Although I loved visiting the Cuban countryside and small historical towns, Cuba’s capitol city, Havana, really stole my heart. Be sure to schedule in some of these incredible things to do into your Havana, Cuba itinerary to make your trip truly unforgettable.
Havana’s colorful homes, grand colonial architecture, endless yummy cafes and restaurants, quaint galleries, and live salsa bands spilling out onto the streets at night make it a traveler’s dream. The city is vibrant yet charming, hip yet historic, tourist-friendly yet still authentic. And although you should explore some other parts of Cuba outside of Havana if time permits, you definitely won’t run out of things to do in Havana.
Currency Note: 1 CUC equals about 1 USD. For more information on understanding Cuban currency, exchange, and using international credit and debit cards, read: TRAVELING TO CUBA AS AN AMERICAN: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW. (The currency information is relevant to you even if you aren’t American!)
1) Dine at Havana’s delicious & trendy paladars
Despite getting a bad rap for its food, I actually found the cuisine to be delicious while there. Even in homestays I enjoyed some amazing home-cooked meals, but I really did love visiting all the trendy paladars (privately-owned restaurants) scattered around Old and Central Havana. The vibes were often young and trendy, with artistic interiors and simple but delicious menu items.
My top three favorite restaurants in Havana are:
El Cafe (great for healthy, light breakfast or lunches, and excellent coffee)
Al Carbon (funky artistic interior with some of meat empanadas that still make me drool just thinking about)
Lamparilla 361 Tacos y Cervezas (perfect spot for Cuban tapas, including some of the juiciest tacos I’ve ever had)
Read more: WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK IN HAVANA, CUBA.
2) Explore Havana in a Vintage Convertible
You can’t leave Cuba without having the experience of driving around the city in a vintage, brightly colored convertible. Explore this incredible, vibrant city with the sun and wind on your face, in the comfort of a white vinyl seat in one of the coolest cars that still exist on this planet. As cheesy and touristy as it may seem, it’s still one of my favorite things to do in Havana!
Plus, you’ll be able to see much more of the city and its suburbs than you would on foot, so it’s a great way to explore a lot of stops in a short period of time.
It’s easy to find one of the vintage convertible taxis on the streets, so there’s no need to book in advance. You’ll find many convertible taxis around El Capitolio (Havana’s National Capitol), but I actually just found one on a side street in Old Havana in a perfect candy-apple red, that offered guided tours.
Ask the driver if they offer English-speaking guided tours, which means they’ll take you to some interesting spots outside of Old Havana, including the Revolutionary Square (which probably doesn’t require a stop, unless you’re really interested in seeing it up close), the Havana University, lush parks and gardens, historic cemeteries, and the Malecon, while also explaining a bit about what you’re seeing and the history/culture behind it.
The typical rate will be around 25-30 CUC per hour, and they will try to drag out the tour longer so you will be required to pay more. Be firm with your time limit, and keep an eye on the clock if you sense they’re lagging a bit behind schedule.
3) Visit a museum
There’s no shortage of fascinating history and culture in Havana, from political upheaval to the Revolution history to modern art culture and more. Aside from some of the major museums, you’ll also find tons of smaller museums and galleries scattered around the city that are great to pop into if you only want to spend a short amount of time looking around.
Major history museums like the Museum of the Revolution are great for history buffs, or those interested in learning a bit more about Cuba’s volatile political past. Or travel a bit outside of Havana to visit Ernest Hemingway’s old home, Finca Vigia, which has since been made into a museum. If art is more your thing, you’ll find tons of art galleries lining the cobblestone streets near the Plaza de Armas in Old Havana.
Most of the museums and art galleries in Havana are fairly inexpensive or free to access, so it’s worth stopping in for a quick look-see even if you don’t want to spend an entire afternoon inside.
4) People-watch in the historic squares
The plazas of Old Havana were some of my favorite spots to wander and people watch. And, each one (there are four main plazas) seems to have its own personality, and certainly its own little spot in history:
Plaza de Armas, used for military exercises during the 17th and 18th centuries, lined with elegant baroque architecture and centered around a perfectly manicured garden;
Plaza de San Francisco, built along the sea port with a more open, commercial feel, seeing as it once housed the former customs office and stock exchange;
Plaza Vieja (my favorite!), built in the 1500s and surrounded by some of the most stunning homes in Old Havana, now with a buzzing nightly social scene; and
Plaza de la Catedral, home to the grand Catedral de San Cristóbal, as well as other Spanish Colonial stone architecture accented with sky-blue awnings, windows, and doors.
