Unmissable Things to do in Havana, Cuba

Unmissable Things to do in Havana, Cuba
Photo by Alexander Kunze / Unsplash

To help you plan an unforgettable trip to the jewel in the Caribbean, we’ve included several things to do in Havana that you shouldn’t miss.

From riding the classic American cars to discovering amazing street art in the hidden corners of the city, you'll never be bored here.

Havana is one of a kind, warm and welcoming. Its charms are hard to resist. It's a city steeped in history, art, culture and rum. And once you’ve been there, you’ll want to come back for more. Because there are endless amounts of fascinating things to see in Havana.

Here’s our take on the best 15 things to do in Havana you don’t want to miss.

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1. Tour Havana in a classic American car

Pretending to drive a convertible before our epic Havana tour

This bit is as touristy as it gets, but it’s one of the most fun things to do in Havana. Let the lovely Cubans whizz you through the streets of the capital of Cuba in style and give you a passionate tour of their beloved Havana.

For around 30 CUC (Convertible Pesos), you’ll soon be passing through Miramar, Central Havana, Vedado, the Malecon, 5th Avenue, Revolution Square, and more.

Most of the tours are genuine and start at Parque Centrale, opposite the iconic Hotel Inglaterra. You’ll be swamped with offers, but the biggest challenge is to choose your car. They are all oh-so-fabulous.

2. Enjoy cocktails on a rooftop bar

Rum collection at Prado No 12 in Havana

Speaking of cocktails in La Habana. You’ll never find yourself wondering what to do in Havana next. Rum flows freely in Cuba and (if you’re of age) you should enjoy it shamelessly.

Allegedly, frequented by Ernest Hemingway and Fidel Castro himself, both La Bodequita (Empedrado Street) and El Floridita (Obispo Street) are two hot spots in Havana.

While there’s no proof as such that Hemingway drank Mojitos at La Bodequita, in his fabulous book 'Islands in the Stream', he does mention Daiquiris in El Floridita.

The bars indeed are busy with tourists these days. But still, they are worth popping in for a quick 'Hemingway’s Daiquiri' or at least a nose around.

Another option to enjoy a classy cocktail in Havana is to visit some of the city’s rooftop bars. The classic Inglaterra Hotel, Ambos Mundos and Hotel Saratoga have lovely rooftop terraces with fantastic panoramic views over Havana.

Prado No 12, a slim building on the corner of Prado and San Lazaro is also a great little spot for an afternoon Piña Colada companied with lively Cuban music.

Ultimately, if you are staying at a Casa Particular with a rooftop terrace, you’ll most likely have a rum bar up there. One of our best memories of Havana is the fun and warm Mojito nights with the hosts in the privacy of our own rooftop terrace.

3. Visit the Museum of Revolution

The Museum of Revolution

Visiting the Museum of Revolution is one of the most amazing things to do in Havana, even if you’re not into history. Inaugurated as the Presidential Palace in 1920, the building is stunning.

As you walk in, you are met with the beautiful Carrara marble stairs at the entrance. Look out for the bullet holes in the staircase. It's a vivid reminder of the unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Batista in 1957.

The museum is impressive and has a wealth of information. It is also by far one of the most biased museums we have ever visited. It's brilliant!

Before you start exploring the history of the Cuban Revolution, step into Salon de Los Espejos. It's one of the most impressive spaces in the museum so don’t miss it. Decorated by the Tyffany’s the room is a replica of the ‘Hall of Mirrors’ in Versailles (France).

If you’d like to read up about Cuba before visiting Havana and understand more about this fascinating country, we really recommend reading Cuba: A New History, the book by Richard Gott.

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4. Dance your night away at Casa de la Musica

There is no shortage of things to do in Havana at night. But if you love salsa, head to Casa de la Musica in Miramar. It’s one of the top spots to hear the Cuban salsa bands plus it’s less touristy.

Beware that the venue is quite small and gets crowded very quickly but the atmosphere and music make up for it. Also, have a few CUCs at the ready to pay at the entrance.

If you prefer staying in central Havana, then Casa de la Musica de Centro will be more suitable for your night out in Havana.

5. See Havana on an E-bike

You can explore Havana in a vintage car or you can be eco-friendly and join an e-bike tour to see the main sites of the city.

Riding a bike along the Malecon could just be one of the most fun things to do in Havana. And a great introduction to this timeless city in the Caribbean if you book the tour at the start of your trip.

Just don’t forget to eat a hearty breakfast before you leave your accommodation. It’s a 5-hour cycling adventure.

6. Catch the sunset at the Malecon

Locals fishing at the Malecon in Havana, Cuba
Cubans fishing on the Malecon

One of our favourite things to do in Havana was walking along the promenade Paseo del Prado. This first-ever paved street in Havana divides Old Havana and Centro Havana and eventually leads down to the famous Malecon.

Watching the sunset at the Malecon is a must-do in Havana. As you leave the busy city behind, the local scene starts unfolding.

The locals start gathering to fish, smoke a cigar or simply unwind after a long and sizzling-hot day. Join them, it’s one of the best spots in Havana.

7. Explore Habana Vieja

Posing in Habana Vieja

Spare an hour or so to look around Habana Vieja. Restored with tourist money, the quarter is a massive contrast to the run-down streets in the rest of Havana.

