What to do in Havana
Long isolated for a long time, Cuba has been opening up again to the international market in recent years.
As a result, tourism is exploding and the island has become a popular destination for all types of travellers.
Its capital, Havana, is a little marvel that you will love to discover.
I’m sure that like me, it will leave a strong impression on you and that you will look back on it with nostalgia…
Between mythical cars, omnipresent music and dance, rich architecture full of history and welcoming people, you won’t know where to start.
To help you organize your stay in Havana, I give you my best advice: the top 20 sites and activities to do in Havana, ideas for family visits and my suggestions for itineraries to adapt according to the length of your trip!
Things to do in Havana : the must-sees
1. San Cristobal Cathedral
Its full name is Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception.
It is a majestic building with a baroque façade, built in the 18th century by the Jesuits on the site of a former hermitage.
Try to do so in the early morning or late afternoon to enjoy the peace and quiet and admire this masterpiece in peace.
Also, the Cathedral Square is one of the 5 main squares of Havana and one of the prettiest places in the city. Perfect to sit down and have a coffee!
2. The Old Place
The “Plaza Vieja” is another must-see in Old Havana. It is a beautifully renovated square with eclectic architecture and several restaurants and cafes.
In and around the square there are several nice stops: the microbrewery La Factoria, the rum museum, the chocolate museum, the pharmacy museum and above all the Saint Francis of Assisi Square where you can climb the bell tower to get the best view of the city!
Unusual stop: a camera obscura located on the top floor of the highest building of the plaza that offers a panoramic view of Old Havana in real time at 360˚ with magnifying lenses.
3. The Plaza de Armas
The Plaza de Armas, the heart of the city Havana is bordered by several interesting buildings.
Built at the beginning of the 16th century, it is here that the city was founded and more particularly, according to what is said, on the site of the Templete.
It is a building that looks like a Greek temple in miniature, which can easily go unnoticed, and contains a museum.
The Palace of the Captains General, which houses the City Museum, is not to be missed.
It presents the history of Havana since its foundation, with period furniture, uniforms, various objects and photographs.
Personally, this is one of the visits I liked the most because besides being a great complete exhibition, the building is a magnificent example of Cuban Baroque, with a very nice green interior patio.
A nice cool break that feels good!
Also the Palacio del Segundo Cabo, the palace of the Chief Deputy, is also worth a visit.
The building first housed a post office, then offices and the residence of the vice-captain general of Cuba, before becoming a cultural centre.
4. The Castle of the Real Fuerza
A stone’s throw from the Plaza de Armas is the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, the official symbol of the Cuban capital.
It is a military fortress built by the Spaniards in the 16th century to protect the city from maritime attacks, especially from pirates, who were very active at the time.
The governor of Cuba also resided there.
The building is easily recognizable because it is surmounted by a weather vane called the Giraldilla.
The visit is interesting not only for its museum, but also for strolling through the maze of the fortress with its thick walls, full of history, and its view of Havana!
5. The Capitol
El Capitolio is another unmissable monument, located on a very busy avenue that can be seen from afar.
Built on the model of the Capitol of Washington, it was once the seat of the Cuban government and now houses the Academy of Sciences.
Very photogenic, this building can be found on a large number of postcards of the country.
You will also be able to admire the 3rd largest statue in the world, representing the Republic.
6. The Grand Theatre
Inaugurated in 1838, the Grand Theatre of Havana is surely one of the most imposing in the world.
Its elaborate facade will appeal to lovers of architecture, but it is above all its interior that is worth a look.
Several beautiful halls host shows, conferences, and even concerts or artistic exhibitions.
Don’t hesitate to attend a performance if you have the opportunity, you won’t be disappointed by the setting or the quality of the interventions proposed!
7. A walk on the Malecon
The Malecon, a mythical promenade along the sea, is one of the must-see places in Havana.
8 km long, the seafront stretches to the north of the city and connects old Havana with the Miramar district.
No matter what time of day or season, the Malecon is always lively.
It is the scene of typical scenes from the daily life of Cubans: musicians working on their pieces in the distance, young people flirting and embracing each other at sunset, children jumping in puddles, retired couples walking quietly holding hands…
Take the time to tame the slow pace of life of Cubans by treading with your feet this mythical walk, you will come back enriched and soothed.
8. Paseo de Martí
This is one of the busiest avenues in Havana: the Paseo de Martí, also called Paseo del Prado, is 1 km long and, like the Malecon, it is never empty.
Starting from the Fortress San Salvador de la Punta, this beautiful paved and shady avenue brings together locals, tourists and street vendors.
You will be able to choose from dozens of paintings, bring back small odds and ends as a souvenir or simply rest while enjoying the joyful scenes of Cuban daily life.
