With an old-timey feel, Havana’s atmospheric colonial streets have definitely seen better days, although this only adds to the charm. The brightly colored buildings of Cuba’s capital could all do with a lick of paint, but that would probably only detract from the ambiance which Havana has in bucket loads.
Visitors will revel in the wealth of historic buildings on show. Its scenic plazas are a delightful place to while away the day, watching Cadillac’s trundle by and listening to the salsa that hypnotically plays over the airwaves.
Once a revolutionary hotbed, Havana now attracts more than its fair share of tourists, and visitors invariably come away impressed at the city’s amazing art and architecture. With sun, rum, and salsa, Havana’s scenic streets are intoxicating. Here are some of the not to be missed things to do in Havana when you’re hanging in Cuba.
Renowned around the world for its rum, the Museo del Ron located in the Havana Club will teach you how it is distilled – you’ll even get to do some taste testing.
The aging cellars of the colonial townhouse are beautiful. Your guide will show you how sugar cane turns into the potent drink that is so beloved by many.
With exhibitions on the history of rum in Cuba, the museum is interesting to visit even if you’re not a rum aficionado.
Located just under 20 kilometers from Old Havana, Playas del Este is a great spot if you want to get out of the city and lounge on the beach in the sun. It is a popular spot with local Cubans.
While the beaches themselves are lovely, there is a slightly decaying air about Playas del Este and the Soviet-esque hotels found here.
An authentic place with no airs and graces, Playas del Este is where you head to in Havana if you want to go to the beach.
Located in a beautiful building that was once the Presidential Palace, the Museo de la Revolucion will teach you all there is to know about the Cuban Revolution that has so shaped the island’s history.
Taking you through the build-up to the revolution and its aftermath, it is a fascinating museum to wander around, although English explanations are sadly lacking.
The elegant palatial rooms house memorabilia from the revolution, such as Che Guevara’s gun and cap. Outside is the Granma yacht, which brought the revolutionaries from Mexico to Cuba.
Surrounded by gray, government buildings from the 1950s, this huge square was conceived by the French Urbanist Jean Claude Frostier and built on the Loma de los Catalanes hill during the Batista era.
It has been the venue of many of the principal celebrations and events related to the Cuban Revolution. It was here that Fidel Castro – il Comandante – held so many of his political rallies, bringing the revolution to the people.
The name ‘Plaza De La Revolucion’ is therefore very fitting. It would be hard not to notice the giant Fidel Castro memorial that is emblazoned on the side of one building or the equally large one of Camilo Cienfuegos. To the north is the gigantic Jose Marti monument, which predates the revolution.
When gazing upon El Capitolio for the first time, you may have the sneaking suspicion that you’ve seen it before – you would be correct, as it is modeled on the famous US Capitol Building.
Hilariously, the Cubans made it just a little bit bigger than the one in the United States, just to show off what the Cuban Revolution was capable of. While it was once the seat of government, it now hosts the Cuban Academy of Sciences.
One of the most recognizable and famous landmarks in the city, you’ll certainly pass by El Capitolio at some point when visiting Havana.
With a beautiful viewpoint overlooking Havana, the historic Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana (to give the fort its full title) is one of the best spots to head to if you’re after a glorious sunset.
Completed in 1774, the fort complex is huge. The fortifications were once used to house Fidel and Raul Castro, who were imprisoned here, and Che Guevara later used it as his headquarters.
While watching the sun go down over the sea, don’t be alarmed if you hear the canons go off; they are fired every day at 9 PM to bring a close to another fantastic day in Havana.
With over 800,000 graves, the cemetery – named after Christopher Columbus – is fascinating to wander around. The elaborate tombs are beautifully sculpted and are artworks in themselves.
Crafted out of dazzlingly white stone, there are around 500 major mausoleums. Various parts of the cemetery are dedicated to poets and artists, while others feature politicians, baseball players, and musicians.
One of the most important cemeteries in Latin America due to the architecture on display and the renowned people buried here, such as Beatriz Allende and Alejo Carpentier, Cementario de Cristobal Colon is much more than just a cemetery.
Guarding the entrance to Havana Bay, Morro Castle was built in 1589. Over the course of its history, the Spanish, British and Cubans have all used it to protect and control Havana.
With its dry moat, canons and well-preserved walls, it is an interesting place to wander around. In the barracks, you can see how the soldiers would have lived.
From its ramparts, there are beautiful views out over the sea and Havana itself. Morro Castle is a popular tourist attraction in Havana with a wealth of history to explore.
Located in one corner of Plaza Vieja, Camera Obscura boasts one of the most unique and fascinating views of Havana.
Rather than a traditional viewpoint, you are treated to 360-degree views of Old Havana through a live image that is projected onto a dark screen; the optical device that facilitates this was invented by Leonardo Da Vinci.
Watching people going about their daily lives amongst the wealth of historical buildings is a captivating experience and makes Camera Obscura well worth checking out.
Now an artists’ paradise, Fusterlandia is the creation of Jose Fuster, who transformed his neighborhood into the brightly colored world we see today.
