22 Exciting Things to do in Havana, Cuba (Off-The-Beaten-Path Experiences and More)
Havana, Cuba is filled with stunning architecture, amazing people, and a culture like no other. Visiting Havana gives you a chance to step back in time and enjoy the simple things in life. But of course, with all of the amazing things to do in Havana, it can be hard to know where you can best spend your time.
Sure, you can ride in a vintage topless car and tour Old Havana – but there’s more to this city than that.
Havana wouldn’t be the same without its people, its music, and its folklore. Get to know the roots, the ideology, and the feelings of Cuban people. Only then you’ll realize that there is much more to discover than rum, cigars, and beautiful beaches.
Of course, it all boils down to how you want to spend your time there.
I was lucky enough to spend more time in Havana than most. I experienced a side of the city that many often miss. For that reason, I’ve written this blog which includes the typical tourist attractions of Havana as well as the lesser-known local secrets that you won’t want to miss in order to fully understand Havana and its unique charm.
So here we go, 22 fun things to do in Havana, Cuba including unique experiences and popular bucket-list activities!
1. Ride in a vintage car
Cuba is famous for vintage cars and riding in one will make you feel like you stepped back in time. After the embargo set by the United States, Cuba could no longer import foreign vehicles. This meant that any cars present before the ban had to be used indefinitely.
Even to this day, Cuba is full of old classic cars, and riding in one is a great way to see the city! The drivers offer all sorts of tours and prices. We opted for a trip to the beach to check out the coastline. We cruised down the highway in an old Ford with the top down and the wind in our hair. And for just a little while, imagined myself back in the sixties!
This is one of the most popular of the things to do in Havana hands-down.
Prices start at $50 USD per hour, however, I would not pay this. With a little bit of negotiating, you can easily get a car for $25 USD. That being said, this can be dependent on the time of day (and if there is a cruise ship in town which increases prices.)
The best time to take a tour is in the afternoon. At this time, the temperatures are cooler and the drivers are less busy. One day at 5 pm I was offered 1.5 hours for $20 USD in a really nice convertible.
2. Enjoy food with a view at La Torre
La Torre is a state-run restaurant located on the top of the Focsa building, which means it offers a stunning panoramic view of Havana! You can spot the Malecon below and watch the weaves of the Atlantic sea crash. It’s like seeing the city through a telescope and makes for the perfect place to enjoy a meal with a view.
My best advice is to visit at sunset when you can watch the sky light up with a mojito in hand.
The food at La Torre is also really delicious. They really know their stuff when it comes to seafood and I personally recommend trying one of their lobster or tuna dishes.
3. Take photos at Fusterlandia
Fusterlandia (also known as Casa de Fuster) is the home studio of the artist José Fuster. Located in the small seaside town of Jaimanitas, Fusterlandia has become an Instagrammer’s dream. With colorful tiles everywhere, Fusterlandia makes for unique photo opportunities.
But it’s not only his house that’s a fest of colorful mosaic figures, but also the surrounding neighborhood. The artwork spills out onto the streets of Jaimanitas making it quite the area to explore.
But that’s not all. The area hosts a small beach that’s a sweet hidden spot where locals hang out and drink beer with some music in the background.
Getting there: You can reach Fusterlandia by taxi (about a 25-minute ride from Old Havana) or take the hop-on-hop-off tourist bus. If you do decide to take a taxi, be sure to negotiate a price ahead of time!
4. Dance the night away at Kingbar
If you want to get out of your seat and dance, go here! From Reggaeton to Salsa, House, or Electronic, you can expect any kind of music that is devoted to shaking your body until you can’t anymore at Kingbar!
This friendly venue is often referred to as a restaurant, but it is actually a combination of eatery, bar, and dance floor. The space for dancing is not huge, which allows room for classic Cuban hand-to-hand contact. If that’s not your thing, you can always stand by the bar or sit outside in the restaurant area. But there is no harm in a bit of real human interaction, right?
