Under the crumbling buildings, Havana pulses to swinging music and clinking cocktails. A city with a modern edge and a fascinating history. Here’s how to spend 3 days in Havana.


On first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking Havana is frozen in time. Buildings of prior colonial masters crumble into varying states of decay. Vintage cars from bygone eras rumble down battered lanes. Weary and weathered, any attempt at civic maintenance was abandoned long ago.

Yet, within the old laneways, Havana feels like a young city. A town rejuvenating itself on whatever resources it can get its hands on.

Bruised facades display the street art of a new generation conflicted over Cuba’s political past and communist present. Imperial Spanish architecture hides cool cafes and quirky shops. Industrial buildings hum to the familiar sounds of Cuban jazz and cocktail bars buzz above minimalist contemporary art galleries. Even the colourful vintage cars that beguile tourists are born out of necessity. A vamped up and long maintained remnant from enforced economic sanctions.

Havana intrigues and surprises. It’s a warm welcoming city that beats to the rhythm of its own drum. Spending 3 days in Havana is all about understanding its political history and absorbing the cool relaxed vibe of a city finding its feet.


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3 days in Havana: A crumbling ruin of a city whose air is filled with music and art

3 DAYS IN HAVANA OVERVIEW

DAY 1 AM / Exploring Havana’s old town and cathedral

DAY 1 PM / Uncovering the revolution & Cuban street music

DAY 2 AM / Learning about cigar making in a working factory

DAY 2 PM / Leafy Vedado suburb & Buena Vista Social Club legends

DAY 3 AM / Perusing the craft stores and art galleries of the old town

DAY 3 PM / A vintage ride and supercool Fábrica de Arte


WHY GO TO HAVANA?

Strolling the streets of a decaying crumbling city

Listening to music drift out of atmospheric bars and laneways

Learning about one of the few communist regimes still standing

Taking a ride in a vintage car

Exploring the huge variety of art and its political influences

Drinking mojitos for next to nothing

DAY 1 AM / EXPLORING HAVANA’S OLD TOWN AND CATHEDRAL

Strolling Havana’s old town is the highlight of a trip to Cuba’s capital. Start the day with breakfast at whitewashed Café Bohemia, tucked under arches in a tiny arcade just off Plaza Vieja. It’s a beautiful square surrounded by magnificent colonial buildings. If you only pop into one make it the photographic exhibition of Cuba’s past at the Fototeca de Cuba.

Next, amble up to the 16th century wonkily-cobbled Plaza de San Francisco de Asia and into the beautiful Plaza de Armas. The leafy green interior of Havana’s oldest square is overlooked by imposing grand architecture. The most magnificent is Palacios de los Capitanes Generales. It houses a range of artefacts detailing the history of the city and is well worth exploring.

Next, walk past the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, to the Cathedral standing at the end of another attractive square. Built in the 18th century it looks more like a fort than a church with its castellated exterior and austere interior.

Just around the corner checkout the throng of tourists lining up for overpriced cocktails at La Bodeguita del Medio, one of Hemingway’s drinking joints. Then, pop into the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Wifredo Lam, a small gallery dedicated to one of Cuba’s most famous painters.


Palacios de los Capitanes Generales: Museo de la Ciudad / 9:30 – 16:15 | Price: CUC3 but pay a further CUC2 for the audio-guide | Location: Plaza de Armas

Catedral de la Habana / 9:00 – 16:30 Mon – Fri; 9:00 – 12:00 Sat & Sun | Price: Free | Location: Plaza de la Catedral

Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Wifredo Lam / 10:00 – 17:00 Mon-Sat | Price: CUC3 | Location: San Ignacio

DAY 1 PM / UNCOVERING THE REVOLUTION & CUBAN STREET MUSIC

For lunch try the hubbub of restaurants on Calle Aguiar, a narrow pedestrian lane with tables spilling onto the street. Refreshed, head into the Museum of the Revolution. It’s heavy on pointless detail and the information boards are confusing, but it gives a fascinating insight into how history is interpreted by the victors and how propaganda continues to be used to support the regime.

Next, as the afternoon slowly comes alive with the sound of music, head back into the old town and explore the shops, museums and galleries of Calle Obispo, Calle O’Reilly and Calle Mercaderes. But don’t leave it there, head into the back streets where the buildings are in even worse condition and the atmosphere much the better for it.

As the evening settles in, enjoy some of the Havana nightlife. Head up to the rooftop bar Café El del Frente. Their huge tasty cocktails quickly make an impact so be careful coming back down their narrow staircase. For dinner settle in to Nao Bar. Tapas never tasted so good thanks to the old school band entertaining patrons from the tiny lane outside. Alternatively, try Monserrate Bar which serves local food in a sultry Caribbean bar while a surprisingly good five piece swoons from a tiny stage.


