Havana, the enchanting capital of Cuba, is a city frozen in time, characterized by its vintage cars, colonial architecture, and the rhythmic beats of salsa echoing through the streets. For those contemplating things to do in Havana, strolling along the Malecón, the city’s iconic seaside promenade, and delving into the historic heart of Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage site with its plazas, churches, and vibrant street life, are top activities.
The city’s El Capitolio, reminiscent of the U.S. Capitol, is a testament to Havana’s grandeur during the early 20th century. Nearby, the Tropicana Club offers a glimpse into Cuba’s cabaret legacy with its dazzling performances and tropical ambiance.
Beyond its urban charm, Havana is a gateway to Cuba’s rich cultural and historical tapestry, from its revolutionary history to its Afro-Cuban heritage. Havana’s blend of nostalgia, music, and cultural depth makes it an unforgettable destination for those seeking the best places to visit in Cuba.
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Attractions & Things to Do in Havana, Cuba
1. El Malecón
For about 5 miles along Havana’s coast, El Malecón is a broad esplanade, roadway, and seawall that has become one of the city’s soulful landmarks. Locals and tourists gather here, especially in the evenings, to enjoy the views, socialize, or gaze out at the ocean’s vastness.
Travel tip: If you visit during the evening, you’ll witness a lively atmosphere with musicians and performers. It’s also a great place to capture a sunset.
2. Old Havana (Habana Vieja)
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982, Old Havana is a historical core with well-preserved colonial architecture, plazas, and cobblestone streets. It’s a journey back in time with its Baroque and neoclassical monuments and vintage cars roaming the roads.
Travel tip: Day walking through this area to fully appreciate its history. Don’t forget to stop at one of the local cafes or bars to enjoy traditional Cuban music.
3. Morro Castle (Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro)
This historic fortress guards the entrance to Havana Bay and has been a symbol of Havana for centuries. Its strategic location offers panoramic views of the city and the sea.
Travel tip: Try visiting in the evening when the traditional cannon ceremony, “El Cañonazo,” takes place, reenacting old customs from when the city gates would close for the night.
4. Museum of the Revolution (Museo de la Revolución)
Housed in what was once the Presidential Palace, this museum is dedicated to the Cuban Revolution. It showcases various exhibits, artifacts, and displays, illustrating the history and events leading up to and following the revolution.
Travel tip: Even if history isn’t your primary interest, the building’s architecture and bullet holes from a failed assassination attempt on Batista are worth the visit.
5. La Bodeguita del Medio and El Floridita
Famous for their historical ties to Ernest Hemingway, these are two of Havana’s most iconic bars. La Bodeguita is known for its mojitos, while El Floridita claims to be the birthplace of the daiquiri.
Travel tip: While they can be touristy and pricier than other local spots, sipping a drink in these classic settings is a unique experience. Remember to sign your name on the wall at La Bodeguita just like many visitors, including Hemingway, have done.
6. Fábrica de Arte Cubano
A unique blend of an art gallery, nightclub, and performance space, the Fábrica de Arte Cubano is the epitome of Havana’s contemporary art scene. It hosts various events, from film screenings to live music and art exhibitions.
Travel tip: Check their schedule in advance as the venue often hosts international artists and themed nights. Dress smart-casual if you plan to enjoy the nightlife.
7. Plaza de la Revolución
This iconic square has witnessed many of the country’s most significant political rallies, events, and speeches. Dominating the square is the José Martí Memorial, a 358-foot tower in honor of the Cuban national hero. Surrounding the square facades featuring steel memorials of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos.
Travel tip: Visit early in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the scorching sun, as there’s little shade in the vast open space. The top of the José Martí Memorial offers a panoramic view of Havana.
8. Tropicana Cabaret
An institution in Havana since 1939, the Tropicana Cabaret offers a dazzling spectacle of color, music, and dance. Known for its extravagant performances in an open-air setting, it remains a testament to Cuba’s vibrant musical history.
Travel tip: While the tickets might seem pricey, they usually include drinks and sometimes a cigar. It’s advisable to book in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons.
9. Almacenes San José Artisans’ Market
The largest handicraft market in Havana, Almacenes San José, is in a vast warehouse on the port’s edge. You can find everything from Cuban art and handmade souvenirs to clothing and traditional crafts here.
Travel tip: Bargaining is expected, so don’t hesitate to negotiate prices. Ensure you have enough cash, as not all stalls accept credit cards.
