OK, there are two parts to this posting. The first is what I call my Havana Big List
on things to do and see in Havana, while the second part is if you're taking a one-day taxi tour from either Varadero or Jibacoa. Naturally, if you're staying in Havana for a day or two this will also give you a good starting point.
==============================================Part One -- The Havana Big List
WOW!!! Havana and what to do?
Here in no particular order are some of my favourites. You can't possibly do the whole list in one day, but it might give you some ideas of where to start.
1) Plaza Revolution
and Jose Marti Monument
and museum. View from top is great. Postal Museum is right around the corner as well if you like stamps.
for Icecream at top of La Rampa. (Calle 23 esq. a L, Vedado.) 30,000 a day are served. Cubans love icecream.
3) Parisienne Cabaret
(at Hotel Nacional) for show, or Tropicana Club for dinner show.
4) Muesum of the Revolution
(Just down the street from Parque Central on Ave. Agramonte (Zulueta) on Calle Refugio #1
5) Calle Obispo
. Very bohemian with lots of galleries, shops, cafe's. Just around the from Parque Central and the Capitolo.
6) La Floridita Bar
for Daquiri (just at Parque Central and Calle Obispo)
7) Plaza de la Cathedral
(Cathedral Square). Classic old Havana beauty and architecture
8) La Bodeguita del Medio
for a Mojito. Just around the corner from Cathedral Square.
9) Plaza Armas
for Sunday bookfair (if it fits your schedule)
10) Free Market
(hard currency) on Tacon in Parque Cespedes
, at the waterfront just behind Castillo la Real Fuerza
for hand made souvenirs. NOTE...This market moved last week and is now located 2 kilometers away on the inner harbour. Will update map and thread soon
11) El Morro Castle
. Canon firing at 9:00 p.m. ceremony. Make sure to climb Faro
(the lighthouse) for a fabulous view across the harbour at old Havana.
12) Bocoy Rum Factory
(Fábrica de ron Bocoy, Calzada del Cerro No. 1417, Cerro) or the Havana Club Fundacion Outlet
(San Pedro y Sol, Ave. del Puerto #262) Here's the link to the Havana Club Fundacion website.HC Foundation
13) Plaza Vieja
at the bottom of San Ignacio for the tremendous architecture and also there's a microbrewery in the southwest corner.
14) Hemmingway Marina
15) The Capitolio
. 3rd largest indoor statue in the world inside under the dome.
16) All the rest of Habana Vieja (Old Havana) right in your neighbourhood.
17) Chinatown. Just to the west of the Capitolo by a few blocks. Walkable distance on Dragones at the south end of the Capitolo.
18) Castillo Real Fuerza
. Right off Plaza Armas and very nice to walk through.
19) The Malecon
. Oceanfront drive that is very popular for strolling along the seawall.
20) University of Havana (up near la Rampa and Coppelia)
21) Cemetary Colon
. Many mausoleums and artistic graves. Very historic. Near Plaza Revolution.
22) Parque Lenin
and Las Ruinas for lunch. Very pretty.
23) Partagas Cigar Factory
(Casa del Habano Partagas, Industria No. 320) Phone 537-33-8060 Tours every 15 min, 9:30-11:00 and 12:00-3:00
So that's my basic starting list. In addition in Old Havana there are many galleries, museums of various types and it's nice to sit in one of the many small cafes and just soak up the ambience, a cold beer, and listen to some great music. Usually a combo, trio or quartet. For me personally that is the real soul of Habana... it's music.
For shopping and souvenirs, there are several places that are almost a must see/do.
There are many small shops along Calle Obispo in Old Havana that have some nice stuff. Also in Parque Cespedes located between Av. del Puerto and Tacon (right behind Castillo de la Real Fuerza) is an Artisan Market where lots of handmade handicrafts and stuff is available. It's also a neat place to just wander about. Keep an eye out in this park for the guys that husk/slice and open fresh coconuts for the tourists. A fresh coconut and a straw is a nice refreshing drink. Not too many as fresh coconut milk can upset your GI system.
