Havana, the colorful capital of Cuba, is a vibrant and bustling city full of architectural, cultural, and head-turning gems that spark an inviting curiosity within its travelers. Founded in 1519, Havana remains the economic, political, cultural and social hub of this rich island nation. Everything within this UNESCO World Heritage Site (Old Havana), from the classic cars to its world-famous cigars and living folklore beckons the explorer in you to come alive.
Here are our Top 5 Things to Do in Havana
5. Eat Authentic Cuban Cuisine in the Callejón del Chorro
Dining at Paladars (Privately Owned Restaurants) are the way to go in Cuba. Although some government restaurants may appear to be nicer and cheaper, believe us when we tell you, their food quality is definitely not as good as the local Paladars. Since the government opened up the possibility for locals to own and operate their own restaurants, the options for exquisite cuisine in Cuba have drastically increased! The Callejón del Chorro (The Alley of the Gusher) was once a small residential alley, that’s now been turned into a street filled with authentic and competitive Cuban restaurants.
Not only is the food in the alley tastily inviting, but the callejón sits just to the side of the Cathedral of Havana (above) and offers an incredible mix of live entertainment in the evenings that just might leave you wondering if you should rub your belly or get up and dance. We recommend both!
As you approach the alley, you will run into “callers” who will present you with a mouth-watering menu and great prices. Don’t let them bully you into eating at their restaurant. Trust us, say “no thank you”, pass them up, and take a seat at the first restaurant on the right, Esto no es un Café, which hosts thematic dishes as tribute to artists’ works from around the world. Their mouth-watering cuisine combines international recipes with that of Cuban tradition. And be sure to tell them that Gardner Tours (Colby) sent you, as they are one of our trusted restaurant partners.
4. Smoke a Cuban Cigar & Drink a Mojito (or Daiquirí)
Even if you’re not a cigar smoker or one to enjoy the occasional drink, we recommend giving them a try! After all, what’s experiencing Cuba without one of their world-famous cigars or mixed drinks?
As a side-note, don’t let yourself get finagled into purchasing any cigars (or rum) in the streets. Usually you’ll find they aren’t genuine, top quality items like those at the Casa del Habanos. If you do, you might find yourself regretting your purchase quite quickly.
Whenever you decide to kick your feet back, we recommend avoiding the tourist traps. Though they hold great history, two of the biggest traps are El Floridita or La Bodeguita del Medio. They may have live music, but they are usually shoulder to shoulder environments with people constantly coming and going. You know, there’s nothing like sharing a moment with friends (or local Cubans) out on a balcony as you talk about life, love, and the pursuit of your dreams.
3. Go on an Old Havana Walking Tour
You might not be into walking, or tours for that matter, but if you want to get a true experience of Havana, you must go on an Old Havana Walking Tour. You can read all about Havana’s history, folklore, architecture, and rich culture in a guide book, but there’s just some things you can’t truly experience without a guide. Our guides have been leading walking tours through Old Havana for over 10 years. Our guides are also considered to be among Havana’s best when it comes to their knowledge and expertise.
Designed for lovers of history, architecture, and rich culture, our four hour Old Havana Walking Tour will reveal and educate you on Old Havana’s most interesting historical, cultural, and romantic treasures. Your guide will introduce you to Havana’s great history, cuisine, people, famous stories, rich arts and folklore. You will visit/see Havana’s most remarkable sites such as the famous Plaza de Armas, Plaza Vieja, the Havana Cathedral, La Bodeguita del Medio, the Capitol, the Original Partagas Cigar Factory, the Museum of the Revolution, and much more. You will learn of Havana’s rocky history and experience first-hand how it has evolved over the last five centuries into a modern city with a remarkably laid-back vibe.
2. Cruise Havana in a Classic Car
We’ve not met one single tourist that, after their two hour Classic Car Tour, hasn’t thoroughly enjoyed it! There’s a reason why people all over the world talk about Cuba’s classic cars. And it’s not only because they house the world’s largest collection of well-preserved classic cars. It’s rather because taking a cruise in one of them through the world’s most intriguing city is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!
Designed for classic car enthusiasts, on our two hour Classic Car Excursion you will cruise Havana’s most remarkable sites. You will visit and learn about sites such as the Christ Statue atop Casa Blanca (the best view of Havana), the Morro Castle park, the Capitol, Revolution Square, the Vedado neighborhood, and finish with a breezy drive down the Malecón (seawall). Ensure to connect with your driver and ask as many questions as possible while learning the history behind each location!
1. Plan a night out at one of Havana’s finest venues!
You must encounter the arts of Cuba to get the real-deal experience. Whether you’re into new-age creative arts or you’re into the classics, it’s all at your fingertips in Havana.
La Fabrica de Artes Cubano is a cutting edge hotspot where sophisticated gallery rooms cohabitate with large multimedia equipped performance spaces. It’s an old warehouse space that was a former cooking oil plant, but has now has been transformed into the most hip place in town where locals and tourists alike go to enjoy live events while browsing the intriguing art expos that line the walls.
The world-famous Tropicana Cabaret (video below) hosts “the best show in Cuba”, a two-hour live event with classic Cuban music, dancers, and acrobats, and they’ve been doing it non-stop since 1939. Although it’s quite pricey and there is a strict dress code, it’s well worth it, especially if you add dinner to your evening.
The Grand Theatre of Havana (below) is the Mecca of performing arts in Cuba and an architectural icon in the city. It hosts some of the world’s most famous ballets and operas from its traditional New Year’s gala commemorating the triumph of the Revolution to the ever-coveted Italian and French operas of the world.
It’s debatable which is a classier experience, Tropicana or the Grand Theatre, but we’ll simply leave that up to you.
BONUS – *Engage with the Locals*
That’s right, we believe that getting off the generic path of the tourist does a traveler good! We highly recommend sitting down with a local you’ve met a few times and getting to know them. Ask about their family, arrange a night of dominoes, practice your Spanish, share coffee, or get out and about! Ask them to take you to their favorite spot or take a stroll down the Malecón (seawall). Engage with them in their element. Remember, it’s never truly “authentic” until you dive into the lives of locals. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to enjoy each moment.
Such a great list of places to see and experience. I believe I did most of these while in Cuba in 2015. It was an amazing opportunity to be there, see the culture and learn about a new country, first hand. Thank you Gardner Tours!!
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