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Enjoy Havana Like A Local: 15 Best Things To Do

Germaine
Published Jun 07, 2016

Bathed in sunlight. Rooted in history. Bustling with life and music. This is Havana, the capital city of Cuba. Noted for its rich history, culture, stunning architecture, and close proximity to the sea, Havana is THE city in the Caribbean that truly captures the quintessence of Cuba. History is treasured here in Havana, as evidenced by the numerous memorials, fortresses, and castles. Moreover, culture is embraced and celebrated in the city, where music from bars and clubs spills onto the streets, and famous cocktails were invented. Additionally, Havana was one of the cities where the renowned writer Ernest Hemingway was inspired to write his beloved novels, and he left his mark in several places in the city. So get ready to be seduced by the simultaneously exotic, rustic, and romantic city. Here are 15 top things to do in the city of Havana.

For a more immersive reading experience, play the video below in the background before you continue reading!

1. Be inspired in Old Havana

Source: Wikipedia

Starting with the heart of Havana, Old Havana is the largest colonial center in Latin America. Stroll down the walkable streets and admire the fascinating architecture. Gaze upon historic buildings, churches, galleries, museums, and plazas that exude colonial charm. Notable places include the Plaza De La Catedral, which is surrounded by old buildings and a cathedral (the Catedral De San Cristobal) that have been standing since the 18th century. Another point of interest is the Plaza de Armas, where you can enjoy a carriage ride around beautiful baroque buildings and under lush palm trees. There is also a second-hand book market in the plaza if you are looking for some inexpensive reads!

See our full list of recommended Hotels in Old Havana and also compare the prices with airbnbs in Old Havana

2. Promenade down the Malecón

Source: Wikipedia

Every tourist in Havana has to visit this lovely esplanade. Stretching for 8 kilometers (5 miles) along the coast, the Malecón was built to protect the city from coastal hazards. Now, the Malecón is a popular hangout spot for locals, a meeting place for romantic rendezvous, an open-air theater, and a fishing hotspot. Experience the quintessence of Cuban lifestyle by enjoying a drink and chatting with locals, with the sound of waves crashing and lively street music in the background. The best time to visit the Malecón is during sunset, when you can get a gorgeous view of the sun setting on the Caribbean and the rustic buildings illuminated by the warm light.

Watch famous television show host and comedian Conan O'Brien socialise with the friendly locals at El Malecón below.

See our full list of recommended Hotels in Old Havana and also compare the prices with airbnbs in Old Havana

3. Walk through history at Plaza de la Revolución

Just inland from the Malecón, the Plaza de la Revolución (the Revolution Square) is an important administrative center and historical site in Cuba. A significant political space for Cuba, the Plaza has hosted many important political rallies in Cuba and addresses by political figures. Also, the site contains the memorials of historical figures that shaped Cuba’s history, such as the José Martí, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfugos memorials. Moreover, notable buildings in the plaza include the Biblioteca Nacional (Cuba’s largest library), the Ministerio de Defensa (Ministry of Defence), and the Teatro Nacional (National Theater of Cuba). The grand memorials and buildings are certainly an architectural spectacle to behold.

See our full list of recommended Hotels in Old Havana and also compare the prices with airbnbs in Old Havana

4. Have a field trip at La Cabaña (Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña)

Source: Wikipedia

The third-largest fort in the Americas, the 18th-century Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña (Fort of Saint Charles), or simply La Cabaña, is a gigantic fortress that protected Havana against pirates and enemies. Lined with hundreds of cannons and several catapults, the fort was such an effective and impenetrable defense structure that it had never been invaded, even though Havana was a hot target because of its strategic geographic position in the Caribbean. It even served as the headquarters for the revolutionary Che Guevara. Also, look out for the exciting Cañonazo ceremony, a spectacular marching and drumming performance by soldiers clad in 18th-century uniforms, and concluding with a canon shot. The ceremony is held at 8.30 pm every night at the fort.

While at the fort, do also check out the Museo de Comandancia del Che to view Che Guevara’s personal items, and the Castillo del Morro, an impressive fortress just next to La Cabaña.

Day time admission costs 6 USD per person, and night time admission costs 8 USD per person.

La Cabaña

Address: La Habana, Cuba

Opening Hours: 8 am - 11 pm.

Duration: around 2 hours required.

Website: http://www.lahabana.com/guide/fortaleza-de-san-carlos-de-la-cabana/

See our full list of recommended Hotels in Old Havana and also compare the prices with airbnbs in Old Havana

5. Marvel at the Capitol Building

Once the seat of government in Cuba before the Cuban revolution in 1959, the magnificent Capitol Building now houses the Cuban Academy of Sciences. The Capitol Building bears a striking resemblance to the Washington DC Capitol Building, except that Havana’s version is slightly richer in details. Marvel at the building’s grand architecture that incorporates a variety of styles and is considered a major feat of engineering. Walk through the Prado and up the staircase to be greeted by a gargantuan bronze sculpture of Mercury in the Palazzo de Bargello. Be awed by the grand, domed walkways, and look out for a 24-carat diamond in the floor.

