At first glance, Havana looks like a city stuck in time. The weathered buildings and classic American cars, speeding through the streets, have the feel of a postcard from the 1950s. Yet, modern Havana is a lively city, on the verge of fully opening its doors to the outside world. So what are some of the top things to do in this Caribbean paradise? Read further to find out!
1. Take a tour of Old Havana
Havana was founded in 1519, under the name of Villa de San Cristobal de La Habana. Old Havana is the historical center of the Cuban capital and much of the area was constructed during the Spanish colonial era, which is apparent in the city’s baroque and neoclassical architecture. It is a photographer’s paradise, as each corner is filled with festive street performers, interesting buildings, and wonderful outdoor restaurants.
Old Havana can be reached from any part of downtown Havana, on foot. Since it is the most popular tourist attraction in the city, most hotels are located within walking distance. No matter what type of traveler you are, Old Havana has something for everyone.
2. Take a stroll down the Malecón
The Malecón, Havana’s 5 mile (8 kilometer) long seafront highway, is the one place in the city that fully captures the spirit of the Cuban people. The ocean crashing against the shore, combined with the roar of cars down the highway and the laughter of locals enjoying the view, create a uniquely Cuban experience. It’s best explored as the sun begins to set and the streets fill with lovers, street performers, fishermen and families.
You can easily walk from Old Havana and head down the Malecón to central Havana, but there is no better way to experience it than to cruise down the highway in the back of a classic American convertible.
3. Visit the José Martí Memorial
José Martí was a poet, essayist and patriot that became the symbol of the fight for Cuban independence from Spain. Martí spent a large part of his life in exile, abroad, and would die on the battlefield in Dos Rios, Cuba, seven years before the nation gained its independence. As a result, Martí became a national hero and his monument sits in the Plaza de la Revolucion, along with iconic statues of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.
José Martí Memorial
Address: Calle Paseo y Ave. Independencia. Plaza de la Revolución. La Habana, Avenida Paseo, La Habana, Cuba
4. Take a tour of Morro Castle
Morro Castle is a fortress guarding the entrance to Havana Bay. Construction on the castle began in 1589 and was completed 30 years later. The castle is now a major tourist destination and one of the most prominent structures in Havana. The entrance fee is 4 CUC (4 USD) and it is best to allow two to three hours, to fully explore the castle. The ideal time to visit is in the late afternoon so that you can hang around for the beautiful sunset, overlooking Havana’s skyline.
Address: Parque Morro, La Habana, Cuba
5. Visit the Museum of the Revolution
The Museum of the Revolution is housed in what was once the presidential palace until Fidel Castro came to power, in 1959. The museum contains detailed exhibits and traces the events that led up to Castro gaining control of Cuba, as well as artifacts from his many years in power. Expect to spend at least two hours in the museum and the entrance fee is 5 CUC (5 USD).
Museum of the Revolution
Address: La Habana 10600, Cuba
6. Visit the Castillo San Salvador de la Punta
Across the harbor from Morro Castle sits the Castillo San Salvador de la Punta. This smaller castle was designed by the same architect as Morro and was designed to defend Havana harbor from enemy forces, during colonial times. The castle sits at the end of the Malecon and is a wonderful spot to take photos of Havana’s skyline and the entirety of the Malecon. Expect to spend two hours touring the castle and the entrance fee is 5 CUC (5 USD).
Castillo San Salvador de la Punta
Address: Malecón, La Habana, Cuba
7. Havana Cathedral
Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier once described Havana’s incredible cathedral as ‘music set in stone’. It was consecrated as Havana Cathedral in 1789, and some of Christopher Columbus’ remains were kept here between 1796 and 1898. The Cathedral is free to enter and the interior is just as impressive as the exterior. The cathedral is located in the heart of Old Havana and therefore it is easily reachable on foot, from most hotels.
Address: 156 Empedrado, La Habana, Cuba
8. El Capitolio
The Capitolio was the seat of Cuban government until the Revolution of 1959. Now, it houses the Cuban Academy of Sciences. The Capitolio is currently under restoration and its interior will reopen to the public in 2018. It is at the opposite corner of Central Park and across the street from the beautiful Great Theatre of Havana. It is an easy walk from Old Havana and the Malecon to this wonderful structure.
Address: 513 Paseo de Martí, La Habana, Cuba
9. Tour the city in a vintage car
You can’t leave Havana without taking a tour of the city’s attractions in a classic American muscle car. Due to the trade embargo with the United States that came as a result of the 1959 revolution, the only American cars on the island are those that arrived before it went into effect. These cars are remarkably well-preserved and while pricey, offer an excellent way to tour the city. While tour operators will charge varying rates, the standard price is 50 CUC (50 USD) for a three-hour tour of the city’s main attractions. If you choose not to book in advance, cars can easily be rented from Central Park, near the Capitolio.
Vintage Car Tour
Website: Havana Vintage Car Tour
10. Enjoy Cuban music at the Callejón de Hamel
The Callejon de Hamel is a two-block-long alley, between Aramburu and Hospital Streets in Centro Habana, that has become a shrine to Afro-Cuban religions. The buildings are lined with brightly-colored paintings, murals, sculptures and objects, which depict rituals and deities. If you want to enjoy Cuban Rumba music in its most authentic form, stop by the Callejon on Sundays, starting at noon, for the festivities.
Lose yourself in the rhythms of this tropical paradise
Where else can you explore some of the oldest architecture in the Americas and lose yourself in the rhythms of a tropical paradise? Havana is the perfect destination for anyone seeking to relish in great music, friendly locals and breathtaking scenery. It is loud, colorful and will fill your senses with images and sounds that will live on long after you’ve returned home. We hope that this guide helps you choose where to visit, during your Havana adventure.
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