Best things to do in Havana
Find out more about those top places in Havana
Havana is one of the Caribbean’s true hidden gems with the faded grandeur of its crumbling architecture, the vibrancy of its street life and unrivaled history. Latin America’s colonial history is showcased in Havana’s Old Town, which was founded in 1519 and is packed with baroque cathedrals, enchanting plazas and crumbling Spanish tenements. However, Havana is not a museum piece. Instead, it is above all a dynamic city with even the most tourist friendly areas doubling up as residential neighborhoods where people socialize on street corners, play football in the plazas and shout conversations from block to block. The vibrancy of Havana is best seen strolling the dazzling pastel colored promenade, known as the Malecón, where the whole city seems to gather in the sun-drenched evenings for food, drinks, dates, sports and more.
Havana’s iconic seafront drive, known as the Malecón, is one of Latin America’s most evocative locations. The strip is at its most charming in the evening, as locals come to date, drink, party and play sports as the sun sets across the Caribbean Sea. However, more than just the city’s vibrant heart, the Malecón is also an architectural wonderland with a delightful assortment of crumbling colonial-era townhouses and art-deco hotels that ooze faded grandeur.
Havana Vieja, the city’s old town, is a must-see for anyone visiting the island of Cuba. Unlike most historic centers across the world that sometimes seem removed from the beating heart of the city, the Cuban capital’s is undoubtedly still a vibrant urban community. Highlights of the old town are the 18th century cathedral, which was until 1898 the resting place of Christopher Columbus, the ever-buzzing Plaza Vieja and Castillo del Morro, which is perched above the lashing waves. For the best experience, take a guided walking tour.
Designed by the French urban planner Jean Claude Forestier, the gigantic Plaza de la Revolución is the centerpiece of Havana’s once-futuristic new town. While the concrete tower blocks and 1950s administrative buildings may now look dated, the plaza is worth exploring for its iconic murals of Che Guevara, which bedeck the Ministry of Interior, and those of other revolutionary heroes.
Nestled in the unassuming neighborhood of Jaimanitas is one of Havana’s true hidden gems: Fusterlandia. The project is the brainchild of the famed surrealist artist José Fuster, who has transformed the streets around his home into a massive version of Barcelona’s Park Güell. Colorful tiles and surreal sculptures coat every surface from rooftops to bus stops and everything in between – you really have to see it to believe it.
One of the largest cemeteries in the Americas, Havana’s Nécropolis Cristóbal Colón is a treasure trove of religious sculptures and ornate marble mausoleums. Guided tours of this spectacular cemetery are available or for more intrepid visitors maps can be picked up that will let you navigate your way through this city of the dead to the gravesites of famous artists, Spanish colonists, film stars, politicians and revolutionaries.
Housed in the grandiose former presidential palace, the Museo de la Revolución is Havana’s foremost museum. While the exhibits may be tinged with propaganda, they tell an often inspiring and emotional narrative of how the Cuban people, led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, overthrew the brutal regime of Fulgencio Batista. Guided tours of the museum are available that explain its highlights, including the yacht used by Castro and 81 other revolutionaries to sail to Cuba and military relics from the Bay of Pigs.
Likely the most imposing Spanish colonial fortification in the world is the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña. Set atop the rocky eastern side of Havana’s harbor, the fortress was built in the 1760s to prevent British invasions of the city and has been subsequently used as a military prison and as a bloody execution site for enemies of Batista’s regime. Today, the complex has been restored and guided tours of this hulking colonial-era fortress are easily available.
One of Havana’s most famous former residents is the American author Ernest Hemingway, who lived in the city between the 1940s and 1960s. Regular Hemingway themed tours of the city are available that more often than not culminate at his former villa, which is now a museum dedicated to his life and works. While visitors are not allowed inside the house, there are plenty of open windows and viewing platforms that give you a glimpse inside the life of one of the 20th centuries greatest authors.