In recent years, Cuba has seen some major changes as the United States finally eased restrictions on travel. More and more people than ever before, and tourism has been on the rise - for good reason! Only an hour away from Miami by plane, Havana is a fascinating blend of old and new, vintage cars and colorful, (often crumbling) infrastructure; its energy pulses with a mix of Spanish colonial architecture, booming nightlife and kitschy art galleries. For a small city, Havana seems to have an endless list of things to do catering to every kind of traveler. Maybe you're a cigar aficionado or simply looking for some R&R, Havana has something to offer everyone.
1.Visit El Morro Castle
El Morro Castle, otherwise known as "Castillo del Morro", is a great starting point once you arrive in Havana. It's situated on top of a rocky promontory at the entrance of Havana's bay-it can't be missed! It's a massive fort with an equally impressive history. The castle was built starting in 1590 to protect Havana against military attacks, and also served as a watch post to keep an eye out for enemies (like pirates!). It is composed of 3 bastions linked by curtain walls, casemented barracks and also houses cisterns, a chapel, officer's quarters, a wine cellar, stables, and dungeons. Today, El Morro Castle is used as a museum and can be visited for a small fee. Its fantastic views make it a great first stop, a short taxi ride from the city center.
2.Explore Old Havana On Foot
As both the city center and the municipality with the second highest population density in Havana, Havana Vieja is quite possibly the most beautiful area of the city and a must-see if you're visiting. Many buildings have fallen into ruin, but some are starting to get restored too. The area is a colorful labyrinth of narrow streets, lively local neighborhoods, courtyards, forts, monuments, and churches that make up the pulsating heart of Havana. While you should definitely enjoy yourself strolling around the old city, just beware of jineteros, local hustlers trying to make a buck off you.
3.Tropicana Nightclub Show
Known as one of the hottest cabaret shows in the world, the Tropicana Nightclub Show is a world-famous spectacle set in a lush, tropical open-air venue that bursts with colorful lights, glitter, and glam. Salsa-charged and sensual, it's a must-do activity during any trip to Havana Cuba. Performers' gaudy, feathered costumes are spectacles in and of themselves, but it's the show as a whole that leaves you floored. Tickets are a bit pricey -- roughly $85 USD per person -- but include a welcome drink and cigar. We had a great night there!
4.Stroll Along "El Malecon" Boardwalk
If you want an intimate glimpse at life in Havana, walk El Malecon. Translated as "the pier", El Malecon is a restored seafront walkway situated along the city's north coastline and provides lovely views of Havana's iconic architecture and coast. It's also the unofficial symbol of the city, often seen on postcards and in films. El Malecon is a destination in and of itself, so food and music is abundant all along the pier. Sunset is a particularly good time to sit along the sea-wall with a box of rum. And if you visit during late July or early August, El Malecon comes alive with one of the biggest festivals in Cuba -- the Havana Carnival.
5.Enjoy Cuban Cigars At Hotel Nacional
Cuba has elevated cigar smoking to an art form. For that reason, you can pretty much find a good cigar anywhere in Havana-but if you're looking for the best spot to light up and take in the classy, glamorous, atmosphere that this city evokes, look no further than Hotel Nacional. Hotel Nacional is not only the most famous hotel in Havana -- it's also home to one of the city's best cigar shops called La Casa del Habano. Or you can enjoy your cigar in the hotel's backyard bar like we did, relaxing amidst beautiful ocean views, palm trees, and even real-live peacocks strolling by!
6.Try A Cuban Pizza!
Sure, everyone knows they should eat a Cuban sandwich while in Cuba. But did you know these famous sandwiches were actually created in Florida? Instead, why not order a classic Cuban pizza while visiting Havana! What makes Cuban pizza special is the "sofrito" - essentially a holy mix of onion, garlic, and bell pepper sauteed in olive oil with tomato and spices. In Havana, crappy pizza is everywhere, and the good stuff is a bit trickier to find.
7.Hit The Beaches Nearby
Cuba's proximity to the equator means that it's always beach season in Havana. The island's entire coastline is pretty much a white sand, turquoise-watered dream, so it's hard to go wrong with picking a beach. If you're looking for a party atmosphere, head to Santa Maria del Mar, the biggest and most well-known beach in Havana. The downside to this one, though, is the crowds. But if you're visiting in the autumn or winter you should be ok. If you're looking for a quieter beach day that isn't as popular with tourists, try Playa Boca Ciega. Or even better, Playa Jibacoa (my favorite beach in Cuba).
8.Watch Cannons Blast Off!
Ever since the 18th-century, a cannon has been fired in Havana every evening at 9pm at the Fortaleza San Carlos de la Cabana (Fort of St Charles). Back then, Havana was divided in two and Cuba's Spanish rulers would fire the cannon to inform the Habaneros to take shelter against pirate attacks. Today, the nightly event is still quite a spectacle, equipped with a drum roll and artillery cadets lining the fort dressed in colonial uniforms. The event is free, always on time, and onlookers are encouraged! This is one of the lesser-known things to do in Havana.
9.Explore Havana's Green Forest
El Bosque De La Habana (the Lungs of Havana) is a swamp-like forest home to the Almendares River and is a popular spot for locals to get away from the city center and breathe some fresh air. It's a recreational area for Habaneros with playgrounds and an amphitheater for concerts. Many of Havana's classic car tours pass through the park. The 300-year-old banyan trees are covered in green vines, and it's a very cool place to visit. You might see locals practicing Santeria in the river, a Caribbean religion where members sacrifice animals.
10.The Revolution Museum
Formerly the Presidential Palace, Havana's Revolution Museum depicts the time period before, during, and right after the Cuban Revolution. You can still find bullet holes in the central staircase from a failed assassination attempt of President Fulgencio Batista. Out back you'll find some old military vehicles, tanks used during the Bay of Pigs operation, airplanes, and the yacht used to ferry Castro from Mexico to Cuba to start the revolution in the first place.
Havana is sunny year-round, so you really can't go wrong in terms of choosing a time of year to visit. But be wary of the force of the Cuban sun! For those with light skin, like me, take extra precautions from sunburn. The autumn can be lovely but visiting might be risky because of hurricane season. A happy medium is to visit sometime in the winter (November-March), as it's both warm enough to enjoy the beaches but not hot enough to make you wish you were back in your air-conditioned hotel. During the winter, the crowds have lessened and you can experience a more authentic Havana. The New Year's Eve in the capital is an unforgettable spectacle