Despite the tightened travel restrictions posed by the current U.S. administration, Cuba remains a dream destination for many travelers. Full of old-school cool, the capital of Havana should be the first place you visit on a trip to the Caribbean island. The city’s name alone evokes visions of vintage cars, colorful architecture, and perfectly concocted mojitos. Embracing the nostalgia, the nature, and the city’s artistic credentials, we came up with a list of nine fun things to do in Havana.
1. Drink cocktails in classic Cuban bars.
Tired and antsy after the flight? The best way to get into the Havana groove is with cocktails. Pop into one of the places that have hosted Ernest Hemingway, Errol Flynn, and some 1950s celebrities. Indulge in daiquiris and mojitos at La Bodeguita del Medio and El Floridita, two of Hemingway’s favorite spots. Then, move onto La Guarida (a bar and restaurant located in a derelict mansion), Dona Eutimia (for frozen mojitos), and Espacios (a small tapas bar located in a suburban house). Of course, you can (and should) spread the drinking over more than one night. Plus, keep in mind that most Havana bars feature live music, so be prepared to practice your salsa moves.
2. Get back to nature in El Bosque de la Habana.
After enjoying the cocktails, cobbles, and classic cars, it’s time to escape to El Bosque de la Habana, located to the west of the city. An urban jungle on the banks of the Almendares River, this hidden gem is generally ignored by tourists. The stunning green foliage and swinging vines make it a popular spot for Cuban wedding photos. Most vintage car tours tend to at least drive by the park, but if you want to make the most of it, visit for a picnic and enjoy the otherworldly canopy of green that covers the treetops.
3. Hike the Malecón ocean wall.
Stretching nearly the entire length of the city, the famous seawall, or Malecón, passes by a number of Havana’s neighborhoods and offers a solid hike with views of the sea on one side and an eclectic set of seaside facades on the other. Do as some locals do and start the evening by enjoying drinks on the Malecón while watching the sunset over the water.
4. Take a tour in a classic car.
When in Havana, travel in style in a classic 1950s automobile. Many of the classic cars you see driving around are taxis, which means it’s fairly easy to ride in an array of car models for a modest price. Alternatively, skip the taxis and take a tour of the city in a chauffeured vintage muscle car. Not sure where to find this service? Luckily, you can find these cars waiting outside the Hotel Nacional de Cuba most of the time.
5. Brush up on the Cuban Revolution.
Instantly recognizable for its gigantic outline of Che Guevara, Plaza de Revolucion is an impressive spot to visit. The surrounding square of the government complex offers visitors the chance to peer at the buildings that house the inner workings of the Cuban government. Staying on the same theme, brush up on your knowledge of the Cuban Revolution at the Museo de la Revolucion, an institution whose palatial appearance (it’s housed in the former presidential palace) is as much of a draw as the compelling history on show inside.
6. Tour a Cuban cigar factory.
One of the country’s most famous exports, the Cuban cigar has mythical status, partially thanks to its scarcity in the U.S. Whether or not you’re a cigar smoker, taking a tour of a Havana cigar factory is an interesting excursion, if only to witness the attention to detail that goes into rolling up a Cuban stogie. La Corona Cigar Factory runs a short tour that offers a behind-the-scenes look at the production process.
7. Explore the architecture and plazas of Old Havana.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Old Havana offers a pretty view of the Cuban capital and is a great spot for exploring. Among the cobbled streets, you’ll find a range of architectural attractions, including ancient cathedrals and beautiful plazas. Highlights include the old city’s fortifications, Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta, the 16th-century fortress, Castillo de la Real Fuerza, and the Catedral de San Cristobal. After a tour of the neighborhood’s major buildings, take some time to soak up the atmosphere in the beautiful Plaza Vieja or Plaza de San Francisco, where pastel colors, fountains, and cobbles set the scene.
8. Find peace and tranquility in Colon Cemetery.
After exploring the Vedado neighborhood, visit the amazing Cementerio de Cristobal Colon. Named after Christopher Columbus, the cemetery features rows upon rows of beautifully detailed gravestones that pay tribute to Havana’s wealthier former residents. A calm, tranquil spot amid the bustle of the city, the cemetery is a good place to enjoy some peace and pay your respects.
9. Enjoy the Cuban arts scene at Fabrica de Arte Cubano.
A country devoted to its artists, Cuba places a special emphasis on the creativity of its residents -- a perhaps surprising fact given its strict Communist history. Arts and crafts stores and stalls pop up all around the city, but if you want to find a concentrated collection of visual arts, dance, and performance, look no further than the Fabrica de Arte Cubano (Cuban Art Factory). Housed in a former cooking oil factory, the large space now hosts a range of artistic events, including art shows, theater performances, dance classes, and live music. Open Thursday through Sunday, this is one of the hippest spots in the city for late-night fun.
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