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. Havana (whose original name is San Cristobal de la Habana) is the obvious starting point of a trip to Cuba. Dusty, noisy, crowded and with bad traffic, the Cuban capital may at times feel overwhelming. Yet, there are so many things to do in Havana that it would be a real pity to miss out on them. This is where you will get a proper introduction to the country and all that it has to offer, to its culture and history, and to its people.
To discover more about Cuba, head over to my post “The Most Fantastic Things To In Do Cuba: The Ultimate Guide.”
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.
31 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 keep being fixed and they keep running. Needless to say, one of the most fun things to do in Havana is not only taking plenty of photos of the cars, but actually riding one.
If you are keen on going on a ride, you have three options:
Option one: take a taxi particular
If your Spanish is up to scratch, one of the nicest things to do in Havana is to just stop any of the old taxi particulares (private taxis) and use it as a regular taxi to be taken to your next destination. This is a fun option, not to mention the cheapest one, 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 as long as your ride is, and most importantly you’ll have to haggle so that you get charged a fair price.
By the way, taxi scams are among the most common ones in Havana. You can read more about scams in Cuba on this post.
Option two: go on an official ride
Another option is to opt for an official ride, which can last anything between one and two hours. These are easy to find, as beautiful, shiny and well kept vintage cars are pretty much anywhere in Havana, and chances are that the driver will try to catch your attention so that he can offer you a ride. However, keep in mind that this is one of the most touristy things to do in Havana so it is likely that the driver will inflate the prices: you’ll have to haggle fiercely to get a better price.
Option three: book a ride online
The last and easiest option is to book a ride online. This will spare you the hassle of having to haggle with the driver, which can be exhausting and it can take you a lot of time.
These are some of the best car tours in Havana that you can pre-book online:
- Havana 2 hour classic American car tour: this is a classic car ride that goes around Havana showing the highlights of the city.
- Ride in a classic car, cuisine experience and tobacco factory visit: a good value for money tour during which you’ll get a variety of experiences.
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, such as the Plaza de la Catedral, a gorgeous square where all the buildings, including the Cathedral, are all in Baroque style; Plaza de Armas, which is the oldest square in Havana (the second oldest one is Plaza de San Francisco); and Plaza Vieja.
Plaza Vieja has the most eclectic style 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.
TIP: If you feel like you need a break from the sightseeing while you are in Plaza de la Catedral, you may be happy to know that La Bodeguita del Medio, in 156 Calle Empedrado Ernest Hemingway’s favorite cocktail bar in Havana, is right around the corner.
Mojitos are quite expensive compared to the rest of the country, but between the fact drinking a cocktail is one of the things to do in Havana, and that La Bodeguita is one of the landmarks in the city, you shouldn’t pass on the chance to pay a visit.
A guided tour may well be what to do in Havana 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
- Old Havana walking tour: another great option with a professional English speaking guide
Discover the hidden gems of Calle Mercaderes
Most people who visit Havana walk along Calle Mercaderes without even realizing its full value. This street was beautifully restored to its original 18th century splendor, and walking along it is one of the nicest things to do in Havana. Calle Mercaderes 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 visitors 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. Browsing the stalls in search of a book is one of the nicest things to do in Havana.
Mix with the locals in Calle Obispo
Calle Obispo is the main street in Old Havana, where a series of art galleries, shops, and bars are located. More than anything else, it’s among the busiest pedestrian streets in the city, and walking along is one of the unmissable things to do in Havana, if anything to get a flavor of local life.
Go to the Capitol Building
The former seat of the government until the Cuna revolution, the Capitol Building, or 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 which is the center of social action in town. It’s 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 Cuba. 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 what to do in Havana Cuba. The collection is truly interesting, with pieces of international art that date back to 500 AC! If you plan to visit, 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 when in Havana, make sure you go to the Museo de la Revolución (Museum of the Revolution). This is located in the former presidential palace. Here, for a really small fee, you’ll be able to get some better understanding of 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 one of the landmarks of the city, and visiting is one of the unmissable things to do in Havana. 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 representing Ernesto Che Guevara and his famous motto “Hasta la Victoria Siempre.” To these two, the image of Camilo Cienfuegos, another Cuban revolution hero, was added in 2009 on the nearby telecommunications building.
