Where to start when it comes to Havana? It's tough to find the words that encompasses this magnificent city. It's lively. It overloads the sense, in the best of ways. It's constantly shifting. And it's the kind of a place that charms and pulls at your heart on every turn.
The beat of a drum rings out across a sea of subtle beauty — this is Cuba, and if a dance party erupts during the day, then so we go. It seems to be the kind of a place where spontaneity coupled with an unreserved love for the arts defines the city as a hotspot for those searching for something new. It's brilliant. A new scene of privately-owned restaurants are changing the landscape and museums focused on the local artists, like Fábrica de Arte Cubano, are a sure sign of a contemporary change.
Whether you come to soak in a historic culture or come to indulge in an art scene that is sure to surprise, Havana offers an opportunity to step into an idyllic time.
The Immersive Guide to Havana, Cuba
What to Know Before Visiting Havana, Cuba
There's a lot you need to know before choosing to visit Cuba in general, and this post goes into great detail of the logistics of travel in Cuba. The information in this article pertains specifically to Havana.
- You will need CUC (local tourist currency) for payment.
- For getting around town, by foot is often the easiest. Or for a small fare local taxis, collectivos, or bicycle taxis can get you around.
- It should be noted to be aware of crumbling buildings, as our host forewarned us that we should watch where and under what we walk for safety concerns.
- Whenever you hear music, follow the sound to what will probably be a good dance party that often happens in the street. Trust me.
- Always carry small change and toilet paper for the times you may need a restroom break.
- The best WiFi that includes a drink is at Hotel Inglaterre.
- Wear good walking shoes and mind your step. (A post on good walking shoes.)
Where to Stay in Havana, Cuba
There's a wide variety of accommodations in Havana. There are large hotels, to hostels, to casa particulars. I really loved staying at a casa particular where it was owned by a local and supported the family. It's a more traditional way of experiencing Cuba, and provides an intimate experience.
This is the Airbnb my friend and I stayed in. It was in a great location, clean, and had good breakfast. There are hundreds of listings for Havana and I would recommended being in Havana Vieja for ease and proximity to the sights and main restaurants for a first time visit.
(P.S get $20 on your first Airbnb adventure by using this link to sign up!)
Where to Eat in Havana, Cuba
- El Chancullero: A hip, multi-level casual restaurant in Havana Vieja. Come here for classic dishes. To bypass the line, pass right and take the stairs to the rooftop bar for a smaller, tapas-style menu and drinks.
- Habana 61: Modern take on Cuban food in Havana Vieja.
- La Guadarilla: Undoubtedly the best restaurant in Havana, with an elevated dining experience with local ingredients and French preparations. The restaurant alone is an expereince, with an iconic staircase leading into a beautiful room. Try the marlin tacos and tuna tartare. *Reservations are needed a day or two in advance for lunch or dinner.
- Casa Los Amigos: Head here for what was one of Anthony Bourdain's favorite classic meals in Cuba.
- San Cristobal: A solid paladares option in Havana.
- Dona Eutimia: A good paladare known for ropa vieja with lamb.
- El Cocinero: A hip restaurant with cool bar next door to the famed Fábrica de Arte Cubano.
- El Floridita: Come here for a drink at Hemingway’s go-to daiquiri bar.
- Cafe Habana: A cheap and good spot for lunch or dinner in Havana Vieja with classic dishes.
What to Do in Havana, Cuba
- Take the walking tour from Lonely Planet — one of the best routes for hitting the main sights in Havana Vieja.
- Take a drive down the famous Malecón (sea wall) in a classic car.
- Experience the local artists at Fábrica de Arte Cubano that exists as a home to art and a nightclub.
- Explore the Museum of Revolution for a view into the history of Cuba.
- Walk the Paseo del Prado for the afternoon life.
- Salsa dance at spots like Florida Hotel, El Canon, or Asturias Night Club.
- See the Morro Castle for a tour or just sightsee.
- Enjoy the sunset and a drink from the iconic Hotel Nacional.