10. Playas del Este
Playas del Este is located just a short drive from Havana and offers beautiful beaches. From Santa María del Mar to Guanabo, these beaches provide a respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Travel tip: Weekends can get crowded with locals. If you’re seeking tranquility, plan a visit on a weekday. Beach facilities might be basic, so pack essentials like snacks, drinks, and sun protection.
11. Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso
This grand theater in central Havana symbolizes the city’s rich cultural heritage. Besides being architecturally magnificent, it’s the primary venue for ballet performances, reflecting Cuba’s strong dance traditions.
Travel tip: If you can, catch a performance of the Cuban National Ballet. Even if you don’t watch a show, the exterior of the building is worth admiring, especially in the evening when it’s illuminated.
12. Hemingway’s Finca Vigía
Once the residence of famed American author Ernest Hemingway, Finca Vigía (Lookout Farm) is now a museum dedicated to his life and work. Preserved in the state he left, the house offers a glimpse into Hemingway’s world, with his extensive book collection, hunting trophies, and personal artifacts.
Travel tip: You can’t walk inside the house, but large windows and doors are left open, allowing visitors a clear view from the outside. Combining this visit with a trip to Cojímar, the fishing village that inspired “The Old Man and the Sea,” can make for a fulfilling Hemingway-themed day.
13. Catedral de San Cristóbal
Standing proudly in the heart of Old Havana, Catedral de San Cristóbal is a magnificent example of baroque architecture. Its asymmetrical towers and ornate facade make it a must-visit. The cathedral houses art pieces from the colonial era and a serene ambiance for reflection.
Travel tip: Attend a service for a more immersive experience, but remember to dress respectfully. The square surrounding the cathedral, Plaza de la Catedral, is lively with music and dancers in the evening.
14. Callejón de Hamel
This vibrant alleyway is a burst of colors, art, and Afro-Cuban culture. Murals, sculptures, and art installations cover every inch, and it becomes even livelier on Sundays with rumba performances.
Travel tip: If you’re in Havana on a Sunday, aim to visit around noon to catch the traditional rumba dance sessions. It’s a good idea to have some minor changes with you for tipping the performers or buying local artwork.
15. Palacio de los Capitanes Generales
Situated in the heart of Old Havana, this stunning palace was the residence of Spanish governors. Today, it houses the City Museum, showcasing the history of Havana with a collection of period furniture, paintings, and artifacts.
Travel tip: The central courtyard is a serene spot, perfect for resting your feet after a day of exploration. Don’t miss the historic wooden street just outside the palace, designed to muffle the sound of horse-drawn carriages.
16. Mercado Agropecuario Egido
For those looking to experience the local way of life, this bustling farmers’ market offers a plethora of fruits, vegetables, meats, and other Cuban specialties.
Travel tip: Go early in the morning to experience the market at its most lively. It’s also a chance to try exotic fruits and local delicacies you might not find elsewhere. Remember to bring small bills and coins for easier transactions.
FAQ About Things to Do in Havana, Cuba
What are the top attractions to visit in Havana?
Some of the top attractions in Havana include Old Havana (Habana Vieja), the Malecón, El Capitolio, and the Revolution Museum.
Is it worth visiting the Morro Castle?
Absolutely! Morro Castle offers a rich history and stunning views of the Havana harbor. It’s a great spot for history buffs and those looking to capture beautiful photographs.
Can I take a ride in a classic car in Havana?
Yes, Havana is famous for its vintage cars. You can hire a classic car for a city tour or a short ride. It’s a unique experience that lets you travel back in time.
Are there any traditional Cuban shows or performances in Havana?
Yes, the Tropicana Club is a popular venue for traditional Cuban cabaret shows. Additionally, you can find live music and dance performances in many bars and restaurants throughout the city.
What local dishes should I try in Havana?
Some must-try dishes include “ropa vieja” (shredded beef), “tostones” (fried plantains), and “mojito” (a famous Cuban cocktail made with rum, lime, sugar, mint, and soda).
Is it safe to walk around Old Havana at night?
Old Havana is generally safe for tourists, even at night. However, as with any city, staying aware of your surroundings is always a good idea, avoiding poorly lit or deserted areas.
Are there any beaches near Havana?
While Havana doesn’t have beaches, there are beautiful beaches just a short drive away. Playas del Este, a series of beaches to the east of Havana, is popular among locals and tourists.
Can I visit Hemingway’s house in Havana?
Yes, Ernest Hemingway’s former residence, Finca Vigía, is now a museum open to the public. It’s located in the San Francisco de Paula suburb, and visitors can see the house preserved as Hemingway left it.