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. Tourists are assured of a safe and comfortable stay with a range of accommodation options available here - from cozy vacation rentals to hotels with a rooftop pool in Havana. Embark on your exploration tour of the city and enjoy its myriad sights and sounds. Read on to know more about the top 15 things to do in Havana, Cuba: a Caribbean paradise.
1. Take a tour of Old Havana
Havana was founded in 1519, under the name of Villa de San Cristobal de La Habana. And one of the best things to do in Havana is to take a tour of Old Havana. It 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
You might be interested in these Airbnbs!
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 is one of the most popular places to visit in Havana. It 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
If you’re wondering what to see in Havana, make your way to the stunning 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
One of the most fun things to do in Havana is to take 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.
11. Admire the architecture at Colon Cemetery
A cemetery might sound like an odd place to visit, but Colon Cemetery in Cuba is definitely worth a visit. Constructed in 1876, this cemetery is spread across a vast area and houses a vast array of chapels, mausoleums, family vaults, memorials, and monuments, all done up in a stunning Neoclassical or Art Deco style. Beautiful architecture and stunning designs are the hallmarks of Colon Cemetery, making it a must-see place in Havana.
Address: Havana, Cuba
Opening hours: Mon - Fri: 8am - 5pm (closed on Sat & Sun)
12. Go salsa dancing
When in Havana, going salsa dancing is a must-do activity. Various clubs across the city offer a great atmosphere and live music to enjoy salsa dancing. And one of the most popular salsa places is Club 1830. It is mostly frequented by locals, who will be more than happy to teach you a few moves. The Latin music played by live bands here is upbeat, perfect for salsa dancing. You can also enjoy delicious cocktails and the fresh sea breeze at Club 1830. And if you don’t know how to salsa, plenty of salsa dancing schools are also available in Havana.
Address: Havana, Cuba
Opening hours: 9am - 6pm (daily)
13. Tour a cigar factory
Another popular thing to do in Havana is to smoke an authentic Cuban cigar. You can even go one step further and tour a cigar factory to understand how genuine Cuban cigars are made. Plenty of operators are available in the city to take you on a factory tour, where you will learn about the cigar-making process, see the ingredients used, the process of rolling the cigars, and the correct way of smoking one. At the end of the tour, you can even buy authentic cigars from the factory shop.
14. See the art at Pisoclabis Bazar-Cafe
Cafes can be found aplenty in Havana. But for a unique art-themed cafe, visit Pisoclabis Bazar-Cafe. Showcasing the beautiful artwork of local artists, this cafe is the perfect place to shop for art pieces like paintings, sculptures, hand-blown glass objects, souvenirs, jewelry, pottery, and more. You can also sample authentic Cuban coffee prepared the traditional way along with delicious snacks and juices at Pisoclabis Bazar-Cafe.
Address: San Ignacio, La Habana, Cuba
15. Eat at a Paladar
Paladar or paladares are essentially family-run restaurants in Havana that are a great way to try out authentic Cuban food. These paladars are a great alternative to the state-run bars and restaurants in the city and are very popular with tourists. Most paladars have an eclectic decor of family photographs, posters and signages on the walls with narrow dining spaces cluttered with tables and chairs. One of the most popular paladars is San Cristóbal Paladar in downtown Havana. Try homemade food, enjoy rum and other drinks and smoke a cigar at a paladar in Havana!
San Cristóbal Paladar
Address: San Rafael, La Habana, Cuba
Opening hours: Mon - Sat: 12pm - 12am (closed on Sun)
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.
Get Trip101 in your inbox