Top 15 attractions and things to do in Havana
Whether you're on the trail of Che Guevara and Ernest Hemingway or you just want to kick back and relax to some vibrant live Cuban music washed down with plenty of mojitos, Havana is the perfect destination for a city break. Here is our guide to the top 15 essential things to see and do in the Caribbean's most captivating city. Viva Habana!
1. Drink a mojito
You haven't had a mojito until you’ve had a mojito in Cuba. Almost every bar and restaurant in Havana offers them, and for a fraction of the price you’re used to back home. And damn do they taste good - and strong! Most places will pour in obscenely generous measures of rum, topped with lashings of brown sugar, resulting in an intensely sweet, alcoholic drink that will have you dancing on the tables in no time. Head to La Bodeguita del Medio on Empedrardo in the heart of the Old Town for the best (even Hemingway said so).
Opening Hours: 8am-12pm every day Address: Empedrado, La Habana, Cuba
2. Go to Mass at the Catedral de San Cristóbal de la Habana
This impressive building with its distinctive asymmetrical towers is one of the oldest churches in the Americas and dates from the mid-eighteenth century. The inside is fairly austere but the cupola is impressive, as are the numerous statues and frescoes. If you can, time your visit to coincide with mass on Sunday morning (9am) for a real insight into local culture. The plaza in front is also a great place to grab a coffee (or mojito) and spend the afternoon watching the world go by.
Opening Hours: 9am Address: 156 Empedrado, La Habana, Cuba
3. Take a tiny taxi
The streets of Havana are packed with vintage vehicles, many of them dating from the 1950s before ties with the USA were cut. Ingenious mechanics have kept these old Cadillacs going against all the odds, and many now serve as taxis – although be prepared to pay a premium for a classic car (the ubiquitous Russian-made taxis are cheaper). However, for a really novel treat, why not hop into a bright yellow bubble taxi? These tiny, open-air three-wheelers make for an exhilarating ride through the Havana traffic, and their charismatic drivers are always happy to pose for photos.
4. Visit a cigar factory
A visit to a traditional Cuban cigar factory is a must on any visit to the island and you don't need to venture too far from central Havana to find one. Head to Partagas Cigar Factory on Industria street No. 520 and you'll see teams of skilled workers deftly picking the best leaves and hand-rolling perfect cigars in seconds. One thing that photos can’t convey is the wonderful smell of the factory – the drying leaves create a pungent, almost sweet aroma that you’ll never forget.
Opening Hours: 9am-3pm Tickets: $10 CUC Address: Calle Industria 520, Havana
5. Head out to Viñales
For the gorgeous views alone, this lush valley two hours outside Havana and is well worth a day trip. The steep limestone cliffs plunge almost vertically to the valley floor, and there are some spectacular caves to explore. Don't miss the Cuevas del Indio (Indian Caves) where you can jump on a boat tour through the flooded caverns. Bizarrely, the valley also features an enormous wall painting of dinosaurs in garish colours, allegedly commissioned by Fidel Castro himself.
How to get to Viñales: Purchase bus tickets to Viñales from the bus station in Havana, or organise a private transfer via your hotel to do the tobacco farms tours.
6. Follow in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway
"My mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in El Floridita." Hemingway may or may not have said these words, but his years living in Havana certainly included plenty of evenings (and days for that matter) drinking in these two traditional bars - and La Floridita has even cordoned off his favourite seat with a velvet rope to honour him. You can also visit the room (number 511) he first lived in in Havana at the Ambos Mundos Hotel, where he started to write For Whom the Bell Tolls. Outside of town, his home, Finca Vigia, has also been preserved just as he left it, so you can wander past his desk and imagine him penning The Old Man and the Sea (written here).
Opening Hours: Monday - Thursday 9am-5pm Tickets: $5 per person Address: Finca Vigía Km. 12 ½, La Habana
7. Stand tall at Plaza de la Revolución
It may be stark, but Havana's main square is impressively huge – holding as many as one million Cubans on celebration days, such as 26th July (the Day of the Revolution, a national holiday). Check out the huge portraits of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, then dodge the traffic to make your way to the José Martí Memorial, the giant 109m tower in the centre of the square. There’s a museum to José Martí, a Cuban national hero, underneath the tower, and you can also ride the lift to the top for spectacular views of Havana.