There is also another craft market located on the Malecon (shoreline drive) between the Hotel Nacional and the Melia Cohiba Hotel. I walked the full length of the Malecon and this craft market is on the south side between E and F. For regular shopping in a Cuban version of a shopping mall, there is the Galeria Paseo located at Av Paseo & the Malecon (across the street from the Melia Cohiba.
Another Galeria is located on the south side of Av Salvador Allende between Calzada de Infanta y Oquendo. You can walk to it from the Capitolo quite easily in about 20 minutes by walking up Av Simon Bolivar.
To orient yourself, here is a good map site for Cuba. CubaRoutes Maps
Select the City of Havana map on the left & when that opens select List all Places in City of Havana on the right hand side. You can check the boxes for Accommodation, attractions etc. Will give you a good map showing where stuff is located. Zoom the map in closer for a better look.
Here is the site of INFOTOUR, the City of Havana Tourist Office. Good info and there's a map showing the location of their stores in Havana. A good place to get maps, info etc., once you are actually in Havana.Infotur
And what's Havana without EATING. So here's my favourite list of good places to eat.
1) EL ALJIBE
- in Miramar (Calle 7ma. e/ 24 y 26, Miramar. Playa. Ciudad de La Habana Phone:(53 7) 204-1583 · 204-1584) offers a great house specialty, Lemon Chicken. Grand and not too pricey at $12. Good wine selection as well. El Aljibe is popular with the Cubans and I've always enjoyed eating there. It's one of my "Must Eat" places everytime I am in Havana.
2) EL FLORIDITA
- in Habana Vieja serves the absolute BEST frozen daquiri imaginable. But at $6.00 per drink it is a little pricey. But that's the bar and drink made famous by Hemmingway and there's lots of photos of Papa Hemingway on the walls (with Fidel no less). Food is pretty good as well, but I've only eaten in the bar section, not the dining room. And you ARE paying a premium for the tourist value of the place.
3) EL PATIO
- in Plaza de la Catedral is also great. You can dine inside or outside in the square under unbrellas. I prefer the outside because the music isn't quite as loud, and I simply love to soak up the atmosphere in the Plaza. Service can be a bit slow however. I often stop here for lunch (Sandwich Cubano) with a cold Crystal Beer. Very nice.
4) LA BODEGUITA DEL MEDIO
- If you are in Havana and want a great Mojito at the legendary bar made famous by Ernest Hemmingway, then you have to have a drink at The Bodeguita Del Medio, Empedrado 207, Habana Vieja (Old Havana). Comida Criolla y Mojitos (Native food and Mojitos), what a great place to eat and drink. Located just around the corner from Cathedral Square. The walls are covered with signatures of its patrons from the day it opened. Famous signatures such as Hemmingway's and Salvadore Allende's are protected under glass. No visit to Havana is complete without a Mojito at la Bodeguita.
5) LA DIVINA PASTORA
- Parque Histórico Militar Morro-Cabaña. Tucked into the berth of the sailing ship El Galeón at the foot of El Morro Castle, it is a good spot for dinner after the cañonazo (cannon blast) at La Cabaña. I took my girlfriend here and the atmosphere is terrific. Soft breeze, soft music and soft lips. What a treat. Very romantic spot with the lights of the harbor glimmering. The food is good too. Not a place where you have paid for the view and get substandard fare. Worth every penny, though it does take quite a few of them. If you only have one night and want to make it special, then this is the place to go.
Also, right alongside La Divina Pastoria is a small annex bar called BAR EL MIRADOR which also offers terrific city views and the same menu as the main restaurant next door. A breezy terrace makes it one of Havana's romantic getaways. Standard criollo dishes -- plátanos a puñetazos, frijoles negros, ropa vieja -- are available along with international specialties.
