Havana Oooh na na! Take me back to Havana Cuba! The Cuban capital is famous for vintage cars, delicious mojitos, revolutionary history, and classic cigars. With so much to see and do, you’ll struggle to choose between the things to do in Havana by day… as well as the things to do in Havana by night!
Here is a selection of the best things to see in Havana Cuba during your trip, plus some of the best places to visit in Havana once the sun goes down, as well as some logistical information for planning your Havana Cuba holiday.
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Can Americans Travel to Cuba?
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If you hold a US passport you might be worried about the new travel restrictions (as of June 5th) for Cuba. However, you can legally travel to Cuba with a US passport, but there are certain limits and rules about what you can do:
- You can only fly into Havana (HAV)
- You must choose from a list of 12 categories as to why you are traveling to Cuba (e.g. family visits or journalistic activity) and stick to the requirements of that category. One of the most popular is the “Support the Cuban People” category, which you must declare when booking your flights and accommodation, as well as when you re-enter the United States. This means you must stay at local guesthouses (such as casas particulares) rather than hotels and avoid spending money at military-owned businesses, which are banned by the US State Department. You must also have a full-time schedule of activities that support Cuban people or promote independence from Cuban authorities, with leisure time kept to a minimum. It’s best to do your research and find a reputable travel agency that can do this for you (and has testimonials to back it up), then print the itinerary and bring it with you to the airport.
- You must keep all records and receipts from your trip for five years.
To summarize, if you hold a US passport, you can’t just jump on a plane or book a last-minute trip to Cuba, stay where you like, or do how you please. You should plan your trip carefully in advance to make sure that you meet all the requirements necessary (and be mindful that not everything on this list may be able to feature on your itinerary).
What’s more, make sure you keep up-to-date with the news, the latest travel advisories and regulations for the passport you possess, whether you’re from the United States or anywhere else – it’s always good practice to check before you book, check again before you go, as well as keep an eye out for news relating to the destination you’re visiting in the time between.
Top Things to do in Havana, Cuba
Once you have the formalities sorted, the next step is to start planning what to do in Havana during your trip. Here are just a few suggestions of the best things to do in Havana Cuba:
1. Explore Havana Vieja (Old Havana) | Things to do in Havana Cuba
Havana Vieja, or Old Havana, is recognized as the city center or “downtown” area of the capital and is one of 15 boroughs or municipalities that make up the city. Navigating the streets here is the number one thing to do in Havana, according to TripAdvisor, and the whole district is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Essentially, it’s the heart of Havana.
Meander the plazas at your own pace, stopping to photograph historic buildings or quirky restaurants and galleries. Alternatively, opt for the educational slant of a walking tour, which can provide you with information and context about the area.
Old Havana’s most famous sites include:
El Capitolio, also known as the National Capitol Building, was completed in 1929. Those from the US may recognize its façade, as it’s built almost entirely in the image of the States’ Capitol Building at Capitol Hill, Washington D.C. … except for one small detail – it’s just a little bit taller!
Museo de la Revolución
The Museum of the Revolution, inaugurated in 1920 by President Mario Garcia Menocal, was once the Palacio Presidential. After the Havana Presidential Palace Attack of 1957 and the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the building changed function and today houses exhibit on Cuban history, focused mostly around the revolutionary war of the 1950s.
Plaza de la Catedral
Dating back to the 1700s, Havana’s (unusually asymmetric) cathedral and its square are steeped in history. The square’s other three sides house Casa del Lombillo (an historic post office now the office for the post of city historian), the Palacio de los Marqueses de Aguas Claras (which houses the Restaurante Paris) and the Palacio de los Condes de Casa Bayona (the home of the Museo de Arte Colonial).
2. Explore Havana Centro
Another of Havana’s 15 municipalities, the colorful district of Centro Havana is known for its crumbling buildings, the Barrio Chino (Chinatown) and the seven-kilometer Malecón waterfront (but more on that later). Here are just a few of Havana Centro’s most significant sightseeing spots that are the top things to see in Havana:
Gran Teatro de La Habana
This historic theater boasts a century of history and is home to the National Ballet of Cuba. The name of the building is often suffixed with Alicia Alonso, the famous Cuban prima ballerina assoluta and choreographer, who founded the Ballet Nacional de Cuba in 1955.
Fittingly, you may be able to watch a ballet, opera, or flamenco performance here, and the International Ballet Festival of Havana is hosted here every two years (even-numbered years).
Callejon de Hamel
This narrow alleyway is teeming with street art, from colorful murals to eclectic sculptures, to the weird and wonderful. The “outdoor gallery” started when Cuban artist Salvador Gonzáles Escalona started decorating the street space outside his apartment in the 1990s. His Afro-Cuban style mixes surrealism, cubism, and abstract art.
If you’re passing through on a Sunday lunchtime, you’ll also be able to enjoy a bit of rumba.
Paseo del Prado
This tree-lined promenade divides Centro Havana and Havana Vieja, and makes for a nice amble, with historic buildings either side (some of which deteriorated badly after the revolution, while others have been more recently renovated).
It’s a great place for people-watching and a popular street for music and nightlife in the evenings.