Admission costs 3 USD per person for the unguided tour, and 4 USD per person for the guided tour.

The Capitol Building

Address: cnr Dragones & Paseo de Martí

Opening Hours: 9 am - 8 pm.

Duration: around 2 hours required.

See our full list of recommended Hotels in Old Havana and also compare the prices with airbnbs in Old Havana

6. Feast your eyes on Fusterlandia

A town formally-known as Jaimanitas, Fusterlandia is the nickname given to the colorful neighborhood. It was named after the Cuban native artist, José Rodríguez Fuster, as the entire neighborhood is decorated with art pieces inspired by the artist. Fuster is one of the most iconic artists in the world, and is even nicknamed the ‘Picasso of the Caribbean’. Be inspired by the bold and vibrant mosaic artworks on almost every surface in the fantasy-land. Fusterlandia is truly a unique place to admire Cuba’s modern art scene.

See our full list of recommended Hotels in Old Havana and also compare the prices with airbnbs in Old Havana

7. Embrace the arts at the National Museum of Fine Arts

While exploring the art scene in Havana, do also pay a visit to the National Museum of Fine Arts that was open in 1913! Displaying Cuban art collections from the colonial to contemporary eras, the museum consists of two grand buildings - the Palace of Fine Arts, which displays Cuban Arts, and the Palace of the Asturian Center, which displays the Universal Arts. Be inspired by art pieces by famous artists, such as Rita Longa, whose modernist sculpture greets visitors at the main entrance.

Admission costs 5 USD per person, and it is free for children below 14 years of age.

National Museum of Fine Arts

Address: Calle Capdevila No. 1 e/ Aguiar y Habana. La Habana Vieja. Ciudad de La Habana.

Opening Hours: Tues - Sat: 10.00 am - 6.00 pm; Sun: 10.00 am - 2.00 pm

Duration: around 2 hours required.

Website: http://www.cuba-museums-guide.com/cubamuseums/nationalmusic.htm

Contact: +53 7 861 0241

See our full list of recommended Hotels in Old Havana and also compare the prices with airbnbs in Old Havana

8. Dine at a Cuban paladar

What’s a paladar you ask? Paladars are family-run restaurants in Cuba, in contrast to most other restaurants in the country that are state-owned. Thus, paladars often offer a more traditional and authentic Cuban dining experience. At this paladar, La Guarida, the restaurant is located on the top floor of a dilapidated and rustic-looking building, where the owner Enrique mentioned that he grew up. Besides the mouth-watering Cuban cuisine and refreshing drinks, La Guarida is famous for being featured in the movie Fresa y Chocolate, and various international reviews.

Meals cost around 12 - 20 USD.

La Guarida

Address: 418 Concordia, La Habana, Cuba

Opening Hours: 12.00 pm - 3 pm; 7.00 pm - 12.00 midnight

Duration: around 2 hours required.

Website: http://www.laguarida.com/en/

Contact: (+53) 78 66 90 47; (+53) 78 66 23 54; (+53) 54 14 78 52

See our full list of recommended Hotels in Old Havana and also compare the prices with airbnbs in Old Havana

9. Have fun in the sun at Playas del Este

Source: Flickr

Step into Cuban beach paradise! With its pristine white sand and views of the cerulean-blue Atlantic Sea, Playas del Este is a popular hotspot to enjoy a Caribbean getaway. Only 20 minutes to the east of Havana, this beach is truly unique and authentic as it has not experienced mega-development such as the more commercialized beaches elsewhere in the world. Do come during the summer months (from July to August)!

See our full list of recommended Hotels in Old Havana and also compare the prices with airbnbs in Old Havana

10. Travel with style in vintage taxis

One of the most iconic views in Havana is of vintage cars roaming the city streets. So if you need a ride, why not commute in these ‘time machines’? You would feel just like you were back in the 60s as you cruise around town in your fancy, retro ride! Let the street music and sea breeze flood your senses as the car moves. Tours can also be booked that will take you around the city in these cute vintage cars. Also, don’t be shy to take a picture! The drivers are usually outgoing and happy to showcase their vehicles.

See our full list of recommended Hotels in Old Havana and also compare the prices with airbnbs in Old Havana

11. Following in Hemingway’s footsteps at Hotel Ambos Mundos

If you are a fan of the renowned novelist and journalist Ernest Hemingway, you definitely have to visit the hotel he first stayed at in Cuba. Walk in Hemingway’s footsteps, literally, when you visit room 511 in the hotel, which was the writer’s first residence in Cuba, and where he mentioned was an ideal space to write. The room is now converted into a museum called The Room of Hemingway, where Hemingway started his novel ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’. Besides the museum, the four-star hotel is worth staying a night or two for its inspiring view of Old Havana and its relaxing ambiance.

