Havana – 20 best things to do

Havana
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We’ve been dreaming of visiting Cuba’s capital since we first saw ‘Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights’. As for Wiolczi, it was more or less 2004. In the case of Patryk … 2023. While you can skip the screening of this movie without much remorse, you shouldn’t postpone your visit to the most important Cuban city for later. Come with us! We’ll tell you what you must see or do in Havana!

Wondering what to see in Cuba? Discover the best attractions of the largest Caribbean island!

Treat yourself to a ride in American classic cars

1. Cuba is a living automotive museum. Before arriving, we thought the old cars are just a tourist attraction. Well, no. Cubans really get around the city in vehicles from more than half a century ago. We had the opportunity to be passengers in a Chevrolet Impala, which turned out to be a real street speed demon. (#colorized) With a tour of all the city districts, we saw the huge contrasts in Havana.

Chevrolet Impala

Try to find a gem of Polish automotive industry – Fiat 126p

2. While in Cuba, we heard a short anecdote about the good old ‘Polish Maluch’. Apparently, it brings joy to its owner twice: when he buys it and when he sells it. Despite many disadvantages, the vehicle is still very popular here. In 2016, it was even awarded the title of Car of the Year from the head of the oldest car club on the island – Amigos del Motor.

Cuba Fiat 126p

Leave an autograph on the wall at La Bodeguita del Medio

3. Legend has it that it was here that the famous Mojito was created. However, this is a story disputed and uncertain. What is certain is that many famous writers and artists have stayed here, including Pablo Neruda, Gabriel García Márquez, Nat King Cole, Joan Manuel Serrat, and even Ernest Hemingway. It is said that he initiated the tradition of signing the characteristic blue walls of the restaurant (La Bodeguita del Medio premises in other cities are painted in the same color). The custom is maintained by tourists from all over the world. Of course, we also left our signature.

La Bodeguita Del Medio

Visit the Legendario rum factory

4. Rum, also called vitamin R, simply flows in the veins of Cubans. In the Bocoy district, we visited the historic factory of this noble national drink. In addition to the interesting history of the place itself, we also had Legendario and Havana Club rum tasting. The first one turned out to be delicate, sweet and really delicious. Legendary taste. 🙂 Apart from alcohol, you can also buy various types of cigars in the old factory. You can be sure that you won’t find cheap fakes here.

rum factory Havana

Have a coffee with fire

5. For non-drinkers and non-smokers, we recommend our favorite attraction from the rum factory, namely “coffee with fire” (we came up with this name ourselves, the original one – unfortunately – we don’t remember). It is prepared by a native Cuban barista who makes coffee brewing a real, magical ritual. Coffee combined with rum, nut liqueur and spices tastes amazing!

rum factory

Take a look at Central Park from the terrace of the Iberostar Hotel

6. Havana looks best from above. Just find a good vantage point. Our guide showed us one, but she didn’t guarantee that the idea was completely legal. In order to be on this beautiful terrace from the photo, we had to get to the roof of the hotel where we were not guests at all. Wiolczi was a little nervous when it turned out that there were security guards at the entrance to the five-star Iberostar. Fortunately, they didn’t ask us to ID or show our room cards. However, the view from the huge sky terrace made up for all the stress. Of course, we do not urge you to do the same… we only show the possibilities. (Is it worth it!)

Iberostar Havana

Let them change into traditional Cuban costum

7. Have you also noticed that the Polish wardrobe is dominated by black, gray and navy blue? The traditional Cuban costume shimmers with all the colors of the rainbow in ultra-bright shades. You can see it on the streets of Havana. So when Cuban ladies offer you the opportunity to jump into local clothes, let your (or actually their) imagination run wild… Great photos guaranteed. Please remember that the service is not free and requires – at least – leaving a tip.

traditional Cuban costume

Taste the Daiquiri at La Floridita

8. You have already found out where Ernest Hemingway ate, now it’s time to show you the place where he drank his favorite alcohol. It was the famous La Floridita, called the “cradle of daiquiri” – a drink originating from Cuba, and now served all over the world. Needless to say, its base is rum? Come here and be sure to taste this cocktail in several available versions.

La Floridita

Sit down on the bench with Frédéric Chopin

9. In 2010, that is quite recently, at St. Francis of Assisi Square, a monument to the famous composer Frédéric Chopin was erected. Although I think ‘erected’ is perhaps too majestic word in this case because Polish composer is sitting inconspicuously on a bench. You can see by the face that he is waiting for (your) company and willingly poses for photos.

