Old Havana Street Scene
Driving by the Hotel Nacional
I hope your week is going well! I know I’ve promised this Havana guide for a while and I’m excited to finally bring it to you. Cuba was an amazing experience and I loved Havana! I can’t wait to do a long weekend there again. Cuba isn’t the easiest place to travel to, but there is so much culture, history, and interesting architecture to keep you busy for days. My favorite memories of the trip include explore Old Havana and watching the sunset over mojitos at the Hotel Nacional.
I’ve started the guide off with a few general Cuba tips and then go into Havana restaurants, bars, and sites. You can check out my other posts from Cuba here (Trinidad) and my style here, here, and here.
Before we dive in, there were a few things that I wished I knew/we lifesavers in Cuba. Cuba is very much a developing country. While some hotels have wifi, if you stay at a Air B&B, don’t expect wifi. You can buy cards to connect to the internet, but we didn’t have a lot of success with them. I will admit, it was nice to escape the 24 hour news cycle!
- Download the Maps.me app for offline navigation. The internet in Cuba is horrible (we only got online a few times in 2 weeks…) so this app turned out to be a lifesaver.
- Cuba is a cash society. Your credit cards won’t work, so take enough cash to get you through your trip. If you can get a good exchange rate on Euros, you might want to switch to Euros ahead of your trip to avoid the 10% tax on American dollars.
- Make all of your reservations for restaurants in advance. If you pick your restaurants ahead of time, the food is delicious. Stick to the “paladars” or private restaurants for the best meals. If you don’t, the food can be very hit or miss (heavier on the miss…).
Plaza in Old Havana
Jose Marti Memorial
Old classic cars
Sunrise view from our Air B&B
My parents outside of La Guarida
Where to Eat (We spent $20-40/person for dinner including drinks at the places below).
La Guarida – this is one of the most well known restaurants in Havana. The building it is in is a construction site, but don’t let that turn you away. Once you get upstairs, try to sit out on the balcony. Even if you sit inside, take a look at all of the memorabilia on the walls. The risotto and ropa vieja were delicious and they have a great wine list. Make sure you go to the bathroom as it is beautiful!
El Cochinero – This hip restaurant is right next to the Fabric del Arte, a contemporary art space/night club. We started with drinks (mojitos of course!) at the rooftop bar before moving downstairs for dinner. The space is very cool and modern. Dinner was very good, especially my Indian style lamb
Paladar La Cocina de Lilliam – we ate here on our first night. This cute restaurant in the Mirimar neighborhood has beautiful outdoor gardens. The highlight of our meal here were the chickpeas in a deliciously spiced sauce and the fish in garlic sauce (served with a goldfish in bowl!). Also, don’t miss the bread basket. It features 5 different types of bread and all were delicious!
Dona Eutemia – This is one of the most popular restaurants in Old Havana. It is delicious, but I don’t know if it is worth the hype. The food is very simple and delicious. My ropa vieja was great. Make sure to make a reservation! I was only able to get a 2:30 reservation a week in advance… If you can’t get in, the place across the alleyway looked delicious as well!
Paladar Los Mercaderos – This is a pretty good restaurant in Old Havana. While all of our meals were delicious, this was probably my least favorite. I think I just ordered the wrong thing though as I enjoyed bites of my parents’ meals.
The bar at El Cochinero
Where to Drink
El Cochinero – As I mentioned above, this restaurant has a wonderful rooftop bar. We had pre-dinner drinks here, but it really gets going after dinner!
Hotel Nacional – I recapped our experience at Hotel Nacional here, but this is a beautiful place to relax for pre-dinner drinks and watch the sunset. The mojitos were delicious, but some of the most expensive we had in Cuba
Rooftop Bar at Hotel Ambos Mundos – While we didn’t actually drink here, it is a beautiful rooftop bar in Old Havana. The views are wonderful.
La Zorra y El Cuervo – This is the top jazz club in Havana. Make sure you get there earlier (before 10) to make sure you get in.
Fabrica del Arte Cubano – I didn’t go, but my friends who went said it was a fun night out with great music, drinks, and art
Factoria Plaza Vieja – Let me start by saying that the service here leaves something to be desired. However, this beer garden in Old Havana is the perfect place to stop for a rest while sightseeing. You can order a light, medium, or dark beer by the pint or in a 2ft tall beer vase for sharing.
Plaza de la Revolucion
What to Do
Museo de la Revolucion – This was on the top of my list and it didn’t disappoint. This museum is in the former presidential palace. It chronicles Cuban history from before the revolution to current day. It was fascinating to see the revolution from the Cuba perspective, but the museum is very propaganda heavy. You can also see the boat Fidel arrived on to lead the revolution. Most of the exhibits are in English and Spanish, but they only have Spanish tour guides.
Fusterlandia – Jose Fuster, an artist, has taken over his neighborhood in a tribute to Gaudi. His pieces are colorful and a little surreal. It is well worth the trip from the Central Havana to see what one man can do with a little imagination! See my full recap here.
Visit Hemmingway’s room at Hotel Ambos Mundos – Ernest Hemmingway stayed in a room at Hotel Ambos Mundos on and off for year. If you are in Old Havana, stop by to see the room and some of Hemmingway’s personal belongings. The hotel itself is beautiful and the history is very cool to see
Plaza de la Revloucion – I would stop by this on your classic car tour. I don’t know that it is a destination on its own. Basically, this is where Fidel would speak to the Cuban people. The building surrounding the Plaza have Fidel and Che sculptures affixed to them. Also, the Jose Marti Memorial, the tallest building in Cuba, is here and you can go to the top for an incredible view of Cuba.
Ride in a classic car – You can’t come to Havana and not be driven around in an old classic car! They are everywhere so you will have your pick. Many of the drivers will offer to give you a tour of the city as well. If you go that route, make sure your driver speaks good English, or you speak Spanish and are willing to translate. This was a great way to knock out a few sites quickly.
Wander around Old Havana – One of my favorite things to do was to wander around old Havana. Old Havana is an actual neighborhood and you can see how they are restoring what used to be a pretty decrepit neighborhood back to its old glory. There are so many small squares to stumble on and historic sights like the cathedral. One could explore this neighborhood for days. You might want to do a walking tour if you are short on time.
Walk along the Melecon – The Melecon is basically the boardwalk of Havana. It is very nice in the evening to wander along. During the day, it can be very hot!
Tropicana – I’m torn on this. The Tropicana is the most famous show in Cuba. While it was great music, the dancers were very talented, and the costumes were over the top, I don’t know that the show is worth $70-$100/pp. If you love dance shows, you should go. Otherwise, save your money.
Cannon ceremony – I normally try to keep it pretty positive around here, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend this unless you want to explore the old prison as well. We basically paid $8 per person to watch a ceremony to fire 1 canon…. And it was so crowded it was hard to get a good view…
I know this was a lot, but let me know if you have any questions on Cuba. I’m happy to answer them in the comments below.
Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!