8. Dance to live Cuban music
You’re never far from live music in Havana, and it’s easy to find local bands – just wander the streets at night and listen out for the distinctive sounds of Cuban music wafting from the bars and clubs. If you'd rather not chance it, Privé on Calle 88A in Miramar is a good bet for jazz by local big names, while Café Teatro Bertol Brecht on Calle 13 in Vedado is best for contemporary Cuban fusion music.
9. Stroll along El Malécon
This lengthy seafront esplanade is a great place to take a late afternoon stroll, and you’ll find plenty of locals doing the same, especially as the sun dips over the water and the romancers come out to canoodle on the sea wall. Watch the Cadillacs roll by as the fishermen haul in their catch, and life in Havana slowly putters along. Nothing ever happens quickly in Cuba, so get with the vibe and take a leisurely meander.
10. Toast the city with a Havana Club
Housed in a renovated 18th-century "solar" (colonial townhouse), Havana Club's Museum of Rum tells the tale of how one of Cuba's most successful - and tastiest - exports is produced. You'll see the wooden fermentation casks, the gleaming copper distillation columns and the ageing cellars with their rows of barrels before tasting the finest of Havana Club's tipples in the Havana Club Boutique.
Opening Hours: 9am-5pm Monday to Thursday, 9am-4.30pm Friday-Sunday Tickets: $7 CUC Address: Avenida del Puerto 262, esq. Sol, Habana Vieja Cuba, Havana
11. Get photos in cars of the 50's
You don't need to go far to see Havana's most photographed stars. Fidel Castro enforced a ban on imports from the United States in the sixties, meaning that no new models were imported after this time. Chevy's, Belvederes and Ford rattle up and down the roads, some flagged with the 'taxi' sign which you can hail down. It costs around $35 to ride around in these for the hour, and if you have an English speaking driver you'll be able to get a history lesson too.
12. Sit next to John Lennon
Whilst the Beatles music was banned in Cuba for most of Lennon's lifetime, on news of his death Castro chose to have 'the rebel and dreamer' commemorated with a statue and public park dedicated to him. You're now welcome to go and have your photo taken with the bronze statue - there are holes in the statue for slipping a pair of glasses onto him too.
Opening Hours: 24 hours Tickets: Free Address: Calle 8, Havana
13. Get to the beach
Cuba is a Caribbean island, which means you'll still get Caribbean beaches just a few hours away from most of the cities. The best known ones are in Varadero, but Playa del Este is 20 minutes outside of Havana (by cab), and it's got the white and and blue sea you're looking for.
14. Eat a Cuban sandwich (a real one)
When you eat a Cuban sandwich in Cuba, the most surprising thing is the price. Chances are you'll be paying less than $2 for a sandwich with cooked meat (sometimes multiple varieties), grilled cheese, pickles or cucumbers, and it's on Cuban bread. If you're lucky, it's toasted too.
Where to find a Cuban sandwich: Once you're in more local districts it's easy to find one for cheap. If you're in Parque Central, Cafe Francesa is known for their Cubans and coffees.
15. Party at Club Tropicana
This cabaret show is 75 years old, serving as the original inspiration for Wham's song and the evolution of the Eden club, made popular around the Depression era. Now it's music, lights, camera and action most evenings at the Club Tropicana. It's popular with couples, groups and singles for the 3 course meal, drinks and entire evening of colourful entertainment.
Opening Hours: from 8.30pm til dawn, ask your vendor for exact dates. Tickets: $80 for a package including a welcome drink and snacks, usually available to book through your hotel Address: 72 A, La Habana, Cuba
How to get to Havana
Thomas Cook, Virgin Atlantic and Thomson all have direct flights from the U.K to Cuba (to Holguin, Havana, Caya Coco and Varadero). You can fly direct from London to Havana, and there are multiple connecting flights to Havana from Manchester, Birmingham, Belfast, Bournemouth, Exeter, Cardiff, Newcastle, Leeds, Liverpool and more.
Where to stay on a city break in Havana
If you're looking for a hostel:
Aparthotel in Playas del Este is one of the most affordable places to stay. You can also book casa particulares when you're there for much lower prices.
If you're looking for a hotel:
Gran Caribe Hotel Inglaterra is one of the few hotels in the city with wifi, and it's in the city centre.
If you're looking for luxury:
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