To experience the best parts of both old and new Cuban culture, Havana is the prime city in Cuba to explore. This historical capital city offers a unique Carribean cultural experience where you can see both the ancient and modern world of Cuba combined and on colorful display. While Cuba is home to many historical sites like the National Capital, Plaza de la Catedral, multiple ancient Cuban fortresses, it is also home to many expressions of Cuba’s natural beauty. You can visit the broad white sand beaches of Playas de Este, or for an unusual thing to do in Havana, you can tour the bizarre Fusterlandia artist neighborhood.
We think Havana is one of the most historically significant cities in all of Latin America and we know that you’ll love your visit. If you are looking for the top places to visit in all of Cuba, check out our guide to the 21 Best Things to Do in Cuba.
1. Old Havana
To get a true taste of Havana’s current cultural climate and ancient history, Old Havana is the number one place we’d recommend you visit. This lively district of Havana makes up most of the historical city and is known for its brightly-colored buildings and famously narrow streets. With many historical destinations within just blocks of each other, Old Havana is home to the famous El Malecon waterfront promenade, the National Capital building, and the Paseo Del Prado walkway and much more.
Old Havana is the number one tourist destination in Havana and for good reason – Its the birthplace and modern representation of Cuban culture, with amazing restaurants, intriguing architecture, and breathtaking historical sites. If you are visiting Havana, you should really spend some time exploring the wonders of Old Havana.
2. El Capitolio
One of the most visited spots in Havana, El Capitolio is the National Capital Building of Cuba. With a resemblance that’s curiously close to the United States capitol building, this historic building has many interesting features. One thing to of note is that this building houses the 3rd largest indoor statue in the world, Statue of the Republic, which is a nearly 60-foot tall bronze sculpture of a young girl holding a shield with one hand and wielding a long lance in the other.
The government of Cuba has been restoring this structure over time to its original glory and is a very impressive place to visit. We think a visit to El Capitolio should be on your must-do list for when you visit Havana.
3. Colon Cemetery
If you want to see the most significant cemetery in Cuba and arguably in all of Latin America, you need to visit the enormous Colon Cemetery in Havana. With nearly one million gravesites and over 500 ornate mausoleums, this cemetery is the resting place for many notable Cuban leaders, musicians, poets, sports stars, among others. The cemetery plots were given out according to social class and therefore became a final way for wealthy families to show off their power and influence through their elaborate grave structures.
For another stop on the Havana historical tour, The Colon Cemetary is a must-see destination.
4. Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro
An interesting thing to do while you’re in Havana is visiting the Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro fort that sits at the entrance to the Havanna harbor. This intimidating fortress was built in 1589 to protect Havana from invaders and pirates and can be seen right across the water from old Havana.
Visiting this fortress not only takes you centuries back in time with various exhibits and ancient architecture of this structure but also provides great views of Havana and the water. A lighthouse was added later to provide safe passage for boats trying to navigate into the harbor. For another historical and educational destination in Havana, we highly recommend a visit to this ancient fortress.
5. Museum of the Revolution
If you want to see where many of the past Cuban leaders called home, you need to visit the Museum of the Revolution. Housed inside the historic presidential palace, this museum features exhibits focused on educating visitors on Cuban’s Revolutionary War period of the 1950s.
While the museum isn’t very “interactive”, this beautiful palace is definitely worth exploring just for its architecture. For another historical and architecturally significant destination in Havana, the Museum of the Revolution should definitely be on your list.
6. Castillo de la Real Fuerza
To visit what many consider is the oldest stone fortress in all of the Americas, Castillo de la Real Fuerza is located on the west side of Havana’s harbor entrance and construction was completed here in the year 1577. As it sits too far inside the Havana harbor, it was considered to be poorly but was effective in protecting the city from the pirates that roamed the Carribean waters.
To visit the oldest stone fortress in all of the Americas, you should visit Castillo de la Real Fuerza.
For an adventurous thing to do in Havana, we’d recommend visiting Fusterlandia, a curious neighborhood near the heart of Havana that is completely overrun with the art of one man. Starting in 1975, José Fuster returned to his impoverished Havana neighborhood with an artistic vision and began a decade’s long art project. José moved from building to building in his neighborhood, using houses and buildings as his canvas for his whimsical, childlike tile art that now covers nearly everything in sight. Fusterlandia is a place worth visiting if you’re up for something a bit more adventurous in Havana and off the standard visitor’s itinerary.
