Few places in the world capture curiosity and interest as much as Havana Cuba. The charming old towns, colorful facades, rich history, and perhaps the ever-ongoing embargo make it so intriguing for people. In this post, I share with you the best 18 things to see and do to have the best time in Havana.
(Updated: Jan 2024)
What to consider when traveling to Havana, Cuba
How to enter Cuba
Cuba Entry Requirements
- Fill out a tourist card which is either included in your flight ticket or to be obtained at the airport. Without this, you cannot enter! Also, don’t separate the pieces.
- Insurance that covers Cuba
- Valid passport for at least 6 months
If you have visited Cuba since January 2021, you are not eligible to take part in the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Entry or transit through the US using ESTA is not permitted, and you must seek a visa from the nearest US Embassy for your visit.
The country just went through a few changes regarding its currency and which currency is best to use for what. For example, certain supermarkets accept card payments in US Dollars (my card didn’t work though).
As of writing this in 2022, people prefer you bring Euro, GBP or CAD over US Dollars.
Remember that your overseas bank cards won’t work in Cuban banks, so you need to bring a lot of cash. The rule here is to only change it little by little as you might not be able to convert the Cuban Peso COP back to your currency.
The official way would be to change your money at the banks, at the official rate. However, as queues might likely be very long, I’d suggest changing money only with people you trust ie. your Casa Particulares Host, Hotels or perhaps restaurants.
As a rule of thumb, anything that’s state-owned like hotels or transportation is priced in US/Euro and can be paid online.
Internet in Havana, Cuba
As someone who works online, whether the internet would work or not is one of the most important questions. Over the last years, the availability of Wi-Fi has increased dramatically. Most of the Casas Particulares offer Wi-Fi, as well as all the big hotels in Havana.
Each host deals with it differently, some include it in the price per night, and others allow you to use their Internet Card and top it up with 50 COP.
When in Havana, you can go to the Iberostar Parque Central Hotel and buy guest access for 200 COP for about an hour.
The internet quality is rather spotty and slow but it works for sending emails, browsing on Instagram and looking up things in Google. I also used Mailchimp, AWeber and Katra while in Cuba without major issues.
Instagram, YouTube etc all works fine without a VPN as far as I noticed.
Cuban SIM Card
My recommendation would be to purchase an eSIM online before you get to Cuba. Alternatively, you can buy a local Cuban SIM card at one of the city’s ETECSA offices or at the Havana-José Martí International Airport. I bought a tourist SIM card for about 15 USD which gave me 8 GB of data.
When I visited in October 2022, I was shocked to see the queues in front of the local shops. Especially in Havana, it’s nothing rare to see 30+ people queuing in front of a bakery or Supermercado. There are shops in which you can only pay in COP cash such as fruit shops, or subsidized shops. Mind you, these subside shops are extremely sparsely stocked. – so you wouldn’t go buy things there either
With that being said, a few things you need to bring because you cannot buy them or they are very hard to find and therefore pricy are: mosquito spray, condoms, female hygiene products, pain killers – most things you’d find in a Western supermarket.
Finding packed snacks or something quick to eat is rather difficult and I’d almost say I haven’t found it.
When to Visit Havana, Cuba
The best time to visit Cuba is from November to April, with March to mid-April to enjoy sunny and warm weather without storms or great humidity.
Remember, hurricane season in Cuba runs from June to November! It’s good to plan your trip towards the beginning or end of the season to be on the safe side.
Cuba Havana Flights – How to get to Havana
There are a bunch of airlines that fly directly to Havana or Varadero. If you start in Germany, your best bet might be Condor with a direct flight from Frankfurt to Varadero.
The United States has scheduled flights with American Airlines (especially from Miami-Varadero), Southwest Airlines, United (New York – Havana) and others.
Another great and economical connection is the new route between Havana and Medellin Colombia with Wingo. Check here for the best flight deals to Havana.
How to get around Havana, Cuba
Getting around Havana can become quite pricey for tourists. Local taxis easily charge 15 USD for a 15-minute drive from Havana Viaja to Havana Bus Terminal in the early morning. Taxis around town might be a bit cheaper, but still nothing like in other cities.
The best option would be to walk around Havana Vieja and parts of Havana.
Alternatively, there is an Uber-like app called Sube which should work within Havana.
How to get around Cuba
If you want to travel independently around Cuba your best and cheapest bet would be the local busses. You can buy your bus tickets online via the Viazul website and pay online. For this, yes you need to use a VPN.
