Havana Travel Guide

Caribbean  
Credit

Courtesy of Nikada/Getty Images

Best Things To Do in Havana

What may surprise travelers most about Havana is how well-rounded this city is. Art aficionados will enjoy the vast collection of Cuban art on display at the Museum of Fine Arts. History buffs may be left agape over the artifacts housed at Museo de la Revolución while literature bugs will leave giddy over a glimpse at Finca Vigía, Hemingway's former home. But to really get a taste of Havana's charm, stroll the colorful calles (streets) of Old Havana or drink with the locals along El Malecón. Either way, the possibilities for a good time in Havana are endless.

How we rank Things to Do

Updated August 31, 2017

  • #1
    Things to do in Havana
    View all Photos
    #1 in Havana
    Entertainment and Nightlife, Recreation, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Entertainment and Nightlife, Recreation, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    To tourists, Old Havana may be the city's heart and soul, but to Cubans, it's El Malecón. Technically speaking, El Malecón is a 5-mile-long boulevard that stretches along the water, with Havana Bay on one side and the edges of Old Havana, Vedado and Central Havana on the other, depending on where you are. But metaphorically speaking, El Malecón is both a meeting point and place of refuge for locals looking to catch a breath of fresh air after a long day or night.

    During the day, you're likely to see some residents along with a tourist or two, but at night, especially come sundown, is when you'll see flocks of Cubans holding loved ones close as they watch the sunset, crowds of young people laughing and drinking, fishermen waiting for a catch or even a small dance party. And sometimes, you may not see anybody at all. On particularly stormy days, waves crash up against El Malecón and much of the sea spills onto the roads, making for a great photo op.

  • #2
    Old Havana (Habana Vieja)
    View all Photos
    #2 in Havana
    Cafes, Churches/Religious Sites, Entertainment and Nightlife, Historic Homes/Mansions, Monuments and Memorials, Museums, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Cafes, Churches/Religious Sites, Entertainment and Nightlife, Historic Homes/Mansions, Monuments and Memorials, Museums, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Skipping Old Havana is tantamount to missing Parliament if you're in London or the Eiffel Tower if you're in Paris. This picturesque neighborhood is not just iconic to Havana and Cuba, but also to the world. In the early 1980s, Old Havana was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, thanks to the impressive preservation of some of the area's centuries-old architecture. Walking through Old Havana, you'll see a plethora of architectural styles, including baroque and neoclassical design elements, decorated in the brightest of colors. The neighborhood is also brimming with equally picturesque cobblestone-lined plazas, automobiles that look like they belong in museums and throngs of equally interesting people, whether they be Cuban street entertainers or awestruck world travelers.

    The perimeters of Old Havana are actually the old borders of the city present in the 16th century. In the beginning of its heyday, Old Havana was a thriving port town owned by the Spanish. Often called the "Key to the New World," Havana was attractive for offering access to the Atlantic, which made shipping new riches from the Americas back to Spain an easy feat. Although the Spaniards' occupation eventually came to an end, they left behind a significant architectural style.

  • #3
    Plaza Vieja
    View all Photos
    #3 in Havana
    Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND

    Of all the picturesque plazas that dot Old Havana, Plaza Vieja is considered to be the neighborhood's main square. The cobblestone-lined plaza is flanked by brightly colored baroque and art nouveau-style buildings housing restaurants, art galleries, residences and even a camera obscura. Built in 1559, this plaza has had many faces and has played host to a bevy of historical events – both good and bad. Fiestas and festive processions were commonplace back in the day, as were bullfights and public executions. Plaza Vieja used to be a space for military exercises before becoming the site of an open-air market. After that, it was converted into a park, then transformed into an underground parking structure, if you can believe it.

    Luckily those days are behind Plaza Vieja, with travelers finding the current rendition of the square to be a true feast for the eyes. Visitors also praised the individual artwork that's spread throughout the square (including a bald nude woman riding a chicken while carrying a fork) and the fact that locals hang out in the square, not just tourists. If you have time, some say the best way to soak in the atmosphere of the plaza is to grab a drink alfresco and just kick back, relax and watch all the people pass by. Being in the pedestrian-friendly Old Havana, Plaza Vieja is easily accessible by foot.

