Havana, the capital of Cuba, is a fascinating destination to visit. Havana seems to be covered with a certain veil of mystery, more so than most places in Latin America. Crumbling under the pressure of time yet vibrant and alive with radiance, the city oozes with nostalgia and Cuban culture.
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With the recent buzz around Cuba, we don’t need to tell you why now is the perfect time to visit Havana…but we will anyway.
No matter where you turn, there is so much to see and do in Havana, Cuba. Stroll through Old Havana to experience the best and the worst this city has to offer.
Beautiful cobblestone squares, centuries-old forts, classic cars, and dilapidating buildings exist side by side, contributing to Havana’s unique character.
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Best Time To Visit Havana
Havana enjoys warm temperatures year-round, ranging from 25-30°C (77-86°F) during the day and 19-25°C (66-77°F) at night. It’s important to understand that there are only two seasons in Havana: wet and dry.
The dry season runs from November to April and overlaps with winter in the Northern Hemisphere. If you plan to visit Cuba during these months, know that this is also the busiest time in Havana. Expect prices to be higher and accommodation scarce as people flock to the city to enjoy the top things to do in Havana.
The wet season starts in May and runs until October. While the chances of rain are definitely higher in the wet season, it does not mean that you should avoid visiting Havana during this time. May and June, as well as July and September, are considered shoulder seasons characterized by pleasant temperatures and just a few rainy days. October, however, coincides with hurricane season in the Caribbean, so showers and severe thunderstorms are more likely to impact your visit and may limit the available things to do in Havana Cuba.
We visited Havana in July/August and loved our time in the city. It was hot, very hot, but it barely rained, and the city was alive with activities. We avoided the heat by starting our days early and taking a midday siesta, getting back out a few hours before sunset. The nights were pleasant, and the rain never once ruined our plans.
Top Things To Do In Havana
With so many things, you won’t spend too long wondering what to do in Havana Cuba! Here are some of our top picks for a Havana itinerary.
Walk Through Old Havana
Start by exploring Old Havana (La Habana Vieja), a UNESCO World Heritage site and the most famous part of the city.
Stroll along Paseo de Marti, checking out City Hall (El Capitol), Central Park (Parque Central) and the impressive facade of Hotel Inglaterra.
Visit Morro Cabana
More known as “The Morro,” this fort is pretty hard to miss while you explore Havana. Built in the late 1800s, the fort still has a lot of old cannons that were used to protect the city from invaders. Aside from the history, you can also catch some spectacular views of Havana and Malecon from this spot.
Cannons fire from The Morro at 9 p.m. every day. The place does get pretty crowded, so make sure to arrive between 7 and 8 p.m. Located just across from Havana Vieja, this place can be easily accessed by taxi via a tunnel.
Hit Havana’s Main Shopping Street
From there, head East towards Obispo Street, the number one shopping street in Havana and the hub of activity in Havana Vieja. You’ll need a few hours to explore the shops, markets, and cafes that line the street.
Mix With The Locals At Plaza De Armas
Follow Opispo Street to Plaza de Armas, one of the four important plazas worth checking out in Havana. Plaza de Armas is the city’s oldest plaza, popular with both tourists and locals alike. The plaza hosts Havana’s biggest antique market and is a great place to take a break and enjoy some people-watching.
Admire Plaza la Catedral de San Cristobal
This photogenic square is one of the most popular things to do in Havana, and it’s not hard to see why. The prominent Catedral de San Cristobal, which is modeled after Spanish architecture, is the centrepiece of this square, surrounded by a number of buildings and porticoes.
Visit The Castillo De La Real Fuerza
Bordering Plaza de Armas is the Castle of the Royal Force (Castillo de la Real Fuerza), a 16th-century fort considered to be the oldest stone fort in the Americas.
Walk along Plaza de la Revolución
One of the most famous Plazas in Havana, Plaza de la Revolucion is home to Cuba’s many acting branches of government and features several prominent pieces of artwork that commemorate notable Cubans, including those involved in the Cuban Revolution.
Perhaps the most famous part of the plaza is a giant mural of Che Guevara with the phrase “Hasta la victoria siempre”, which translates as Always Toward Victory. Nearby, you can also find a similar mural dedicated to another revolutionist, Camila Cienfuegos, with the phrase that says “Vas bien, Fidel” (“You’re doing fine, Fidel”).
If you are into history and politics, Plaza de la Revolucion will be one of the most interesting things to do in Havana, Cuba.
