A city where time stopped many decades ago, the Cuban capital is enthralling in its vintage quality. Certainly rough around the edges after a complicated history, the streets of Havana are still unforgettable. Still it is a very unique destination with many specifics and I hope this Havana travel guide and my Havana travel tips will help you to get as amazing days as we had in the Cuban capital!
Exploring Havana can feel very much like a trip to the past. Its old streets, particularly in picturesque Havana Vieja, haven’t changed much in the decades since the Cuban Revolution. The cars are old models from the 50’s, with the occasional Soviet LADA. Driving around the streets of Havana feels like going back to a time where the Berlin wall never fell.
Get to know this exotic Caribbean city and find out more about the things to do in Havana, below and if you want to know all about our experience, have a look at my Havana Travel Story!
Some Useful Things to Know before Your Trip!
Bring a flashlight as Havana gets dark in the evening. Very few streets are lit up during the night!
A travel to Cuba and also Havana means a wifi detox as here wifi are only available at certain wifi spots, outside and in some hotels. You have to pay for 30 minutes at a time and do not expect a high speed one!
Come with your pockets filled of money as the ATMs are few and the cues usually long!
Check if you need Visa. From Sweden we needed one and fixed it in advance but we also realized it could have been fixed at the Cancun airport!
Traveling – How to Get To Havana?
The Havana airport is 15 km away from city center, so it takes about 30 minutes to get there. There are flights from a lot of major nearby Caribbean and Central America cities. Many European capitals also fly to Cuba, as it’s a popular destination for Old Continent travelers. You can now take direct flights to Havana from the U.S., mostly from various Florida cities.
You can book a transfer to the city in advance or just take a taxi to your hotel.
Living – The Best Havana Hotels
As a palpably old city, you can expect some really interesting local boutique hotels. However, as Cuba is a very poor country with limited services, Havana hotel service can be a little tricky. Always make sure to review ahead and find the best accommodation for you. Still, any Havana travel guide should include at least a couple of restored boutique accommodations!
A stunning colonial-style home from the early 19th century, Florida Hotel is a gem of Havana Vieja. Built first as a luxurious house, it has been a hotel on and off since 1885. You can really feel the history in the building!
Created with tropical colonial sensibilities, the Florida is exactly how you’d imagine a Havana boutique hotel. Impressively, the place is filled with luxurious details from a time long gone by. Its marble floors, early 20th century Art Deco statues, arches and columns, all bear witness to past glories.
In the 21st century, staying at the Florida will get you in the right mood for exploring Havana. This oasis of aristocratic living is a stark contrast to the very busy Obispo Street outside.
The palace-like Florida is very picturesque, offering a fascinating all-around experience. They also have a bakery, a salsa club, an art gallery and even a traditional shoemaker shop! But make sure to book one of the suites if you are looking for something close to European standard!
Another Old Havana jewel, the Saratoga Hotel is considered one of the best in Cuba. A neo-classic building from the late 19th century, the venue was first conceived for warehouses. Half a century later, in the 1930s, the venue was turned into a luxury hotel. Later, in the decades following the Cuban Revolution, this once-great accommodation was mostly forgotten – until a grand 2005 reopening. In the time since, it has hosted a wide variety of A-List celebrities, including Beyoncé and The Rolling Stones!
We too fell in love with the place!!!
A traditional 5-star hotel, Saratoga offers 96 rooms, multiple bars and restaurants and many other high-end amenities. Its services stand out for being oddly contemporary in a city of antiques and vintage. This was once a popular hangout for artists and intellectuals, and a lot of that feeling lingers to this day.
The highlights for us? The rooftop overlooking the Cuban capital. Although not very tall, it still offers a one-of-a-kind panorama of this beautiful old city. It’s also where the hotel pool is located. Here, you can enjoy everyone’s favorite things to do in Havana: sit back with a cigar and a mojito.
Would you like to stay at Saratoga. THEN BOOK IT HERE!
Eating & Drinking: The Best Havana Restaurants
Historically, Cuba has been a country of immigrants, and many of its dishes have been exported over the years. So, any Havana travel guide needs a good dose of Cubanos (sandwiches) and moros y cristianos (rice and beans). Here are some of my favorite eateries in this old Caribbean capital:
The first restaurant we tried after landing, luminous Casa Miglis put us at ease from the dark streets of Havana. A bright and colorful venue, the cuisine here offers a refreshing fusion: Cuban and Swedish! What a surprise to find Swedish food in Havana!
Casa Miglis was founded by a Greek-Swedish filmmaker who visited the island and fell in love with it. It now offers a Scandinavian corner in the tropic, with high ceilings and the traditional Nordic simple design. The dishes are mostly Swedish, with interesting options like Toast Skagen, plus a few local flavors. A truly exotic and unexpected mix in Centro Havana – no wonder it’s now a meeting point!