Starting out by decorating his own studio, the Cuban artist soon set to work on the buildings, bus stops, fountains and benches in the community; now, everything is covered in tiles and naïve art, which looks delightfully childlike and imaginative.
Wandering around is a delight to the senses. The area now attracts lots of tourists as well as other artists, who come here to set up shop and add their own artworks. Magic is definitely in the air in Fusterlandia.
The oldest square in the city, Plaza de Armas is so named because military exercises used to be practiced here. Now, it is a peaceful, palm tree-filled spot that hosts a daily secondhand book market.
Surrounded by grand buildings dating to the late 1700s, the center of the plaza is home to a delightful marble statue of the Cuban revolutionary hero Carlos Manuel de Cespedes.
Providing a welcome respite from sightseeing in Havana’s hot sun, reclining in the shade of Plaza de Armas’ palm trees will refresh you and leave you ready to see more of the city’s amazing sights.
Built in 1886 on a hill outside of Havana, Finca Vigia was home to the renowned novelist Ernest Hemingway. It has since been turned into a delightful museum about his life and works.
It was at Finca Vigia that he wrote many of his most famous books, such as The Old Man and The Sea and For Whom the Bell Tolls. The museum has lots of interesting memorabilia on display.
With a fantastic view of Havana, it is well worth a visit; many of the rooms look almost identical to how Hemingway left them.
Named after the Franciscan convent that was built here, Plaza de San Francisco de Asis dates to 1575 and started out as a market square, only later going on to host cockfights and card games during colonial times.
The expansive plaza is lined by impressive buildings that once hosted the wealthiest of Havana’s residents. Numerous restaurants can now be found here.
The baroque 18th-century Basilica is the undoubted highlight. From the top of its lofty tower, there are great views over the plaza.
The National Museum of Fine Arts is a treat to wander around. It hosts an extensive collection of Cuban art that takes you from colonial times right up to the present day.
Located in a palatial building, the art collection features some delightful landscape and religious paintings, as well as hyperrealist works by later generations, with pieces by Rene Portocarrero and Wilfredo Lam among the most popular.
At the museum’s entrance, visitors can find the intriguing Forma, Espacio y Luz modernist sculpture by Rita Lonja. After that, it is a whirlwind journey through the ages. Rafael Moreno’s surrealist Cuento rumano painting is just one fantastic artwork to keep an eye out for.
Beautiful to behold, Havana Cathedral dominates the Plaza de la Catedral in which it is located. It was completed in 1777.
Two asymmetrical bell towers flank the cathedral’s Baroque facade and various neoclassical features were added in later renovations. The cathedral used to host Christopher Columbus’s remains until they were moved to Sevilla.
The interior is just as lovely, with frescoes lying above the altar. The 1632 sculpture of Saint Christoper is one of the most impressive artworks at the site.
When Plaza Vieja was originally opened in 1559, it was known as New Square, though the weight of time now means it is one of the most historic places in Old Havana.
Plaza Vieja is ringed by delightful colonial facades dating back to various epochs. Wonderful Cuban baroque mansions can be found alongside elegant art nouveau buildings.
In its time, it has hosted everything from executions and bullfights to fiestas and teeming markets. The bars, restaurants, and cafes found in Plaza Vieja make it a popular place to head to.
Stretching for over eight kilometers, El Malecon is Havana’s main waterfront. Strolling along it while gazing out over the sparkling sea is a delightful way to spend an afternoon.
As it was slowly built over 50 years, the buildings and districts you pass subtly change, reflecting the different time periods in which they were built. Little cafes and Salsa bars are nestled away along the esplanade.
With old Cadillac’s trundling by and fishermen lining the waterfront, El Malecon is a scenic place with a lot of character. Sunsets are particularly splendid, as vivid yellows, reds, and oranges paint the buildings in the sun’s warm glow.
Named after the huge cathedral which dominates one side of it, Plaza de la Catedral is one of the main squares in Havana and is a lively place frequented by tourists and locals alike.
Once a swamp, the square has also been a naval dockyard over its long history. Now, grand mansions which have definitely seen better days line the plaza; there is a dilapidated charm to it.
In addition to the restaurants thronged with people, the wonderful Colonial Art Museum is also located here. One of the grandest buildings is the aptly named Palacio del Conde Lombillo, which is fronted by a statue of Antonio Gades – a renowned Flamenco dancer.
One of Latin America’s largest colonial centers, La Habana Vieja is the site where the city first took root in 1519. Wandering around Havana’s Old Town is a magical experience; brightly colored buildings greet you wherever you go and, while most of them have definitely seen better days, this only adds to the charm.
Getting lost amidst the winding streets is a must when in the city; you’ll certainly come across a plethora of enchanting spots that you won’t find in any guidebook.
With little traditional restaurants and atmospheric bars scattered here and there, as well as so much beautiful architecture and the sound of Salsa in the air, it is no wonder that La Habana Vieja is such a popular tourist destination.