  • #4
    Plaza de la Catedral
    View all Photos
    #4 in Havana
    Cafes, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND
    Cafes, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND

    If you're one of those travelers who believes that if you've seen one plaza you've seen them all, then you clearly haven't been to Plaza de la Catedral. A top-rated attraction among many recent travelers, Plaza de la Catedral is worth the extra time for, unsurprisingly, its stunning 18th-century cathedral, also known Catedral de la Habana. Visitors were taken by the imposing baroque cathedral, which was once described by a Cervantes Prize-winning writer as "music made into stone."

    The square is quite small, so don't expect to find as many amenities (there's only one restaurant) as the nearby Plaza Vieja. But its lack of square footage isn't what bothered visitors. What did annoy travelers was how crowded the square becomes when cruise ships are docked in the city's harbor. If you can figure out when that occurs, travelers strongly recommended planning your visit around that. You can find Plaza de la Catedral in Old Havana. Plaza de la Catedral is free to visit and it's open year-round.

  • #5
    Museum of Fine Arts (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana)
    View all Photos
    #5 in Havana
    Museums, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    This museum houses the largest collection of art in the country and is separated into two buildings; one for Cuban art housed in the Palacio de Bellas Artes, and (two blocks away) another for the rest of the world in the Centro Asturiano. The Cuban portion of the museum highlights a variety of artistic styles and mediums depicting everything from the Spanish occupation to the revolution. Visitors will view work from some of the country's greats, including Guillermo Collazo and Raul Martinez, the Andy Warhol of Cuba. If you're a fan of Picasso's "Guernica," seek out Servando Cabrera Moreno's portrait of the Bay of Pigs.

    The international side of the museum is just as diverse. There, visitors will run into Roman, Japanese, Greek, Spanish and British pieces, with the oldest artwork dating back to 500 B.C. Recent visitors were happy to report there is lots to see in the museum, but particularly enjoyed perusing the Cuban portion. Some regular museumgoers commented that the non-Cuban art museum had much of what they've seen before, so think about what you want to see and plan accordingly. Being a state-owned museum, it's important to note that there is a no photography rule that is strictly enforced.

  • #6
    Museum of the Revolution (Museo de la Revolución)
    View all Photos
    #6 in Havana
    Castles/Palaces, Monuments and Memorials, Museums, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Castles/Palaces, Monuments and Memorials, Museums, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    There is no better place for a crash course on the country's history than the Museo de la Revolución. The museum chronicles the life and times before the revolution as well as the leaders and events that led to Fidel Castro’s successful uprising. Artifacts displayed help visitors understand what was going on in the minds of the revolution fighters. Standout relics include blood-stained uniforms of the fallen from the Santiago de Cuba Moncada Barracks attack, maps that were used for navigation during the war and bullet holes from an attempted assassination of Fulgencio Batista, which is located in the building's main stairway. There are also areas dedicated to Che Guevara and Castro, and in front of the building the tank used by Castro during the Bay of Pigs invasion is in full view.

    But that's not all visitors should peruse. The building also oozes with interesting history of its own. The property used to be a palace that housed some of the country's most corrupt presidents, including Batista. Once Castro came to power, he quickly turned it into the museum that it is today.

  • #7
    Finca Vigía
    View all Photos
    #7 in Havana
    Historic Homes/Mansions, Museums, Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Historic Homes/Mansions, Museums, Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Havana is known for a lot of things – vintage automobiles, lively locals, beautiful buildings – but one individual who has remained just as synonymous with Cuba's capital for so long (aside from Castro) is Ernest Hemingway. The world-renowned writer lived in Havana for a whopping 22 years with his wives (one divorced) and dozens of pets, even while the United States' relationship with Cuba was starting to crumble. Finca Vigía, which translated means the "lookout farm," was the place where Hemingway wrote a great chunk of one of his most famous works, "The Old Man and the Sea." He was also known to host many VIPs, including Hollywood heavyweights, diplomats and other writers at Finca Vigía.

    When Hemingway passed, his home was donated to the government by his wife, and things have remained largely untouched since. Upon visiting, travelers are able to catch a glimpse of the writer's former quarters, which includes his artwork, hunting souvenirs and his famous typewriter. Visitors can also peep his vast book collection spread throughout, which is said to include 9,000 titles. In the garden, visitors will run into Hemingway's dog cemetery and his beloved fishing boat, Pilar. Guests can also enter and climb his backyard tower, which affords great views of the surrounding neighborhood.