Museum of the Revolution / 9:30 – 16:00 | Price: CUC8 | Location: Avenida Bélgica


DAY 2 AM / LEARNING ABOUT CIGAR MAKING IN A WORKING FACTORY

For breakfast head to El Dandy, a Havanan institution perched on pretty Plaza del Cristo. Its food is good, but the wall to wall photographs of boxers and ballerinas regaling Cuba’s artistic past are the real drawcard.

This morning’s goal is to go to the Real Partagas Cigar Factory. But Cuba does not like to make things easy, so the tickets are sold a 30-minute walk away at Hotel Inglaterra. It’s a beautiful building with an imposing neo-classical façade. The tickets are on sale at the tourist desk in the reception.

From the hotel it’s only a short taxi ride, but it’s better to take the half-hour walk. Stroll past the grandiose Gren Teatro and Capitolio Nacional before heading into the backstreets around Calle Maloja and Calle Sitios. This is a very old part of town, with atmospheric crumbling buildings, evocative art and colourful murals. The whole place buzzes with local life and a distinct lack of tourists.

The tour of the factory is only 45 minutes but it’s a fascinating insight into both the making of cigars and the communist economy. Cigars are a very artisan product with every step in the process completely handmade. You will see workers strip the leaves of veins, carefully roll the cigars, pick the best ones and box them before presenting their handy work for inspection. It may look like harsh conditions but these are skilled workers in desired jobs which pay twice that of a doctor or three times that of a teacher.

If you want to test the product pop around the corner to the Romeo and Juliet Cigar shop.


Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagás / 9:00 – 13:00 | Price: CUC10 tickets must be bought at Hotel Inglaterra | Location: 816 San Carlos – 30 minute walk from Hotel Inglaterra

DAY 2 PM / LEAFY VEDADO & AGEING BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB LEGENDS

Havana is not just the old town; it’s a big city with a number of faces. Leafy Vedado is an attractive suburb worth exploring. Hop in a taxi and make for the Necrópolis Cristóbal Colon. But on the way, get the taxi driver to stop for a couple of minutes at the Plaza de la Revolución. There’s nothing much to see here (except tourists) so take the obligatory photo of the huge mural of Che and jump back in the cab.

The Necrópolis (cemetery) is a remarkably beautiful and relaxing place. A million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the old town, magnificently adorned graves reveal vignettes of Cuba’s past. A helpful map with suggested itinerary is provided on entry.

There are many lunch places tucked into the backstreets of Vedado but Belview Café is one of the best. A relaxed space with a leafy terrace, high ceilings and smatterings of avant-garde art. Spend the afternoon exploring Vedado with its grander houses and a better standard of living. Pop into John Lennon park, grab an ice cream at state-run Coppelia: and drink with the young and the cool at Rampa 23 or Cine Yara.

Buena Vista Social Club is a thing of the past in Havana. But the closest you get is an evening at Legends del Guajarito in the old town. Here the great and good of years gone by are wheeled out to perform on stage. It’s very touristy and really very cheesy. But, nothing gets your nostalgic groove on like watching 70 and 80-year-old Latin American Emmy winners still holding a tune. Make sure you get the drinks and show tickets and not the expensive dinner tickets. The food is terrible.


Necrópolis Cristóbal Colon / 8:00 – 17:00 | Price: CUC5 includes map | Location: Calle Zapata

Legends del Guajarito / 20:00 – 23:30 | Price: CUC30 drinks & show, CUC60 dinner and show | Location: 658 Zulueta

DAY 3 AM / PERUSING CRAFT STORES AND ART GALLERIES OF THE OLD TOWN

After the show last night it might be a slower start today, so take your time with breakfast at El Café. A cool modern spot with hipster coffee and a wide range of dishes. Try the pulled pork and yucca.

Now make a loop around the southern part of the old town collecting the beautifully presented Pharmacy Museum, the stalls of the San José Almacenes Artisanal centre and the Rafael Trejo Boxing Centre. Cuba has won many Olympic golds for boxing and it’s a firm part of their make-up. If you get lucky the church of Nuestra Senora de la Merced will also be open allowing a look at its fine interior and cloister.

Although the sites are a bit thinner in this part of town, that’s not really what Havana is about. Amble past more crumbling walls, revolution supporting murals, old antique cars and locals selling whatever they have. As lunch approaches, head to Lamparilla for the best Mexican/Spanish tapas this side of Mexico City.

With the afternoon heat rising ensconce yourself in the air-conditioned Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. It has two sections, but the best is the one focused on Cuban art. Start on the top floor for pre-revolution art before heading downstairs to the post-revolution gallery. You’ll soon get a feel for what is (and what isn’t) acceptable methods of portraying the communist regime.