And by the way, you don’t have to know how to dance, so no excuse! Give yourself permission to fully enjoy a night out in the vibrant Havana, with the rhythm of Kingbar. A night out dancing is one of the best things to do in Havana.
Getting there: Kingbar centrally located in Old Havana and can be found using Google maps. Alternatively, you can find lots of great dance venues around Havana by just going for a wander and following your ears!
5. Wander the streets in Central Havana
This was one of my favorites out of all of the things to do in Havana! The streets around the city are beautiful and with so many interesting characters around you won’t get bored.
Unfortunately for most visitors, they only visit Old Havana and miss out on the chance to see the “real Havana”. So if you want to see how the locals live then you must leave the tourist area and head towards Central Havana.
Central Havana, although a little run down, is really safe. The streets are filled with kids playing, cheap local restaurants, and friendly locals. Walking this area gave me a true insight into the lives of Cubans and their laid-back no-fuss attitude made me smile at every corner.
You can walk from Old Havana directly to Central Havana. The two neighborhoods are right next to each other.
When you visit Central Havana be sure to check out Callejón de Hamel. This street is full of murals and artwork that depicts the religious roots that shape the Afrocuban culture. Here, you can learn about the deities (gods) and even get your fortune read by a Babalawo (a kind of psyche from the Yoruba religion). For a fun vibe, visit on Sundays at noon to dance “rumba y guaguancó”.
6. Step back in time at Cafe Fortuna Joe
Showcasing the essence of Cuba, the island stuck in time, this vintage café makes you feel like a character of a ’50s movie. Whether you sit in a pedestal bathtub, a cushioned toilet, or a twenty-century horse carriage, you will feel like you’re somewhere special (as opposed to just any old cafe.)
The antique typewriters and archaic Zenit cameras, hang on the walls to tell a story of a country that recycles to create art. This cafe is more than just a place to eat and drink, but it’s an experience of its own offering antiques everywhere you look.
To me, visiting Cafe Fortuna Joe is a must-visit attraction in Havana. Visit for a coffee, snack, lunch, or even just a beer, but stay for the antiques and unique setting.
7. Smoke a Cuban cigar
Famous for having some of the best cigars in the world and with an embargo that made them rare and also illegal to the rest of the world, smoking a Cuban cigar is one of the best things to do in Havana.
Even if you don’t smoke (I hate smoking and the thought of cigarettes makes me sick) you need to try a cigar. With the right cigar, it can be quite enjoyable. A local tip is to use some of Cuba’s famous organic honey to cover the end you smoke from. This provides great flavor, stops the end from getting soggy, and also filters the cigar smoke. This technique is perfect for first-timers.
When buying cigars you need to be careful with what you buy. Cuba is filled with great quality cigars but in Havana, there are also lots of low-quality cigars that are used to catch tourists paying way too much.
If you are not a cigar expert then going to an authorized government seller is the best option. La Casa del Habano is always a good store that you can trust.
One tip I learned while there is that if you can pull small chunks of tobacco out of the end (like a cigarette) then you got sold a cigar not worth more than $0.25. Real cigars are made from whole tobacco leaves (not little chunks) so if you’re a little suspicious ask the seller to prove it!
Although you can get good cigars in Havana, a trip to Vinales (the cigar region of Cuba) is well worth it. Here, a local grower can show you what to look out for and the best way to smoke a cigar.
Hot tip: Another small tip is to never believe a street guy who tells you it is the salsa festival. He will go on to explain that locals get cigars cheap that day so he can buy them for you. This is a scam! And the only thing you will end up with is some overpriced fake cigars.
8. Eat at the local ice cream joint
Back in the day, Coppelia was the venue where Cubans would go on a romantic date. Today, Copelia is still one of the most visited-by-locals spots in the capital. Cheap and delicious ice cream worthy of a two-hour queue. What?! Yes. Throughout the day you will see Cubans standing outside the parlor, waiting their turn to get in. For some of them, that ice cream might be their lunch.
