4 Days in Havana
First things first. If you're into food, let's make sure you get some reservations ahead of time. Since there are relatively few restaurants, the best ones get booked full weeks in advance. Book somthing for day 2 or 3.
- San Cristobal Paladar $30-40 (San Rafael No 469, E / Lealtad y Campanario, Centro Habana) - Arguably the top traditional Cuban restaurant in Havana. It's known as a local favorite and as one of the few restaurants Obama dined at during his March 2016 visit. Have your hotel or Airbnb host call well in advance, or arrive after 9:30PM and see if they have any open seats for the day.
- La Guarida $30-40 (Concordia No.418 / Gervasio y Escobar. Centro Habana) - Come here for the ambiance and the history. Many movies have been shot here in the Old Havana style building and the restaurant has been a celebrity hot spot. Book online through the form ahead of time and they will respond via email within a few days.
Depending on what time your flight arrives, you can plan the first day accordingly. Most of the places today in the afternoon are optional. We're gonna stick to the west of Havana around Vedado and Miramar. Vedado is where a lot of middle class workers and University of Havana students live. Miramar is a wealthy neighborhood where many foreign embassies and mansions are.
When arriving at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, make sure you line up and exchange money before you leave. The exchange offices are called CADECA and in terminal 3, it's outside the door on the right side opposite the taxis. I recommend you exchange the minimum you think you need for your trip because the line for the ones in the city are at least 1 - 2 hours.
A taxi from the airport should cost about $25 - 35 CUC depending on how far your place is. $25 for Miramar, $30 for Vedado, $35 for Central Havana and Old Havana. The drivers will quote much higher prices sometimes but insist on these rates.
Arrive in Havana, your bags down, and head over to Vedado. Lunch option. if you are hungry. There's also a lot of restaurants around Parque Copella.
- El Literol $20-30 (Malencon 161 el K y L. Vedado) - The restaurant is right along the ocean and has an amazing view. Mostly new Cuban food with a heavy emphasis on seafood.
- Heladería Coppelia $1 CUP / $1 CUC - Ice cream for locals around Parque Coppelia. It's not the best ice cream I've ever had, but it does hit the spot in the humid Havana weather. The ridiculous 1+ hour line is for payments in CUP, just step up and pay with CUC to cut the line.
The campus itself is quite gorgeous and many students speak English and are willing to share their daily life. There's a museum inside called Museo de Historia Natural Felipe Poey for $1 CUC if you're interested in scientific collections of Cuban birds, plants, and pre-Columbian artifacts.
Pass by Monumento a José Miguel Gómez (Avenida de los Presidentes) for a quick picture and stop at Plaza de la Revolacion. There are giant iconic portrait outlines of Ché and Fidel Castro on two buildings. Ché Guevara is a famous Marxist theorist who led guerrilla fights in the battle for independence. You probably know Fidel, he's the first Prime Minister of Cuba. Opposite those buildings is a tall monument commemorating José Martí and the Cuban independence. José Martí is a Cuban national hero famous for his literary works and journalism.
The best lighting for photos around these monuments is in the late afternoon.
You're probably sick of all these communist bullshit by now so let's take a break for dinner. Grab a cab from the monument here for around $5-10 CUC.
- El Cocinero $20-30 (Calle 26, Vedado | Between Calle 11 and 13 near La Fabrica del Arte) - This is an open air restaurant with a great Caribbean candle lit vibe and decent food. Aim to get here a bit earlier as it does get crowded later in the evening.
Fabrica de Arte Cubano ($10 CUC) next door! Get here earlier to avoid the insane line. It could be hours and an additional $10 CUC bribe is well worth it to get in if offered.
This is an old factory that was turned into an art gallery and event space. Many of the art pieces here critique consumerism and capitalism, as expected. At night, this place turns into a lounge and nightclub with live bands and cocktails. This is the place to be for many young and affluent Cubans.
Stay safe and take a cab back at the end of the night. Should be $10-20 CUC depending on where you are staying.
