Not only is Havana the capital city of Cuba, but it is also the country's commercial center and a major port. In this city, you will find some of Cuba's best landmarks, activities, and attractions. Therefore, even if you are not staying in Havana during your visit to Cuba, you should try to spend some time there to get the best experience of this amazing country. It makes sense to plan an itinerary for your time in Havana to make sure you get the opportunity to enjoy all the activities that appeal to you the most and give an insight into Cuba's history and culture. So that you can plan your time, here are the 20 best things to do in Havana, Cuba, for first-timers.
20. Enjoy a Drink at Plaza Vieja
The Plaza Vieja is the largest square in Havana, and it dates back to the 16th-century. According to Planet D, the square is surrounded by colorful colonial buildings, and there are places to grab a drink or a bite to eat. It is a great place to spend some time when you are taking a break from sightseeing, as you can sit people-watching with a cocktail or frozen lemonade.
19. Watch a Baseball Game
Baseball is the national game of Cuba, so it is very much a part of the country's culture. During your stay in Havana, try to catch a Cuban league game, as the atmosphere is electric. The home team is Havana Industriales, and they are one of the best teams in the league. To watch the home team play, head to the Estadio Latinoamericano, which is in the Cerro neighborhood.
18. Walk Around El Cementario de Cristobel Colon
The Culture Trip recommends taking a stroll around el Cementario de Cristobel Colon. Also known as Colon Cemetery, this resting place is named after Christopher Columbus, and you will find it in the Vedado neighborhood. There are more than 80 thousand graves in this cemetery, and those of rich people often feature beautiful sculptures. The 140-acre graveyard is divided into sections for different groups of people. For example, there is a section for baseball players and another section for bishops. It is a wonderful place to enjoy the peaceful surroundings away from the hustle and bustle of Havana.
17. Go to the Revolution Museum
If you want to find out more about the area's history during your visit to this fascinating city, then the best attraction to visit is the Revolution Museum. The Cuban Revolution was one of the most significant events in Cuba's history, and the Revolutionary Museum will teach you about the periods before, during, and after this event. The museum is housed in the former Presidential Palace. An interesting feature that you may notice in this museum is the bullet holes in the central staircase. These are from the failed assassination attempt on President Fulgencio Batista. In addition to the exhibits within the museum, there are also further exhibits to the building's rear. Outside, you will see a yacht used to take Fidel Castro from Mexico to Cuba to start the revolution, and there are tanks and airplanes used during the Bay of Pigs operation.
16. See the Art at the Fabrica de Arte Cubano
Art is an important element of the Cuban culture, and there are several places where you can see some artwork. One of the top attractions for art enthusiasts is the Fabrica de Arte Cubano. X-Alfonse, a famous Afro-Cuban musician, founded the Cuban Art Factory. In addition to the art gallery, there is also a performance center and a nightclub. Therefore, this venue hosts a lot of arts-based events. It aims to promote the work of local Cuban artists, filmmakers, photographers, and writers. The space is divided into different rooms, each of which has a different focus. The venue is within a large factory building, and it is open from Thursday to Sunday.
15. Visit Hemingway's House
Hemingway famously lived just outside Havana. His former colonial home, Finca Vigia, is where he wrote some of his novels, including 'The Old Man and the Sea' and 'For Whom the Bell Tolls. Although you cannot go inside the house, you can walk around the outside and look through the windows. There is also a museum that is open from Monday to Saturday. The best time to visit the museum is when it first opens at 10 am. If you leave it until lunchtime or the afternoon, it becomes crowded.
14. Explore the Green Forest
Those who enjoy spending time outdoors in natural surroundings rather than only exploring urbanized areas should explore the Green Forest. The Green Forest is officially called El Bosque De La Habana, which translates as 'the Lungs of Havana.' It is a swamp-like forest with the Almendares River running through it, and some of the vine-covered banyan trees are more than 300-years-old. There is a recreational area with an amphitheater and playgrounds. Visiting the forest is free, so it is a great activity if you have a limited budget.
13. Eat Local Cuisine at a Paladar
For many people, sampling the local cuisine is an important element of experiencing the culture of a location when they take a vacation. If this applies to you, then you should dine at a local paladar. Many of the restaurants in Cuba are government-run, but paladars are privately-owned and locally-run. You will get the best experience of Cuban cuisine if you dine at a paladar. There are some amazing paladars in the city, and visiting several during your stay will allow you to sample a diverse range of Cuban cuisine.