To be fair, this isn’t exactly the prettiest place to visit in Havana – the area is grey, somewhat dim. But its historical and political significance are undeniable so I recommend visiting.
TIP: Keep in mind that Plaza de la Revolución is a bit far from everything else, so you are probably better off haggling a taxi to get there and back.
Walk along El Malecon
If you visit the Cuban capital, you have no choice: going for a walk along El Malecon is one of the unmissable things to do in Havana – you get bonus points if you do it at sunset! This 8 km paved road connects the outside of the the old city with the residential Vedado (more about it later) and it is where Havaneros love to hang out in the late afternoon – and hence a great place for people-watching. Here, the ocean waves crush on the shore; there are a lot of beautiful, old and crumbling buildings (one of them is the famous Hotel Nacional), and the vibe is overall relaxing.
GOOD TO KNOW: Another place to go for a walk is Paseo del Prado, which includes the length of Paseo Martí from the Malecon all the way to Calle Máximo Gómezand and which divides Centro Habana from Old Havana.
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 the crisis 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.
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.
GOOD TO KNOW: For more unique art expressions go to Fusterlandia, a neighborhood (Jaimanitas) that artist Fuster reclaimed to art in a way that is similar to Spain’s Gaudi. You can get there by taxi but your haggling skills will be tested.
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 Batista’s coup.
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. Needless to say, making a stop here is one of the things to do in Havana.
Go to the Vedado
This is one of the nicest areas in the Cuban capital, and visiting is one of the top things to do in Havana. Here, there are some gorgeous colonial style homes, beautiful gardens and the traffic is much less compared to the rest of the city. And since it is not in the center of La Habana, not many tourists go all the way there. Which means that if you decide to visit, you’ll most likely have the whole place to yourself.
TIP: Make sure to go to Parque Almendares, also known as Parque Metropolitana. Located in this area, it’s one of the coolest in town.
TIP: Although most people who visit La Habana opt to stay at a casa particular in Habana Vieja, I suggest considering staying in this area. There are some incredible houses there (more about this in a bit).
Go see el cañonazo de las nueve
One of the most touristy, yet interesting things to do in Havana is attending the ceremony of “el cañonazo de las nueve.” This takes place every night at 9:00 pm in the fortress of La Cabaña, where soldiers dressed in traditional costumes of the 18th century, shoot the cannon. Back in the day, this indicated that it was time to close the doors of the walls that surrounded the city, so as to protect from enemies.
The show is interesting, but more than anything by attending you’ll gain entrance to the fortress of La Cabaña, where Ernesto Guevara had established his headquarters right after the revolution, and where nowadays there are several interesting exhibits and souvenir shops. The entrance ticket also gets you a drink.
TIP: Make sure to go at least one hour before the ceremony, so that you have plenty of time to browse around the exhibit and to sip your cocktail. A taxi from the city to the fortress should not cost you more than 3 Convertible Pesos (around $3 USD).
Visit El Morro
You can see El Morro 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.
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 on a wet cloth to keep them nice and moist (I learned this from a local!).
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 CUC, depending on the location and on the size of the room. Breakfast costs around 5 CUC, and dinner anything between 8 and 15 CUC. Keep in mind that the portions are truly huge, enough to feed an army, and that the food is really good.
Most travelers opt to stay at casas particulares in Habana Vieja, but there are a few excellent options in other parts of town as well. In the “where to stay section” I point out a few good ones.
Eat at a paladar
One of the unmissable things to do in Havana is trying the 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 (one Cuban portion likely serves two!) of the most delicious local dishes. The price of a meal at a paladar can be as cheap as 7 CUC and as expensive as 35 CUC, depending on what you have and on the location of the restaurant.
One of the best paladares in town is La Guarida. Not only it serves excellent food, but the atmosphere is incredible. And it’s where the movie Fresa y Chocolate was filmed. Reservations are recommended.