We're gonna spend the day walking Old Havana and visit a few famous tourist spots. Wear comfortable walking shoes and remember the sunscreen.
If you're the type of person that needs breakfast, you'll be disappointed in the options outside of your hotel, casa, or Airbnb. Most restaurants don't open until 12 PM so the only few things available to you are cafés that serve Cuban sandwich and a sweet espresso coffee shot called cortadito. Cuban coffees tend to be dark roasts that taste almost burnt sweetened almost like candy. Here are a few options if you absolutely must get breakfast elsewhere.
- Cafe El Escorial $5-10 (Mercaderes No 317 Plaza Vieja | Old Havana) - Café in a gorgeous plaza with some seating. Their cortadito is great but the food options are quite lacking.
- Café Arcángel $5-10 (57 Concordia / Galiano y Aguila, Centro Habana) - Coffee shop that serves breakfast entrées, sandwiches, and fruits. Baristas there are quite good at pulling espresso shots. Ask for 'no asucar' if you're tired of the sugar.
Head to the Malecón and take a stroll on the oceanfront promenade. Morning is the best time to take photos of the buildings and the road facing the ocean. Start at the intersection of Galiano and Malecón and make your way east towards Paseo de Martí.
Check out the Revolution Museum and/or the National Museum of Fine Arts.
- Revolution Museum $10 (Calle Refugio 1 | entre Monserrate y Zulueta, Havana) - Interesting place with random objects like Ché's boots, José Martí's robes, etc. and the artifacts from the war era. The accounts of the war are obviously told from the Cuban viewpoint and the exhibits are unfortunately not organized chronologically. Most signs are in Spanish with a few important ones in English. Don't spend too much time here.
- National Museum of Fine Arts $5 (Calle Trocadero e/ Zulueta y Monserrate, Havana, Cuba) - This museum is split into two buildings, one for modern Cuban art and the other for international classics. Visit the one for modern art one (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes Cubano) next to the Revolution Museum and don't bother with the other one. The modern art pieces are housed in a modern facility with an interesting gift shop on the bottom. Modern Cuban art is rarely exhibited outside of Cuba so this is a great opportunity to see some of the great works that promote socialism and critique America or capitalism. Many of the works appear to mock Andy Warhol, Lichtenstein, and the likes.
Lunch time! Habana 61 is my favorite restaurant in all of Havana. I've definitely been here multiple times over the course of my stay. If you get there earlier, they usually take walk-ins.
- Habana 61 $15-25 (61 Habana, La Habana) - This is a traditional Cuban restaurant with a modern flair. You'll find classics like ropa vieja alongside stuffed lobster tails and cream soup. The few things I've tried on the menu are all really good.
Check out this little bar called El Bodeguita del Medio where Earnest Hemingway used to frequent for its mojito.
- El Bodeguita del Medio $5-10 (C. Empedrado entre Cuba y San Ignacio | La Habana Vieja) - Just get the mojito. There's probably hordes of tourists inside the little shop so get a drink and bounce.
Spend an hour or two in this area of town and take a stroll take a stroll down Obispo street. There's a few art galleries, Be sure to hit up these few spots.
- Piscolabis (San Ignacio 75 / Callejón del Chorro y O'Reilly. La Habana Vieja) - Chic coffee shop and souvenir store.
- Plaza de Armas (Tacon Street, Old Havana) - Quaint little plaza with vendors selling old books, paintings, and the likes.
- Johnson Drug Store (Calle Obispo / Ecke Calle Aguilar, Old Havana) - Old pharmacy preserved with its original look and feel, complete with old bottles, jars, etc.
- Artisan Handicrafts and Souvenir Market (Calle Obispo) - Open air flea market on Obispo that sells arts and crafts. Great place to get shot glasses, magnets, and that type of souvenir.
- Restaurante Floridita $5-10 (Obispo 557 esq a Monserrate Habana Vieja) - Another Hemingway bar, known for its daiquiri that almost tastes like candy. Great place to meet tourists if that's your thing.
