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Things to do in Havana
Havana, Cuba. What a city! So packed full of charm and character – it is hard not to fall in love. Remarkably unchanged in the last 50 years, the streets feel like you have stepped back in time. If you are planning to visit the city, here are some must things to do in Havana!
1.Wander around Old Town
The Havana Vieja was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982, and will definitely form the basis of your trip to Havana. It is worth just spending some time wandering aimlessly about the streets to discover what each corner has to offer. The streets are laid out in a grid like system, so you will eventually find yourself again!
The old town is definitely one of the biggest tourist attractions of Havana, and were most of the sights are. But it doesn’t mean you have to feel like a tourist, a lot of local life still exists in this area. It is also surprisingly easy to get lost – but that is half the fun. Who knows what you might discover by taking that wrong turn. Spend the day getting lost and have the time of your life.
2. Take photos of the vintage cars
Pretty hard not to hey? They are to be spotted all over the city, and there are a lot of them. Thousands of American cars flooded the country in the 1950’s, only for this to abruptly stop in 1959 when Castro came into power. Nowadays they are all run on parts that are not necessarily intended for the cars. But it has turned Havana into a living car museum!
These cars are all over the streets, from the moment you drive in towards the city you will spot them. Some are better preserved than others. Just when you think you have taken enough photos of cars, another really cool one will drive past next to that really cool building. You’ll just have to take another photo!
3. Take a ride in a 1950’s car
If viewing the car isn’t enough then make sure you take a city tour in one! Some of the better preserved cars are the ones used for tourist tours of the city, but it does make for the most perfect way to see the city!
It isn’t hard to find people offering this experience, there are plenty of offers as you wander around the town. All of the rental companies are Government owned, so they should all charge the same price. If you want a specific car or colour, I would recommend booking in advance!
4. Visit the Museo de le Revolución
The building housing the museum was once the presidential palace of the overthrown dictator Fulgencio Batista, so it is fitting that it now is home to the museum of revolution.
This museum is a really important place to visit when in Havana. It tells the story of the Cuban’s struggle for independence from the colonial period onwards. With displays covering documents, photographs and memorabilia from the guerrilla period but with a special focus on the 1959 revolution. Some of the translations are a little hard to follow, but it is really important in understanding more of what the Cuban’s have gone through.
Visiting Cuba? Make sure you get the visa sorted. Find out all you need to here:
5. View the Capitolio
This impressive building towers over the streets of Havana. It was modelled on the Capital in Washington D.C, USA, but if course is bigger in size! In 2018 the building returned to its original role, of being the seat of the Cuban’s Government.
You can enter the building, via the impressive steps located at the front. Flanked either side by two giant statues who represent work and virtue. An impressive sight and an impressive building!
Capitolio: La Habana | Map
6. Take a salsa class
Cuban salsa. There aren’t many nations in the world where they jump up and dance at any sign of a rhythm. The Cubans however have the moves! While it is doubtful you will be able to dance like a Cuban by the end of your trip, if you get the chance to learn a few basic steps – take it. If you find yourself in a Cuban club at any point, it is likely you will be spun around the dance floor!
7. La Floridita
The original hangout of Ernest Hemingway! It may be the most touristy thing to do in Havana, but this is said to be where Hemingway calmed to make the best Daiquiri in the world! Located in the heart of Old Havana, which makes it even more popular.
Musicians are playing and daiquiri glasses are flying all over the place. Make sure you get a double daiquiri – a la Hemingway!
La Floridita: Obispo, La Habana, Cuba | Map
8. Bodeguita del Medio
Continue your tour of Hemingway locations. The Bodeguita del Medio is a renowned Havana hangout. Sitting halfway in a typical Havana street, it literally means ‘little shop in the middle’. It was founded originally as a place to trade rice, beans and sugar goods for the local population. A bar serving drinks was then added and it became the place to hang out for intellectuals, artists and politicians.
Now it now longer a shop but a busy and vibrant bar at the front serving shots or rum and Cuban cocktails and a restaurant hidden at the back.
Due to its past famous patrons – Nat King Cole, Pablo Neruda and again Ernest Hemingway who have all left their signatures on the all alongside the photographs, drawings and graffiti – it does get very very busy! A urban myth says that Ernest Hemingway wrote ‘My mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in El Floridita’. Sadly it is forgery and the slogan was made up as a marketing campagin. However, the classic thing to order is still a ‘Hemingway Mojito’.
Bodeguita del Medio: Empedrado, La Habana | Map
9. Drink all the cocktails
Make sure they are all rum based – you are in Cuba after all! Start with a Moijto, Cuba Libra and then finish with a Pina Colada? Sounds like a great afternoon!