A fantastic little breakfast place, Le Café took us by surprise. A cute and rustic shop with a very “bare bones” vibe, we loved their pancakes and fresh juices. Located in historic Havana Vieja, not far from El Dandy, it’s the best spot to start your day. Get energized before exploring Havana!
The trendy new spot in Havana Vieja, El Dandy is a bar, café and photo gallery. Back in the early 50’s, this venue was a small bar and bodega, becoming a private apartment post revolution. The place was in bad shape for years, until it was turned into El Dandy not long ago. The current design is cluttered and cosy, kind of like an old writer’s studio. The look is a bit of a fusion between Cuban and old European.
With a distinct sweet and tropical feel, El Dandy definitely makes you feel the Cuban hospitality. They serve lunch and cocktails, which are all right but not necessarily amazing. Great, friendly service!
El Del Frente
The ultimate cool spot in trendy and vintage Havana Vieja, El Del Frente is as hip as it gets. A new addition to the Cuban nightlife, it follows the steps of its big brother, O’Reilly 304. A great place to try out local flavors and international food, while feeling the pulse of Havana. Some dishes you should definitely try are their ceviche and their tacos!
The design, in B&W with colorful old chairs, was definitely a highlight. A very fresh and hip kind of place, with fun paintings on the walls and some cute plants but best of all is the small cozy roof top.
The drinks, as one would expect from the country where mojitos and daiquiris were born, are fantastic. You can enjoy tropical live music here, while drinking your favorite rum-based cocktail on the rooftop. Sweet metropolitan atmosphere here, with a fine mix of locals and tourists.
Exploring – 6 Things to do in Havana
This Caribbean country has a tumultuous recent history, having been deeply involved in the Cold War. Nearly three decades after the perestroika, Cuba retains a kind of tropical Soviet charm. Generally speaking, Havana is a vintage pearl, forever stuck in a simpler time. The city’s old streets ooze history at every turn!
1. The Best Way to See Havana – From a Pink Chevy
When in Havana, you need to take a drive in one of the many old American cars. This is a very good way to do some sightseeing and to see the different parts of the Cuban capital.
There are cars all around the city and also certain specific points where you can find a lot of them. Your hotel can also support with booking this but we just grabbed one when we found the perfect pink beauty!
2. The Majestic Capitolo
One of the most iconic sights of Havana is it Capitolio, once the seat of government. Located in Havana Vieja, this impressive old building bares a striking resemblance to the American Capitol in Washington D.C. Finished in the late 1920’s, it’s shocking to find such an iconic American building in this anti-imperialism country. It’s a truly interesting find!
3. Travel Back in Time in Havana Vieja
Havana Vieja is an area that cannot be missed during your Cuban travels. Even if you’re just stopping by Havana for a work visit, this is such a unique sight in the world! With beautiful architecture from colonial time onwards, the streets of Old Havana are colorful and picturesque. A lot of this area is almost crumbling after decades of carelessness, but that almost adds to its charm.
4. The Windy Malecón
Walk down the Malecón! A seaside esplanade extending for 8km of the coast, it’s an absolute must promenade in the city. From here, you can see the old and new buildings of Havana on a totally different perspective. It’s a beautiful promenade whether you do it by day or by night but be careful. The waves will get you and Malecón wet a windy day!
5. The Revolution Landmarks
If you want to dig deeper into Havana’s 20th century history, there are a lot of Revolution landmarks to visit. Plaza de la Revolución, among the largest squares in the world, is a major point of political speeches and rallies. Here, you can also find memorials for Cuban national hero and writer José Martí, plus multiple Revolution figures. Around the square stand the seat of Cuban government, the Communist Party and two major Ministries. This is the very hub of Cuban political life. A lot of internationally vital decisions have been taken in this area, and history buffs will appreciate it above all.
6. The Affluent Vedado
Another beautiful area to visit is Vedado, west of Havana Centro. This was once the point of affluence of U.S. businesses and travelers, with plenty of old mansions. In the years since the Revolution, it’s been a relic of aristocracy, and later a more modern side of town. You can find a lot of old high-end houses and nightclubs in this area. A favorite Havana spot, the John Lennon Park, is located here. Hotel Tryp Habana Libre, which was first the Havana Hilton in the late 1950’s. Now, it’s a landmark of the Cuban revolution, as Fidel Castro used it as headquarters before his coup. It hosted the Soviet Embassy for a while, with cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova once speaking from its premises!
Havana is a city like no other, a city that will stay in your memory forever! Hope you enjoyed my Havana Travel Guide!!! And while in Cuba, take a road trip to Vinales to get some true insights into local Cuban life or spend some day at the wide white beach at Varadero! Read all about our Cuban experience in my Cuba Travel Story!
To help you make the most of your trip check out my Havana Restaurant Review, and Havana Hotel Review. If you’re someone that prefers the countryside to the city then why not take a Cuban country side and beach road trip!