Must-Visit Attractions in Havana, Cuba

Havana offers a portal into the past with its heritage architecture and classic cars
Havana offers a portal into the past with its heritage architecture and classic cars | © David Milsen / Alamy Stock Photo
Claire Boobbyer

The Atlantic-facing capital of Cuba is a beauty – from the palm-lined Plaza de Armas to the art deco towers and grand theaters. Old Havana is the biggest draw for its 500-year-old Spanish empire history and a new wave of cool bars, while Residential Centro is lively and less touristy. Here’s our pick of the best things to see while visiting Havana.

Discover Cuba beyond Havana by chartering a yacht with SamBoat – no sailing experience required.

1. Stroll along El Malecón

Architectural Landmark

Young couple walking on the wall of El Malecon Havana Cuba
© Minkimo / Alamy Stock Photo

Cuba’s oceanside road and promenade is easily one of the most handsome in the world. The sea wall winds 8km (5mi) around Old Havana, past gritty Centro Havana before rounding the iconic Hotel Nacional on its sea-facing bluff and the US Embassy further west. Wander the popular stretch from Paseo del Prado westwards. Search for the caryatids of the Centro Hispanoamericano de Cultura, the coffin-shaped apartments, and the Primavera statue outside the mob-built Deauville Hotel.

2. Peruse the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes


Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Palacio del Centro Asturiano, Old Havana (La Habana Vieja), Cuba, Caribbean Sea, Central America
© Ian Bottle / Alamy Stock Photo
Go for the 500 years of Cuban art – from the early colonial period to the avant-garde works of the early 21st century. A guided tour is a must; book at the front desk two days in advance to get the most out of this important collection. Don’t miss the works of Wifredo Lam and Manuel Mendive, infused with African religious symbols, or the pop art canvases of Raúl Martínez. Regular contemporary art shows are held here and are always worth visiting.

3. Explore the new bars of Havana

Bar, Restaurant, Caribbean, Cuban

El Floridita, a famous restaurant and cocktail bar frequented by Hemingway in Havana, Cuba
© Imageplotter Travel / Alamy Stock Photo
It used to all be about Hemingway and the writer’s favourite bars – do slip into El Floridita for a de rigeur daiquiri and La Bodeguita del Medio for its mojito à la Hemingway – but Havana now offers so much more to sophisticated barflies. You’ll want to try gin bar hideaway O’Reilly 304; El del Frente for expert craft cocktails; Jesús María 20 for its daiquiris and Michifú for moreish passionfruit cocktails.

4. Snap the street art in San Isidro Distrito de Arte

Architectural Landmark

Havana, Cuba, July 2019, burgundy colour Chevrolet car parked in front of the mural `Love `painted on a shutter store by the street artist Robin Pedraj
© eric laudonien / Alamy Stock Photo

Photographers will love the colourful streets of San Isidro. Down in the untouristy southern lanes of Old Havana, an army of street painters have transformed these streets into an al fresco canvas. You’ll need to take to Instagram to identify some of the tags, if you’re a real fan. Soak up the atmosphere, snap the artwork, and pop into new art galleries, opened by the entrepreneurial sons of Cuba’s leading actor Jorge Perugorría, as well as the bars.

5. Stroll Chinatown and visit Galería Arte Continua

Art Gallery

Entrance gate of Barrio Chino Chinatown Havana Cuba, Caribbean
© AGTravel / Alamy Stock Photo

Yes, Havana has a Chinatown. Thousands of Chinese indentured labourers worked the booming sugar plantations in the mid 19th century. Havana was once home to the largest Chinatown in Latin America. Today, wander under the paifang behind the Capitol building to find streets and societies bearing Chinese lettering. A small street of restaurants is heralded by a new neon sign. The biggest draws are the avant-garde art shows at Galería Arte Continua, fashioned out of the former Golden Eagle Cinema.

6. Take a guided tour of Havana’s Capitolio


Classic cars drive past the Capitolio building, Havana, Cuba, Caribbean
© dave stamboulis / Alamy Stock Photo
Book a guided tour of the most impressive structure in the city. Resembling the Capitol in Washington D.C., the elegant building is due to return as the seat of Cuba’s parliament. While access is granted, marvel at the fabulous interiors. Step through the huge bronze bas-relief doors and you’re faced with the towering gilded Statue of the Republic, the third-largest interior in the world. But this, too, is outdone by its setting – the dazzling 122m(400ft) long marbled Hall of the Lost Steps.

7. Admire the Edificio Bacardí


Bacardi building with tower and eagle statue on top in late afternoon sun, Havana, Cuba, Caribbean
© Jan van Dasler / Alamy Stock Photo

It was all about Bacardí rum prior to the 1959 Revolution in Cuba when thousands of Americans suffering Prohibition escaped to the island for cocktails in the city’s famous bars. There was no better way to showcase profits than in a beautiful showy art deco company headquarters. Towering over Old Havana, it’s crowned by a ziggurat and the rum’s bat symbol. Go for the lobby, striped in pink Bavarian and dark Norwegian granite, as well as the little mezzanine café where you can admire the original decor.

8. Tour a Havana cigar factory


Tobacco factory Partagas in Havana, Cuba, Caribbean
© VPC Travel Photo / Alamy Stock Photo

Luxury Cuban smokes have lured the rich and famous to the island for centuries. For a masterclass on the long journey from tobacco seed to expensive cigar, book a tour at the relocated Partagás factory in the Pollack Building on Centro Havana’s San Carlos Street. You’ll get a close-up on Habaneros leaf sorting, tobacco rolling, and boxing up in the holographic-bound cedar boxes. Purchases can be made at a cigar shop around the corner on Belascaoín Street.

9. Peek inside the Museo de Artes Decorativas


Museum of Decorative Arts in downtown Havana, Cuba, Caribbean
© Mindy Fawver / Alamy Stock Photo
Immerse yourself in the world of Havana’s uber-rich at an enormous mansion-turned-museum in the upmarket neighbourhood of El Vedado. One of the richest sugar barons in Cuba, José Gómez-Mena Vila, built the grand neoclassical villa, that stretches an entire city block, in the 1920s. It’s exquisitely decorated in preserved Maison Jansen furnishings, 18th-century French carpets, Tiffany & Co. glassware and Lalique vases. You’ll love the grand central marble staircase and the pink art deco bathroom.

10. Explore the new indie stores of Havana


Clothes at Clandestina design shop, cuentapropista, in Villegas street, Habana Vieja district, Havana, Cuba, Caribbean
© Lucas Vallecillos / Alamy Stock Photo

It’s no longer just about cigars, Che Guevara t-shirts and rum. The creative entrepreneurs of Cuba have launched fashion lines, crafts and designer must-haves in the last 10 years, so make room in your luggage for homegrown collectibles. Buy cool tees, posters and bags in Old Havana at Clandestina; clothes at Dador, Capicúa and Color Café; and handcrafted items at Piscolabis and at Alma in Miramar. For posters, books, and memorabilia, browse the crammed collection at Memorias near Hotel Sevilla in Old Havana.

This is an updated rewrite of an article originally by Barbara Maseda.

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