I cannot remember a time I’ve fallen in love so instantly with a country. Even in the Philippines (my favourite country in the world) I had a disastrous start and nearly turned back! But from the moment I walked out the airport I loved Cuba. The colours, the noise, the hustle and bustle, the cars from the 30s, 40s and 50s as if the plane had not only transported me to another country but also back in time to another era.
How long to spend in Havana?
Some of you may already know but I’m British and my partner is American. This was one of our trips to see each other while visiting his family in Florida so we had time constraints and were only able to have 3 days in Havana. I think 3 days in Havana is fine, maybe 4 if you prefer to travel a bit slower than us. However we were gutted to not be able to have enough time to explore more of Cuba. We really would have loved to have got to know the country better, because there’s so much more to Cuba than just Havana. But it just means we’ll have to go back!
So whether you’ve got a few days in Havana or just a day trip from a cruise ship or from seeing the rest of Cuba, here’s what you can’t miss:
Classic Car Tour
You’re in Havana! It would be rude not to take the opportunity to drive around in one of those classic cars. We hired a classic convertible Chevy for two hours with a driver. It was the most expensive thing we did on our trip - expect to pay $30-$40 per hour depending on if it’s convertible or not. But it was so worth it to see the city and drive around areas we probably wouldn’t have seen without being in the car, plus the car was beautiful and so many photo ops!
Take a tour of Old Havana
Old Havana is my favourite area and it’s the very essence of Havana which is why I love it so much. If you have the opportunity to have a tour with a local, whether a private tour or the free walking tour, I really recommend it as it was so interesting to hear how the city has changed and developed from a local perspective as well as cultural quirks and anecdotes that you just wouldn’t get from walking around on your own.
If you do want to explore on your own, download an offline map before you arrive (there’s no easy internet access) and follow this route:
Start at El Floridita - the favoured bar of Ernest Hemingway
Walk along Obispo Street - this is the main tourist street, pedestrianised and full of life, music, souvenir stalls. Although it’s touristy, the atmosphere is amazing
Walk all the way down to Plaza de Armas, the oldest square in Havana, and admire the fortress and the old colonial buildings where previous governors were based as the defensive point of the city. There are also views across the bay.
Walk across to Plaza de la Catedral. This is the biggest Cathedral in Latin America and it’s free to go inside and look around.
Continue to Plaza de San Fransisco, with colourful buildings and cobbled streets as well as several sculptures.
Head down to Plaza Vieja. There are museums here and al fresco cafes if you need some refreshment
Continue down the harbour road. You can stop at the Museo del Ron here for a rum tour of the famous Havana Club rum museum.
Continue to San Jose Art Market - a huge warehouse full of local artisans selling their paintings, art work, wood work, souvenirs and more!
Where to grab lunch
There are cute restaurants and cafes everywhere in the main areas of Old Havana and we tried a few. For a light bite we loved Restaurant Oasis Nelva Cafe, great crepes, great coffee, local beer and great vibes. It’s attached to a cute plant nursery. Also a great place for vegetarian options.
Head to El Capitolio to watch the world go by
This was my favourite spot to watch all the classic cars go by. With the grand El Capitolio building which is based on the Capitol building in Washington, the white stone of the government buildings are a great contrast for all the colourful cars and the colourful buildings opposite. Make sure to use the opportunity to snap plenty of photos with the classic 40s and 50s cars.
Attractions to visit
If you have long enough in the city and enjoy museums and cultural attractions, here are my top ones:
Museo de la Revolućion - housed in the grand former palace, this is where to head for a historical exhibition on the Cuban revolution, the lead up and the aftermath
Museo del Ron - I already mentioned the rum museum but for a couple of dollars you get a decent tour and a tasting session at the end. Worth it if you want to know all about the famous Havana Club rum. (Note this is not the actual distillery where it is made)
Tour of El Capitolio - we didn’t do this but you can go inside the grand Capitolio building and see what was the old Cuban Congress and one of the biggest bronze statues in the world.
Take a taxi across the bay and visit the Parque Histórico Militar Morro-Cabaña and Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña. These fortresses have been significant in Cuba’s military history and in the Cuba revolution as Che Guevara used it for his headquarters. The maritime Museum is here and also an exhibition on the Missile Crisis. There is also the huge Christ of Havana status here and amazing views looking back across Old Havana - perfect for sunset.
Our favourite place for dinner was Mas Habana (so good we went back twice). We weren’t blown away with food in Havana on the whole but this restaurant was awesome with modern takes on Cuban staples as well as a great range of vegetarian dishes and tasty tapas dishes.
After dinner, it wouldn’t be a trip to Havana without visiting La Bodeguita del Medio - supposedly where the Mojito was founded, or El Floridita where Ernest Hemmingway frequented. These are obviously touristic spots though so we also liked to wander the streets and listen out for any live music then head to there for drinks!
Have you been to Havana? Let me know where your favourite spots were!