At the beach in Koh Nang Yuan, Thailand

By Norbert Figueroa, an experienced architect, travel writer, long-term budget traveler, and photographer with over 13 years of travel experience in over 139 countries and counting. @globotreks


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As one of the best-preserved colonial cities in Latin America, Havana is jam-packed with colorful buildings, ancient forts, and hidden alleyways.

Whether it’s a sultry salsa performance you’re after or some fascinating history, this is the city for you.

Listen to live rumba floating through the air, savor moments where Hemingway once dined, and explore Old Havana’s cobbled streets.

If you’re traveling to Cuba, you’ll undoubtedly want to make a stop at the capital city.

You’ll have endless opportunities to explore nooks and crannies and uncover new cultural experiences during your Havana trip. Now, let’s take a look at the best things to do in Havana.

Cuba, Havana Street

1. Drive a Vintage Cuban Car

One of the more well-known facts about Cuba is that the people here still drive classic cars from the 1950s. This is because the country has been unable to import newer cars due to the various trade sanctions that have been in place for decades.

You can pick one up outside the Museum of the Revolution or Hotel Inglaterra, and cruise the historic streets of Havana in serious style.

El Capitolio in Havana

2. Stroll Through Centro Habana

Centro Habana, or Central Havana, is one of the most colorful districts nestled west of Old Havana. It boasts wide boulevards and beautifully restored buildings.

As you walk through the streets, you’ll be touched by local flavors, from salsa music drifting through the streets and the scent of different foods delighting all your senses.

Street in Cuba

3. Learn to Salsa in La Habana, Cuba

Salsa dancing is a big part of Cuban culture, and learning how to do it is one of the most sought-after things to do in Havana.

This is your opportunity to light up the dance floor, burn off those extra mojitos, and spice up your mood. You can join a private lesson before taking your talents to the streets, or head to one of Havana’s dance clubs like El Turquino.

4. Visit El Morro Castle

El Morro Fortress inn Havana, Cuba

El Morro Castle, also known as “Castillo de Los Tres Reyes del Morro,” is perched on top of a rocky promontory opposite the harbor at Havana’s bay entrance. It’s a massive fort with an equally impressive history.

The castle was built during the 1590s to safeguard Havana against military attacks and pirates.

Today, El Morro Castle is a museum, providing the perfect opportunity to explore some fascinating artifacts and enjoy sweeping views of the ocean.

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You can take in the three bastions linked by curtain walls, casemented barracks, dungeons, and many more interesting attractions.

5. Stroll Along the Malecón

Boardwalk in Havana

Get an intimate glimpse of bustling Havana life as you walk along the scenic El Malecon or Malecón. It’s a restored 5-mile-long seafront boulevard that hugs Havana’s north coastline.

It provides picturesque views of Havana’s colorful collection of 20th-century buildings. A mix of architectural styles from Neo Moorish to Art Deco.

The boardwalk sits on the edge of Old Havana, Cuba, and the Vedado neighborhood, providing plenty of different restaurants and shops to dip into.

Enjoy strolling and sampling a variety of foods and listening to music along the pier. The best time to go is at sunset. Grab a bottle of rum along the road and kick back to admire the beauty this city has to offer.

Once you’ve taken in a beautiful Havana sunset, stop off at the historic Hotel Nacional de Cuba.

It’s a National Monument and a World Heritage Site that boasts a list of glamorous former guests, including Marlon Brando, Winston Churchill, Ava Gardner, and Frank Sinatra.

6. See Old Havana (Habana Vieja) on Foot

Musician in Havana, Cuba

Old Havana or La Habana Vieja is a place you’ll undoubtedly want to discover, and it’s best to do so on foot. It’s quite possibly the most beautiful area in the city.

In the early 1980s, Old Havana was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its impressive preservation of centuries-old architecture.

Walking through Old Havana, you’ll find yourself in a colorful labyrinth of streets. It’s filled with forts, monuments, and churches with baroque and neoclassical designs and several bustling neighborhoods.