There are plenty of bars to be found in the old town, head towards the corner of Chacón and Compostela where there is a diagonal street chock full of bars. | Map |
10. Discover the city’s Plazas
There are plenty to find, so plan a walking tour between then – and discover a lot of La Habana on the way!
Some of the main ones to make sure you see are Plaza Vieja, which was originally the city’s main square until the city expanded. It has been restored to much of it’s original look, giving it a really traditional Havana feel. Surrounded my arcades and lots of historic buildings.
Also check out the Plaza de La Catedral, which is home to Catedral de San Cristóbel, and one of the symbols of Old Havana. A plaque marks the location of the city’s first aqueduct – the first one in the Spanish new world. You can also find women in traditional colonial costumes wandering around under the arches and can read your fortune.
11. Cathedral de San Cristóbal
The Catedral de San Cristóbal was built in 1748 by Jesuit priests who were evicted from Cuba before it could be finished. It was given its current name because, according to popular belief, the remains of Christopher Columbus were housed here!
The outside is pretty impressive and looks typical Cuban, the inside is much more traditional Catholic church style. You can go inside the cathedral during the Sunday service. Also located in a pretty square with lots of restaurants around the edge.
12. Stay in a Casa Particular
Accommodation in Cuba isn’t the standard hotels and B&B’s you might find in other places. Instead, you stay in Casa Particulars, which when literally translated into English means ‘private home’. There are plenty of these all across Havana and Cuba, and can be identified by the blue and white sign above the door. You can book online, or just rock up. Although in Havana it would be recommended to at least suss out a location first.
I stayed in Casa Particular Consulado106 which was the perfect mix of Casa and B&B. It was also perfectly located for wandering around Havana. The owner was incredibly helpful, and you can buy WiFi cards and exchange currency in the Casa as well, which made things super easy when arriving.
Book Casa Particular Consulado106 by clicking HERE
Casa Particular: Consulado n.106, entre Refugio y Colon, Centro Habana, Old Havana | Map
13. Plaza de la Revolucion
A must on the list of things to do in Havana. This is the political, cultural and administrative centre of Havana since 1959. It was originally called Plaza Civica, but it was renamed following Castro’s victory. It’s not the most beautiful place in Havana, but is of great cultural significance. The first mass rallies were held here after the revolution. Military parades and official celebrations are often held here.
Plaza de la Revolution | Map
The seafront of Havana has some of the cities most spectacular architecture. It is approx 7km long and travels along the old town Havana to the skyscrapers of Vedado. Meaning it documents the history of Havana in one walk.
After spending a day walking around the city , it is nice to come down and spend some time with a sea breeze. It is particularly special at sunset! When the air cools down the sky turns beautiful shades of pink and orange.
15. Learn about the history of Havana
Crumbling buildings are just so for a reason. The average wage in Cuba is around $25, so there is a lot of mend and make do. It does feel like stepping back in time when you visit Havana, but this is the reality of a country finding itself and working things out. With wages as low as this, the option of restoring these 1950’s buildings isn’t really an option. So while they are amazing to look at, remember there is a family living in there.
16. Visit San Carlos Fortress
Across the other side of the Maleón and over looking the city is the San Carlos Fortress. This was built in 1763 11 months after the Spanish regained the capital after the British conquest. Built to fortified the hill overlooking the port.
Again it is the perfect place to head for sunset, and enjoy fantastic views over Havana. Every night at 9pm they fire the cannons to signal the end of the day. So definitely worth taking the trip over the water.
Castillo de San Carlos de la Cabaña | Map
Such a bizarre stop, and not necessarily one you might think of when thinking about Havana or Cuba! This village is located about a half hour drive from Havana on the western edge. This was once a fishing and military village but the face of the village changed due to the artist José Fuster. Inspired by the artists such as Gaudi and Picasso he decorated his home in bizarre and ornate ceramic tiles. Other villagers asked him to do the same to their houses and village buildings, turning the village into quite a spectacle.
Using traditional Cuban themes such as palm trees and cockerels there is no real way to describe it – it definitely needs to be seen to be believed!
Fusterlandia, Havana, Cuba | Map
18. Take endless photos!
Finally, spend your time taking photos. It would be hard pushed to find a capital city as photogenic as Havana. From the buildings, to the cars, to the ever welcoming residents there is plenty to catch a photographers eye! The easiest way to spend a day is to wander around, camera in hand and you still wouldn’t be able to take everything in.
Havana is a city to fall in love with, and you will fall in love hard.
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