Often I’d only accidentally stumble upon a plaza while wandering the streets at night, or running from the rain, or taking a wrong turn and getting a bit lost, or searching for a particular churro stand.
But they’re also definitely worth intentionally seeking out, to explore the restaurants, shops, monuments, and architecture nearby, to people-watch, or to listen to live music.
5) Take a salsa class
Part of Cuba’s liveliness stems from its rich music and dancing culture. You’ll hear salsa music almost everywhere you go in Old Havana, and will often see live musicians and dancers spilling out onto cobblestone streets as the evening wears on.
Although you’ll find tons of salsa clubs and classes around Havana, I recommend La Casa del Son. This is one of the most popular places for not only salsa lessons, but also instruction in cha cha cha, rumba, and other traditional dances. Once you’re a pro (or not), head to some of the nearby cafes and squares in the evening to show off your new moves.
6) Stroll the Seaside Malecon
You’ll definitely want to head to the water to pay the historic Malecon a visit while in Havana. The Malecon is a wide esplanade and seawall that hugs the Havana coast for about 5 miles (8 km), stretching from the Havana Harbor, down along the north side of Central Havana, and down to the Vedado neighborhood.
You’ll find some new privately-owned businesses here, as well as significant monuments and buildings such as the Hotel Nacional and the Morro Castle. It would be easy to spend an hour wandering the esplanade, watching the wild, deep blue Caribbean Sea crash against the stone barricades and spill onto the streets.
But I also recommend heading here for a spectacular sunset over the water, followed by the canon firing ceremony held at Morro Castle at 9pm every night. After that, head to the corner of 23 (La Rampa) and the Malecon for a fun nightlife scene — the area is packed with locals drinking and dancing, and the people-watching is unbeatable.
7) Visit Havana’s beautiful outdoor parks & Gardens
The Parque Almandares is a surprisingly lush, wild-looking forested area just outside of Central Havana, with towering green trees, rivers, and grassy clearings. It’s a great place to visit for a couple of hours for a walk and some fresh air, and the trees there are especially beautiful — you’ll feel worlds away from city life! It’s only a 15-minute drive outside of Havana, so you can easily hop over for a an hour in the morning or afternoon and be back in the city for lunch or dinner.
Or, head to the 600-hectare Jardín Botánico Nacional. Here you’ll find really lovely landscaped gardens, lush forested areas, a lake, and even a restaurant. The Botanical Gardens are about a 30-minute drive north of Old Havana.
8) Walk Obispo street
You could easily spend a couple of hours wandering through this cobblestone pedestrian (but cars aren’t always deterred) street, lined with vintage record shops, used book stores, historic apothecaries, and street vendors. It draws crowds, which adds the energetic vibes of the area. There’s also a crafts market that is open most days, where local vendors sell artwork, leather goods, jewelry, and other souvenirs.
9) Take a Day Trip to the Beach
If you’re looking for a sunny escape from the hustle of Havana city life, take a day trip to Playa del Este, just a 30 minute drive outside of the city. There you’ll find white sandy shores and that iconic, crystal clear blue Caribbean water.
10) Pick up some souvenirs made by local artists
You won’t find a ton of shopping in Cuba, but there are several really cool spots to pick up unique goods made by local artists. At Taller Experimental de Grafica and Clandestina, you’ll find hand-printed & screen-printed artwork, T-shirts and other clothing, and fun home goods made by some young, edgy artists paving a way in the progressive Cuban arts scene.
Or head to Perfumeria Habana 1791 to learn about the various fragrances inspired by Cuban culture and history, and put together your own bottle of Cuba-inspired perfume to take home with you.
For some interesting arts and crafts that support local artists, look in the lobby of the Malecón 663 Boutique Hotel.
11) Watch Sunset From A Rooftop Bar
Caribbean sunsets really shouldn’t be missed unless you’re lying on a hospital bed or having drinks with Ernest Hemingway himself. Thankfully, Cuban’s appreciate a good sunset view as well, so it’s easy to find some amazing places to plant yourself with a mojito and fresh tapas, and enjoy the vibrant sunset over the city of Havana.