Other options are private taxi services. A general rule is that the price of the ride costs 10 Dollars/Euro per hour. So a trip to Varadero costs you at least 20-25 Dollars/Euros and to Santa Clara it’s around 35 Dollars/Euro. Your Casa Particular host or hotel should be able to connect you with a trusted driver.
There is also the option to head to the Havana Bus Terminal and look for the taxi drivers outside. Once a car is full, it will leave to its destination.
The 18 Best Things to Do, Visit and See in Havana, Cuba
1 El Capitolio
The Capitolio Nacional de Cuba is one of the country’s prettiest and most important buildings. Located in Centro Habana, it is similar to that in Washington D.C but a meter high, taller, and longer with way more details. It was built in 1926, needing more than 5000 workers, 3 years, and all supported by the American government.
The National Capitol used to be the headquarters of the Cuban Congress, but since 1959 it has hosted the Cuban Academy of Sciences and the Science and Technology National Library.
It was in 2013 that it finally underwent a 6-year restoration, bringing back its former glory.
2 Plaza de Armas Main Square
Hands down one of the most visited and photographed places are the four squares of Havana. The Plaza de Armas was built in the 16th century and used to have more of a military function. contains the statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes that was given by the Spanish monarch Fernando VII in 1955.
It’s a beautiful shady and green square that’s ideal for rest and escaping the sun on a hot day. Nearby you can find various restaurants and the famous Obispo Street.
Interestingly there are a bunch of unique museums just around there, such as the City Museum, El Templete Museum, or the Sailing Museum (Museo de Navegacion).
3 Saint Francis of Assisi Square
Created in 1628, the Saint Francis of Assisi Square served as a water supply point for the fleets. It sits right by the seaside and is surrounded by beautiful pink colonial houses and the Church San Fransisco de Asis.
In the middle of it, you can find the fountain of lions, which is conceived as a representation of the Spanish empire.
4 Plaza Vieja
The Plaza Vieja is easily the most colorful colonial square of the four, with breweries, buzzing cafes, and great architecture all around. It’s a fantastic mix of Cuban baroque and Art Nouveau, modern and lovely restored.
Back in the day, Plaza Vieja was used for military exercises, carnivals and any sort of proclamations. Nowadays, it’s a wonderful place to grab a bite, visit the Atlas Obscura, or admire the Art Nouveau Palacio Cueto.
5 Plaza de la Catedral Square
The Plaza de la Catedral Square is probably the most uniform of the four squares. Most of the buildings, including the Cathedral, date back to the 18th century – a real-life Cuban Baroque museum!
You could spend a whole afternoon here, visiting the San Cristobal de La Habana Cathedral, the Marques de Arcos Palace or the worthwhile Colonial Art Museum.
The Cathedral hosts concerts and musical performances of renowned artists, so if you’re lucky to be there at the same time, go visit!
6 Calle San Ignacio, Cuba Havana
No trip to Havana should be complete without seeing a more local side of things. Head to Calle San Ignacio in Havana Viejo to see how Cubans are truly living, what their day-to-day life looks like, and where they buy food.
It’s a raw, authentic look into the real Cuba and you’ll see the contrast of the city.
7 Museo Casa del Chocolate
Another fascinating place to explore in Old Havana is the Chocolate Museum. Already from the outside, you can smell the aroma and get a taste of what’s to come. There is a small shop on the right side, selling bars.
Inside, you can find various pictures, that take you on a journey through the history of cocoa, its cultivation, production, and commercialization in Cuba. There’s also an exhibition showcasing chocolatier cups from different countries.
I’d recommend getting there early or preparing to queue as they only have small tables and it’s always buzzing! The best things to try is either hot or cold chocolate. It’s just divine!
Open: Every day from 8 am to 6 pm
8 Habana 1791 (Museo Del Perfume)
One of the more unique museums you can visit, the Perfume Museum in Old Havana. This perfume store and laboratory sits in a 1791 colonial building and makes a great stop on a city tour!
The shop sells locally sourced scented products in beautiful colored, unique little bottles of your choice. The ladies blend the scents to your liking and prepare them so you can take it back home as a gift.
There’s also a little exhibition at the far end of the building showcasing old flacons and historical artifacts.
Open: Every day from 9.30 am to 6 pm.
9 Walk Along the Malecon
The 7km attractive promenade stretches from Old Havana till parts of New Havana. It’s one of the most authentic and famous avenues in Havana and very worth a visit. At night time, you can find many locals hanging out here.
