So the rumours are true, Havana is just as wonderful as everyone say it is. At first glance, you would believe it’s an abandoned and crumbling city but it is anything but. The narrow cobbled alleys are humming with activity. As we weaved between the locals going about their day, dodged rickshaws, fruit vendors and playing children. The sound of beating drums and the allure of even more colourfully lined cobbled paths ahead served as our only guide.
There’s an energy and vibrancy that runs as an undercurrent through Old Havana that no photo seems to capture. While the visuals are striking, it’s the combined impact on your other senses that create your future favourite reminisces.
This must-see guide to Havana will ensure Old Havana ignites all your senses.
Top Things To Do In Havana
Let the labyrinth of cobbled alleyways guide you through Havana, into the plazas, through the old parks and past the multitude of colourful classic cars. The capital city of Cuba is Havana and it is a massive city. It’s divided into two areas Old Havana (La Habana Vieja) and New Havana (Vedado) with Old Havana being the more captivating and touristy side.
Free Walking Tour
Old Havana is best explored and experienced on foot. Start your time in the city by going on a walking tour to get a lay of the land and a deeper understanding of life in Havana. There are various walking tour companies with tours starting at various times but they are all led by locals. This will give you insight into the city’s history, fun facts and the guides point out the smaller details you could have easily passed by without a second glance.
Most tours last 2.5 – 3 hours and are free (tips at the end are greatly appreciated though)
City Tour in a Classic Car
Being chauffeured around the city in a shiny classic car, past some of Old Havanas most iconic landmarks is by far the best thing we did. The 1950’s style cars synonymous with Cuba are not only lining the streets exclusively for tourists. They really are everywhere, from the outskirts of the city to the beaches, these colourful relics can be spotted.
Almost all of them are taxis and can be flagged down for short journeys or take you on a city tour. A city tour ranges from 1-3 hours and there really is no shortage of colourful cars across Havana to select from, some look as if they held together with duct tape and a pray whilst others look as pristine as the day they left the showroom floor.
A 1-hour tour will typically cost you 50CUCs (you can attempt to negotiate if you wish). The driver will take you past some of the major city sites where you can get out take a few photos and the drivers are also more than happy to snap a number of photos of you in their car.
Ernest Hemingway, the great American novelist had a deep love for Cuba and called it home for many years. His favourite watering hole the Floridita is also the place he claims has the best daiquiri’s and is still open today with lines of tourists waiting to grab a drink at this hotspot.
And then there is the La Bodeguita del Medio, through a simple small joke and many years of clever marketing later, now claim to serve Hemingway’s favourite mojito (but historians say Hemingway was never a mojito drinker!?). But regardless the bar is vibrant, quirky and always packed.
No trip to Havana would be complete without a stroll along the 8km seawall – the Malecon. This strip serves as a central meeting point for all, fisherman, musicians, locals and tourists, creating a vibrant and eclectic mash-up of things to experience
Mojito at Hotel National
This architectural landmark and luxury hotel overlooks the Malecon and is famed for being the place the maffia sipped mojitos whilst plotting to overthrow the revolution. But it is now a truly wonderful place to sit under the shade of the palm trees, sip on a mojito, unwind and reflect on the sights of the day whilst the sky ignites over the sea at sunset.
We were blown away by the sheer size of the market and the volume of crafts on offer. Granted there is a lot of repetition, but the Almacenes San José Artisans’ Market is definitely the place to shops for Cuban arts and crafts memorabilia, from the usual tourist trinkets like magnets and bottle openers to handcrafted cigar boxes, crochets clothing, leather handbags and for us the best part was the collection of vivid and sometimes a little avant-garde artworks.
It’s a lovely walk along the harbour along the Paula Avenue, access to the market is free and opens daily from 10am.
Sitting outside under the night sky surrounded by luscious rainforest is the set for the magical cabaret show, Tropicana, Cuba’s most famous cabaret. With a full orchestra as the heartbeat of the show, the beautiful dancers in their extraordinary costumes salsa their way through a repertoire of songs for an uninterrupted 2-hour.
Tickets are not cheap, starting at 75CUCs and should you wish to take photos you need to pay an extra 5CUCs at the door.
People Watching in a Plaza
I love just stepping back, taking a moment and putting the camera down to just watch and be present. Whether it’s to enjoy an ice cream on the cathedral steps, a cocktail on a patio or a meal overlooking a plaza it’s the best way to truly appreciate where I am.
The introduction of private restaurant licenses in Cuba has ensured there is an abundance of little restaurants overlooking plazas and bistros with bustling patios across the city. There is always a menu (with an English translation) at the door or someone standing outside enticing you to take a seat at their restaurants. A true highlight was snagging a table for two on a balcony overlooking the Plaza Vieja. Sipping on my pina colada, the restaurant, Don Eduardo Alegre, was relaxed and in no hurry to turn our table as we people watched and waited for our lunch to arrive. I had a cheese sandwich whilst husband enjoyed grilled lobster, the food was tasty and the portions generous.
The longest and busiest boulevard in Havana. Obispo is a pedestrian-only road that serves as the main artery of the old quarter and it is alive with shops, art galleries, music and people. This is the place to entrench yourself in Havana city life. The street starts at the Floridita Bar and passes by a few souvenir store, bookstores, small shops, loads of restaurants and hole in the wall takeout joints.