Havana, Cuba’s capital, is filled with history and sights to see. It is the main city that most tourists fly into and where the US finally offered direct flights to under the Obama administration. I was able to visit Havana for 3 nights, which I made a full itinerary to keep me busy. As always, I couldn’t see all the destinations listed on my itinerary because I didn’t want to feel rushed the entire trip. However, I was still able to do a lot and get a real feel for this unique city.
Here are 11 things you must do when visiting Havana.
1. Explore Old Havana
You’ll be drawn to the vibrant buildings and abundance of restaurants in Old Havana. This is the main spot to be with easy access to museums, bars, and other sights. Be warned though…these streets are extremely busy. They’re filled with both tourists and locals. Tourists trying to find their way around the area and locals trying to hustle you at every opportunity. Now, I don’t blame the Cuban people for trying to make a living especially after learning of the average salary in Cuba. But, I will be completely honest that at times I felt it was crazy how much my friend and I would get called out.
2. Drink a Mojito at La Bodeguita del Medio
Don’t like rum? Too bad. You really can’t visit Cuba without having a mojito (or two..or ten). According to Ernest Hemingway, the best place to get one is at La Bodeguita del Medio located in Old Havana.
Address: Empedrado no. 207 between Cuba & San Ignacio
3. Walk along El Malecon
El Malecon is a 8km long seawall/roadway along the coast of Havana. It is also a popular social gathering location for Cuban locals and tourists from all over the world. When I went, it was actually pretty empty and not the crowded spot I had imagined. However, I didn’t get to walk along it much because we had a dinner reservation to catch at La Guarida. It’s 8 kilometers long, so I know that certain areas are more lively than others. Nonetheless, the breeze from the coast felt amazing and being able to sit on the ledge with a beer in hand was actually perfect.
4. Go to the Museum of Revolution
Located in Old Havana, the Museum of Revolution is accessible from 10AM-5PM for 5CUC. My friend and I tried to visit, but unfortunately ran out of time. I would have loved to see the Cubans’ side of the story in regards to the revolution. Now many have very strong viewpoints on this event and may not enjoy what they see, but I think it is always important to learn about all aspects to history even if it makes you uncomfortable. This is definitely a good place to visit to get a history lesson during this major turning point for the Cubans.
Address: Calle Refugio No. 1 between Monserrate y Zulueta
5. Take a Salsa Class
This is an absolute must! I’ll admit that I was a bit nervous at first especially since you’re paired with an instructor instead of just following along one main teacher. Which, duh, being in pairs is the ONLY way to properly learn salsa. These guys taught such a fun class full of great routines and music. An hour with them flew by with us dancing and laughing the entire time. There are many studios in Havana, but the one I went to is called La Casa Del Son. Making reservations was super simple! I did so online and then received an email within 24 hours to confirm number of attendees, time, and type of dance class. Since we were a big group (7 ladies – 2 are not pictured), I had to come in to make a 50% deposit the day before the class. The total cost was just 10 CUC for 1 hour.
Studio Details: La Casa del Son – Empedrado #411 between Compostela y Aguacate (website)
6. Take in the views from El Morro
El Morro Castle, also known as Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro, is a fortress that guards the entrance to Havana bay. It is located on the opposite side of the harbor from Old Havana, but easily accessible by taxi. Here you can also get a beautiful view of the coast.
7. Visit La Plaza de la Revolucion
This plaza allows you to see the Jose Marti Memorial and two large portraits of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. I must admit that I had no idea it was Fidel that was being displayed, my friend and I actually said, “We don’t know who this guy is but we’ll take a picture anyways” shortly before realizing the name said Fidel Castro. Oops. To our defense, it was definitely a photo from his younger years. Pictured above is Che Guevara, in which I learned so much about him during this visit to Cuba. Some see him as a murderer, some see him as the revolutionary leader. Some hate him and some love him. It’s really interesting learning the different perspectives and understanding why people feel a specific way about what he stood for.
Address: 41 Paseo, Plaza de Revolucion
8. Purchase Cigars from La Casa Del Habanos
La Casa Del Habanos are the official stores to purchase Cuban cigars. You’re able to bring back 100 cigars up to $800 back to the United States, so be sure to stock up! There will be people (specifically taxi drivers) trying to persuade you to buy cigars off the “black market” but don’t be fooled. They’ll tell you that workers take home cigars from the factory, so you’re getting the same product but for cheaper. Don’t take the risk – just purchase from the store. It’s best to buy the boxes to ensure legitimacy – there should be hologram stickers that say “hecho en Cuba” While there are many LCDH around the area, the best one with the biggest selection is in Miramar.
Address: 5ta Avenida y Calle 16 (note: the area is pretty secluded so get a taxi here and ask them to wait for you so you aren’t spending an hour looking for a taxi after you’re done shopping)
9. Drink a Daiquiri at El Floridita
This frozen daiquiri consists of Havana club rum, sugar cane syrup, and lime juice. It’s perfectly tart and refreshing. Get here early because the crowd is sure to roam in all throughout the day. With live music and great drinks, I could see why it was Ernest Hemingway’s favorite bar. They even have a section dedicated to Hemingway in which we were able to score a seat right next to. Snag a photo with his statue and order a daiquiri in his honor.
Address: Obispo 557 esq a Monseratte (Old Havana) – this bar is located at a corner of a main street and hard to miss!
10. Have a Night Out at Fabrica de Arte Cubano
This is one of the spots in Havana that I’m actually really upset that I didn’t get to explore. This huge factory offers something for everyone. There’s a dance floor for the club goers, galleries for the artists, performances for dance lovers, and drinks for everyone. Be sure to get here before 9:30PM during the weekend because the line gets ridiculously long! I knew this beforehand and tried to schedule dinner early, but unfortunately we still weren’t able to arrive until 10:00PM in which the line was around the block. Sundays are less busy, which we said we would go check it out…but that was our last night there and everyone was low on cash (yes, we’re very spoiled with credit and debit cards here in the US).
11. Visit El Capitolio
Look familiar? The capitol building of Havana looks almost identical to that of the United States. Built in 1929, this building housed the Cuban government until 1959 which is when the Cuban Revolution took place. Now it is the building for the Cuban Academy of Sciences and offers tours of the beautiful interior. Unfortunately, it was closed during our visit for renovations.
What are you waiting for? Go book a flight to Havana now! Check out Skyscanner for the best prices. Hurry before Agent Orange’s new regulations take place and individual people-to-people travel is no longer available.