9. The Callejon of Hamel
We’re coming to another of my Cuban favorites, the Callejon de Hamel.
This unique street is the lair of a population full of hope, half artist and half hippie.
Always crowded, this street has become an obligatory passage for tourists, but is mostly frequented day and night by the locals, who sing and dance there until dawn, or sit down for a drink on the terrace to remake the world.
Left in the hands of artists, the callejon of Hamel is full of paintings, poems engraved on the walls and offbeat works.
Don’t be surprised to see upside-down bathtubs inlaid in the stone, wire mannequins walking around on the rooftops, or disturbing masks hanging here and there.
10. Fort El Morro
Few tourists take the time to cross the bay to admire it from another angle!
Facing Havana, this castle located on the other side of the bay offers a breathtaking view of the capital.
You will discover the cells where African slaves were once locked up, the narrow galleries worthy of a labyrinth and the chapel.
Once on the other side of the canal, you should also take the opportunity to visit the Fortress of La Cabaña, the largest fortress in America!
The best moment is undoubtedly the “Cañonazo”, where actors dressed as soldiers from the 18th century fire their cannon at the port, the old signal for the closing of the city gates.
Also, in the vicinity is the statue of Christ, another symbol of Cuba.
One can climb to its feet to enjoy a beautiful view of the capital, the cathedral, the Capitol, Old Havana, the Malecon…
11. The National Museum of Fine Arts
The Cuban National Museum of Fine Arts is a visit not to be missed if you appreciate art.
Indeed, its collections contain more than 1200 works: paintings, engravings and sculptures, Cuban and international, from the 16th century to today.
The museum is divided into two buildings: the Palacio de Bellas Artes and the Palacio del Centro Asturiano.
In total, there are 7600 m2, divided into 8 thematic areas spread over 24 rooms, to which you will have access.
A goldmine for any amateur who wishes to combine pleasure and culture!
12. La Fabrica
If you are a lover of art and alternative places, this is a must visit in Havana!
The Fabrica de Arte Cubano is a former oil factory in the Vedado district that was transformed into a cultural center by a collective of artists in 2015.
Art exhibitions, music, dance, fashion shows (and much more!), it’s the place to be for the diffusion of the current art of Havana, with a bar with terrace.
A big favorite!
13. Christopher Columbus Cemetery
1 million is no more and no less than the number of graves in the Christopher Columbus cemetery!
This impressive figure makes it the largest cemetery in Latin America.
Needless to say, the walk will be long and pleasant, especially since Cuban artists helped decorate the majority of the graves.
Ironically, the tomb of Christopher Columbus is not here, but in the Cathedral of Seville in Spain.
14. Revolution Square
1 million is also the number of people that the Plaza de la Revolución can accommodate.
On festive days, such as July 26th, the day of the Cuban Revolution, the people of Havana gather in this square to commemorate important events.
The plaza itself is quite unremarkable, but don’t miss the two huge portraits (hard to miss!) of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, illuminated at night.
You can also take the elevator of the José Martí memorial, which will make you admire the city from a height of 109m.
If you are interested in the life of this national hero, take the opportunity to visit the museum of the same name.
15. In the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway
If, like me, you have nostalgic memories of the book “The Old Man and the Sea” written by Ernest Hemingway, you should know that he wrote it while he was living in Havana.
You can visit his house, the “Finca Vigia”, located on the outskirts of the capital, and discover the office he was working on.
I can only advise you also to go to El Floridita for a daiquiri or to the Bodeguita del Medio for a mojito, two bars that the writer frequented assiduously.
Bodeguita del Medio may have more character with its walls covered with pictures and words, but El Floridita is very nice when you are lucky enough to sit at the bar, near Hemingway’s statue, and the daiquiris are well stocked! 😉
16. The Museum of the Revolution
The Museum of the Revolution is an interesting visit for history lovers.
I was a little uncomfortable with the very “propagandist” side of the museum, which does not present the points of view of the different actors of the revolution.
Located in the former presidential palace, the visit is nevertheless pleasant and, for the curious, you can discover a spy plane engine or the golden telephone of the former dictator Batista.
17. Visit a cigar factory
Don’t leave Havana without visiting the factory of one of the main Cuban cigar brands!
Among them are Partagas, La Corona, Romeo Y Julieta and H. Upmann.
Whatever your choice, the visit usually costs 10 CUC (about 10€), lasts one hour and presents the different stages of cigar making, which is always done by hand.
You will learn about the drying of the leaves, the selection of the best leaves according to the desired result, the rolling and the finalization of the cigar.
18. Learn some dance steps
If you want to truly integrate into Cuban life, you need to know how to get by on a little salsa music.
