Havana has captivated the hearts of creatives like Hemmingway and today, that romanticism we hold the Cuban capital in still pulses through travelers today. It embraces beauty, the old and the new as vintage cars casually pass by. With a rich history and vibrant culture, there are plenty of things to do in Havana.
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Things to do in Havana
Here are 17 things you really can’t miss when you visit Havana, Cuba. And after you experience everything it has to offer, you’ll see why so many before you have fallen in love with Havana and its tropical weather.
Get lost in Habana Vieja
Like many other historic cities, Havana has an old city center that is equal parts faded and ever-changing. Habana Vieja quite literally translates to Old Havana in English. In this part of the city, you’ll see old buildings, lively locals, a sixteenth-century fortress, and so much more. Wander around, stop and have a coffee when you talk to locals, and get to see the historic part of the city.
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See a show at The Tropicana
The Tropicana is a Havana legend. Not only is it one of the best shows you can see in Havana but it is also the longest-running. Prepare yourself for a night full of fun as you watch talented dancers and singers take the stage in some amazing costumes.
Listen to live music at The Buena Vista Social Club
Buena Vista Social Club is a unique and intimate experience. It reminded me of how entertainment has changed over the decades when live shows and music took the back seat to home entertainment and the big screen. And the more I thought about it, the more it reminded me of watching I Love Lucy and seeing Ricky Ricardo perform on stage with a live band. If you love music and appreciate that live stage show (even if you don’t know a lick of Spanish) you’ll love the performance.
Skip the hotel, stay in a casa particular
Tourism in Cuba is a little different than anywhere else when it comes to where you stay, especially for Americans. You can stay at a hotel or a casa particular. The casas, are where the government has allowed Cuba citizens to tap into the tourism sector.
Hotels in Havana can be overpriced and it doesn’t take much reading on the internet to see that oftentimes the rooms aren’t what you expect. If you have the opportunity to, stay in a casa particular instead! They are basically like Airbnb where you stay within a Cuban family’s home. You’ll get a more genuine experience and get to see a little more of daily Cuban life while also helping someone with your tourism dollars. Win-win-win, right?
See the Cuban National Ballet Perform
When everywhere else in the world ballet is just surviving, the Cuban National Ballet is thriving! The Cuban government has always been big on culture and heavily subsidize the ballet but that just means that guests get to benefit when they see a performance. Tickets are cheap and the ballerinas are incredibly talented!
Ride in a vintage car
Hands down, one of the best things to do in Havana is to ride in a vintage car! We’ve all seen those iconic scenes of the 1950s and 1960s cars surrounded by old buildings, its what every postcard of Cuba usually is. This is one of those things that you gotta do – at least take a picture of yourself standing next to a few if you don’t take a city tour in a vintage car!
But if you do want to ride around they are pretty much all over the city. Negotiate your ride price before you get in the car and if you want a more in-depth experience head to Parque Central where you can take a tour of all the main sites by vintage car!
Catch the sunset at the Malecon
Possibly the most beautiful sunset in Havana is at the Malecon. It is a great place to people watch as locals fish and everyone comes out to enjoy the last bit of sun dance across the sky.
Stop by the Hotel Nacional
Staying at The Nacional is expensive. But the hotel is like a time capsule and you feel like you’re going back in time! If you aren’t willing to pay the high price tag for a night, stop by for a mojito instead! You’ll be able to see the beautiful garden they have that overlooks the Malecon. And while it might be a pricey mojito, it is still cheaper than the nightly rate!
Visit Hemmingway’s old stomping grounds
Hemmingway loved Cuba as much if not more than he loved Key West. He spent so much time on the island that he bought a home and lived there for twenty years! You can stop by Finca Vigia to see where the man who defined the lost generation and captivated readers with stories of post-world war life. And if you really want to pay tribute to the author, go to La Floridita and have a drink! It was his favorite bar in Havana.
Visit the Partagas Cigar Factory
Cuban cigars are known to be the best in the world and you can see exactly what goes into making them at Partagas Cigar Factory. This factory is the best known and getting to see first hand the art and tradition of cigar rolling are really quite special!
Grab your dancing shoes
Salsa dancing is everywhere in Cuba and if you have the chance to take a salsa class or two you totally should! It is a fun way to experience Cuba that you can’t really experience anywhere else. Rumor has it that a nice mojito will make you dance a little better too!
Get into the local neighborhoods
If you read this blog often, you know that I love seeing cities through the eyes of locals. I like to wander off the main streets and see where the locals eat, where they shop, and how they live. One of the best things to do in Havana is to get off the beaten path and see what Cuba is really like. While you’re there stop by a bakery and grab a coffee, get to know people, and experience something that most might not – genuine, nontourist, no propaganda Cuba.
Take a day trip to Viñales
If you’re looking for a good day trip, Viñales is a great option! You can hike, tour a cigar farm, or just spend some time exploring the city. And there are plenty of buses and shared taxis that can get you there cheaply.
One last thing…
Here are some books I recommend to check out before your trip. And even though researching ahead of your trip is always the goal we definitely suggest bringing a guidebook along with you.