Take A Stroll Through Cathedral Square
Cathedral Square (Plaza de la Catedral), located just a few blocks away from Plaza de Armas, is another one of the five main squares in Old Havana. The square is the site of the Cathedral of Havana, Colonial Art Museum (Museo del Arte Colonial), and is home to a few restaurants.
Chill Out At Plaza Vieja
On the other side of Old Havana, you’ll find Plaza Vieja (Old Square), our personal favourite and a popular hangout spot with lots of great restaurants and bars. Grab a seat a mojito, sit back and relax, admiring beautifully restored buildings and the festivities that often take place in the plaza.
Watch The Sunset From The Harbour
Last but not least is Plaza de San Francisco, a cobblestone plaza that faces the harbour and is home to the Fuente de los Leones (Fountain of the Lions).
In the evening, take a stroll along Havana’s famous Malecon (Waterfront), and watch the sunset alongside many locals, young and old, who come here every evening to fish, swim, or share the beautiful views with their loved ones.
Kick Up The Pace In Vedado
For a change of scenery, head to the district of Vedado, the most modern part of the city, developed in the first half of the 20th century. The area is packed with bars, restaurants, and music venues and is home to the majority of affluent Cubans who live in Havana.
Take A Convertible Tour
If you are short on time or simply can’t do too much walking, another great way to explore the city beyond Old Havana is to rent a vintage car with a driver and set off on a 2-3 hour tour of Havana’s main sites in style.
The typical route includes a stop at sites like the Revolution Square, Cristobal Colon Cemetery, John Lennon Statue Park, Nuevo Vedado, Vedado, Hotel Havana Libre, La Rampa and others.
Negotiate the route to create a custom tour that suits your needs. It’s a touristy activity, there is no denying it, but it’s a really fun way to see the sights and cruise around the city in a very cool car!
Visit one of the museums
Not many people come to Havana because of its museums, but the Cuban capital actually boasts several museums that you might want to add to your list of top things to do in Havana.
First, Museo de la Revolucion ( Museum of the Revolution ) is arguably the best place to get a crash course in Cuban history. The museums have archives that date back to the pre-revolution times and track the country’s history that has led to Fidel Castro’s uprising.
Another notable museum in Havana is Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana ( Museum of Fine Arts which is home to the largest collection of art in Cuba. The building is separated into two parts: Palacio de Bellas Artes, which houses a collection of Cuban art, and Centro Asturiano, which houses pieces of art from all over the world, including Roman, Spanish, Greek and British pieces of art.
Check out El Capitolio
The National Capitol Building is no doubt one of the more popular things to do in Havana. Commissioned by the Cuban President Gerardo Machado in 1926, this building was home to the Cuban Congress, the Cuban Academy of Science the National Library of Science and Technology and other institutions.
The Capitolio is open to visitors, and while there’s not a lot to do, this prominent building offers a glimpse into Cuba’s social and historic site.
Tour The City By Bike
If you are an eco-conscious traveler looking for things to do in Havana Cuba, then take a tour of Havana by e-bike. Starting from the Vedado area, you’ll then cycle through Vedado, Nuevo Vedado, Habana Vieja, Centro Habana, and Miramar, visiting Havana’s top sights along the way.
It’s a great way to spend half a day, and you can choose between having a private tour or a group tour.
Tour A Cuban Cigar Factory
Havana is a wonderful place for cigar aficionados, as Cuban tobacco is highly regarded and factories here are known for producing superior cigars. There are over 40 cigar factories on the island, including several in the Havana area, that are open to visitors. There are some tour operators that offer guided visits to cigar factories, tobacco plantations, and cigar shops so you can witness the entire process.
These tours also offer a crash course on the traditional way of enjoying cigars, known as the Maridaje. During this ceremony, a sommelier will demonstrate the proper way to light the cigar, and then how to savour it with Cuban coffee and rum. You will also learn how to select the best Cuban cigars.
Visit Havana Cuba Beaches
Depending on how much time you have in Havana, you may want to get out of the city and check out some of the nearby beaches. The closest public beaches to Old Havana are Playas del Este and Playa Santa Maria, located roughly 30 km (18.6 miles) east of the city.
The beaches aren’t spectacular (you really do have to go to an all-inclusive one to find those), but they are perfect for escaping the city for a bit of fun in the sun. A round-trip taxi to one of those beaches will cost $50-60 USD. You can also take a bus (cost is $5 USD) leaving from Hotel Inglaterra every 30 minutes.