Dance schools are not lacking, and often offer very attractive prices.
With 2 or 3 hours of classes, you will know the basic steps and you will be able to have fun on the dance floor among the locals.
To know where to dance or listen to good music, two tips: ask the Cubans, they will always be able to give you the best plans.
And follow your ear, because there’s a good chance that you’ll stumble upon a dance if you take a walk in the capital’s alleyways at night…
Want to see a colourful show? I really recommend the Tropicana.
It’s a cabaret that has existed since 1939 and today presents a show about Havana, its colors, its mix, with singers, dancers, ballet, acrobats, an orchestra, and really magnificent flamboyant costumes!
All this on an open-air terrace, under the stars, surrounded by vegetation.
At the entrance, the men receive a cigar, the women a rose, and on the table a bottle of rum. What else? Of course, you have to plan a certain budget, but this is definitely one of my most beautiful memories of Havana!
19. Sleeping in a special casa
This is an activity that is easy to integrate into your stay: for at least one night, leave the classic hotels behind and prefer a casa particular.
These guest rooms abound in Cuba, and it’s even the only type of accommodation I’ve used in about ten days!
They are often much cheaper than the hotels, sometimes better maintained, but the big plus is that you will have the opportunity to really meet the Cubans.
By living with them for one or more days, if you gabble a bit of English or Spanish, you will be able to discuss and exchange on your respective cultures.
My experience: on my first night on the island, I was welcomed by a retired man who was very happy to receive tourists.
He spent an hour giving me all the good tips of the area, places to eat for less than a euro and the best routes to discover the old centre!
20. Rent a coco-taxi or a nice American car
You’ll keep running into them all over Havana: taxis. Whether they are luxurious or shabby, taxis are part of Cuban culture, and the locals often pile up to 6 or 8 of them for short trips.
You can choose a beautiful American car, those classic cars that can be seen everywhere in the country, but the price of the ride will be increased…
Or you can also climb into a coco-taxi, those little yellow and rounded tuk-tuks that go to the Revolution Square and the Malecón: the ride will then be much cheaper, and almost more fun than in a luxury limousine!
It is even possible to take a tour of Havana in a classic American car: a unique experience that takes you through the streets of Old Havana, Miramar and Vedado in a 1950’s convertible and finishes with a cocktail at the Hotel Nacional!
More about the tour: website
Havana contains 15 official municipalities, I will only mention here those of tourist interest.
It is the most visited district of the city, and rightly so.
It is in Old Havana, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that the main monuments are located. It is here that you can lose yourself in the cobbled streets following the frenzied rhythm of salsa on the corner of the streets…
Centro Habana: located just west of the historic heart of the capital, Centro Habana has the highest population density in Havana.
Mainly residential, this very popular district has many bars and clubs, as well as the Chinatown.
I particularly liked this district because it is popular and not very touristy: scenes of daily life abound there, the inhabitants are warm despite their sometimes apparent poverty, and so it is here that you will discover the real Havana.
Even further west, the Vedado is a neighborhood with well-squared streets, which includes the Christopher Columbus cemetery.
The Malecon ends its course there, which will undoubtedly leave you the opportunity to get lost in its alleys. Like Centro Habana, this neighbourhood is popular and will allow you to immerse yourself in the daily life of Cubans.
Plaza de la Revolucion
Slightly to the south, this small neighbourhood encompasses the streets around the square.
Here, too, there are few tourists, prices are falling sharply and it is possible to make some nice encounters.
located at the very west of the city, this is a rather posh residential area.
There’s not much to see there touristically speaking, so take a tour there out of curiosity but don’t linger.
Visiting Havana with your family
If you are traveling with your family in Havana, you will probably have to combine pleasant visits for the younger ones with not too expensive for the parents. Here’s my little advice…
First of all, and this is a piece of advice for all travellers on a tight budget: as soon as you arrive in Cuba, go to the first bank and exchange about twenty CUC (convertible pesos, the currency used by tourists and worth about 1€) for CUP (Cuban pesos used by locals).
1 CUC being worth about 25 CUP, that will make you a hell of a lot of money that could well save your wallet!
Indeed, you will find in the Cuban cafeterias (recognizable by their fast-food look, frequented only by locals, and serving mainly sandwiches, omelettes or pizzas) dishes at 10-15 CUP, that is to say much less than one euro. Knowing that these same dishes will be sold for about 10 CUC in restaurants for tourists…
Admittedly, the quality is lower than in restaurants, but I bet your children will be happy to have a hot cheese panini for lunch, and it will lighten your budget considerably (about 10 to 20 times cheaper than if you went to a restaurant).
As for visits, here are some ideas for families:
- the statue of Christ, with its breathtaking view that will delight the youngest ones.
