Havana Travel Tips – What To Visit, Do, and Expect 

Havana is one of those places where I’d go back again and again. It is just something about it that makes it such a unique and wonderful place, with its music, colors, delicious food, and amazing people. 

Its history starts in the 1500s, when the Spanish founded the city to serve as a stopping point for the ships returning to Spain. Nowadays, the city is home to over 2.3 million inhabitants that share a love for salsa and life. 

I want to tell you that everything I’ve heard about Cuba was true. The landscapes, the buildings from the time when Fidel was smoking his cigars in the sumptuous, elegant rooms, with the historical, grand, original look, the joy of people to live, despite all the problems, the small and twisted streets, the vintage cars, shiny and painted in different colors, the smell of strong coffee, they will all make you fall in love with it.

With all the great improvements, Cuba might surprise you in a lot of ways if you go for the first time. If you’re not going to an enclosed beach resort, you might find a city that looks a bit different from all the postcards and amazing photos you might see online. Wonderful, nevertheless. 

What is La Havana known for?

Havana is really tied to its history, which few places in the world still are. Walking its streets and breathing in the air, you feel that you’ve come to a place where the past is alive, and you’re lucky enough to witness it. It has beautiful colonial architecture, where the buildings tell stories so vibrant you can almost feel it. 

How many days do you need in Havana?

Three to four days would be enough, up to one week to be able to visit and see as much as you can from its monuments and tourist attractions. Exploring a city can take as long as you want, but in a week you’d be able to explore pretty much most of the city’s beautiful places. 

What to visit in Havana?

There are plenty of wonderful places that you can’t miss while visiting Havana, and you have a lot of choices. 

Old Havana (La Habana Vieja)

The Old Havana is literally like walking into a movie set from the 1950s. The city’s architecture stayed pretty much the same as when its walls and buildings were first founded. It has a charm and atmosphere specific to Caribbean islands and countries, with colors bursting everywhere, music sounding, people chattering at peace, and the sun shining bright on the aged buildings. 

You almost ask yourself why the men didn’t wear suits and walking sticks, and the women gorgeous long dresses, hats, and umbrellas to be protected from the sun. It is located within walking distance of el Malecon, where you can watch the powerful waves of the ocean crashing soundly. 

Havana Cathedral (Catedral de San Cristóbal)

The Havana Catedral is located in The Plaza de la Catedral in Old Havana. It is a beautiful building dating back to 1748, a truly impressive architectural piece. That’s how walking in Havana feels like anyway, with all the old and amazing buildings that remain unrestored or modified since they were constructed. 

I came across the Cathedral just walking around in the city (as I did the whole time there), and I am so glad I did. It is a UNESCO-designated world heritage building, and it is truly a sight you can’t miss if you are in Havana.

National Capitol de Cuba (El Capitolio)

El Capitolio was built by president Gerardo Machado in 1926 and is located in the exact center of Havana. It is a very majestic building, very similar to the United States Capitol by design and appearance. It is surrounded by palm trees and beautiful statues, and from its stairs, you can see almost the whole city, and many people, locals, and tourists alike sit and gather on the stairs daily. As much as it is beautiful, while I was sitting on the top of the steps, it saddened me a little bit the sight of some amazing old buildings almost in decay, without restoration going on, just perishing away slowly with the passing of time. 

Old Town Square 

This is a beautiful plaza, founded as an open space in 1559. In colonial times it was inhabited by the wealthiest citizens, such as the people of colonial descent. It also served as a place for executions, processions, and parties. It is formed of valuable buildings dating back to the 1500s, 1600s, and 1700s. 

Nowadays, it is a place where people meet, enjoy their day and time with friends, or admire the view. 

I had such a great time there, I really felt like I was in a different era, it is a complete change of scenery. It is indeed a great location to visit, and take pictures. 

Museum of the Revolution (El Museo de la Revolution)

The museum of Revolution in Havana gathers information and materials about the Cuban Revolution and is the most important museum in the country. If you want to have a clearer picture of the country’s history, especially the political one, visiting the museum would be an important step. 

Paseo del Prado

The Paseo del Prado is a great street and promenade, a nice walk in between the city’s busy life, surrounded by a lot of people, noises, cars passing by, shops, restaurants, and individual art galleries. It was the first European-style boulevard construction, completed in the 1830s.  It is the perfect place to see and feel the hustle and bustle of people of Havana, going to work or just spending the day outside on the bench, in the shade. It is also the division between Old Havana and Centro Havana. You will find locals and tourists, all in awe of the beauty that can be found in Havana. After a long walk, I took a break and a rest above the big trees, just watching the people passing by.

University of Havana (La Universidad de La Habana)

The University of Havana is one of the oldest universities in Cuba, and one of the oldest to be founded in the Americas. It first started as a religious institution, and afterward became a literary institution. It has 15 faculties on campus, as well as distance learning classes. It is a notable and important establishment, that I encountered by accident while walking around the city. 

El Malecon 

You can’t miss the Malecon while in Cuba! Its official name is Avenida de Machedo, and is a roadway, esplanade, and sea wall stretching a distance of 8 km along the coast. It is an emblematic feature of the city, starting from the Havana Harbour, and reaching the Centre of Havana. Alongside it, there are important statues and monuments, as well as important buildings, such as the US embassy and other business buildings. 

What to expect in Havana?

Havana is different from most parts of the world. Tourists use a different kind of currency than the locals, a fact that I knew about almost when I arrived. The internet is not available everywhere, in fact in very few places you find public WiFi, and not all accommodations have it. To communicate with friends and family, you’ll have to buy a SIM card from one of the telephone shops, to charge it with dollars to be able to use the WiFi and any access to the Internet.

The stores and shops are not loaded with foods and snacks as you’d be used to within Western or European countries, so most of the food can be found in restaurants, street food stands, or hotels. There are no taxi apps or anything similar, so you’d have to find the taxi drivers straight from the airport, hotel, or from a tourist guide. 

It’s good to always have cash with you because almost everything, if not all, is paid with actual paper money. If you need to change money at the bank from a different currency, make sure to arrive early because there can be a huge line. This happened to me actually, I needed to get cash and I waited outside the bank for more than an hour. 

Tip: Some ATMs won’t work with cards from different banks, especially ones from the US. It’s best to have always foreign currency in cash, in case you need to change money. Also, if you’re coming from the US, you’d need to have a travel Visa that you can get from the airport for an extra cost. 

My Experience

I absolutely loved visiting Havana. It truly exceeded my expectations. I always heard about how beautiful and amazing it is, but seeing it with my own eyes was even better than I thought. It is definitely one of those places that existed in the past, and that still exists almost intact today, with all its wonders and beauty. The history of the city is so palpable, so persistent, so real. It’s like time has stopped and people still live in other people’s memories, in other peoples’ times. I feel truly blessed for being able to see it, to explore it, to live it. There is an extraordinary atmosphere, the relaxation and the joy of being alive are obvious on people’s faces as they walk slowly, without haste or stress, among the problems they are facing every day, like all of us, they still find the power to be happy.

Photo Gallery

Happy travelling, friends. Follow me on Instagram for more!

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