12. Admire the Beauty of Fusterlandia
Just outside Havana is a fishing village called Jaimanitas, and it is there that you will find Fusterlandia. It is a mosaic tile wonderland that was created by artist Jose Fuster. It is a unique place to visit, as Fuster created a site that fits into the surroundings. Furthermore, the locals have allowed him to decorate their homes with his mosaic tiles. You can walk around the neighborhood, and there is a gallery to visit that is open from Wednesday to Sunday.
11. Climb the Gomez Vila
There are several spots where you can enjoy excellent views of the bay, the city, and beyond, but one of the best viewing points is from the top of the Gomez Vila. You will find the Gomez Vila in Plaza Vieja, and it is the tallest building in the city. The top floor of the structure has the only Camera Oscura anywhere in Latin America or the Caribbean. The Camera Oscura projects images of the city at a magnification of 30 times what is visible from the tower. Even without using the camera, you can still enjoy panoramic views of Old Havana and beyond.
10. Take a Road Trip to the Tobacco Fields
Tobacco production and cigars are two of the things for which Cuba is most famous. A nice day trip away from the lively vibe of the city is to the tobacco fields. The tobacco fields are approximately two hours from Havana, but you can get there on tour buses. Another alternative is to spend one night of your vacation in Vinales to get a different perspective on Cuba and so that you can take your time in the tobacco fields.
9. Watch the Firing of the Canons
If you are looking for an activity to enjoy in the evenings, then make sure you are at the Fortaleza San Carlos de la Cabana just before 9 pm. Every night at 9 pm, the canons are fired from this fort. It is a daily event that has taken place since the 18th-century. It is quite a spectacle to watch, and the drum roll leading up to the firing of the canons adds to the drama of the nightly event.
8. Try Salsa Dancing
Both music and dance are a vital aspect of Cuban culture, so you should try to experience both during your vacation. There are venues throughout the city where you can join in with salsa dancing to Latin music. Even if you have two left feet, it is enjoyable watching others on the dance floor.
7. Go to the Havana Capitol Building
One of the most important landmarks in the city is the Havana Capitol Building. It was built in 1929, and the Capitol in Washington DC was used for inspiration. Previously, it was used as the Ministry of Science & Technology. However, following a seven-year renovation, it is now the seat of the Cuban national assembly. It is possible to take group tours of the building every day except Monday.
6. Take a Stroll Along the Malecon
The Malecon is a promenade that runs along the north coastline of Havana. This seafront walkway offers wonderful views of the city's coastline, and it also takes you past some of the best architecture in Havana. All along the Malecon, there are food stalls and people playing music, so there is more to the experience than simply walking along the coast. The Malecon is also one of the best spots to sit and watch the sunset.
5. Spend Time at the Beach
Due to its location close to the equator, Cuba has almost year-round sunshine. To make the most of the amazing climate, you should spend some time on the beach. Although all the beaches along the coast of Havana are excellent, the best and biggest beach is Santa Maria del Mar. It has a party atmosphere as it is always filled with locals and tourists looking for fun, and it is a great place to try some watersports. If you prefer a quieter beach, then Playa Boca Ciega or Playa Jibacoa are better options.
4. Have a Night Out at Tropicana Nightclub Show
Although there are plenty of things to see and do in the day, you can also have a lot of fun after dark in Havana. There are some excellent bars, clubs, and music venues in the city, and one of the top nighttime destinations in the city is the Tropicana Nightclub Show. This world-famous venue is the hottest cabaret in Cuba. The shows are filled with Latin music, salsa dancing, exotic outfits, and lots of fun. It is an open-air venue with tropical surroundings, hence the name of the establishment.
3. Explore Old Havana
Old Havana is the historic heart of the city., and it is an area that you should explore on foot. Although some of the buildings in this district have fallen into ruin, there is plenty to see. You will find pretty churches, historical monuments, forts, and courtyards as you stroll around the area. In this district, you will also find lots of cafes, bars, and restaurants.
2. Take a Tour of Havana in a Classic Car
One of the most popular things to do in Havana, Cuba, for first-timers is taking a tour of the city in a classic car. There are many tour operators in Havana that offer city tours in colorful, convertible cars with the tops down. It is a great way to see the city and get your bearings, so it is a good activity to enjoy at the start of your vacation.
Visit El Morro Castle
El Morro Castle is one of the most significant landmarks in Havana, so Expert Vagabond says that a visit to this castle is one of the best things to do in Havana for first-timers. It was built in 1590, and it sits on a rocky peninsula by the entrance to the bay. The original purpose of the castle was to protect the city against military attacks and as a watch post to spot pirates and other enemies. Now, the castle is a museum, and it is also a fantastic place to enjoy views across the bay.
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Written by Liz Flynn
Read more posts by Liz Flynn