Take A Day Trip To Vinales Valley
If the bustle of the city becomes too much, don’t worry; there are plenty of beautiful spots you can escape to. Located about 2.5 hours from Havana, Vinales Valley remains mostly unspoiled, with rolling green plains dotted by limestone hills with awesome viewpoints.
There are several tour operators that run day trips out to Vinales Valley. Most of these tours include a visit to the small town of Vinales, which is perched at the edge of the valley, looking over the lush forests and coffee and tobacco plantations. Some tours also offer the option to explore the area on horseback or bike.
Watch A Show At The Historic Tropicana Cabaret
You’re sure to have a good time at the iconic Tropicana Cabaret, home to the most famous cabaret show in the Caribbean. This performance venue has been an establishment since the glory days of 1950s Cuba, and the lavish shows are still a big draw for visitors.
There is a great restaurant onsite for a dinner and show experience, or you can opt for a standard show ticket with includes a drink from the bar, a small bottle of rum, an appetiser, and one soft drink, all for $75 USD. You’ll have to pay a bit more to get a “premium” table with a better view.
The show itself is legendary, featuring hundreds of performers playing traditional Cuban music like the Conga, bolero, and chachacha while dancers and singers in colourful costumes perform in the outdoor theater under the palm trees and stars.
The Tropicana has an interesting and glamorous history, having been a hotspot for stars like Frank Sinatra, Marylin Monroe, Josephine Baker, and Nat King Cole. Since the 1950s, international fashion designers have presented couture fashion shows in this beautiful venue.
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Where To Stay In Havana
Accommodation and booking options in Cuba are getting better. If you are looking for a place to stay in Havana, you can find plenty of options in Havana for all types of travelers, budgets and preferences.
If you are looking for a nice accommodation in Havana, be prepared to pay. You’ll struggle to find a 3+ star hotel for less than $100 USD/night (some of the nicer hotels in Havana charge upwards of $250-350 USD per night).
If you are happy to pay the price, check out Hotel Nacional de Cuba Havana. This place just shouts glamourous and gives a peek at the glory days of 1950s Cuba. You can find rooms for about $118 USD a night, which is not too bad considering the wide range of extra spa and pool facilities.
Casa Particulares In Havana
Our recommendation is to skip hotels altogether and stay at Casa Particulares, which are homes stays hosted by locals. They are licensed by the government and are equipped to receive foreign guests. Just like with Airbnb anywhere else in the world, Casa Particulares range from private rooms in locals’ homes to whole apartments with a private bathroom, living room, and dining area. You can pre-book Casa Particulares on Airbnb or by contacting the hosts directly via email.
We stayed in Casa Particulars across the country and loved our experience. We got a chance to interact with locals follow their recommendations for restaurants, cafes, bars, and things to do in Havana.
Our favourite Airbnb Host was the lovely Gladys, the owner of this lovely colonial apartment in the heart of Old Havana. She speaks good English and is chock full of useful information and tips for things to do in Havana Cuba.
Hotels in Havana
If you are not keen on AirBnb’s and are looking for where to stay in Havana, the city has a number of hotels. Parque Central has the highest concentration of well known hotels that boast prime locations and great interiors at high prices. If you want to get a feel of the authentic Cuban flair and check out some of the city’s famous hotels, you might want to consider one of these places:
- Hotel Inglaterra – Located in Old Havana, this hotel is just 10 miles from the airport and also close to other popular touristy spots.
- Iberostar Parque Central – A Central Havana hotel, Iberostar is located in the colonial Spanish building. It’s also within a short walk to some of Havana’s popular destinations such as La Bodeguita del Medio and Bar Floridita.
- B&B Old Havana – A boutique hotel in the heart of Old Havana minutes away from the Old Square.
- Estancia Bohemia – If you are looking for some amazing city views and upper quality, Estancia Bohemia is your choice. The hotel also offers a complimentary breakfast.
Airbnb’s in Havana
Havana’s AirBnb’s also known as Casas Particulares are a perfect alternative to often pricey hotels. They often include breakfast, wi-fi (a huge bonus in Cuba!) and other amenities that hotels charge extra money for. Here are a few popular spots that often pop up in searches when you look for where to stay in Havana, Cuba:
- Mi Casa Tu Casa – a popular place that provides breakfast, access to the Internet, and a prime location near Old Town.
- La Rosa de Ortega – this vintage accommodation is popular with visitors thanks to its amenities such as gym, pool and beautiful decorations.
- Bayview Penthouse – a stylish apartment located in Old Havana within minutes of some of the most popular tourist spots.