Now don’t freak out, if you want to skip the line, go at 10 am and be one of the first. Make sure to have local currency (CUP) as they don’t accept CUCs (1 CUC = 1 USD). With that amount, you get around 2 scoops and few flavors to choose from. Not bad, right?
9. Stay in a Casa Particular
If you want to grasp an authentic Cuban vibe, skip the fancy hotels and stay in a “casa” (home) with a family instead. I’ll give three reasons why you should stay in a “casa particular” instead of a hotel.
First of all, living with locals is what will give meaning to your trip. You get to learn so much from their reality. Your hosts will become your family because that’s the only way they know. No internet or Netflix will keep your attention. So, expect to experience real human interaction. What is not to like about that?!
Also by staying in a private house, you are also contributing to the local economy directly. You might be surprised when you go and see the scarcity in the stores. Basic things that we usually take for granted in our countries, might be a luxury in Cuba (like toilet paper for example.) Everything is 10x more difficult, so, why not ease a bit of their hustle by staying in their casa?
If the first two reasons weren’t enough, this one must be. It will be way cheaper for you. Most of the hotels in Havana are pretty costly (see average prices here). A Cuban home will provide you with much more value for much less money.
When Dan and I went backpacking in Cuba we stayed in Casas the entire time. Not only did we find them to be cheaper than hotels, but they were clean, friendly, and made for a really comfortable stay. We made friends with our hosts, often ate their food, and made friends with other travelers also staying in the casa.
Booking tip: Most casas are not available to book online in advance. You can sometimes find one or two on Booking.com or Airbnb, but for the most part, you just show up. Casas are always signed and you can find many of them just by walking around. Taxi drivers also know the location of many casas (although they’ll often tell you the price is more than it actually is to cover their “finders fee.”)
10. Go on a Free Walking Tour
Like in most cities around the world, Havana has a few free walking tours that can help you see the city for only a small tip (one of the cheapest things to do in Havana.)
I went with a company called “Free Tour Havana” but there are many other companies that offer tours. Free Tour Havana offers two different free walking tours.
One takes you all around through the city then to the outskirts where you can visit Che Guevara’s house and the Christ statue that looks over Havana (more on that below.) This tour provides lots of info on the history as well as great restaurants and bars. It also gives you some amazing views of Havana. The other tour is more focused on the old town of Havana and takes you around the old buildings giving you more information about the city itself.
The first tour starts at 10 am and the second at 2 pm. Both leave from the main plaza in Old Havana, just lookout for a red umbrella that the tour guide will be holding.
Havana is hot so be prepared for the weather. Most of the tour is spent in the sun and the first tour involves a lot of walking. Both tours run for about 3 hours so take plenty of water and don’t forget your camera!
11. Drink coffee at Café Galería Mamainé
Café Mamainé is one of the coziest little cafes in Havana; where paint and coffee meet in one little cafe. Located in the hipster Vedado neighborhood, this local cafe doubles as an art gallery. That’s right, you can enjoy your coffee while checking out all of the local art!
The art in the cafe is for sale – did you say souvenir?! But besides that, the coffee is delicious and the cafe also serves local food dishes that are reasonably priced. This cafe is one place to check out while you’re in Havana.
12. Take in Views of Havana from Central Park Hotel
Central Park Hotel in the main plaza of Old Havana offers breathtaking views from its upstairs lounge. And the best part s that you don’t need to stay at this overly expensive hotel to enjoy the view for yourself!
Walking around one day we noticed that the rooftop bar and pool faced the perfect direction and was blocked by no other buildings. So, one night we just walked into the hotel, went straight to the elevator, and went up to the top floor. No one even questioned us (we weren’t sure if outside visitors were allowed on this floor) and wow, it was worth it. The place is fancy and we prepared ourselves by wearing some nice clothes (trying to blend in.)
We bought a couple of glasses of wine and enjoyed the evening poolside at a hotel in which we weren’t staying.
Other Info/Tips – When you enter the Hotel simply turn left, this is where the elevators are. If you hit the restaurant you have gone too far). From there, floor 8 goes to the pool and bar. Although very expensive for food, you can get a local beer for $3 USD.