- Also in Miramar suburb in the Miramar Trade Center directly across the street from the Melia Habana Hotel. (Calle 3ra. e/ 78 y 80, Miramar. Playa. Ciudad de La Habana) Classy dining but won't break the budget. I've eaten there three times and have always enjoyed it and felt I received value for the money.
7) La Lluvia de Oro
- Calle Obispo, La Habana Vieja. A good bar/restaurant if you're in jeans, looking to get down with the locals, drink beer, eat bar type foods (the Ropa Vieja is good) but they have an awesome bar band and a sax/flute player that's simply amazing.
8) LA ZARAGOZANA
- Calle Monserrate No. 352. La Habana Vieja. Ciudad de La Habana, Phone:(53 7) 867-1033 · 867-1040 Mostly Spanish based meals. I had a really good Paella there, but be advised that if you order the Paella it's made fresh (which is good) but that means it will be 45 minutes until you're served. But it was delicious.
- Calle Teniente Rey No. 507 esq. a Bernaza. La Habana Vieja. Ciudad de La Habana, Phone:(53 7) 867-1029 Very reasonable prices for both the quality and quantity of food you get. Cuban Cuisine and be sure to ask your waiter what the daily special is as there are some great full meal deals.
10) EL PALENQUE
- Ave. 17 e/ 174 y 190, Reparto Siboney. Playa. Ciudad de La Habana, (Right beside PAVEXPO) Cocina cubana (Cuban food) Although a long way out in the suburbs, past Miramar, Palenque is a very reasonable place to eat. Not fancy, but they serve an amazing roast pork plate that is a true carnivor's delight. Also love their Crema de Queso (Cheese Soup) and Palenque also serves what IMHO has to be the best Hamburger/Fries plate in Havana, for only $2.75 CUC.
11) LA MINA
- Calle Obispo No. 106 esq. a Oficios. La Habana Vieja. Ciudad de La Habana, Tel:(53 7) 862-0216. A nice place to eat located right on the corner of Plaza Armas, La Mina offers both inside dining or the outside patio. I've always had good meals there and the prices are reasonable for Old Havana.
12) "EL COQUITO" or "RANCHO COQUITO"
(also the building is known as Centro Asturiano) and it's up a very narrow stairway on the left side of the building. It's above what is basically a Cuban sandwich bar/drink bar and while you'd never suspect the place when you see the entrance, it's quite nice inside and the food and prices are amazing. Lobster was 8 CUC for the dinner. I had the full mixed grill kebob which was about 6 or 7 CUC and it was great. Also, their Crema Queso soup is to die for. I'd have never found the place or gone up the stairs by myself, but I was with Cuban friends who took me and I was very pleasantly surprised. It's on the Malecon about two blocks west of El Prado. There's a nice balcony and if a table is free you can sit and eat and enjoy a great view along the Malecon. Definately a place for locals, because tourists never seem to find it.
13) RESTAURANTE TIEN TAN
in Barrio Chino (Calle Cuchillo, #17, btwn Zanja y San Nicolas, 861-5478) for great Chinese Food and honest to god Spring Rolls! Very good selection of items to choose from. You can sit outside or inside and there's a separate floor for smokers and non-smokers. Decent service.
14) TRATTORIA MARAKAS
on Calle "O" just off La Rampa (Calle 23) It’s a pretty simple faux Italian looking place with a huge map and posters of Italy on the walls… but the food!!! My god, I’ve got to admit that I’ve not eaten better even along St. Clair in Toronto’s little Italy area. I had a combination plate with Lasagna and Cannelloni with a basket of garlic bread and a half-bottle of red wine and it was superb. Thick and cheesy with real Parmesan and Mozzarella and an honest meat/tomato sauce. Even served traditionally in a deep dish scalding hot right out of the oven. Cost 12 CUC for everything.