Walk along the Calle Obispo, lined with art galleries and shops, with plenty of Cuban Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture for you to enjoy.

At night, the space lights up with music floating from buzzing restaurants. You’ll also find Hemingway’s favorite restaurant – El Florida – here.

Take a walking tour of Old Havana to experience what makes up the pulsating heart of Havana.

7. Cámera Oscura In Old Havana

After soaking in the phenomenal history of Habana Vieja, climb the 11-foot (35-meter) Plaza Vieja tower and peer through the Camera Obscura.

You’ll get a spectacular 360-degree view of Old Havana. It’s an optical device invented by Leonardo Da Vinci which is located on the Edificio Gómez Vila’s top floor, the tallest building in Plaza Vieja.

8. Take a Tour of a Cigar Factory

Cuban Cigars

What better place to get legendary Cuban cigars than one of Cuba’s cigar factories? Even if you’re not one to take a puff, seeing the process in action is a great way to connect with the country’s culture.

There are a few places where you can get this experience, such as Modern Partagas, the Romeo Y Julieta Cigar Factory, and more.

9. Dance the Night Away at the Cabaret Tropicana Show

The Cabaret Tropicana Show is one of the hottest nightclub shows in Cuba. It’s recognized for its tropical open-air venue, which bursts with glitter, glam, and colorful lights.

Groove the night away as you watch performers in their feathered costumes dance to sensual salsa under the stars.

10. Take a Road Trip to Viñales Tobacco Fields

Cigar Lady in Havana

If you want to escape the bustling city for a while, take a road trip to the small town of Viñales, Cuba.

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It’s a charming village tucked away in lush greenery and surrounded by tobacco plantations.

Viñales is renowned for its tobacco farms and limestone hills. Apart from exploring the incredible plantations on foot, take a horse ride and enjoy the country atmosphere.

11. Grab a Drink in Hemingway’s Favorite Bars

Ernest Hemingway lived just outside Havana for twenty years, and naturally, got a lot of inspiration for his novels from the city – particularly from its bars. 

El Floridita, La Bodeguita del Medio, Sloppy Joe’s, and Dos Hermanos were Hemingway’s favorite watering holes. There’s a certain romantic charm in going to a bar where the famed writer spent many a raucous night.

By the way, La Bodeguita del Medio claims to be the birthplace of the Mojito. So, I’d highly recommend swinging by and trying the famous cocktail in the bar where it was created.

La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana, Cuba

12. Stop Over at Hemingway’s Old House

While you’re on the Hemingway hunt, why not take it a step further and stop by his old home?

The former colonial home, Finca Vigia, is where he wrote some of his most famous novels, such as The Old Man and the Sea, A Moveable Feast, and For Whom The Bell Tolls.

Today, visitors can learn more about the famous author and his relationship with Cuba at the Ernest Hemingway Museum.

Note: You’ll not be allowed inside the house, but the place can be viewed through large windows – with plenty to see.

13. Marvel at Fusterlandia

Get your camera ready to see Cuba’s rich artistic traditions shine through in Fusterlandia. The mosaic-decorated village is a whimsical wonderland nestled in Jaimanitas, 30 minutes west of central Havana.

Fusterlandia is not site-specific but instead crafted in and around the neighborhood. Created by local artist José Fuster, the area is draped in a display of kaleidoscopic colors.

Residents allowed the artist to decorate their homes with colorful, eye-catching gems creating a beautiful space. 

There is a gallery dedicated to these artistic efforts, open between 9.30 am to 4.00 pm, Wednesday to Sunday. If you don’t make it in time, you can drive through the neighborhood to see his artworks first hand.

14. See the Havana El Capitolio (National Capitol Building)

El Capitolio Building in Havana

El Capitolio, or Cuba’s National Capital Building, is one of the most visited sites in Havana.

The neoclassical building was built in 1929 in Havana’s center until it underwent restoration over the last eight years. Just recently, it reopened as the seat of Cuba’s National Assembly.