13. Listen to a local band play live music
Cuba is world renowned for lively music. When just walking the streets in Havana it was impossible not to be drawn into venues with large bands playing. These bands are interactive, get the crowd dancing, and often sell their own personal CDs (I know, a little old school – but it’s Cuba right!)
One venue, in particular, to check out is Café-Teatro Bertolt Brecht. It’s an underground venue that opens its doors to welcome popular Cuban bands. It’s a very intimate space where the musicians hang out with the audience like nowhere else. Even though there is no dance floor, there is no need either! As long as there is a spot to stand, there is room to dance.
For only 5 CUC, you’ll get the best contemporary Cuban musicians playing live for you, in a super relaxed atmosphere. And if you’re a theatre lover, they’ve got your back too on the upper level as the cafe is actually located beneath a theatre.
14. Go for a bike ride in Havana’s Forest
I bet you didn’t know that there is a forest right in the city of Havana. That’s right, Havana’s Forest (Bosque de La Habana) offers visitors the chance to wander through a forest without having to go far at all.
The “enchanted forest” as it’s known is one of the most beautiful urban parks I’ve ever visited. It’s located between the neighborhoods of Vedado and Miramar, along the Almendares River.
The park was envisioned and designed by Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier, the landscape architecture of the Eiffel Tower’s gardens. Of course, you can always hire one of the fancy American cars, but riding a bicycle on a bike tour is even more fun. So grab a bike and get lost in that green spectacle.
15. Wander the Malecon
Without a doubt one of the best things to do in Havana is to stroll the Malecon up and down, allowing the waves of the sea shower you as they crash up against the Malecon wall. Walking alongside this avenue is the best way to meet locals. Here, you might find them sitting, singing, or fishing. Dare to speak to them, odds are that you will end up invited to a delicious creole homemade dinner.
Walking the Malecon also offers its own range of things to see and explore. There are countless statues and monuments including the Tribuna Antiimperialista, the Morro Lighthouse, and a whole lot more. You can find a bar to have a drink and enjoy the sunset, or just walk the entire 8 kilometers (5 miles) stretch from one end to the other.
16. Enjoy the cityscape from the Christ statue
Take the ferry in Old Havana’s harbor and go to the Casablanca neighborhood to grasp a fantastic view of Havana’s bay and the old town.
Sponsored by Batista president, since 1958 the Christ Statue has been overlooking Havana, blessing its waters and its people. It’s a place for people to admire the statue itself while also taking in the view from just behind it.
Around the area of the Christ, you will also find the fortress San Carlos de la Cabaña, which hosts “El cañonazo de las nueve”, a traditional ceremony where artillery cadets dressed up in colonial style detonate an 18th-century canyon at 21:00. Originally, this was a warning sign for locals to remain safe from pirates’ attacks. But today, it’s just a ceremony.
17. Ride in an open-air bus
Havana has two open-air bus routes that take you around the city with a hop-on-hop-off pass. Riding on one of these buses is not only fun (felling the wind in your hair) but also makes for a practical way to get around.
Route T1 takes you through old Havana and new Havana with some great stops like the Monument de Revolution.
Route T3 takes you to the beach and has a lot fewer stops.
I highly recommend Route T1, it really helped me see the city on a budget and the views from the bus were amazing. The journey on Route T1 takes about an hour to complete without stopping, but with some amazing things to see along the way, this activity can take most of the day. Once on the bus, it is easy to realize that there are many places and things to do in Havana.
Both buses leave from the main plaza, here you will find 2 bus stops. If you can’t find them just ask one of the local guys. On the front of each bus is its particular route (either T1 or T3.)
Tickets are bought from the bus driver directly and don’t need to be purchased in advance. Route T1 is $10 USD and Route T3 is $5 USD. Both bus routes start at 9:50 am and finish at 6 pm (running in a continuous loop throughout the day), although I have heard that in high season they can start earlier and finish later.