In 1900 it was built for the middle class and eventually turned into a 6-lane highway. Alongside, you can find countless old buildings and the eclectic architecture of Neoclassical with Art Nouveau.
I’d recommend taking a walk before sunset for the best views and climate.
10 Castillo de los Tres Santos Reyes del Morro Castle
A place that’s very much a part of Havana’s landscape is the Castillo de los Tres Santos Reyes del Morro Castle. Erected between 1589 and 1630, it protected the Havana port from invaders and pirates.
This impressive fort withstood countless attacks from Dutch, French and British pirates for more than a century. Eventually, the British army consisting of fourteen thousand men was able to take it by land.
These days, it offers fantastic views of Old Havana and the sea during sunset.
Open: daily from 10 am to 7 pm.
11 Cannon Blast Ceremony
Watching the Cannon Blast Ceremony must be one of Havana’s most interesting spectacles. Happening each evening at 9 pm, it’s one of the city’s oldest traditions and dates back 300 years. Each night, the shooting of the cannon from the San Carlos de la Cabaña Fortress across the Havana harbor would signal the closing of the walled city and hence, the protection of the city.
To have the full experience, visit the 18th-century castle in the early evening and explore the Historic Weapons Museum and Che Guevara’s former office.
You can hear the sound of the cannonball through most of Havana Vieja. My favorite place to see the fort from Havana Vieja is from the Malecon.
12 Explore the Havana Club Rum Museum
The Museo del Ron Havana Club recently re-opened and is one of the things you need to do in Havana, Cuba! It’s there where you can go on a journey back to the roofs of Cuban history and its origins.
The museum offers various tours to choose from, ranging from 1 hour to 1 hour 45 minutes. You can explore the whole rum-making process from the cut sugar cane to its finished rum bottle and how the distillery and aging warehouse worked.
Open: Monday to Friday from 9 am to 4 pm. Closed on weekends.
13 Go on a Drive in a Vintage Car
If there is one activity that you cannot miss when in Havana, Cuba it’s driving around in a 1950s vintage American Car. The drivers have their usual routes that take you to a range of sights within Havanna and the trips can last between 1 to 1.5 hours.
Most of the vintage cars are parked around Parque Central and you can just approach the drivers. To give you an idea, a 1-hour tour might be around 50 USD, but I’d try to negotiate!
14 Plaza de la Revolucion
The famous Plaza de la Revolucion is the base of the Cuban government and the place where large-scale political rallies are held. It’s big enough to hold 1 Million people – as it happened in 1998 when Pope John Paul II visited.
The whole plaza is surrounded by utilitarian buildings from the late 1950s, with one that you might have seen before. The Ministerio del Interior on the north side, is well known for its huge mural of Che Guevara with the words – hasta la victoria siempre (Always Towards Victory).
On yet another building you can see Cuba’s other historic hero Camilo Cienfuegos with the words – Vas bien Fidel (You’re going well, Fidel).
If you take a city tour with an American Car, this place is likely one of the stops. Alternatively, you can take a Taxi to Vedado and explore the area yourself.
15 Almacenes San Jose Artisans’ Market
If you’re after some souvenirs, and you should when in Cuba, then this is the place to go. The Almacenes San Jose Artisan’s Market is a warehouse, right on the waterfront of Havana Vieja. It was built in 1885 and is considered the oldest depository in Old Havana.
Unlike other South American countries, Cuba doesn’t have a strong history of producing handicrafts. Therefore, it’s wonderful to see how the artisans have developed their craft over the last 30 years. These vendors offer all things from musical instruments, leather items, clothing, and colorful ceramics.
The second level is entirely made of artwork from self-taught and street artists, showcasing popular themes of Cuba.
Open: daily from 10 am to 6 pm. Closed on Monday.
16 Drink Cuban Mochito in La Bodeguita del Medio
Technically a place to eat and drink, it’s also one of the must-visit sites in Havana. Founded in 1942, it started as a food store. Later on, La Bodeguita del Medio was the place to be for famous writers, artists, and important politicians. It was journalist Leandro Garcia who started signing the wall and leaving a mark or a memory. Nowadays you can find the signatures of Salvador Allende, Pablo Neruda, and of course, Ernest Hemingway.
It was Ernest Hemingway, who frequented the bar, and to this day you can find his sign saying: ‘My mojito en La Bodeguita. My daiquiri en El Floridita’.
17 Visit El Floridita & Try a Frozen Daiquiri
The popular El Floridita is one of the most iconic places you can visit in Havana. As Hemingway’s favorite bar, El Floridita features a bronze statue of the famous writer, always having a full daiquiri sitting on the bar.