Chopin statue Havana

Grab The Gentleman From Paris by the beard and finger

10. Did you like Havana and would you like to come back to it 100%? We have a great solution, unfortunately only for the really superstitious people. Find the statue of The Gentleman From Paris (aka El Caballero de Paris) and grab him by the finger and chin at the same time(!). Are you wondering if this Gentleman was someone exceptionally important? Judge for yourself. He’s mentally ill vagabond who in the 1950s wandered around the capital of Cuba and talked endlessly to its inhabitants. José María López Lledín (that was his name) won them great sympathy and became a cult figure of Havana. So iconic that it has his own monument now. It is really charming, isn’t it?

Caballero Havana

Admire the ubiquitous murals

11. Havana is a paradise for mural lovers. There are plenty of them here and they don’t resemble unfinished graffiti or ill-considered drawings. Below is a great example. A perfect mural depicting the sugar barons. Patryk perfectly managed to capture the moment when a not-very-wealthy-Cuban-woman is walking in front of the ball of therichest social class. This photo captures the Cuban contrasts perfectly. (#applause_for_Patryk)

mural Havana

Enter the Catedral de San Cristóbal

12. You will find this Roman Catholic temple at the Cathedral Square in the oldest district – La Habana Vieja. To see what it looks like from the outside, scroll down to the ‘tips’ section. The building of the cathedral was made of… coral from the Gulf of Mexico. However, we especially liked the interior, which is quite modest and raw. It turns out that such a Catholic temple doesn’t have to be dripping with gold to fulfill its tasks.

Havana church

Take a look around the famous Revolution Square

13. Revolution Square is a huge, heavily concreted area where on July 26, Cubans celebrate the famous Cuban takeover. How will you recognize this place? There are a few distinguishing marks. A tower over 100 meters high (see photo below). A monument to the Cuban national hero, Jose Marti. Two buildings with images of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos.

Havana Revolution Square

Pose for a photo with Jose Marti

14. Jose Marti is probably the most ‘monumented’ figure on the island. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Not only was he a national hero, leader of the independence movement, writer and poet, but also the words of his poem were used as the text of the Cuban patriotic hit ‘Guantanamera’. Undoubtedly, he deserved recognition, which Patrix decided to show by raising both hands towards his statue in a gesture of admiration(?).

Havana Central Park

Hide yourself from the sun in the green alleys of Havana

15. Havana will give the impression of being very concrete, but if you look carefully, you will find a lot of places where you can rest in the shade of trees. Little squares or small parks have their own unique charm. In addition, when you come across some artistic work (as on the wall below) and good light, the perfect photo is ready.

Havana city

Take advantage of the rich offer of the ‘mobile market’

16. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what a Havana greengrocer looks like. Modern and mobile. After visiting Cuba, we are still impressed by how much creativity can be awakened by a lack of resources. And we’re talking about both money and the availability of materials. Either way, fresh fruit and vegetables are literally on the street here. The price, depending on the mood of the seller or the origin of the customer, can vary greatly.

the capital of Cuba

Give each other a kiss at the Kiss statue

17. Wiolczi liked this inconspicuous monument very much. It is located at the entrance to Saint Raphael Boulevard, next to Central Park. Its author is the Chinese artist Xu Hongfei. At first glance, the pose that the characters assume looks like an improperly finished pirouette by Jennifer Gray in the final scene of ‘Dirty Dancing’. When we approach from the side, our eyes will see the exposed, round buttocks of one of the heroes of the monument (the one at the top). This view doesn’t change the fact that the sculpture is really pleasing to the eye. It blends in with the architecture of the city and stands out a bit in the same time.

Havana Kiss statue

Stand in line for the long-awaited product

18. Cuba is a socialist country and there is a lack of basic food or hygiene products. In many stores, the shelves are really empty. Apparently, the available goods are ultra-expensive for the average Cuban. People who came into contact with socialism will certainly have the opportunity to reminisce about those times. There was also socialism in Poland in 20th Century. Our grandparents or parents told us about how it happened ‘under communism’. Waiting several hours in a long queue for any product was normal. In fact, it didn’t matter what the queue was for, it was important to buy it, because such an opportunity could not be repeated for a long time.

communism Cuba

Take a picture with Christ of Havana

19. You know the saying: ‘The mountain didn’t come to Muhammad, Muhammad came to the mountain’? This more or less happened to us. We wanted to go to the carnival in Rio de Janeiro this year and see the world’s most famous statue of Jesus up close. Well, the trip to Brazil didn’t go well, but Christ of Havana ‘appeared’ to our eyes. Although it is only 20 meters high, it is also impressive.