- Clandestina (Villegas 403 e/ Teniente Rey y Muralla. La Habana Vieja)- Lifestyle shop selling clothes, prints, and other crafts. Theme here is upcycling and creating new from used items.
- Plaza Vieja - A more modern and restored plaza with restaurants and shops surrounding the area.
- Camera Obscura (Edificio Gómez Vila, Plaza Vieja, Mercaderes y Teniente Rey) - Interesting exhibit with views of the entire Old Havana. Great photo opportunities here.
- Museo del Ron Havana Club (Avenida del Puerto 262, esq. Sol, Habana Vieja) - Have a taste of the Havana Club rums. The Havana Club 7 Year is a great rum to drink neat or on the rocks. At $15 a bottle, it's a steal too. They sell Havana Club glassware and authentic cigars from all major brands here as well.
Explore the area around Parque Central when it's starting to get dark at night. The buildings surrounding the park are beautifully lit at night. Here's few things to take a look a while you're around.
- Parque Central - Central park where people gather to hang out. Lot's of street performers and people hanging out debating about baseball.
- Partagas Factory (Calle Industria 520, La Habana) - The factory itself has moved but you can still see the lobby and visit the cigar shop on the ground floor.
- Capitol Building (Paseo de Marti, La Habana) - You know, where they do government things.
- Iberostar Parque Central (Neptuno e/ Prado y Zulueta, Habana Vieja) - Nicest hotel in Cuba. There's an ATM and money exchange counter inside. If you're interested in a cigar factory tour, purchase tickets here in advance.
- Hotel Inglaterra (Paseo del Prado, No. 416 esq. San Rafael, La Habana) - Great place to take photos in front of the neon signs and old cars driving around. Soon to be a Starwood hotel.
- Parque Fe del Valle (intersection of San Miguel and Galiano) - Otherwise known as the wifi park. Cubans are here 24/7 to use internet to video chat with their friends and family in the U.S. and around the world. The cards are officially $2 for an hour at the ETECSA offices around town but you'll be able to buy one off someone for $3 CUC. You can even use it in increments in case you don't use the full hour. To pause time on your card, just turn off wifi on your device.
Chinatown! Start from the intersection of Calle Cuchillo, Calle Zanja, and Calle Rayo and walk around Barrio Chino.
There aren't many "Chinese" things left aside from a few Cuban Chinese restaurants and some community centers. You won't see many Asian people here, if any, because most immigrants left after Castro took over.
If you've made a reservation at La Guarida or Paladar San Cristobal, head over there for dinner. Otherwise, Cuban style Chinese food is worth a try. Cuban food itself has a good deal of Asian influence, from stewed ropa vieja to dirty rice. The restaurants in Chinatown are almost like getting Panda Express with Cuban spices.
- Tien Tan $10-15 (Blvd. del Barrio Chino, C/Cuchillo No. 17 e/Zanja y San Nicolas)
After dinner, take a stroll on the Malecón to see where all the local Cubans hang out. There's a few small stores that sell canned coke, bottled rum, or cans of beer on Galiano if you're looking for some drinks.
If the night is still young, head over to Casa de la Musica. It's a traditional hangout for older and more affluent Cubans and they usually have famous salsa bands playing live on the weekends. There's a cover of $10-25 depending on the band and a chance to skip the line for another $10. No need to pay the bribe, the line moves quick unless its past 12 AM. Drinks here are a bit expensive. Beers are $5 and bottle service starts at around $100.
- Casa de la Musica $10-25 (Galiano, entre Neptuno y Concordia)
Just a small warning, there's lots of prostitutes that hang out in this place. If the girl is dressed to the nines, she's probably a prostitute. They do get aggressive here and will invite you to dance and grope you.
There are a few places you'll need a car to get to and are pretty worthwhile to see.