Hotel Ambos Mundos

Address: 153 Obispo, La Habana, Cuba

Price: 93 - 240 USD

Book Now

See our full list of recommended Hotels in Old Havana and also compare the prices with airbnbs in Old Havana

12. Luxuriate in cocktails

My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita. Ernest Hemingway

While at the birthplace of the famous cocktails, the mojito and daiquiri, it is an imperative to give these two drinks a shot while in Havana! For a good daiquiri, visit El Floridita Bar, one of the most famous bars in the city, and the bar which serves Ernest Hemingway’s favourite daiquiri. Invented by a skilled Catalan mixologist, La Florida Daiquiri is a refreshing combination of rum, lime juice, and maraschino liqueur with crushed ice. It is a must-try in the city. For a good mojito, visit La Bodeguita del Medio on Empedrado, which claims to be the birthplace of the mojito.

El Floridita Bar

Address: Obispo No 557, La Habana, Cuba

Opening Hours: 11.00 am - 12.00 midnight.

Duration: around 2 hours required.

Website: http://www.floridita-cuba.com/

Contact: +53 7 8671300

La Bodeguita del Medio

Address: Empedrado No 207, La Habana, Cuba

Opening Hours: 11.00 am - 12.00 midnight.

Duration: around 2 hours required.

Contact: +53 7 571375

See our full list of recommended Hotels in Old Havana and also compare the prices with airbnbs in Old Havana

13. Indulge in the world’s best rum at the Havana Club’s Museum of Rum

Located in the district of Old Havana, the Havana Club’s Museum of Rum is the perfect place to visit if you are a rum-enthusiast, or simply curious about how rum is made. Rum-making is an important part of the Cuban culture, and is an important component of most Cuban drinks. Guided tours will lead you through the entire process of making rum, from processing the sugar cane stalks to the ageing process. After visiting the museum, head down to the Havana Club Bar, where you can savor the taste of authentic Cuban culture.

Admission costs 6 USD per person.

Havana Club's Museum of Rum

Address: La Habana Vieja, Havana, Cuba

Opening Hours: 9.30 am - 5.30 pm.

Duration: around 2 hours required.

Website: http://havana-club.com/en/havana-heritage/havana-club-museum-0

See our full list of recommended Hotels in Old Havana and also compare the prices with airbnbs in Old Havana

14. Savor the aroma of cigars at Partagas Cigar Factory

Partagas Cigar Factory is an old, dilapidated, four-story high building, but it is one of Cuba’s best cigar factories. Be greeted by the earthy, intoxicating smell of tobacco as you enter the factory. Be transported back in time as you walk through rooms made of stone and wood with a grand skylight above. Watch your step on the creaky floorboards and crumbling steps, all of which give the factory an antiquated vibe. Do note that only special tours are allowed in the factory.

Tip for shopping: be wary of locals selling cigars outside the factory, as the products are most likely counterfeit.

Admission costs 10 USD per person.

Partagas Cigar Factory

Address: Calle Industria 520, Havana, Cuba

Opening Hours: 9.00 am - 10.15 am; 12.00 noon - 1.30 pm.

Duration: around 2 hours required.

See our full list of recommended Hotels in Old Havana and also compare the prices with airbnbs in Old Havana

15. Lose yourself in the music

Source: Wikipedia

Last but not least, you better lose yourself in the music the moment you own it. Live music plays almost everywhere in Havana, so feel free to bust some moves on the street. The city is your dance floor, just be wary of traffic! Listen for and groove to the clave rhythm, the most iconic rhythm in salsa music that can be heard on almost every street. If you wish to dance at a more private area, some recommended locations include the Privé Lounge and Café Teatro Bertol Brecht. The Privé Lounge features up-and-coming musicians and a cozy bar to drink with friends. When the mood strikes, the bar can be transformed into a massive dance floor! Café Teatro Bertol Brecht, on the other hand, is another hip place with a 50s-style chic vibe, and it features contemporary Cuban musicians

Privé Lounge

Address: Calle 88A Havana

Opening Hours: 2.00 pm - 6.00 am.

Duration: around 3 hours required.

Website: http://www.lahabana.com/guide/prive-lounge-black-wood-and-blue-walls/

Café Teatro Bertol Brecht

Address: Calle 13 Esq. a I, Vedado, La Habana, 10400.

Opening Hours: Wed - Sun: 8.00 pm - 2.00 am.

Duration: around 3 hours required.

Website: http://www.lahabana.com/guide/bertolt-brecht-cafe-teatro/

Contact: (+53)5378 - 301354

See our full list of recommended Hotels in Old Havana and also compare the prices with airbnbs in Old Havana

In the end ...

Havana is a perfect destination for couples or friends. The cool sea breezes, remarkable architecture, impromptu dance classes, and romantic sea-side promenades make Havana the ideal escape from modern city life. It is best to visit Havana during the summer months.

So look no further. Be inspired, seduced, intoxicated, and regenerated by the lovely Caribbean city for your next trip!

Watch the video below that details a traveler’s experience in Havana, including what to expect, and other interesting things to do in the city!

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Germaine is a free-spirited individual who likes to write and travel. She is also a TV junkie and an animal lover. She has been to several countries, and some of her favourites include Australia,...Read more

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