For most travelers the bustling capital is the first stop and therefore the first introduction to colorful Cuba. There is enought to do in Havana to keep you entertained for a few days and to recover from your (long) flight before you start exploring the rest of the island. You must definitely have seen or done these 11 things during your visit to Havana!
1. Take a ride in a classic old-timer
Wherever you go in Cuba, you will see the colorful American vintage cars driving everywhere. However, it is not only fun to spot them. Because do you know that you can also go for a ride in such a cool colored and old car! Therefore, take a classic car as a taxi. The residents of Havana are more than happy to show you their city.
A one-hour tour will cost you between CUC 20-30 / € 18-28. But negotiate well about the price and what you want to do / see. Because it are not regular taxis and do not work with a meter as we are used to. A ride in an American old-timer is also more expensive than taking a regular taxi.
But that should certainly not ruin the fun and is a very special way to explore the city in style!
2. Explore the different neighborhoods of Havana
Havana consists of three neighborhoods and all three have their own atmosphere, distinctive buildings and sights.
First you wander through Havana Vieja, the old center of Havana. Then you will visit Centro Habana, with its many hotels, restaurants, bars and clubs, and will walk through the bustling center of Havana with its own Chinatown: Barrio Chino. And in the most modern Vedado neighborhood you will mainly see office buildings and political buildings.
3. Dive into history at the Museo de la Revolución
On the Plaza de la Revolución you will find the former presidential palace of Havana. The palace where various Cuban presidents and dictators lived between 1920 and 1959. Now it is the place where the Museo de la Revolución is located. In other words, the revolution museum.
Once inside the imposing building, you will immediately notice the exuberant interior, which was decorated by Tiffany’s New York. A huge dome above your head, marble everywhere, a replica mirror room from the Palace of Versailles and if you look closely you can even see the bullet holes in the stairwell of a failed attack on dictator Fulgencio Batista. But as soon as you walk through the building, you also see that it is slowly but surely decaying in some places.
The museum consists of 3 floors with different rooms, halls and stairwells, such as the presidential office and the council of ministers. Here you can find out more about the history of Cuba and the Cuban revolution on the basis of documents, photos and weapons which are on display.
You can also view all kinds of vehicles that were used during the revolution in the garden behind the Museo de la Revolución. You will find a glass pavilion with a replica of the Pavillón Granma, the boat with which Fidel Castro sailed from Mexico to Cuba with 81 revolutionaries. With various tanks, cars and planes around it. And a flame burns, which was lit by Fidel Castro himself on 19 April 1989, in memory of the perished warriors.
Opening hours Museo de la Revolución
Monday – Sunday, from 09.30-16.00h (09.30am-04.00pm).
CUC 8 / € 7,25 per person.
CUC 10 / € 9,00 per person including guide.
4. Look out over Havana from the Bacardi building
Bacardi. Who does not know the well-known rum from Cuba? In the old center of Havana, Havana Vieja, you will find the Edificio Bacardí. Since 1930, this Art Deco style building was home to Bacardí’s headquarters, and at the time it even was the tallest building in the city.
Despite the fact that the head office has since moved to the island of Bermuda, the logo in the shape of the well-known bat is still on top. The building nowadays serves as an office building for other companies and you can enjoy a panoramic view of the capital of Cuba from the 12th floor.
After paying a small fee, take the elevator and enjoy the view of Havana! And who knows, you may be the only one, because there are only a few people who know that you can go up here.
Unfortunately, there are no fixed opening times, so it’s best to just walk in if you happen to be around.
After paying a small contribution of CUC 1 / € 0.91 at the porter or the bar in the lobby, you can take the elevator.
5. Drink a mojito or Cuba Libre
Rum is the national drink of Cuba and the most important ingredient for the most famous cocktails in Cuba and perhaps in the world: the mojito and the Cuba Libre.
Did you know that the mojito was originally intended as a medicine and that the Cuba Libre was created when the American soldiers celebrated the American liberation of Cuba?
Certainly if you like an alcoholic beverage once in a while, then drinking a mojito or a Cuba Libre in one of the cozy bars in Havana is a must-do. Sloppy Joe’s Bar, La Bodeguita del Medio and Hotel Nacional de Cuba are the places to be if you want to drink a nice cocktail.
Do you want to know more about the history of Cuban rum? Then visit the Museo del Ron, the rum museum, at the Fundación Havana Club. For example, you can do a 30-minute tour (in English, German, French, Italian or Spanish) in which you can learn everything about how rum is made, there are various tastings or you can follow a cocktail workshop.
Opening hours Museo del Ron
Monday – Thursday: 09.00-17.00h (09.00am-05.00pm)
Friday – Sunday: 09.00-16.00h (09.00am-04.00pm)
30 minute tour, CUC 7 / € 6,40 per person.
Tasting, CUC 12 – CUC 40 / € 10,85 – 36,20 per person.
Cocktail workshop, CUC 15 / € 13,55 per person.