Highlights include beautiful inlaid marble floors, the massive dome, and grandeur hallways.

Visitors are allowed to tour the El Capitol in groups of 15 every week, from Tuesday to Sunday.

15. Visit Playas del Este

Playas del Este is a short drive east of the city. It’s a long stretch of palm-fringed beach, blanketed in white-sands and gem-colored waters.

On the beach, sightseers can find various restaurants, hotels, and other regular tourist facilities.

There is an assortment of different beaches at Playas del Este. One of the best stretches of beach – and one of the most popular tourist spots –  is at Santa Maria del Mar. This beach is lined with lounge chairs and colorful umbrellas. For more of a local feel, stop off at Playa Guanabo or Playa Boca Ciega.

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16. Spend a Night at the Cuban Art Factory

The Cuban Art Factory, or Fabrica de Arte Cubano, is probably the best place to experience Havana’s vibrant nightlife. It lies in the Vedado neighborhood and features art galleries, photography exhibits, and amazing live performances.

The building itself is a restored cooking oil factory originally built in 2010. Since it reopened as a nightclub and gallery in 2014, it’s become incredibly popular among both locals and tourists.

17. Stop Off at the Plaza de la Revolución

Plaza de la Revolución, or Revolution Square, was originally called Plaza Civica but was renamed after the Cuban Revolution.

Its most famous feature is the 109-meter (358-feet) tower dedicated to the writer Jose Marti, which is the largest monument to a writer on earth.

While there, take the elevator to the top of the monument for one of the best views of Havana you can find in the city. It’s truly breathtaking.

18. Visit the Havana Cathedral

Another one of the best things to do in Havana is to spend some time taking in the grand architecture of the Havana Cathedral, located in Plaza de la Catedral.

This grand building was completed in 1777 and has several unique features such as preserved marine fossil imprints on its facade and asymmetric bell towers.

The cathedral is actually rumored to have housed the remains of Christopher Columbus, which is why you might see it being referred to by locals as the Cathedral of Saint Christopher.

Essential Info: Logistical Tips and Tricks to Book Your Trip to Cuba

PLAN YOUR TRIP
I highly recommend using ViaHero‘s services to plan your trip to Cuba, especially if you’re American, as it complies with one of the travel categories (“support for the Cuban people”) that allows Americans to travel to Cuba legally.

This is thanks to the fact that a local Cuban is planning and customizing your trip exactly how you want it. I’ve used ViaHero myself on my trips to Cuba, and I couldn’t be happier with their service.

BOOK YOUR FLIGHT
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Kayak. These are two of the sites I use the most due to their exhaustive search on several websites and airlines around the world. They usually bring the cheapest fares.

BOOK YOUR ACCOMMODATION
If you’re looking to save money by staying at a hostel, HostelWorld has the largest inventory of hostels. On the other hand, Airbnb offers a wide variety of rooms and apartments at affordable prices.

DON’T FORGET YOUR TRAVEL INSURANCE
Travel insurance with comprehensive coverage will protect you against unexpected events like theft, cancellations, injury, and illness. I use SquareMouth to insure my trips.

If you’re a nomad and travel often or long term, then SafetyWing could help you save a lot of money on travel insurance.

OTHER TRAVEL AND MONEY-SAVING TIPS?
Lastly, check out my resources page for some of the best products and companies to use for your trip. If you like saving money (like I do!), then this page will help.

Best Things to do in Havana, Cuba - 15 Exciting Activities in La Havana, Cuba
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2 Comments

  1. the best thinks to do in Cuba is to feed the peoplbecause they are starving als o free the people that are in jail for having a different opinión an wayed to be free.

  2. I am in Havana right now. This article made me laugh. Thank you. I needed to laugh since my heart has been broken here for days seeing buildings decaying and crashing down on families and killing them. Communism. Wow! Everyone who thinks communism is a good idea should be forced to visit this place. The people beautiful but starving. This place is like hell for them.