Havana could quite easily be described as the heartbeat of Cuba. With stunningly preserved 18th century architecture, la ramba reverberating through the streets, and antique cars zipping through the alleys, this city is like none other. It’s loud, crowded, dirty, sometimes smelly but always enchanting. You’ll find you can wander through the streets for hours and still find something captivating lingering at every corner.
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1. Get Lost in La Habana Vieja (The Old Havana Old Havana)
I strongly feel the best way take in a city like Havana is just to throw the map to the side and get lost for a bit. La Habana Vieja is set up like a grid, so don’t worry, when you start to get concerned with your whereabouts, it’ll be easy to get pointed in the right direction again.
Wander. Explore. You’ll find this city is more photogenic than Marilyn Monroe.
2. Enjoy a Coffee at Café el Escorial
Located in my favorite plaza, Plaza Vieja, you’ll find the lovely Café el Escorial. With quaint outdoor seating available, this spot is very European in style. It’s also quite popular. I patiently waited around 30 minutes for seating outside to enjoy my coffee. The café con leche (coffee with milk) is delicious, but they also serve coffee liqueurs and pastries and cakes to accompany your beverage.
3. Wander through the Markets
When traveling, I always seem to stumble upon cute little food markets. Or maybe I always have food on the brain and I subconsciously seek them out…? Whatever the reason, this vegetable and fruit market was a fun little find.
4. Salsa Dance the Night Away
Honestly though, have you seen Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights? Salsa (and music in general) is deeply ingrained in the blood of every Cuban. As one local enthusiastically told me, “all of Cuba dances!”. Try Fábrica de Arte Cubano (F.A.C.), located in Vedado, for a chance to let your inner Cuban come out.
I also recommend eating dinner on the rooftop of El Cocinero first (a neighbor to Fábrica de Arte Cubano), before enjoying a night out on the town! (See #9)
5. Stroll Along the Malecon
Cuban love the Malecon! It’s an 8km (5 mile) long seawall running from Habana Vieja through Centro Habana, ending in Vedado.
It gets pretty exciting when the ocean is a bit turbulent and the waves crash against the seawall, spilling over into the streets.
6. Try Cuban Beers
Okay, if you are a craft brew drinking beer snob…you won’t be impressed. And I would put myself in that category, so don’t feel bad. But when in Cuba, you gotta give it a go. The three most popular beers in Cuba are Presidente, Cristal, and Bucanero. And you’ll find them everywhere. Similar to Budweiser or Heineken, you’ll find them light and refreshing after walking around in the Cuban heat.
7. Visit Fusterlandia
I honestly did not have enough time to visit this artistic enclave, but if I did, I would have made it happen. Recommended by a friend, this little pocket of Havana is an artistic blend where Gaudí meets Picasso. Created by Cuban artist Jose Fuster, he set out to turn his house (and later neighborhood) into a colorful mosaic masterpiece. And I would say Havana is thankful for his creativity.
8. Walk the Prado
You might be wondering, what’s a Prado? Formally called Paseo del Martí, but locally simply referred to as “Prado”. This street is a grand tree lined promenade similar to those found in Paris or Barcelona.
9. The Rooftops for Dinner
Is there a better way to enjoy your meal than from a birds-eye view of the city? I’ll leave that one as rhetorical. 😉 There are a few options to choose from. The Hotel Ambos Mundos, located in the Habana Vieja, is a popular choice for drinks. Another fun find is the rooftop of El Cocinero located in Vedado.
What used to be an old oil factory, now this trendy new restaurant is on the up and up for tourist and locals alike
10. Partake in the “Hemingway Experience”
You’ll find Hemingway’s influence all over Cuba, but the two most popular bars to tick off your Hemingway list are:
- El Floridita (Little Florida)
This is THE place for a daiquiri. Overpriced and crowded, you’ll find this spot to be a fun and jubilant atmosphere with live music and excited tourists.
- La Bodeguita del Medio
Come here for the mojitos! From the outside, this place looks like a dive bar. You’ll find people signing their autograph on the outside of the building and at all times of day it’s pretty busy. Sure, there are places where the mojitos are cheaper and arguably better, but again, it’s all for the experience.
11. Enjoy a Glass of Cuban Wine
I do realize that wine is not what comes to mind when you think of a vacation getaway in tropical Havana, Cuba. And I also fully recommend you enjoy a daiquiri, mojito, or just straight rum during your stay…but it would be a shame to miss out on Cuban wine. Quite the wino myself, I was very pleased with the white wine by Soroa deriving from the Artemisa province.
Side note: I didn’t get a chance to try the red or rosé, but I would imagine they are equally as tasty.
12. View the Capitolio Nacional at Sunset from Calle Teniente Rey (Teniente Rey Street)
Nope, this isn’t just some generic piece of advice. Trust me when I say, the view of el Capitolio from this specific street in the Habana Vieja is simply, dreamy. I stumbled up on Teniente Rey after strolling through the Plaza Vieja. When I looked up and saw the capital building against the soft sunset colors, I literally gasped and grabbed my camera for a photo.
To further enjoy the view, have dinner on the patio of Santo Angel, which looks out at Calle Teniente Rey.
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Over to you! What do you recommend in Havana, Cuba?