8. La Cabaña Fortress
Guarding the Port of Havana, La Cabaña is an impressive and invincible fortress that overlooks old Havana and stands guard over the city. Built by the Spanish and completed in 1774, this fortress is the third-largest fortress complex in all of the Americas and a very popular tourist attraction in Havana. The fortress is a quick 20-minute bus or taxi ride from Old Havana and well worth a tour.
To explore another important piece of Havana’s history, we highly suggest a visit to this ancient and storied fortress.
9. Plaza de la Catedral
The Plaza de la Catedral is a plaza in Old Havana named after the Cathedral of Havana which overlooks the area. One of the astonishing things you realize when visiting the cathedral is that it is made almost entirely out of sea Coral and not rock as you might imagine. Many historical buildings in Havana are actually built from coral which makes them even more interesting.
In addition to the cathedral, this beautiful plaza in the heart of Havana also features some restaurants, an art museum and various ornate mansions that were built for wealthy citizens. If you are touring Old Havana, the Plaza de la Catedral is a must-see destination.
10. Fabrica De Arte Cubano
\For a fun night activity in Havana, we’d suggest visiting the Fabrica De Arte Cubano – a cultural and artistic hotspot in the city. Built into a refurbished cooking oil factory, this ode to modern Cuban culture features art galleries, dance halls, and live performance spaces to showcase the new and more open cultural climate of modern Cuba. Seeing that most of the sights and destinations in Cuba feel like historical landmarks, this one feels like a breath of fresh air in the heart of Havana.
For an incredible modern thing to do in Havana, we highly suggest visiting the Fabrica De Arte Cubano.
11. Old Square
A large, open square in the heart of Havana, the Old Square is definitely worth a visit if you’re exploring Havana. This residential square is the historical home to many wealthy Cubans, and the Old Square is surrounded by many noteworthy homes, all in different states of restoration.
The square was the site of many large community events, such as bullfights, parades, and fiestas. There are multiple cafe’s around the outside of the square where visitors can relax and have a drink or meal in the shade and look out over this interesting square.
12. Gran Teatro de La Habana
The Gran Teatro de La Habana is an exquisitely designed historical theater in the heart of Old Havana. As the most important theater in Cuba, the Gran Teatro de La Habana features a grand concert hall, multiple other theaters, an art gallery, and dance rehearsal halls. This theater is home to the Cuban National Ballet and hosts the International Ballet Festival of Havana every two years.
To catch an affordable theater dance production during your visit, we suggest you check out the event calendar of this amazing theater.
13. El Malecon
All along the water’s edge of Old Havana, El Malecon is the place to go for a walk and experience the cool sea spray and take a scenic walk along the waterfront district. Along this picturesque waterfront promenade, you can find locals relaxing and enjoying the cool sea breeze and you’ll also see the many restored 1950’s cars pass by on the roadway. Watch out though – depending on the tide and wind, the waves will sometimes break over the concrete spillway and drench the unsuspecting tourist!
We vote El Malecon as one of the best ways to meet the locals and experience the views and culture of Old Havana. It’s one of the most relaxing things to do in Havana.
14. Playas de Este
For a refreshing change of pace from city life we recommend visiting the Playas de Este, a group of beautiful white sand beaches just 11 miles east of downtown Havana. As these beaches are popular with the local Cubans who live in and around Havana, these beaches can get crowded during the heat of the summer months. For the best experience of turquoise water and white sand beaches close to Havana, we think that Playas de Este beaches are a great choice.
15. Paseo del Prado
This beautiful tree-lined promenade runs through the heart of Old Havana and is a great place to walk and see the many historical buildings and destinations that are located along this historic pedestrian walkway. Designed and built in the mid-1800s to mimic similar promenades in European cities, the Paseo del Prado features coral stone walls, marble benches, and bronze statues of lions.
Walking along the promenade, you will pass the Gran Teatro de La Habana, many historic hotels, and famous Havana residences built in many tradition European styles. For a refreshing stroll through the center of town, we suggest you visit the Paseo del Prado.
16. Plaza De La Revolucion
The Plaza De La Revolucion is an important area in Cuba’s history and worth checking out. As a common meeting place for large political rallies, visiting Pope’s, and other large-scale events, this massive complex includes a sprawling blacktop square, and the striking Jose Marti Memorial that stands over 400-feet tall and looks out over the meeting area. Government buildings and the National Library surround the plaza, making it a fitting destination for the political rallies throughout Cura’s history.