If you are curious to know more about the local specialties, read my post “The Most Delicious Cuban Food: 35 Mouthwatering Cuban Dishes.”
Sugar cane juice can be found in all Caribbean countries. To be fair, 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. One of the things to do in Havana is having a good drink. If La Bodeguita del Medio is the most popular place 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, but who cares when a daiquiri at El Floridita is so good?
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 is one of the nicest things to do in havana. There are various small fruit open-air markets in the city where you can buy some fruit at a real steal. There also are some crafts market where you can get some small souvenirs – the same you can see in souvenir shops, to be fair.
TIP: Remember that Cuba uses two currencies, the CUC, or Peso Convertible, which is mostly for visitors, and the CUP, or Cuban Peso. Make sure to change some of your CUC to CUP if you intend to do some small shopping at a local market. Keep in mind that 25 CUP = 1 CUC.
Get to know the locals
One of the biggest perks of traveling is getting to meet the locals. In Cuba, this is easier said than done. Most of the time, a local approaching you in an overly friendly manner should send you on your way and should be a warning sign for a scam. Having said so, one of the nicest things to do in Havana is having a chat with a local and I promise that once you weed out all the possible scams, you will manage to find some really genuine ones.
Listen to some 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.
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, which is located in Miramar. It’s a huge, indoor nightclub but the cool thing is that they play live. This is where the young locals go to dance live 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 once again be a fierce haggling game until you find a taxi that can take you back to your accommodation at a honest price.
GOOD TO KNOW: One of the most popular clubs in town is La Fabrica de Arte Cubano, set inside an old cooking oil factory and also an art gallery.
See a Tropicana show
The Tropicana is a world-famous Cuban show, and seeing it is one of the things 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.
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. One of the nicest things to do in Cuba is going to the beach, and Playas del Este is an excellent option in terms of vicinity (you can go there independently), beauty and local feel.
Check out my post “The 31 Best Beaches In Cuba.”
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:
- Vinales day tour from Havana
- Day trip to Varadero from Havana
- From Havana: Trinidad and Cienfuegos private tour
- Trinidad free walking tour
- Vinales day trip from Havana by classic car
- Vinales free walking tour
If you need a detailed guide about Trinidad, read my post “Trinidad, Cuba: The Most Complete Guide.”
You may also want to read my posts:
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 to be honest 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. Other than the casas I have mentioned above, the following is a selection of some good casas particulares in Havana:
- 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. Click here for reviews.
- Apartamento Chacon is a beautiful entire apartment in a colonial building in Centro Habana. It’s fully equipped with a kitchen and you will love the location and the interior decor. You can view it here.
- Casa Particular Loreley is a fantastic casa particular with gorgeous interior decor and an overall stylish setting. You can view it here.
- Apartamento Valdes is a good home in Havana Vieja. You can view it here.
- Casa Particular Old Havana is a lovely apartment in a colonial building right in the heart of the old town. You can view it here.
- Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski is located in the historic Manzana de Gómez building and is the first five-star hotel in town. 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 unreliable transportation system and accommodation bookings that at times go missing. In other words, there is only so much planning you can do there. 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
Havana has an international airport with flights to the rest of the world. The airport is at an easy taxi ride from the city. 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.
Don’t forget you need a visa to travel to Cuba! Make sure to read my post “How To Get The Visa For Cuba In 8 Easy Steps (Also For Americans).”
Ask Easy Tourist Card to arrange your visa for Cuba for just $35 USD!
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 particulares that move around town. Make sure to always bargain the prices though – remember that as a tourist you’ll be charged 10 times more than the regular price, so keep this in mind when bargaining!
When to visit Havana
Any time is a good time to visit Havana, but the summer months are incredibly hot and humid, with higher chances of rain. I recommend visiting in the winter, between December and March, for pleasantly mild temperatures and sunny, dry days.
Other useful information
You will need a tarjeta turistica to travel to Cuba. You can get it at a good travel agency. Having a travel medical insurance is another requirement. You can get yours here.
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
Have you ever been to Havana? What are your favorite things to do in Havana? Anything you would add to this list?
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