From the moment I landed and hit the streets of Havana I felt it. I am not sure whether it’s the crumbly colonial architecture seemingly frozen in time, the constant rumba music causing an infectious dance amongst the locals, or simply just the way life seems to slow down and relax. A trip to Havana is a trip back in time, a time where neon 50’s styled everything is the norm, where people still gathered on the streets together to eat and drink without the distraction of the modern world. There is no place like it, Havana Cuba is just as addictive as it is beautiful and during any trip here you will feel the feeling I did as I walked these streets filled with life. The very feeling where you will say to yourself, I will never be the same! Welcome to one of the greatest cities on earth, Havana, Cuba.
Getting Lost in Old Havana, Habana Vieja
Every Havana guide you read online will set out these amazing tailored walking tours of the old city. Truth be told the best way to truly experience and not just see the old city of Havana is to just get lost amongst these stunning streets and its locals. For good measures here is a list of places not to miss whilst traversing Havana’s historic heart.
Plaza de Catedral and Catedral de San Cristobal
This white church is said to be made primarily from coral rocks. It’s set at the foot of Plaza de la Catedral making it a fantastic spot to hang out, meet some very eccentric locals, and smoke a Cuban Cigar. Fancy getting your fortune told by Santeria Voodoo women? This is the place to find them!
Castilla de la Real Fuerza
This oddly shaped colonial fortress is decked out with canons, a mote and even a replica of the Santissima Trinidad, a ship built in Havana that fought in the battle of Trafalgar. It’s well worth visiting for history and taking some photos.
Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco de Asis
Set on one of the old cities most beautiful squares, the Plaza de San Francisco de Asis, the Iglesia y Monasterio is hard to miss as its bell tower soars high above the old cityscape. This breezy square also has some of the old cities best restaurants!
The biggest and most happening square in the old city is Plaza Vieja. Once home to Havana’s rich and elite, Plaza Vieja is now the scene of Havana’s top restaurants and local art. This is the place to wind down with a Mojito and of course a Cuban Cigar for sunset.
This pretty pedestrian-only street has some of Havana’s most beautifully restored buildings and shops decked out with Cuban art for all those essential Cuban souvenirs you must buy. There is also a few decent Cuban Cigar shops in the area selling their most famous product at a very affordable price.
Staying in a Casa Particular, Havana
Havana has many wonderful historic hotels (most are expensive), but if you want the real Havana experience then a home stay with a local family is a must. Staying in one of the crumbly old houses in the center lets you take a look into what life is like for Havana locals, plus most of the Casa Particular’s come equipped with a kitchen and a mom who will cook you Cuban classic meals!
I stayed at several Casa Particulars in Havana, my favorites were located in the old city. Not only are they a great cultural experience, but they are also very cheap, ranging from around 15 USD – 40 USD per night. Check some Havana Casa Particular HERE!
A meeting spot, artist’s hub, and a lineup of epic drinking holes is the Malecon. Oozing with Havana’s addictive atmosphere, the Malecon is an 8km strip of road that has long been famed for many reasons, a trip down this historic street is a trip down memory lane and the best way to do it is in the back seat of a Cuban classic convertible car just as people have been doing for centuries!
Walking the Malecon at sunset is also a brilliant way to spend your time. You will pass by locals fishing, drinking, gossiping and just enjoying themselves. You’ll also get the chance to have a Mojito or beer on some of the cities best patios overlooking the ocean. Whatever the case is this is quite possibly the best area to spend your time in the late afternoon!
Capitolio Nacional and Baseball Debate Square (Parque Central)
Reminiscing the capital buildings in Washington USA, the Capitolio sits right in the middle of Havana’s old city and new city. This landmark is one of the most easily recognized sights in Cuba. Completed by US-backed dictator Gerardo Machado in 1926, it took 5000 workers three years to build this monstrous 17 million dollar landmark!
During my visit to the Capitolio, the lengthy renovations were still underway and visiting the interior is not possible until completion. If you want some epic views of the Capitolio head over to Parque Central and go to the top floor of one of the surrounding hotels. Here you will see it in all its glory and grandeur!
Parque Central also is the scene of one of Havana’s most bizarre sights. In the late afternoon, locals gather here seemingly to fight and yell at each other, but this is actually just how you debate baseball here in Cuba. If Christianity is the main religion then Baseball comes in as the nation’s second (maybe even first) religion. I loved sitting in the square and watching this theatrical event happen!
Colonial Forts in Havana
Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro and Castillo de la Real Fuerza are what guarded Havana against invading nations. They also served as protection from pirates but were destroyed many times by these looting raiders.
In the evening Castillo de la Real Fuerza fires off its live canons so you can experience what it would have been like during these times. Although there is not a whole lot to see inside the forts itself, they are well worth the visit to try and piece together the history behind them.
Outer Havana Sights!
Plaza de la Revolucion
Probably the best sight outside the center of Havana is the Plaza de la Revolucion. This massive plaza is where you can come face to face with iconic Cuban figures Camilo Cienfuegos and Che Guevara.
At the south end of the square is the José Martí Memorial, another one of Cuba’s grand communist monuments well worth seeing!
Havana’s Epic Graveyard, Necropolis Cristobal Colon
Seems bizarre to visit a cemetery while you’re in Havana, but those who opt out miss on one of the most incredible, architectural wonders of the city. Founded in 1876 this cemetery soon turned into a place to be buried, but show your signs of wealth with massive and elaborate crypts.
Venture deep into this cemetery and not only will you find some very historic and old figures, but also signs of Voodoo! While exploring I saw many of the open graves where bones litter the inside also had voodoo dolls and other voodoo symbols attached to the graves, it was eerie but wonderful!
John Lenon Park
Near to the embassy of North Korea… Yes, I said North Korea, is the John Lenon Park. This odd sight is famed for the John Lenon statue that sits on one of the park benches. It was placed here in honor of John after his assassination. Other than the selfie with the star there is not a lot else to see here.
Havana’s Voodoo and Santeria in Callejon de Hamel
This is one of Havana’s more unusual pits stops. The colorful back alley Callejon de Hamel has been heavily decorated in Voodoo symbols and artistic styles. This is where you can discover Santeria, Cuba’s Voodoo religion brought over from West Africa during the times of slaves.
The area is fascinating, but I found the people here to be a bit pushy and often trying to trick me into paying for extra fees! Visiting on the weekend you can see a Santeria ceremony where they play drums and other instruments.
Cruising Havana in a Cuba Classic
The cool Caribbean wind on my face, the roar of a 1950’s V8 engine and stunning vintage architecture drifting past my eyes. This is Cuba at its finest!
The best way to tour Havana (my opinion the only way!), is to hire one of the completely refinished Cuban classic cars that all gather around Parque Central. Showing up here you get to choose your model and color and get to negotiate the price which ranges from 25-50USD depending on how long of a tour you want.
Most of the cars will take you through the Old City to Plaza de la Revolucion and slowly down the Malecon. My driver had no issue with having plenty of lengthy photo stops. My driver even stopped by John Lenon Park and explained many of the areas we were in. This was one of my favorite experiences in Havana!