bit more money. Rooms at casas particulares are pretty standard: they are typically double and with a private bathroom with running hot water. Meals are not included in the price of the room.
A room at a casa particular costs anything between $20 to $35 USD, or even more depending on the location and on the size of the room. Breakfast costs around $5, and dinner anything between $8 and $15.
If you check Airbnb you will find an incredible range of casas particulares for all budgets and preferences. I have selected a few for you in the “where to stay” section below.
Head out to Fusterlandia
For more unique art expressions go to Fusterlandia, a neighborhood (Jaimanitas) that artist José Fuster reclaimed to art in a way that is similar to Spain’s Gaudi. Visiting de Casa de Fuster – where he recreated a fantastic mosaic piece – is free, and you can get there by taxi but your haggling skills will be tested.
Go to the beach
The good thing about Havana is that it is fairly easy to get out of the city and there is quite a bit to see in the surroundings. If you want to go to the beach Playas del Este is an excellent option in terms of vicinity (you can go there independently), beauty and local feel.
Go to El Bosque de la Habana
Another place to get out of town without really leaving is El Bosque de la Habana, a swamp-like forest which is a favorite of locals, home to the Almendares River.
Vinales is one of the nicest places to visit in Cuba. It honestly deserves more than just a day, but if a day is all you have, you may as well make the most of. I recommend going on a guided tour to save some time.
These are some of the options:
Visit Finca Vigia and Cojimar
These are two of the places that Ernest Hemingway loved the most. The first is located south of town, it’s where he used to live and now houses a museum dedicated to his life and works. The second is a small town where he found inspiration for his writings, such as The Old Man And The Sea. They are easy to get to, but you may want to join a guided tour if you want to see them on the same day. This trip to Hemingway’s places is highly recommended. You can book it here.
Practical Tips To Organize Your Trip To Havana
Where to stay in Havana
Havana has some excellent accommodation options. There are a few good hotels in town, but you are better off staying in one of the many casas particulares where you’ll have a chance to get right into the culture and way of life of a local family. Most travelers opt to stay in Habana Vieja, but there are a few excellent options in the Vedado too. The following is a selection of some good casas particulares:
- Abalidia, located in Vedado, is a lovely colonial home managed by the charming Felix and Lidia. There are two large rooms, a fantastic patio and Lidia is an excellent cook. You can’t book it online, but you can reach out via email through their website or send an email to Felix at firstname.lastname@example.org – definitely mention my name! Click here for reviews.
- Gardens Boutique Hotel – if you have the budget to splurge, this is by far the best place to stay in Havana, fantastically combining the comforts of a boutique hotel with the cozy feeling of an Airbnb.
- Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski is located in the historic Manzana de Gómez building and is the first five-star hotel in town. From its rooftop terrace, you can enjoy awesome views that span from Havana Vieja all the way to the Capitol Building. There is an infinity rooftop pool too. Keep in mind it is state owned so Americans aren’t – technically – allowed to book it. You can read reviews here.
Guided tours of Cuba that also go do Havana
Cuba is an easy enough country to travel around if you are an experienced traveler and if you don’t mind having to put up with the sometimes unreliable transportation system. If you’d rather leave the organization bits to the experts and just worry about what to pack for your trip, you can join a guided tour. There are some excellent ones around.
This is a selection of the best guided tours of Cuba. They all go to Havana:
- Cuba Libre – a classic 6 days tour that is also very budget friendly.
- Cuba on a shoestring – a 16 day G Adventures tour perfect for a younger crowd.
- Cuba Colonial – a 15 days tour that covers all the nest places to visit in the country.
How to get to Havana
Most major airlines fly to José Martí International Airport, the biggest in Cuba. Depending on when you wish to travel, and especially if your travel dates are somewhat flexible, you can score great deals on flights.
The airport and is located within easy distance from the city. Taxis to town are in the range of $20 to $30 USD. If you don’t want to have to worry about haggling prices as soon as you land from your international flight, you are better off booking a cab in advance. You can book one here.
You also have the option of renting a car for your trip to Cuba, and you can pick it up directly from the airport. Keep in mind that you need to book it online in advance and that you really won’t need the car in Havana.
How to move around Havana
If you are staying in Havana Vieja, you won’t really need to use public transportation to go anywhere. If you like walking, even Vedado can be reached on an easy walk along the Malecon. Other than that, you can rely on the many taxis that move around town, or the fun pedi cabs. Make sure to always bargain the prices though!
Best time to visit Havana
Any time is a good time to visit Havana, if you ask me. The city is blessed with sunny days year round.
Having said that, Autumn is a great time to travel to Cuba, and prices are generally lower. The other side of the coin is that it is hurricane season – so you may want to avoid that.
The winter months – November to March – are probably the best ones, with days that are hot and dry, but never unpleasant. The bonus is that the country is less crowded then.
Other useful information and tips
You will need a tarjeta turistica – basically just a visa – to travel to Cuba. You can get it at a good travel agency or online. Ask Easy Tourist Card to arrange your visa for Cuba for just $35 USD!
Having a travel medical insurance is another requirement.
For further readings about Havana and Cuba, you can check out one of these books:
- Lonely Planet pocket Havana travel guide
- Lonely Planet Cuba travel guide
- DK Eyewitness Cuba travel guide
Make sure to also bring a plug adapter for your trip to Cuba. I recommend this one.
Finally, learn a few words in Spanish before your trip as they may be immensely helpful. Check out my post 20 Useful Tips For Learning A New Language for more.
Further readings about Cuba
If you are planning a trip to Cuba, make sure to read my other posts:
- The Most Fantastic Things To In Do Cuba: The Ultimate Guide
- How To Get The Visa For Cuba In 8 Easy Steps (Also For Americans)
- The 35 Best Beaches In Cuba
- A Great Guide To Viñales Cuba
- A Great Guide To Cienfuegos Cuba
- A Short Guide To Camaguey Cuba
- A Great Guide To Baracoa Cuba
- The Most Delicious Cuban Food: 43 Mouthwatering Cuban Dishes
- Trinidad, Cuba: The Most Complete Guide
- The 7 Best Places To Go Hiking In Cuba
- 10 Fabulous Day Trips From Havana