While in Cuba, spending time in the capitol city of Havana is a must. Havana is endlessly interesting and beautiful, but it can also feel large and intimidating. I’ve narrowed down the top highlights from the city so that you know exactly what to do in Havana when you get there.
Walk along the Malecon
The Malecon is a large stone wall that separates Havana from the Caribbean Sea. In the daytime, be sure to walk along the Malecon and enjoy the view of the city and El Morro in the distance.
At night, the Malecon is a popular hang out spot with locals and tourists alike. After 9 pm, come to the Malecon with a group of friends and some beers to hang out and interact with some of the locals.
dress: Dancing Leopard
Eat at La Guarida
La Guarida, meaning “The Hideaway,” is arguably the best restaurant in Havana and is a must for your trip to Cuba. Despite it’s location inside an old crumbling mansion, La Guarida has a way of making you feel like you’re dining inside an incredibly magical and exclusive place. And you are. From the marble staircase leading into the restaurant, to the beautiful open patio overlooking Havana to the delicious, well-plated food… La Guarida is a dream.
I recommend making reservations here about two weeks in advance. You have to do it via email and have to confirm your reservation the day before – either in person or via email. La Guarida is one of the few places in Cuba that I found actually honored my reservation, so take it as seriously as a reservation in New York City and be there no later than 15 minutes after your reservation time.
By the way, Obama and Beyonce both ate here while in Havana, so you know it’s got to be good! 🙂
Go Salsa Dancing at Club 1830
You can’t visit Cuba without learning how to salsa! (or trying to learn salsa in my case…) The best place to do this in Havana is at Club 1830 (or “Jardines del 1830”). The exterior of 1830 is extravagant and beautiful, but the inside vibe is casual and fun. The locals are more than happy to show foreigners how it’s done, so don’t be scared to go if you don’t know how to salsa!
Spend a night out at Fabrica del Arte
Though nightlife in Havana does leave a lot to be desired, my night out at Fabrica del Arte was one of my favorite nights in Cuba and perhaps, one of my favorite nights of all time. Fabrica del Arte is a very interesting venue – it’s part art gallery, part live performance art, part bar and part club.
The front of Fabrica del Arte is a building with two floors containing a bar and multiple art installations. The back of the club is made up of cargo containers – one of them containing a nightclub with live music, the other a patio for hanging out and the other a restaurant, where you satisfy your late-night munchies with a sandwich or fries.
It’s impossible not to have an amazing time at Fabrica del Arte!
(Check here for photos! I didn’t bring a camera with me when I went.)
Wander the streets of Havana Vieja and Centro Havana
One of the best ways to enjoy Havana and to learn about the state of the country is to simply wander. While Havana Vieja directly translates to “Old Havana,” it’s actually the most recently renovated and touristy neighborhood in Havana. The streets of Old Havana are incredibly lively with street vendors and performers. There are a lot of paladares (privately owned restaurants), hotels and landmarks to check out while here – like the Capitol Building below.
If you want to get a better sense of Cuba’s economic situation and the daily lives of the Cuban people, take the time to wander around Centro Havana, a neighborhood that is often referred to as the “real heart of Cuba.” Centro Havana is located just West of the Capitol building and feels quite a bit more gritty, with far more crumbling and abandoned buildings. While the decrepit exterior and notable lack of tourists might make you feel uneasy, Centro Havana is very safe to wander through during the day, so I highly recommend taking the time to explore this part of Havana. It will give you a better sense of life in Cuba. And, if you speak Spanish, be sure to chat it up with a few locals! They are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
(Note: Every Cuban earns the equivalent of only $40/month, so maintaining and renovating buildings are not exactly a high priority. I will touch on the reality of life in Cuba in a later post.)
Drink a daiquiri at El Floridita
Though El Floridita has become an incredibly popular tourist spot, it is still worth stopping by to try what is known as Ernest Hemingway’s favorite daiquiri! El Floridita has a gorgeous interior, fantastic live music and photos & statues of Hemingway everywhere. If you want to avoid some of the crowds, I recommend getting here when they open around 10 am. And no, 10 am isn’t too early for a daiquiri in Cuba 😉
Drink a mojito at La Bodeguita del Medio
La Bodeguita del Medio is another touristy spot that I recommend you still take the time to visit. It’s a cool place for a couple of reasons. One, they claim to be the birthplace of the mojito. Two, many celebrities and artists have passed through this spot – as can be seen by the many framed photos of famous faces the walls.
Ride in a classic Cuban car
Everyone has seen photos of and been excited by the bright turquoise and bubblegum pink cars in Cuba. And yes, they are as amazing to ride in as you’d expect them to be!
I recommend finding a privately owned classic car once in Havana. Ask the driver for his number so that you’ll have someone to drive you around during your stay!
Watch the canons fire at 9 pm at El Morro
Every night at 9 pm, the canons fire at El Morro. I am not entirely clear on why, but this is a nightly event that hundreds and hundreds of people come out to witness. During your visit, you’ll want to be here at least once.
I recommend arriving to the Malecon near El Morro around 8 pm to join in on the celebrations beforehand. Bring a beer or two, sit on the Malecon and enjoy the festivities!
Dance at La Casa de la Musica
Another of my favorite nights in Havana was spent at La Casa de la Musica in Miramar. In comparison to Fabrica del Arte, La Casa de la Musica seemed to be far less packed with tourists and had a much more local feel. Arrive here around 9 pm with friends, buy a bottle from one of the two bars and get dancing! There’s a good chance a local will try to dance salsa with you – go with it! There’s no better time to learn how to salsa than with a local Cuban. 🙂
Make sure that you go to the location in Miramar, not in Centro Havana! The Miramar location is where all of the locals go.
Take the bus to Santa Maria Beach
If you don’t feel like making the trip to Varadero, Santa Maria Beach is only 20 minutes away and a perfect way to experience the same white-sand beaches and turquoise waters. While there, lounge on the sand and enjoy food & drinks from the nearby restaurants.
To see the location of all of these places, download the Cuba Travel Guide app! You can navigate the entire city of Havana while offline. It was a serious lifesaver for me during my trip.
For more tips about traveling to Cuba, read this post.
Have you been to Cuba yet? If so, what was your favorite part of Havana?
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