Christ of Havana

Get lost in the narrow streets of the city

20. Yes, we know, a similar point appears in most city guides. However, it is really worth getting lost in Havana to see the beautiful old town, rich districts and housing estates where poverty squeaks along with rats running around them. We will repeat ourselves, but Havana is a city full of contrasts. It’s like Cuba in miniature. Here in luxury hotels, tourists open hotel rooms with golden door handles. And the locals? Often they don’t even have airtight doors in their houses.

Havana Cuba

Havana – prices

In Havana, as in every country, the eternal law of the capital works: prices are higher than in the rest of the country. However, they are not very high, even for the average tourist from Central Europe.

Havana Capitol

Havana – how to get?

  • For us, Havana was simply an ‘optional trip’ cause we spent time in Cuba in the all inclusive version with the Rainbow (Polish travel agency). So we didn’t have to worry about transport: we took a comfortable bus from Varadero to the capital in +/- 2 hours.
  • Plane. There is an airport in Havana, you can fly here without any problems.
  • Car. Apparently, renting a car in Cuba is not the best idea. First, it’s relatively expensive. Secondly, there is a chance of unexpected problems with refueling on the route – it may turn out that there is no petrol on the island and you will not be able to fill the tank for many kilometers. Thirdly, it requires a lot of formalities, because state-owned rental companies are reluctant and distrustful of renting cars to tourists. We know this information only from the stories of travel agencies workers, we didn’t need a car ourselves and didn’t even try to rent one.
  • Bus. In Cuba, there is a Viazul carrier that runs between the largest cities in the country. However, buses run quite rarely, especially in the low tourist season. So it is worth to book places really well in advance.

Havana American classic cars

Havana – tips

  • We have a special task for experienced tourists: try to buy mineral water in Havana. Just not one from a stall or a street food booth that has been standing in the sun in a plastic bottle for a week. Ordinary mineral water from a decent store shelf. We tried and we can say that we succeeded, but the whole operation was complicated. After many tries, a nice seller from one shop informed us that there was no water for several days, but he would help us find it. Without hesitation, he left his place of work and made us a little tour of his friends’ shops. Only in the fourth there was a small mineral water, but it turned out that the purchase can only be made in local currency. Unfortunately, we didn’t have Cuban pesos, but our ‘new friend from the shop’ opened a ‘pocket exchange office’ and let us buy some money on the spot at an exchange rate that was not very favorable for us. It doesn’t matter, he deserved it for his trouble. We paid, got the water and even the change. The merchant gave us dollars, although we couldn’t pay with them ourselves. 😉
  • In Cuba there are a lot of ‘wheeler dealers’. Nothing unusual. The inhabitants of the country must somehow survive in socialist conditions. Nevertheless, it is nice and pleasant here, and the attitude towards tourists is more than positive.
  • A doctor in Cuba earns less than 70 euros a month. Think of how much a maid or waiter’s salary might be. Probably not much. So don’t skimp on tips in bars, restaurants or hotels. For us, 1 dollar or 1 euro is a really symbolic amount. Unlike the Cubans.
  • Speaking of currencies… Don’t be surprised if you pay in euros and get the rest in dollars. Or vice versa. In Cuba, these two currencies are treated 1:1.

Havana cathedral

Havana – reviews

  • Patrix – 10/10. A great place with a unique atmosphere. Havana shocks at every turn! Despite being the capital, the city is very damaged. Crashed apartments are adjacent to fancy hotels. A city of contrast. However, it is here that people seem happier than Europeans who spend all day in offices. Everybody is smiling. Getting lost in the streets of Havana gave me a lot of fun.
  • Wiolczix – 9/10. Havana is a completely different world. But how beautiful! Here the sun shines much stronger and brighter than in Poland. Depending on your attitude, you can see completely different things in the city. It’s full of dilapidated buildings, poor people and stray animals. But it’s also filled with music, singing, dancing, smile and happiness. I see more of the things drom second group. 🙂 If I had to choose the best memory from Havana, it would definitely be a ride in American classic cars, which I really dreamed of since I was a little girl. Wonderful thing.

city of Havana

Havana – map

Havana is located on the Gulf of Mexico in the northwestern part of Cuba. It is the largest and most visited city on the island. It is also the cultural and business center of the country (although it may not seem so at first glance).

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