Enjoy the captivating Plaza San Francisco and its colourful architecture. Be sure to visit the magnificent Baroque-style Havana Cathedral located in Plaza de la Catedral. The basilica is one of the eleven Roman Catholic cathedrals in Cuba.

To have an in-depth walk and see some hidden gems in Havana, you can book a local guide and have a private, customised city tour for just $30. It's a great way to get to know Havana up close and personal.

8. Get lost in Havana’s backstreets

A game of Dominos on the backstreets of Havana

Whatever you do in the city, be sure to walk around the backstreets of Havana. This is where day-to-day life happens.

Spot Cubans fixing their cars, playing dominos, smoking cigars, and rocking away gently in a chair while watching TV.

Always have some spare change to buy an ice cream or homemade pizzas from their tiny little shops in doorways. If you come across a guanabana-flavoured ice cream, get it on the spot. The flavour is refreshing.

9. Discover the Real Pirates of the Caribbean

To hear stories of the real pirates of the Caribbean, visit the Royal Force Castle in Old Havana. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, Castillo de la Real Fuerza is the oldest stone fort in the Americas.

Be sure to take some time to walk around the well-preserved fortress built to protect Havana from the pirates. The four-star-shaped fort is now home to an excellent exhibition of Cuba’s maritime past from pre-Columbian days. Pop in to see the display, if you have time.

As you explore this beautiful historic fortress, you’ll also be rewarded with fantastic panoramic views of the harbour and the city.

10. Have a beach day at Playa del Este

Cuban beaches
Coconut on a Caribbean Beach

If you have more than one day in Havana, take a day trip to Playa del Este. While it can’t compare to the diamond-dust sand beach of Playa Pilar in Cayo Guillermo, it has its charm. Plus, it’s only a 20-minute taxi ride away from Havana.

The beautiful white-sand coastline consists of several beaches. The further you stay from Santa Maria del Mar, the more likely you are to catch a local vibe. And have a less crowded beach day. Arrive here in May and you may even have the beach all to yourself.

11. Spot amazing street art in Havana

Discovering the arty Callejon de Hamel is one of the best things to see in Havana. Thanks to the local artist Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, an abandoned narrow alleyway near the University of Havana is now bursting with colourful street art of all sorts.

It took the artists a few years to transform the slum area into a living space filled with live music and art classes for children. Don’t miss it.

To discover more art in and around Havana and how it’s helping Cubans tackle their societal issues, take an inspirational street art walking tour, if you can. At the end of the day, Havana is all about art and culture.

12. Visit the Historical and Military Park

Che house in Havana, Cuba
Che Guevara’s House Museum

Just like the Revolution Museum, the Military Park, built by the Spanish in the 16th Century, is one of the unmissable things to see in Havana. It contains a selection of weapons and a massive catapult.

Also, soldiers dressed in 18th-century military uniforms fire a cannon across the bay every evening at 9 pm.

As you explore the park, spot the 20-meter-high Cristo de la Habana statue by Cuban sculptor Jilma Madera, overlooking the bay in Havana.

Close by you’ll find Che Guevara’s house, now a museum. There’s an interesting selection of photographs and Che’s personal belongings displayed in the museum.

13. Stop at the glorious Revolution Square

Che Guevara wired on a multi-storey building in the Revolution Square

Another must-see attraction in Havana is Cuba's noble heroes immortalised on the huge tower blocks in the Revolution Square. Visit the square to see Che Guevara and his counterpart Camilo Cienfuegos's portraits steel-wired on the building veneers.

Also, wired on the facades are the famous quotations: “Hasta la Victoria Siempre” - Until the Everlasting Victory, Always and “Vas Bien, Fidel” - You’re Doing Fine, Fidel.

Ultimately, try to take a good shot of the impressive 109-meter-tall José Martí Memorial that dominates the Plaza.

14. See the rolling of a Cuban cigar

Romeo y Juliet cigars in Cuba
Cuban Romeo y Juliet cigars

One of the most fascinating things to do in Havana is to see the making of a Cuban cigar.

If you don’t have time to travel to Vinales then book a tour at one of the three cigar factories in Cuba. Beware, a strong tobacco scent will hit right at the entrance. Most of the workers smoke cigars as they roll.

All three, Romeo y Juliet, the best-known Partagas Factory and La Corona are all open to visitors. You’ll have to arrange a tour via a hotel concierge or a tour operator. Try Hotel Inglaterra, they should be able to arrange a tour for you. It costs around 10 CUC per person.

Top Tip: Don’t buy cigars from the locals on the streets, they are fake. Cigar production in Cuba is strictly regulated and closely monitored. Therefore, you can only buy real cigars in specialised shops.

Where to stay in Havana

Where to stay in Havana
Cuban Casa

Cuban people are the reason why Havana is so magical. They are welcoming and genuinely friendly, not to mention, resourceful.

Therefore, out of all the things to do in Havana, staying in a Cuban home is the ultimate experience. We were lucky to stay with Rolando and Marisol in their beautiful home (La Casa del Chef) just a 5-minute walk away from the Malecon.

We’ve been looked after and catered for throughout our entire stay.

You’ll find a wide range of Casas scattered across Havana. Many of them will have breakfast included in the price. Sometimes, for an extra cost, hosts will cook lunch and dinner for you too. And make Mojitos!