It’s impossible not to love Havana. We found the city picture perfect and incredibly romantic. The colonial architecture, the colours, the music, the rum and especially Cuban people. It’s simply magical.
Everywhere we went and everything we saw was full of life. I still feel like I am in a daze, completely mesmerised by this Caribbean island just thinking about it.
Before travelling to Cuba, we watched lots of videos about Havana and were assured by friends that we are going to love it, but we couldn’t even begin to imagine how much we ended up loving it.
1. The beautiful Habana Vieja
The Habana Vieja quarter of the city is magnificent and evidently rehabilitated with some serious tourist money. It’s a massive contrast from the run down streets in the rest of Havana.
While staying fairly close to the old town, we had a lazy walk through the beautifully restored streets every day. We loved Plaza San Francisco. The colours and the building are so captivating, it’s impossible to ignore even one single detail.
The magnificent Baroque style Havana Cathedral – one of the eleven Roman Catholic cathedrals in Cuba can be found in the centre of Habana Vieja, Plaza de la Catedral, along with other lovely buildings.
2. Getting lost in the hidden streets in Havana
While we admired Habana Vieja, we preferred and absolutely loved roaming the not so renovated back streets of Havana to see the true face of the capital city. This is where the magic happens and where local life rolls on each day.
Cuba is one of the safest places for tourists in the world and we felt safe even walking in the dark. If I appeared in a run down and dark street in London, I’d be slightly worried, but in Havana it’s where most people live and is perfectly safe.
All Havana is like this, crumbling away, but it’s a part of its charm. While wandering around, you can look into people’s living rooms through the barred windows. I loved peeking in and seeing a Cuban rocking away gently in a chair while watching TV. I wished I could just pop in and have a cup of tea instead of just being a passing by stranger.
3. The Guanabana ice cream
While wandering the back streets of Havana, look out for little shops in the doorways, owned by the locals. It’s the best places to get a snack. The prices are in local currency, but sellers will take Convertible Pesos.
I am not sure what’s the exchange rate between the tourist and local currency, but I know that the Guanabana (custard apple) ice cream we bought was very cheap, maybe just a few cents and hands down the best ice cream we ever had.
Use Our Guides as you Travel with GPS-Guided Post. We’re pretty excited by the opportunity to bring our guides and articles to life in the real world via GPS tracking. Check it out!
4. The warmth of Cuban people
Local people are the reason why Havana is so magical. Cubans are very proud of their country, they are very welcoming and genuinely friendly, not to mention, educated.
In our casa I even had a chat in Russian with a local chap over a glass of Cuba Libre. It was totally surreal, and so amazing being able to communicate with the local, since Charlie and I can’t speak Spanish.
When you go to Cuba, you shouldn’t look at the poverty, but rather at how people make their living. With the limited resources they have to be inventive and very enterprising if they want to do anything other than the jobs allocated to them by the Cuban government.
5. The rich history of Cuba and the real pirates of the Caribbean
The Royal Force Castle is definitely worth a visit if you want to hear stories of the real pirates of the Caribbean. It is one of the main sites to visit in Old Havana.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site was reopened as Cuba’s premier maritime museum back in 2010 and now houses excellent exhibition of Cuba’s maritime past from pre-Columbian days. It also has fantastic panoramic views of Havana.
There’s much to see and do in Havana and while you are visiting this magnificent city, you should pay a visit to the Museo de la Revolución. The building itself is a magnificent piece of architecture.
We loved the museum and spend a good couple of hours if not longer wandering through Cuba’s history. We don’t think we’ve ever visited a museum that was so bias, we loved it! Nonetheless it was very interesting to see the Revolution from the ‘official’ point of view.
6. Chilling on the Malecon with the locals
When it’s incredibly hot in the city, head towards Malecón for a refreshing walk by the water. Walk along The promenade Paseo del Prado which divides Old Havana and Centro Havana. This first paved street in Havana will lead you down to the Malecon.
It’s not a touristy attraction, but of course, still, many tourists come here to catch a soulful sunset. To fish, smoke a cigar and drink rum, or just hang around Malecón is a very local thing to do, it’s not really meant for tourists and that’s why it’s even more charming. You will get to meet lots of lovely Cuban people here before the sunset.
7. The flowing rum and the bars
Cuba Libre is called this for a reason. Rum flows freely in this country and we enjoyed it shamelessly.
Don’t miss Prado No 12, a slim building on the corner of Prado and San Lazaro. Charlie had a local beer here while studying the map and I had a fabulous piña colada with some great live Cuban beats.
La Bodequita (Empedrado Street) and El Floridita (Obispo Street) are two famous bars visited not only by Ernest Hemingway, but Fidel Castro was once a regular drinker there too.
However, these days, better quality and cheaper mojitos can be found elsewhere. The bars became especially popular with package tourists. We popped in quickly to snap a few pictures. It was very crowded and no locals to be found so didn’t hang around.
8. The arts and culture in Havana
Cubans love art and the whole country breathes and lives culture. So many talented people express themselves in their little street studios and I’ve seen some amazing canvas with Cuban street scenes.
The true culture is right in the streets of Havana. Like these fellows playing a game of dominoes and enjoying their afternoon, it’s just a way of local life.
Did you know that The Cuban National Ballet School is the biggest and the most prestigious ballet school in the world? We enjoyed sitting outside the school and hearing the beautiful music coming through the windows.
You can’t help but imagine the classes full of students graciously tip toeing to the classical notes of Giselle.
9. The stunning 1950’s classic convertibles
No one can resist the charm of the classic 1950’s cars. It’s insane how they are even still running! Cubans look after them very well and you can see they are very proud driving a 1950’s convertible. The colours and shapes are just incredible.
You can never tire of the view when an shiny yet exaggerated size car pulls up in between the tall derelict buildings of colourful Havana.
10. Viewing Havana from a 1950’s convertible
Taking a tour of Havana in a convertible is the ultimate touristy thing to do and we couldn’t resist. How could we! We wanted to feel the wind in our hair and the sun on our faces as we were being whizzed through this incredible place in 1950’s convertible.
So to sum it up, Cuban people, crumbling architecture and delicious rum filled our hearts with unforgettable memories. I really hope we will be back some time soon to explore the island further.
If you are planning a trip to Cuba, have a look at Our complete guide to booking a casa particular in Cuba.