San José Almacenes Artisanal Centre / 10:00 – 18:00 Mon – Sat | Location: Avenida del Puerto

Museo de Bellas Artes: Arte Cubano / 9:00 – 17:00 Tue – Sat; 10:00 – 14:00 Sun | Price: CUC5 | Location: Calle Trocadero

DAY 3 PM / TOURING IN AN VINTAGE CAR & CHILLING IN FÁBRICA DE ARTE

For more insight into the interaction between Cuban literature and the revolution, head a few blocks east to Museo Lezama Lima. Lezama was appointed director of the National Council of Culture by Fidel Castro in 1959. However, he soon found himself out in the cold after his epic book Paradiso (mainly written in this building) portrayed a homosexual encounter and used religious imagery. Both of these things were anti-ethical to the communist regime.

With the sun setting take a stroll along the Malecon before picking up a taxi to head across town. You could get a standard taxi, but better to pay a bit more and do a 1-hour open-topped tour in a vintage car, finishing at El Cocinero for dinner.

This trendy restaurant is set in a restored factory. The outdoor terrace is located on the roof and serves well-prepared food in a cool atmosphere. Even better than the food is the bar set inside one of the ruined chimneys, the next floor up. Seats are perched on a balcony winding around a tiny bar outside. It’s a pricey place but well worth the cost.

After finishing dinner head next door to Fábrica de Arte Cubano. This maze of a venue has bars, art installations, and multiple live performances. It could be a mess, but its high-quality art and super cool vibe see it packed to the rafters every Thursday to Sunday. A great way to end 3 days in Havana.


Museo de Lezama Lima: Arte Cubano / 9:00 – 17:00 Tue – Sat; 9:00 – 13:00 Sun | Price: CUC2 includes guide | Location: Calle Trocadero

El Cocinero / 12:00 – 24:00 | Book a table outdoors on the terrace in advance | Location: Calle 26

Fábrica de Arte Cubano / 20:00 – 3:00 Thur – Sun | Price: CUC5 | Location: Calle 26

ALL THE INFORMATION YOU NEED TO HELP PLAN YOUR OWN INCREDIBLE 3 DAYS IN HAVANA ITINERARY

We believe that a little pre-planning, research, and understanding what you are looking for in a destination, will help make your travels far more successful. You should check out our travel tips in Cuba post as well as further information below, which we think you might need to plan your own 3 days in Havana itinerary.

GETTING TO HAVANA

International flights to Cuba are more expensive than most places and less regular so it is worth playing with your travel dates. Shop around and look for cheaper indirect options if possible. Flights arrive at Aeropuerto Internacional José Martí. You will need a tourist visa and proof of medical insurance to enter.

If you’re American it’s even trickier, check the latest information here.

You cannot bring cash into the country but the airport has a number of ATM, banks and CADECAs (money exchange desks). Taxis to the town centre are CUC30 which your accommodation will be able to arrange for you, otherwise metered taxis wait outside.

CHECK FLIGHTS

GETTING AROUND HAVANA

The public bus system is notoriously difficult to navigate, so it is best to either walk or take taxis. During the day taxis between any two places in the town centre should be about CUC10, rising to CUC15 at night. It may be a little more if you head to the furthest reaches of Vedado from the old town).

It’s worth taking an open air antique car at least once. But line it up to actually get somewhere you want to go, otherwise you’ll pay a lot for a little bit of touristy bling.

BEST TIME TO GO TO HAVANA

Havana is baking hot in the summer so you want to avoid that. Plan to be in Havana in the dryer and cooler months of winter. December to March are ideal with a warm tropical heat that’s not too oppressive. Avoid the Christmas holidays if possible.

Even in winter, Havana can be a bit of a scorcher, so this itinerary has been planned to avoid melting in the heat of the day as much as possible. Most afternoons are spent in air conditioned comfort somewhere, with minimal walking between places.

COSTS OF OUR 3 DAYS IN HAVANA ITINERARY

The total cost of our 3 days in Havana itinerary, for two people, was CUC740. With June 2019 exchange rates of CUC1.26 to the British Pound; CUC1 to the US dollar (fixed exchange rate); and CUC1.12 to the Euro, this equates to:

4 day Cappadocia Itinerary
US $740
4 day Cappadocia Itinerary
GBP £590
4 day Cappadocia Itinerary
EUR €660

NAVIGATING CUBA’S DUAL CURRENCIES

One country, two currencies. It’s one of Cuba’s weirder idiosyncrasies. The Cuban peso (CUP) is the currency that Cuban’s are paid in. However, the vast majority of tourist goods, restaurants and activities are charged in the Cuban convertible peso (CUC).