6. Visit the impressive Plaza de la Revolución
The Plaza de la Revolución, formerly the Plaza Cívica, is located in the Vedado district in the west of the city. It is the square where Fidel Castro used to give long speeches to the many spectators on a regular basis, making it an important place in Havana.
As soon as you walk onto the square, you will not only notice the size of the square. But the two images of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos on the buildings of the ministries stand out immediately.
You will also find the Memorial a José Martí, a monument that consists of a 109 meter high tower and a statue of Martí. A Cuban writer, poet and philosopher, who for many Cubans is a revolutionary warrior and a national hero.
In the monument you will find a museum dedicated to José Martí and you can enjoy a view of the city from the top of the 109 meter high tower.
Plaza de la Revolución: non.
Museum/elevator Memorial a José Martí: Monday-Saturday, 09.30-16.00h (09.30am-04.00om).
Plaza de la Revolución: free of charge.
Museum Memorial a José Martí: CUC 6 / € 5,50 per person.
Elevator viewpoint Memorial a José Martí: CUC 3 / € 2,75 per person.
How do you get there?
Both the square and the monument with the museum are about 4.5 km outside the old center of Havana and therefore not within walking distance. It is best to take a taxi or use the hop-on / hop-off bus as we did (Buses T1 and T3. CUC10 / € 9 per person).
If you choose to travel by bus you have a little more freedom, you see a lot of the city and you can get off on the way wherever you want and get on again as soon as you have seen it. Times and routes of the buses sometimes change. So for the most up-to-date routes and departure times it is best to walk past the stop at Parque Central, located opposite hotel Inglaterra.
7. Enjoy a walk along El Malécon
The El Malecón is the boulevard of Havana. A place where Cubans go fishing or enjoy the sun while overlooking the sea: the Strait of Florida. A 180 kilometer wide strait that lies between Florida and Cuba and connects the Gulf of Mexico with the Atlantic Ocean.
The boulevard is about 7 km long and runs from the Havana Vieja district to the Vedado district. If you want you can go for a nice walk while you see the iconic Hotel Nacional de Cuba in the distance. A place where you can relax with a legendary mojito after your walk.
Don’t you feel like walking? Then take a ride in a colorful old-timer along El Malecón.
8. Dance on swinging Cuban music
In Cuba they do like music and dance, such as the rumba and salsa. As you walk through the city you regularly hear cheerful sounds coming from restaurants, bars and streets. You can hardly resist to get your hips moving on the swinging Cuban music.
Are you in Havana on the weekend? Then be sure to go to Callejón de Hamel. Every Sunday, around noon, this colorful alley turns into a small artists’ village and the Cubans cheerfully sing and dance there. Before you know it you are also dancing among the locals!
It can be (very) busy, so keep an eye on your bag and wallet.
9. Admire the colonial colorful buildings
Not only the old-timers in Havana are colorful, the architecture of Havana is certainly special as well. It is a mix of colonial buildings, from neoclassical to art deco, in the most cheerful pastel colors.
Only in Havana there are already over 900 historic buildings that you can admire. Add to that the buildings in the Vedado and Centro Habana neighborhoods and you can imagine that you can have fun for a few days.
10. Find the Cuban ladies with the big cigars
Just like the rum and swinging music, the Cuban cigar is inextricably linked to Cuba. This best tobacco in the world is grown in Pinar del Rio and is also the tobacco region of Cuba.
While walking through the streets of Havana you regularly see the residents enjoying a cigar, sitting in front of their door in the colorful streets. You would think that only the men in Cuba smoke cigars. But also the ladies are keen on smoking a good cigar.
Near Plaza de la Catedral we walked past a group of Cuban ladies enjoying a cigar together in the portico of a local supermarket. But who thinks you can just take a picture of this lovely typical Cuban scene is wrong.
They do not simply allow you to take a photo of them for free. If you want to take a photo, with or without them, they ask for a contribution. And even if you secretly try to take a photo (with a zoom lens), they will find that out before you even realize it and they will find you quickly enough to still claim their compensation. So be warned ;-).
Do you want to see how the world-famous Habanos cigars Montecristos and Cohibas are being made? Then go for a tour of one of Cuba’s oldest still existing cigar factories: Real Fabrica de Tabacos Partagás.
Opening hours Real Fabrica de Tabacos Partagás
Monday – Friday: 09.00 – 14.30h (09.00am-02.30pm)
CUC 10 / € 9 per person.
Tickets for the tour must be purchased in advance at a hotel nearby, Hotel Saratoga.
11. Discover the pleasant squares of Havana
While walking through the narrow streets and looking at the colonial buildings around you, you sometimes suddenly find yourself on a beautiful square. And there are a number to discover in Havana, each with their own charm.
The Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza de Armas, Plaza Vieja, Plaza de San Francisco de Asis and the historic Plaza de la Revolución are the most famous that you should not miss during your visit to Havana.