Best Restaurants In Havana, Cuba
Finding a great place to eat in Havana can be a bit of a challenge. Unless you are dining in very high-end places, expect service to be poor across the board. Cubans just haven’t mastered that part of the restaurant business yet. But the good news is that authentic good Cuban food is available; you just need to know where to look for it!
The best restaurants in Havana Cuba according to Tripadvisor, like Donde Lis Restaurante & Bar, 304 O’Reilly, or Habana 61 cater solely to tourists and thus charge a premium. If your budget allows you to dine in style (expect to pay $30-40 USD per person), visit these and other fine dining options recommended by other travelers.
A great way to experience some local cooking is by dining at Paladares, privately owned restaurants that have recently started to pop up all over Havana. The Guardian has compiled this handy list of the Top 10 paladares in Havana that includes popular spots like San Cristóbal, Atelier, and Doña Eutemia. This list was created back in 2012, but nearly all of these spots are still serving wonderful local specialties!
But even without a recommendation, it’s possible to stumble upon some pretty cool and most importantly, delicious dining spots in Havana. In our experience, these were the best restaurants in Havana Cuba:
Paseo del Prado, Old Havana
El Trofeo has good value, good food, and a central location. Located on the top floor just across from the El Capitol building. Note: the decor is rather fancy, so dress accordingly. Try the cheese and ham stuffed chicken.
Paseo del Prado, Old Havana
Los Nardos has a great menu, good prices, a favourite with locals and visitors. Dress nice and be prepared to wait. There is always a line to get in.
Plaza Vieja, Old Havana
La Vitrola is a great restaurant set in a vintage American-style diner serving delicious Cuban tapas-style dishes. Live music, great atmosphere, and outdoor seating.
Calle Mercaderes, Old Havana
La Imprenta is set in an old printing factory, and the restaurant offers a comprehensive menu of Cuban fusion cuisine. Try their unique Mojito and beer cocktail!
Outside of Old Havana, there are lots of great restaurant choices in Vedado as well.
Padar La Guardia
Padar La Guardia is one of the most famous restaurants in Cuba, thanks to its cool location on a rooftop that offers amazing views of Havana. It’s a nice place to grab cocktails at the rooftop bar and enjoy a colourful sunset. But while the views at Padar La Guardia are spectacular, food prices are a bit on the higher side.
Plaza Vieja/Parque Central
If you are looking for a cozy cafe with a bar, check out El Dandy, a stylish eatery that offers various food and cocktails at affordable prices. The interiors of El Dandy feature a photo gallery and a warm vibe throughout the place, making this place especially popular with twentysomethings.
One of the highlights of the Vedado neighbourhood, this restaurant is quickly gaining popularity thanks to its tasty food, artsy interior and great location. Here you will be able to dine in a loft-like atmosphere and enjoy a rooftop terrace.
Calle San Ignacio/Plaza Vieja
Although this quaint cafe is located next to one of the most popular places in Havana, it’s a perfect spot to escape the tourist crowds and enjoy the quiet atmosphere of a cafe that offers a mix of healthy options and Mediterranean-inspired foods.
Where To Drink In Havana
If you want to check out the Havana nightlife and find out what to do after hours, then you better have some energy left! For drinks and entertainment, Old Havana offers lots of options for cocktails and live music venues, while Vedado is where you’ll find the trendiest clubs and bars. The following are the most popular bars in Old Havana:
- El Chanchullero – great vibe, great drinks… if you can get in (there is always a long line outside)
- Bar Monserrate – great spot for live music and a few casual drinks
- La Zorra y el Cuervo – Jazz bar rated top spot for nightlife in Havana
- El Floridita – made famous by Ernest Hemingway for its Daiquiris and fantastic Cuban rum
- Fabrica de Arte Cubano/Cuban Art Factory – new venue popular with young Cubans. Here you can find art galleries, bars, a dance floor and a movie theatre.
- Waoo – one of Havana’s newer restaurants, Waoo offers an impressive array of drinks and food.
- Cafe la Flauta Magica – a popular bar that overlooks the famous Malecon Road with a backdrop of Havana’s skyline.
Expect to pay $4-5 USD for a cocktail and $2-3 USD for a beer at many of these establishments.
How Much Time Do You Need In Havana
You’ll need a minimum of 3 days to see the city and sample the best things to do in Havana, although you can easily spend weeks in this fascinating city. Old Havana may seem compact, but exploring it on foot for hours on end can be really exhausting, so it’s best to split up your sightseeing into 2-3 day chunks. If you want time to also see Vedado and Central Havana, add at least a day or 2 for each district.