  • #8
    Playas del Este
    View all Photos
    #8 in Havana
    Beaches, Recreation, Swimming/Pools, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Recreation, Swimming/Pools, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    After a couple of days touring the capital, you may find yourself in need of a break from the hustle and bustle. If so, seek a side trip to Playas del Este, a set of beaches located about 11 miles east of Havana. This 5-mile stretch of shoreline starts at Bacuranao and ends at Playa Jibacoa, with about six other picturesque beaches with turquoise-colored water in between.

    If you're looking for peace and quiet, Bacuranao and Playa Tarará are your best bets, although the latter requires a small entry fee. For livelier (and free) atmospheres, look to Playa Boca Ciega or Guanabo, where you'll find the highest concentration of locals. Mi Cayito and Boca Ciega are popular with LGBT travelers while those with families will likely enjoy the amenity-clad Playa Santa Maria, where the majority of the area's resorts are located. Playa Jibacoa is also considered a peaceful beach, but unlike the other resort beaches, it offers more things to enjoy than just water sports rentals. On land, visitors can traverse trails from the beach to the nearby backcountry; underwater there are coral reefs to explore. What's more, Havana Club rum is made in the town in which Playa Jibacoa resides. 

  • #9
    Plaza de la Revolución
    View all Photos
    #9 in Havana
    Monuments and Memorials, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND
    Monuments and Memorials, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND

    Of all the plazas that populate Havana, politicos can't miss this one. Plaza de la Revolución is proof that, despite recent lifted restrictions, Castro's Cuba is still very much alive. The plaza acts as the central location for many of the regime's branches of government, and features artwork and monuments honoring notable Cubans, including central figures involved in the revolution. The Ministry of Interior (or Ministerio del Interior) features a giant mural of Che Guevara, with the phrase, "Hasta la victoria siempre" ("Always toward victory") fashioned underneath. At the adjacent telecommunications building, there is a similarly styled image of Camila Cienfuegos, another famous revolution fighter, with the phrase, "Vas bien, Fidel" ("You're doing fine, Fidel") written underneath. There is also a monument to José Martí, Cuba's most famous writer who dedicated his life to fighting for independence in the pre-Castro era. Nearby is the Biblioteca Nacional José Martí, Cuba's largest library, and the Teatro Nacional de Cuba, the country's most important theater.

    Travelers shared mixed reviews of Plaza de la Revolución. Many visitors enjoyed their time at the plaza and were fascinated by the attraction's historical significance (Castro used to make speeches here). Others, however, found the square to be drab in comparison to Old Havana's colorful plazas and said the attraction isn't worth more than a quick hop off a bus tour. If you're hoping for a livelier experience, plan to visit on May 1 for the annual International Workers' Day celebration, where millions of Cubans congregate in Plaza de la Revolución to celebrate workers' achievements. Usually there are festivities as well as speeches made by top leaders, including one of the Castros.

Explore More of Havana

When purchasing from our site, we may earn commissions. This does not affect the quality or independence of our editorial content.

Recommended

22 Top Sonoma Wineries to Visit

Sip world-class wines while enjoying vineyard and mountain views.

Gwen PratesiAugust 19, 2019

30 Amazing Caribbean Islands to Visit

It's time to plan your next tropical getaway.

Holly JohnsonAugust 8, 2019

The Best Travel Rewards Programs for 2019-20

See which airline and hotel loyalty programs come out on top.

Erin ShieldsAugust 6, 2019

20 Surprising Ways to Earn Loyalty Program Points or Miles

Branch out beyond hotel stays and flights to maximize your earnings.

Christine SmithAugust 6, 2019

The 12 Best Cancun Tours

These excursions will show you what lies beyond the city's bright beaches.

Lyn MettlerJuly 26, 2019

Traveling With Toddlers: 16 Tips to Make Your Vacation Go Smoothly

These expert travel hacks guarantee a happy trip for the whole family.

Kyle McCarthyJuly 25, 2019

The 11 Best New Orleans Ghost Tours

Hear chilling tales of the city's paranormal activity on one of these guided tours.

Kim Foley MacKinnonJuly 25, 2019

The 10 Best Seattle Boat Tours

Take in the Emerald City's top sights from the water.

Kim Foley MacKinnonJuly 24, 2019

The 6 Best Maui Helicopter Tours

Combine sightseeing with a breathtaking adventure on one of these flights.

Gwen PratesiJuly 23, 2019

The 7 Best San Francisco Boat Tours

Take in the city's major sights by water with one of these excursions.

Holly JohnsonJuly 22, 2019