3. Fun Things to Do in Havana Drive a Vintage Car
A consequence of Cuba’s long-standing communist rule was the inability to import goods, such as new cars. This is the reason why you’ll see vintage 1950s-era cars around town. Driving around in these colorful vintage cars is a fun thing to do in Havana Cuba.
Although it’s unlikely you’ll be driving (an old-fashioned stick-shift doesn’t make for the easiest of cruising), you can ride along as a passenger on an hour’s tour of the city, with popular pick-ups including Hotel Inglaterra and the Museum of the Revolution.
4. Visit a Cigar Factory in Havana Cuba
Another Cuban cliché, but still a great thing to do in Havana, is to visit a cigar factory to discover how Cuban cigars are made. Even if you don’t plan to smoke one, learning about the process and the significance that the Cuban cigar industry has had on the country is still pretty interesting.
Make sure you book in advance, as tours can get booked up. Also, save your souvenir buying for the factory shops – the cigars for sale here are way more expensive than those around town, but the quality is unbeatable and they’re the best place to buy one.
5. Dine at a Paladar
A typical Havana meal should be taken at a paladar, which is a kind of in-house restaurant; privately owned and usually run by a family. A meal at a paladar is a great way to immerse yourself in Cuban culture and also experience true Cuban cuisine.
Some of the most highly-recommended paladares include Nao Bar, Café Laurent and La Guarida. The latter is the most famous (and therefore also the most expensive) paladar in Havana, located on the third floor of an apartment building. Reservations can be made online via their website.
What to do in Havana Cuba at night
Of course, sightseeing by day introduces you to the colorful culture and history of Havana, but after sunset, the city transforms. Here are just a few of the best places to go on Havana nights:
1. The Malecón
The waterfront sea wall makes for a great walk during the day (or a great stretch for a vintage car taxi ride), but also comes alive at night, especially around the Vedado neighborhood.
2. Soak up the art at La Fabrica de Arte Cubano
Cuba holds art in high regard, which is one of the reasons why you’ll see so many galleries, artsy shops, street art and other such art spaces around Havana. Take an art tour of the city to learn more, or at least pop into La Fabrica de Arte Cubano (FAC) in the Vedado district.
The FAC, or “Cuban Art Factory,” is actually a converted cooking oil plant. The huge warehouse encompasses gallery rooms and performance spaces, plus some of the best mojitos in town.
The FAC is open Thursday to Sunday from 8pm to 2am.
3. El Floridita
Although this bar is mostly frequented by tourists, it’s still a must-do place to visit in Havana Cuba if not just to sample what Ernest Hemingway described as, “the best daiquiri in the world.” There’s usually a queue so prepare to wait, but once inside you’ll be treated to live music, quick-fire bartending and life-size brass sculpture of Hemingway himself.
4. Hotel Ambos Mundos
Located in one of the busiest areas of Old Havana Cuba, Hotel Ambos Mundos is another Hemingway spot, as the writer lived there for seven years during the 1930s. You can even visit his former room (No. 511), which has been preserved as a museum.
5. Hotel Nacional
As you meander down the Malecón, make sure you leave some time to pop into the historic Hotel Nacional. There’s a gorgeous view of the harbor from the garden terrace, but the main reason for your visit is to sample one of their famous mojitos! One evening during your trip, go for the famous dinner cabaret at Hotel Nacional, the Parisienne Dinner Show.
6. El Presidente Hotel
Live music and Cuba Libres make this a great stop on a Havana evening. The building was Havana’s first skyscraper, inaugurated in 1928. The décor is all about marble and antiques and features stunning chandeliers.
7. Watch & dance salsa at Tropicana
First established in 1939, Club Tropicana has been serving up open-air cabaret and Vegas-like nightlife for over 80 years and even managed to survive the revolution. The show has changed little since the 1950s, when the club was the height of vogue, with plenty of sass and salsa.
TIP: Book tickets in advance online here or through a hotel – your entry usually includes a cigar and a small rum and coke.
8. Casa de la Musica
There are two branches of Casa de la Musica in the city, though locals tend to frequent the one in Miramar, not Centro Havana (where you’re more likely to be in a crowd of tourists). Enjoy live music and plenty of dancing.
9. La Bodeguita del Medio
Located in Havana Vieja, La Bodeguita del Medio is not just famous for its celebrity clientele over the years, but also because it is the reported (though disputed) birthplace of the mojito! The bar has been stirring up mojitos since 1942 and it’s the signature drink to try while you’re in Old Havana.
Top Havana Tours to Explore the City
- Discover Old Havana: Small-Group Walking Tour with Lunch
- Havana: 2-Hour Classic American Car Tour with a Cocktail
- Lonely Planet Experiences: Old Havana Local Food Tour
- Havana by E-bike
- Havana: Cabaret Tropicana Admission Ticket
- Cuba: On the Trail of Ernest Hemingway Tour
- Havana: Full-Day Tour From Varadero
Other Things to Do in Havana, Cuba
Did this guide help you plan your trip to Havana Cuba? Do you agree with these things to do in Havana, Cuba? Do you have any recommendations or suggestions to add? Give your feedback in the comments below and hopefully, this article has given you some information on things to see and places to visit on your trip to Havana or sent you down memory lane in nostalgia from a previous trip.