Since Cuba became accessible to tourists recently, Havana has seen an influx of travelers. Much of the area is uncharted territory and many visitors aren’t sure what to do here. Please note that the city is in a state of decay other than a few renovated buildings and major tourist areas in Old Havana, but many travelers like that so they can see Cuba before it changes.
Many Cuba cruises now spend the nights in Cuba, but if you are short on time, here is our suggestion on how to spend a Day in Havana Cuba.
Start your day off by having some Cuban coffee. It’s some of the best coffee in the world and will get you energized to start your day. Cafe’ El Escorial in particular is a good place to go not only for the coffee, but because of its location near Plaza Vieja. This plaza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and dates back to the 16th century. It shows off Old Havana despite the fact that it’s been recently restored. It’s actually a great place to sit back and enjoy your cup of coffee while you do some people watching. After you are finished, walk along Merchant’s Street, known to locals as Calle Mercaderes. Here you can find a variety of boutiques, museums and shops to fill your morning.
Head over to San Cristobal de la Habana, located at Plaza de la Catedral. This 17th century baroque church has unique architecture. You can walk in daily from 1030 a.m. to 3 p.m. Other great colonial buildings include the Casa del Marques de Arcos and the Casa de Lombillo. You can also see a variety of artists working on masterpieces at the Taller Experimental de Grafica de la Habana, which is also located in the plaza. Once finished, stop for lunch at Bodequita del Medito. Famous patrons include Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Neruda. You can see their signatures scribbled on the walls. This place is also known for inventing the mojito, so make sure you try one while here! If you want to eat at a place that isn’t as crowded, grab a slice of pizza at one of the pizza stalls on Calle Obispo. The pizza is good and cheap! If you still have some energy left, head over to Plaza de la Revolucion, which features a large mural of Che Guevera. It’s also a short walk to Plaza de Armas, one f the most beautiful squares in the city. Visit Havana’s first major fort and now a naval museum, Castillo de la Real Ruerza. Facing the square is Havana’s most beautiful colonial building, the Palacio de los Capitanes Generals, a masterpiece of 18th century architecture which today houses the museum of Havana’s history. The museum is open ever day except Mondays. Last but not least, continue to the Plaza San Francisco, a beautiful square flanked by the church of San Francisco.
For dinner, go to La Guarida, as it’s known for its Cuban food. Many celebrities have visited here including Beyoncé. You need to make a reservation before coming here as it tends to be crowded. After dinner, go to El Floridita for a daiquiri. Supposedly it was invented at the restaurant. If you’d like to check out one of the numerous salsa clubs, all you have to do is walk down Calle Obispo as you can find a variety of them here. Where ever you eat, make it a point to sample criollo cuisine which is usually roasted pork or chicken with rice, black beans and fried plantains. Restaurants usually don’t have salad or vegetables available as there is a shortage in the country.
Somewhere in your day try to make time to stop by a Cigar Factory – H. Upmann or Partagas to see how they are rolled by hand. The best deals are for Cuban cigars (which U.S. visitors are now allowed to take home; the limit is US$100). Stick with export-quality smokes sold in Casa del Habanos stores throughout the city and at the cigar factories. Avoid deals on the street, as these are usually 2nd rate cigars. Any cigar box without hologram seal and a proper receipt from a licensed store may be confiscated at Cuban customs (all baggage is X-rayed at departure).
You can get great bargains on rum also. Straw hats, papier-mache dolls, ceramics and paintings are items that are popular to shop for.
Another great spot is called Malecon. Its a 5 miles road that it right along the Atlantic Shoreline, connecting Old Havana to the Vedado district. You will see plenty of old, classic cars.
Snapshot of Must See/Do while in Havana
Historic Sites: Capitolio Nacional; Malecon, Paseo Marti, Plaza de la Revolucion, Castillo de la Real Fuerza; Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro; Catedral de la Habana; Cementerio Colon; Fabrica de Tabacos H. Upmman and Fabrica de Tabacos Partagas; Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana; Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Regla; Iglesia Parroquial de Espiritu Santo; Iglesia san Fransisco de Asis y Convento de Santa Clara.
Beaches: Playas del Este (30 min drive from town) Playa Tarara; Playas del Oesta; Club Habana (exclusive beach resort but you can visit beach for a fee)
Museums: Fragua Martiano, Hemingway Museum, Maqueta de la Habana, Maqueta de la Habana Vieja, Museo Casa Natal de Jose Marti, Museu de Artes Decorativas, Museo de la Ciudad, Musea de la Danza, Museu de la Revolucion, Museo del Automovil, Museo de Ron (yeap rum!)
Neighborhoods & Districts: 10 de Octubre/Cotorro; Arroyo Naranjo and Boyeros; Barrio Chino; Centro Habana; Ciudad Panamericano/Alamar; Habana Viejo (Old Havana,) Miramar and Playa; Regla and Guanabacoa; Vedado;
Parks & Gardens: Bosque de la Habana; Jardin Botanico Nacional, Jardin Diana de Gales, Parque Central, Parque de la Fraternidad, Parque Lenin, Plaza de Armas, Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza del Cristo, Plaza San Fransisco, Plaza Vieja
Zoos & Wildlife: Acuarioa Nacional, Jardin Zoologicao de la Habana, Parque Zoologico Nacional