The history dates back more than 200 years it started off as ‘The Silver Pineapple’, attracting the Havana citizens. It was then in 1931 when the owner created the Frozen Daiquiri for the first time, making the El Floridita world famous.
Therefore, now when you think about El Floridita you also think about Hemingway. He lived down the road and frequented the bar, always to have his Daiquiri. Legend has it, that one day after a few Daiquiris, he came up with the idea for his book ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’.
With its antique interior with the charm of the 1950s, old pictures on the walls, and live music – it’s a fantastic hangout
18 Teatro America
The Teatro America is one of Cuba’s most important theaters in the artistic scene. Inaugurated in 1941, it has hosted shows and functions by renowned national and international artists.
It’s likely the only building standing that still shows the name ‘America’. With its beautiful Art Deco look, it has this unquestionable similarity to the Radio City Music Hall and the Rockefeller Centre. Totally a thing you cannot miss in Havana, Cuba!
Best Restaurants in Havana, Cuba
Where to Eat & Drink in La Habana, Cuba
El Arcangel is a cute place for breakfast in Centra Habana. It has affordable prices and a nice variety of dishes.
Best Western style coffee & breakfast I found at HAV Coffee & Breakfast. It’s a super nice Boutique Hotel and offers free Wi-Fi!
Just around the corner lies El Cafe which has a lively vibe, great Western-style breakfast options and good coffee! Very worth popping by!
My favorite place for dinner is La Fonda del Pirata. It’s ideal if you are looking for a lively and friendly vibe, great big dishes, and affordable prices in Habana Vieja.
For a more upscale option try La Guarida
Where to go out in Cuba, Havana
I can highly recommend Yarini Habana’s rooftop bar for some cozy vibes, special cocktails and an art exhibition on the first floor!
Best Hotels in La Habana, Cuba
Where to stay in Havana, Cuba
When you travel to Cuba you’ve got the option of staying in hotels (state-owned) or Casa Particulares (local-owned).
You can reserve your accommodation online via Airbnb, Expedia, or Trivago – Booking.com didn’t work for me.
Where to stay in La Habana depends on your likes. In Old Havana you have all the historic sites close by, however, it can get quiet early – think most places close at 9 pm or 10 pm.
New Havana is around the Capitolio and still, a safe and good area to stay in with lots of Casa Particulares and in near walking distance to Old Habana. It was also the area I typically stayed in.
La Habana Budget Bed & Breakfast: Casa Triz for 18 US$ is an absolute gem!
La Habana Luxury Hotel: Melia Habana is one of the best places to stay in Cuba.
Casa Particulares or Homestays in Havana, Cuba
In my opinion, the best way to support locals is to stay in Casa Particulares though. The families usually have one to two rooms in the house they live in themselves and rent these out. They still have to pay high taxes to the government to run them but it’s a wonderful chance to enhance the quality of life.
It’s an eye-opening way to connect with locals and learn more about how life is for them. The Casas usually provide breakfast of whatever they can find at the market ie. fresh fruit, bread with cheese, eggs, and coffee. They also provide Internet, sometimes free of charge, sometimes you pay a few Euros to access their internet cards.
They can be booked on Airbnb or Hostelworld.
Hotels in Havana, Cuba
Hotels on the other hand are also a great choice, normally having more stability around power cuts, functioning Wi-Fi, and a great selection of food.
On that note, if you want to follow into the steps of Hemingway and see where he stayed, book yourself a night or two in the Hotel Ambos Mundos in Old Havana.
Some Last Thoughts on What To Bring to Cuba
As I’m a big supporter of giving back and responsible travel, here are a few things I’d recommend you bring. As mentioned before, there is a huge shortage on most anything. If you can, please leave anything behind that you can easily buy back at home.
What to Pack for Cuba:
Female hygiene products, shampoo, soap, body lotion, deodorant, mosquito spray, condoms etc.
Old clothes or shoes that you don’t need are so welcome. I had women ask me regularly if I had something to spare. It doesn’t need to be new!
Medication of any sort, especially painkillers like Paracetamol, and band-aids!
I hope this article gives you a starting point to explore this fascinating city and country! If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch via my Instagram @christintheilig.
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this article may contain affiliate links. If you purchase using these links, I earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. I only recommend services and tools I know and trust myself.
For more unique city escapes, check out my recent post on the 19 Fascinating Things to See and Do in Bukhara, Uzbekistan.