- the walk along the Malecon a stroll along the Paseo de Martí, with its painters and street vendors of all kinds the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, to fill your children’s dreams with pirates and castles.
- the Callejon de Hamel, which will inevitably make them laugh with its extravagant art.
How many days to visit Havana?
I can only advise you to take the time to discover this city of crazy charm. Depending on whether you plan to spend a day, a weekend or three days there, here are some ideas for itineraries that can be adapted to your desires.
Visit Havana in 1 day
If you can only devote one day to visiting Havana, you will have to go to the essentials and not hang around too much:
Start the day by enjoying the view from the feet of the statue of Christ,
Take a tour of old Havana: San Cristobal Cathedral, the Capitol, the Grand Theatre, Paseo de Martí,
Quickly explore the more popular Centro Habana district, which will take you to a less glamorous side of the capital,
Enjoy the sunset along the Malecon,
End your day sipping a mojito in one of the many bars in the centre, listening to Cuban music.
Visit Havana in 2 days
If you have 2 days to visit the capital, go back to the previous program and add these visits:
the impressive and symbolic Revolution Square,
the Callejon de Hamel, a little further away but not to be missed,
the El Morro fort on the other side of the bay or the Castillo de la Real Fuerza and its famous weather vane,
a visit to a cigar factory (plan well in advance, they are not open every day),
take the time to stroll through the streets of less touristy neighborhoods. This is where you will discover the deep Havana, far from the glamour of the beautiful neighborhoods.
Visit Havana in 3 days
In 3 days in Havana, you will have time to soak up the typical atmosphere of the city. Add these elements to the previous programs, and above all, take your time…
If you love art, spend a few hours visiting the Museum of Fine Arts. Do you prefer history? Head for the Museum of the Revolution,
Then head towards the Christopher Columbus Cemetery, a little off to the west,
Finish your afternoon with an hour of salsa classes,
Walk in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway at cocktail hour,
Finish your day with a concert where you can put into practice the salsa basics you learned a few hours earlier.
Where to sleep in Havana?
The hotel offer in Havana is very eclectic and one cannot say that one can find, for the moment, a real good value for money. That is to say that there are generally not very modern hotels, located in beautiful buildings, but which have not been renovated for a very long time and whose price is rather badly justified. Because yes, Havana is quite expensive.
That is why we have selected the best accommodation solutions for you!
La Gran Familia: it is Juan Carlo and his family who warmly opens the doors of their house to us.
It is located in the centre of Havana in a typical small street.
The welcome is very friendly, the breakfast prepared by his wife is delicious.
The rooms are quite simple but colorful and clean, and above all there is air conditioning: a real blessing here!
I spent two nights there and I would have stayed longer with pleasure. From only 55 euros per night
Hotel Habana 612: a real jewel of old Havana!
It is an old 19th century building with imposing arches that encloses a small modern hotel with a minimalist design and artistic atmosphere.
The rooms are quite spacious and the wifi works well, just a few steps away from the Old Square.
I stayed there for two nights and I will return without hesitation! Starting at 75 €.
Hotel Los Frailes
its name “Les Moines” was not chosen at random.
This is a beautiful hotel with a medieval atmosphere: stained glass windows, religious altarpieces, sculptures of monks, a beautiful green patio that inspires serenity, everything here is decorated with good taste.
Rather unusual, the employees wear monk’s clothes!
The hotel is located a stone’s throw from the Old Place, the Saint François Basilica, the rum and Malecon museum. Starting at 84 €.
Where to eat in Havana?
Restaurant Van Van: for small budgets, this is an establishment that doesn’t look like much, but offers delicious local cuisine in a decor that is very popular with consumers.
Restaurant La Guarida: a famous and rather expensive gastronomic restaurant.
You won’t be disappointed by the quality of the service or the ingenuity of the dishes.
And more generally, head to the cafeterias frequented by locals, scattered by the dozens throughout the city.
If you’re not looking for great food but rather an authentic atmosphere at (very) low prices, this is definitely the right choice.
My advice: avoid the pizzas served there… the worst I’ve ever eaten!
Transfer from Havana airport
In order not to take your head off with transportation and to have a reliable and safe service, I recommend that you book your driver in advance via GetYourGuide:
The one-way airport-city center ticket is less than 9 euros.
More info by clicking here
So what are the best things to do in Havana ?
- Getting lost in the alleys of Centro Habana and Vedado…
- Visit old Havana
- Discover La Fabrica
- Unusual and fascinating, far from the traditional tourist places of Havana
Now I’d like to hear from you :
Do you have any questions about your next trip to Cuba ?
Or maybe I didn’t mention one of your favorite things to do in Havana ?
Either way let me know by leaving a comment below