If you need more info head to The Plaza Hotel. There is a tourist information desk in the lobby and they have tons of information.
18. Visit the Cuban Art Factory
The Cuban Art Factory (Fábrica de Arte Cubano) is a unique fusion of a nightclub, concert venue, bar, theatre, cinema, restaurant, and art gallery. I haven’t seen anything like anywhere, and chances are that you haven’t either.
Though not so much off the beaten path anymore due to its popularity, it’s a gem you don’t want to miss out on. The synchronicity of all arts and spaces will blow your mind. The Cuban Art Factory is another example of how Cubans manage to repurpose old things, to create astonishing pieces of artwork.
What is more, the entry fee is only 2 CUC (2 USD!) Are you an introvert, an outgoing person, or a kill-the-party one? No worries, you’ll find your spot there. Guaranteed!
Bear in mind that the whole venue closes doors quarterly to renovate, changing the interior design and exhibitions. So, if you’re in Havana in January, May, or September, you won’t make it.
19. Eat at El Cuarto de Tula
Many would recommend La Guarida restaurant, and that’s fair, the place is stunning. But in my opinion, nothing quite compares to El Cuarto de Tula. This homie paladar in Central Havana will delight you with exotic dishes and cocktails. The staff goes far and beyond to put a smile on our face and ensure you enjoy your time at this cozy restaurant.
The name originates from a famous song by the iconic Buena Vista Social Club. Tells the story of Tula, whose room caught on fire because she fell asleep!
You can find El Cuarto de Tula’s location on Google maps and they are open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! Oh, and the prices are very reasonable!
20. Visit the Chocolate Museum
Although not really a Museum and more of a coffee shop, the Museo de Chocolate was a great place to try some organic locally made chocolate. The chocolate is made on the premises and the beans are all grown in Cuba.
The price for a hot chocolate at $0.60 CUC – you can’t find any cheaper than that! I highly recommend getting the Iced chocolate, it was simply amazing and only cost $1 USD. You can also buy chocolate bars in all sorts of shapes and sizes including vintage car shaped ones!
Other Info/Tips – The Museo de Chocolate is located in Old Havana and is easy to find on Google Maps. Havana offers many other great Museums including the Havana Club Rum Museum and the Museo de la Revolution so check those out too!
21. Go to the beach
Havana isn’t Varadero, and it isn’t well-known for beaches. But that’s not to say you can’t visit a gorgeous beach or two during your stay in Havana. That’s right, it’s entirely possible to have a day at the beach while you’re in Havana.
The most popular and beautiful beach near Havana is called Playa del Este. This beach is located 26 kilometers from Old Havana and can be easily reached via a taxi or the hop-on-hop-off bus (route T3.)
Once at Playa del Este, you’ll be met with a beautiful white sandy beach. The beach is never very busy which makes it more relaxing. Rent a chair for the day and let the waiters find you to enjoy beachside cocktails and lunch.
22. Go to Vinales
I loved Vinales. This cute countryside town offered a side to Cuba that Havana simply didn’t. Between the farms, caves, and horses I had a wonderful time exploring all of the different things to do in Vinales.
Truth be told, I spent 3 nights in Vinales to really get a grasp on the area. However, if you don’t have that kind of time to spare, you can also visit Vinales on a day trip from Havana.
Vinales is about a 2.5-hour drive from Havana. You can take a bus such as the ViaZul or Cubacan but they do take longer than just getting a taxi. My best advice would be to jump on a guided day tour or hire a private driver (in a vintage car of course) and get him to take you Vinales for the day and then back again.
Regardless of how you visit, don’t miss out on Vinales. It truthfully is one of the reasons I visited Cuba and one of my favorite place!
Before you go…
I hope this blog has helped inspire you to explore Havana, Cuba with all of the different things to do and see! Havana is unique and unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. I hope you find it as beautiful and interesting as I did!
If you found this blog helpful, then be sure to check out the remainder of our Cuba blog articles. Otherwise, we have a few great related reads listed below:
Thanks for reading!
November 25, 2020