My favorite rooftop bars in Havana are:
La Guarida (not the main restaurant, but the hidden upstairs bar/taco joint, with 360-degree views of the city)
El Del Frente (amazing tacos and the freshest craft cocktails)
El Surtidor Pool Bar (located on the rooftop of the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski, with incredible views over El Capitolio at sunset; in order to use the infinity pool, you need to be a guest or purchase a day pass, but the swanky bar is available to all)
La Terraza (beautiful views of the grand Paseo del Prado promenade; great cocktails and desserts, and if you’re feeling super hungry, try some of their BBQ options for dinner)
12) Tour a Historic Building
Did you know that in addition to snagging that awesome photo in front of Havana’s iconic El Capitolio, you can actually go inside for a tour? Tours generally run at certain times of the day, which you can find on the sign out from. It costs 5 CUC for tourists to enter, and is a great way to learn more about Cuban history and the amazing architecture of the building (modeled after the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.).
Afterward, head next door to the Gran Teatro de la Habana (“Great Theater of Havana”) with glittering chandeliers, massive marble columns, and stunning frescoes. Of course, you can always see the interior by booking tickets for a ballet show one evening in Havana, but if that’s not your cup of tea, at least stop in to look around for just 5 CUC.
Where to Stay in Havana
While traveling in Havana, you can either stay at hotels (which tend to be very pricey in Cuba) or casas particulares (Cuban “homestays”). If you’re looking for a more local experience, home-cooked meals, and much lower prices, stay at a casa. However, if you want the comforts of hotels and have the budget for them, these are my favorite options.
Tali Colonial House: The views here of Cristo Park Church are incredible, and the interiors are so pretty they look straight out of a vintage painting, with indigo and golden walls, antique furniture, and tons of natural light and plants. The rooms are basic, but the common areas are lovely and where you’d want to spend most of your time anyway, and the location is unbeatable. Plus, the host is so sweet, and even gifted me a jar of their own honey.
You can book casas particulares in advance of your trip, which I recommend, through Airbnb. For $40 off your first Airbnb booking, sign up here!
Malecón 663 Boutique Hotel: a brand new privately-owned boutique hotel located right on the water, with funky, artsy interiors, a small cafe/bar, and unbeatable views from the rooftop lounge area. If you can, splurge on the suite upstairs, which has some really cool decor, a bar area, and a private patio overlooking the ocean. This spot is a great alternative to some of the most generic or corporate-looking hotels in Havana, because they’ve really been intentionally about incorporating local art and maintaining an intimate, boutique-y atmosphere.
Saratoga: centrally located in Old Havana near El Capitolio, this old hotel is perhaps best-known for its iconic lobby cafe, which looks like it came out of some Caribbean-inspired Wes Anderson movie. They serve up great coffees, and there’s also a restaurant downstairs with good reviews.
Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski: although quite a spurge for Havana, the Kempinski Hotel is the most luxurious 5-star hotel in the city and definitely lives up to the rating. The interiors are modern and elegant, and the rooftop pool/bar offer stunning views of the sunset over El Capitolio. Even if you don’t stay here, you can still visit the rooftop bar for some sunset drinks and snacks, or fork over 60 CUC for a day pass giving you access to the pool, sauna, and gym.
Americans Traveling to Cuba
If you’re an American traveling to Cuba, how you spend your time and money, and where you stay may be limited and must follow current U.S. State Department regulations. But don’t worry — traveling to Cuba as an American is not only possible and legal, but it’s also easy and incredibly worth it!
I’ve created a thorough guide to answer all your Cuba travel-related questions and help you plan an amazing trip that follows government regulations.
Whether you’re planning to spend your entire holiday in Havana or to visit some smaller towns around the island, be sure to give yourself plenty of time for explore all that this capitol city has to offer. It’s impossible to run out of things to do in Havana, from delicious eateries to interesting museums to exploring the beautiful outdoors by foot or vintage convertible.
For more information on traveling in Cuba, check out these posts:
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Any other unforgettable things to do in Havana, Cuba not mentioned here? Leave them in the comments below!