The CUC is pegged to the US dollar and worth 25 times the CUP – a stark reminder of the division between those with access to the CUC and those without. Unless you’re off the beaten track and shopping in a very local market, you’re unlikely to come in contact with any CUP.

However, you may occasionally receive some very small change in CUP, so keep the double currency in mind just in case.

BOOKING TIPS FOR YOUR 3 DAYS IN HAVANA

While Cuba isn’t the easiest place to travel in, Havana is by far the most tourist-friendly area. There’s a huge selection of accommodation options, restaurants and bars. While, in our opinion, the real joy of Havana is simply strolling the streets, pulling up a chair and listening to live music, here are some suggestions for things you may want to book in advance.


WHERE TO STAY IN HAVANA

We recommend booking accommodation in the north western part of the old town. That way you can walk to the atmospheric streets and also easily get to many of the museums that are just outside the old town.

Here are some accommodation recommendations from us.

COOL LUXURY / ART BOUTIQUE HOTEL

For a cool, yet comfortable stay, hide away behind the blue door on a quiet lane that houses Art Boutique Hotel. It’s not the cheapest, but if you’re looking for a friendly stay, away from the din of central Havana, this is a great choice. Check current prices ART BOUTIQUE HOTEL

AFFORDABLE CLASSIC / CASA TAMARA & CHEN

Enjoy friendly service at Casas Tamara & Chen, where you’ll be treated like a long-lost family member and feel like a local in no time at all. Tamara is loaded with helpful recommendations to make the most of your time in Havana. Check current prices CASA TAMARA & CHEN

POSH BLOWOUT / HOTEL SARATOGA

It’s all out luxury at Hotel Saratoga. Gaze over the nearby old town from the comfort of their rooftop pool – one of the most enviable in Havana. Enjoy free WIFI, 24-hour concierge and a spa to unwind after long days pounding the cobbled lanes. Check current prices HOTEL SARATOGA

TOURS AND ATTRACTIONS

Not much in Havana needs booking in advance. But if you want to go to Legends del Guajarito for just drinks and the show then drop them an email before you fly. You should also make a reservation for dinner at El Cocinero in Vedado. It’s a long way to drive to find they are full.

If you like to get organised before you go, here are some tours you might be interested in:

CLASSIC CAR / 2-hour tour + cocktail

CABARET TROPICANA / Floorshow + welcome drink

OLD HAVANA / Walking tour + lunch

Cuba is a cash economy, so always have plenty of cash on you, although the odd establishment is starting to take card. If you bank with a US entity then your debit and credit cards will not be accepted in Cuba so you must bring enough cash (preferably EUR) for your entire trip. You can find all our money recommendations in our travel tips for Cuba post.

INSTAGRAM / ANYWHERE WE ROAM

We are Mark & Paul. Curious + Adventurous. Anywhere We Roam is the story of our travels – the world as seen through our eyes.⁣⁣⁣

If you found this article helpful and you’d like to see more of our photography, head over to Instagram and follow our journey.⁣⁣⁣

As always, thanks for supporting our blog.⁣⁣⁣

GUIDEBOOKS & READING

We used the Lonely Planet guidebook for Cuba which contains helpful information about opening times, attractions and is generally good for restaurant recommendations.

The 500 Hidden Secrets of Havana offers a much more detailed offering of places more off the beaten track as well as a wide range of drinking and eating places.

For some fascinating reading before coming to Havana try Cuba: A New History by Richard Gott which illustrates a detailed history of the island. Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas portrays a rather disturbing view of how outsiders were treated by the regime and Dirty Havana Trilogy by Pedro Juan Guiterrez is a sex-fuelled journey through the poverty of the early 90s.

WHERE NEXT?

Firstly, if you found this guide useful, follow us on Instagram to stay up to date with our travel plans.

Cuba is a fascinating and complex country, read about our top 10 experiences in Cuba for more inspiration.

An excellent next stop after exploring the sights and sounds of Havana is Viñales – the beautiful tobacco region about 2 hours away. This is just one of the many beautiful areas in Cuba rich in exotic wildlife and lush tropical countryside. Here are some of the others:

LUSH TROPICAL PARADISE OF PARQUE EL CUBANO

GUANAYARA’S COFFEE PLANTATIONS

STUNNING WATERFALLS OF EL NICHO

If you have any questions please leave them in the comments section below – we will always reply. To stay up to date with our travels, follow us on social and signup to our NEWSLETTER.

Under the crumbling buildings and decaying infrastructure, Havana hides an intriguing spirit. Here’s how to spend 3 days in Havana. #cuba #havana #lahabana

Under the crumbling buildings and decaying infrastructure, Havana hides an intriguing spirit. Here’s how to spend 3 days in Havana. #cuba #havana #lahabana

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