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8 Great Things to Do in Havana Cuba
Only 90 miles South of Key West and under an hour flight from Miami, Havana awaits you. There is no other city like Havana. With its explosion of color and contrasts from the old, crumbling buildings to the world famous, pristine 1950’s American classic cars, Havana is fascinating. It is a bustling city, full of life, and considered an artistic hotbed.
With nearly 30 trips under my belt to Havana in the last five years, let me share with you 8 great things to do in Havana Cuba.
Explore Old Havana’s Four Squares on Foot
With Old Havana’s narrow, cobblestoned streets, the best way to experience it is on foot. Wear comfortable shoes and bring a hat or parasol for shade. You can do it all in one day, but take your time to peek into stores as well as buy street snacks like mani (peanuts), churros (fried dough), or fresh coconuts.
The best route is to start in Plaza de San Francisco, admiring the church, and touching the beard of a bronze statue called El Caballero de Paris (The Gentleman of Paris) for good luck. Shortly, you will pass the aqueduct and arrive at the most colorful square, Plaza Vieja (Old Square). Don’t miss the opportunity to take a load off and experience the best café cubano in all of Havana at El Escorial.
For those with a sweet tooth, stop in el Museo de Chocolate (Chocolate Museum) for an assortment of dulces (sweets). Then get a bird’s eyes view from the rooftop terrace of Hemingway’s Ambos Mundos Hotel for great photos and preview of Cathedral Square. The Cathedral is worth a visit inside, but most continue up the street for liquid inspiration at another Hemingway haunt—Bodeguita del Medio, for a refreshing mojito. As a finale, meander around Plaza de Armas (Arms Square), which has a daily book fair with books in Spanish and English as well as posters, memorabilia, and more.
Take in One Show if Not Two
Music, art, dance, and rhythm are components of Cuban life. So much so, many would say every Cuban is a musician, artist, poet, or dancer. It is as if creativity is a part of Cuban DNA. On a visit to Havana, it would be a sin to return without experiencing at least one show.
For those that are looking for Buena Vista Social Club entertainment in the style of Compay Segundo and Ibrahim Ferrer, there are various shows and performances around town. My two favorites are Guarijido or Café Taberna for 30-40CUC ($35-$45 for show and drinks). If you are in the mood to be blown away by a combination of Cuban music, dancing, and costumes, you must go to the Tropicana. However, be warned the tickets are pretty pricey at 80-90 CUCs per person (roughly $90-$100 for show and drinks). That price gets you quite a bit of rum and mixers as well as a YOLO experience. If you are more of a jazz lover without the need for dancers and the whole production, there are two clubs worth visiting—Jazz Café and La Zorra y El Cuervo.
FAC – Fabrica de Arte Cubano (Cuban Art Factory)
The Cuban Art Factory is a relatively new addition to Havana’s scene. This factory turned into art and entertainment space is a Havana must see. Open Thursday through Sunday nights, this unique space is a walking art gallery of multi-media exhibits as well as a venue for music, film, and dance performances. For an entrance of 2 CUC (roughly $2.30), it is a blend of both Habaneros (locals to Havana) and visitors. There are various bars as well as small cafes throughout, but none take cash. Upon arrival you receive a passport, which serves as your exit pass, but also as your bill. You pay for what you have consumed on the way out.
Convertible Car Ride
No trip to Havana would be complete without a convertible car ride. Although the outsides of the cars are shiny, don’t be fooled. Under the hoods, most of the cars have been jury-rigged. Without the ability to import parts, many engines have been adapted to Hyundai diesel engines or a hodgepodge of engine parts from 1970s and 1980s Russian Ladas and Mosoviches. A spin around town for thirty to forty-five minutes will cost 30-45 CUC (roughly $35-$50). Always agree to a price before getting in any taxi, whether an old classic car or other. Pick up some of the best classic convertibles at Plaza de Armas, Plaza de San Francisco, or in front of the Capitol.
Brewery at the Port of Havana
With craft breweries taking the world by storm, it is no surprise that a brewery has popped up in Havana’s harbor. Adjacent to the San José market—which sells every souvenir you would want to buy: guayaberas (Cuban four packet shirts), t-shirts, paintings, bongos, jewelry, Cuban hats, and more—there is Havana’s newest brewery called El Almacen de Madera y Tobaco (Wood and Tobacco Warehouse). This converted warehouse is now a trendy restaurant, bar, and music venue. The best beer in Havana by far is at the port. Even Obama had a beer at the Almacen de Madera y Tobaco.
Nacional Hotel for Cuban Sandwich and Mojito
The iconic and historic Nacional Hotel, built in 1930, is a Havana must see, whether you are coming to Havana on a cruise or staying in a different Havana hotel. From its grand lobby and its Hall of Fame Bar showcasing all of the global stars that have graced the hotel to its amazing view of Havana’s port and fortress, it would be wise to spend an afternoon and perhaps a sunset at the Nacional. If you want the best Cuban sandwich outside of Florida, order one on the veranda of the Nacional. Warning: the sandwiches are big enough for two persons.
What started as one artist’s dream to make mosaics on his home has gone viral throughout his neighborhood of Jaimanitas. Over more than twenty years, Jose Fuster has been creating mosaics in a style that most would classify as a Cuban Gaudi. His home is an ornate, three-story piece of art, covered from garage and pool to terrace and roof with Cuban inspired mosaics, including images of palm trees, icons from the Afro-Cuban religion, roosters, and more. His art has spread into the neighborhood with his mosaics covering street corners, facades of the bus stops, neighbors’ homes, and even street signs. Fuster and his team of nearly a dozen artists have changed this once fishing village to a playground for the eyes.
Walk the Malecón, the World’s Largest Sofa
The ocean boulevard, the Malecón, is where the Habaneros gather to socialize, fish, drink rum, listen to music, run, and people watch. It’s the place to meet your friends, family, and perhaps your lover. Groups will bring beer and rum while vendors will sell snacks, flowers, and more. To see the Malecón come alive, go to the busiest section, called La Rampa (23rd Street) and very close to the Nacional Hotel.
Although it is busy and crowded, it is safe to walk at night or during the day on the Malecón. Cubans are very friendly so do not be alarmed by their many questions or whistles. Just be smart, it is a city of 2 million people. Be alert like you would in New York City, Miami, or London.
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The world is traveling to Cuba. It is interesting to witness this island nation in transition. NOW is the time to go. Do not wait! Whether you travel to Havana on a cruise, a commercial flight, or with a tour group, you will be amazed. Discover for yourself the beauty and mystique of Havana, Cuba.
To learn more about Cuba before you go, check out Heidi’s book, Cubicle to Cuba.
**U.S. Travelers: You will need to obey the U.S. government’s travel regulations to Cuba. See the categories here. It is a cash only trip. No American credit or debit cards.**
Have you visited Cuba or is it on your travel wish list? Please add your tips and suggestions for things to do in Havana Cuba. Happy travels!
Article by Heidi Siefkas. Originally from small-town Wisconsin, Heidi hangs her hat in South Florida. However, as an adventurer, she’s rarely home for long. In fact, your best bet is to find her in Cuba. Also, Heidi is a speaker, creator of the mantra Look Up, and author of three inspirational, non-fiction books When All Balls Drop, With New Eyes, and Cubicle to Cuba. Follow her adventures and be inspired at www.heidisiefkas.com