Try to get in on one of these factory tours. Buy the tickets in advance from one of the hotels near Parque Central. Iberostar Parque Central and Hotel Saratoga both sell them. I recommend the Romeo y Julieta over Partagas since the traditional Partagas factory has been closed for renovation. You'll get instructions on how to get to the factories when you purchase the tickets. It should be no more than $10 CUC from Old Havana and $5 CUC for a pedicab from Centro.
- Partagas or Romeo y Julieta cigar factory tour $10 (Central Havana)
Get lunch at one of the restaurants around Old Havana. The Old Havana area is very convenient to get cabs to other places.
- El Chanchullero $10-15 (e/ Bernaza y El Cristo, 457 A bajos Teniente Rey, La Habana) - Good cuban tapas, sandwiches, and cocktails. They have live music most day as well.
- El de Frente $10-20 (303 O'Reilly, Old Havana) - This restaurant has a nice rooftop near Obispo, never been. Great cocktail selection and live music. Prices are a bit higher than most but food is pretty decent.
Grab a cab and head over to El Morro, the fort across the bay from the Malecon. It should cost about $10-15 a car and you can tell the driver to wait for you or just leave. There's plenty of cars and drivers to get a ride somewhere else.
- El Morro $5 (Parque Morro, La Habana) - This is a fort built by the Spaniards hundreds of years ago and kept in relatively good condition throughout the years. There's a labyrinth of rooms and hallways and a nice view of the Malecon and Havana from the other side of the bay.
Head over to Finca Vigía, Hemingway's house in Havana on the top of a hill. This place is pretty far from most touristy areas and will probably cost $50-60 roundtrip from Old Havana or Vedado. It's well worth the trip if you're a fan of Hemingway and the house itself is amazingly beautifully decorated and preserved.
- Museo Finca Vigía $7 (Calle Obispo 153 | Carretera Central Km 12.5) - Hemingway's house.
Head back to the Vedado or Miramar area for dinner. I'd recommend checking this place out.
- Otramanera $20-25 (Calle 35, Entre 20 Y 41. Numero 1810, Playa) - New Cuban cuisine, nice atmosphere with high quality ingredients and great wait staff.
Catch the Tropicana cabaret show but don't go for dinner!
- Tropicana $50-100 - Classic cabaret show reminiscent of the golden days of Havana - fancy costume, no nudity, loud music, and great atmosphere. Purchase tickets online. I've heard from numerous travelers that the food is garbage so book the show only and get food beforehand.
Your flight probably leaves later in the afternoon. Grab a coffee and do some last minute shopping before you leave. Hit up the few spots you missed or didn't have time for. Take a meal to go if you need it because the airport doesn't have any food worth eating. There's a half hour line for microwaved pasta and ice cream.
- Cafe Bohemia $10-15 (Plaza Vieja | San Ignacio 364) - Great little cafe with some interesting coffee choices and brunch or vegan options. Try the Cafe Carajillo, it's a coffee with rum, Cuban style.
- O'reilly 304 $10-15 (O'Reilly #304 | Habana & Aguiar, Habana Vieja) - Cuban style gastropub type vibe. Great cocktails and rum selection. They will pack food to go for you if you're looking for takeout for the road.
The taxi ride should be about $20-30 from Havana. You should aim to arrive at the airport at 2-3 hours before your flight departure. The line for security takes about 30-45 minutes so definitely plan for that. Don't worry about leftover money, there's a money exchange outside the terminal near the ticketing counters and another past security near the gates to change back to your home currency. There's also WiFi at the airport but you will need one of those Cuban ETECSA cards. For some reason, they don't sell them at the airport so you might want to pick one up beforehand.
There are plenty of shops at the airport for last minute duty free shopping as well but the prices are about 25% higher than in town. Cigars are about $8-10 each and a bottle of Havana Club 3 Year is $5 and 7 Year is about $15. Santiago de Cuba 11 Year, one of the most highly regarded rums in the world, is $45 a bottle. They don't seal their duty free bags so you will have to check them for your connecting flight.
Have a safe journey home.