15) CAFE EL ESCORIAL
on the southeast corner of Plaza Vieja offers Havana's best coffee bar, serving not only Cafe Cubano (strong sweet coffee), Cafe con Leche (strong coffee with hot milk), but also frappes, coffee liquor, and Cuban Espresso. They also serve good pastries and sweets. When you need a late afternoon caffeine and sugar fix, this is the place to be. Nice outside patio area in a wonderfully restored building.
Paladares en Habana (Paladares are private, non-government restaurants)Los Nardo's
- facing El Capitolio. It is directly across from the Capitolio, on the Prado (aka Paseo de Marti.) 2 blocks up from Parque Central, between Brasil and Dragones.
The restaurant is located on the 2nd floor, but there is a staff member on the street to deal with the line-up and direct you upstairs when there is room. Very few tourists, mostly locals. The menu is entirely in Spanish. The menu is varied (seafood, lamb, beef, chicken), portions enormous, great atmosphere. Excellent value.La Guarida
, - Calle Concordia #418, entre Gervasaio y Escobar (624940).
Open 7pm-midnight daily; reservation required.
Main courses $15-$20.
Perhaps the best-known paladar of them all, La Guarida owes its fame to Fresa y Chocolate, the successful 1993 Cuban movie, which was filmed on the premises. Finding this place among the Havana rubble is a rewarding experience; the surrounding buildings are near to collapse, but the restaurant has been restored beautifully. The prices here are a little higher than at the average paladar, but the choice and quality of the international food justify this. Although the normal 12-covers rule doesn't apply (the owners must be well connected), it is still necessary to make an advance booking to secure a table.
And What to eat? Here's some of my favourites.Tostones
- Squished then fried Green PlantainPaella
- Seafood and Rice mixtureSándwich Cubano
- Roasted Pork, Ham, Swiss Cheese, pickles, Heated and pressed in a grillCroquetas
- fish, or ham generallyYuca con Mojo
- Yuca a root vegetable with mojo, or sauce (garlic, lemon and oil)Ropa Vieja
- (literally, old clothes) Spiced Shredded BeefFrijoles Negros
- Black Beans on top of white riceMoros y Cristianos
- Red beans and rice, cooked togetherCongri
- Black Beans and RiceArroz con Pollo
- Chicken with RiceCerdo Asada
- Roast PorkLa Brasa Langosta y Camarónes
- Grilled Lobster and ShrimpPicadillo
- Cuban Beef Hash with VegetablesChicharrones
- Fried pork rind (absolutely addictive)Crema de Queso
- A Cheese Soup that is to die for!!!!
You must think all I do is eat, but it is a great hobby. In my trips I have found some nice spots and plan to spend more time just relaxing and absorbing the atmosphere.
Have fun and FORGET THE DIET...... ha, ha, ha.
I've been to Havana many times and still have lots more to see. If you feel like looking at some photos of Havana (with full captions and descriptions) then have a look at my website at. Viva Cuba Website
Hope you enjoy yourselves and have a Mojito for me.
==============================================Part Two -- The Eight Hour Day Tour
Hmmmmm.... only 8 hours to see Havana. What to do?
Ok, this section is based on staying at either Jibacoa or Varadero and renting a cab/driver for the day for a tour of Havana. There's both a driving section, and a walking section as personally, I believe the only way to discover Havana is by foot. As you're arriving from the east, I'd first stop at El Morro and Faro
(Lighthouse). Climb to the top for an awesome view of the city across the harbour entrance. You want to do this in the morning so the sun is behind you as you look across at the city. Better photos that way.
Then drive through the tunnel and along the famous Malecon
to 12th and hang a left up to Zapata at the Main entrance to Cemetery Colon
Spend 1/2 hour or so wandering and looking at the unique mausoleums and graves.
Then drive along Zapata and make a quick right hand turn onto Paseo and up to Plaza de la Revolution
and the Jose Marti Monument
. The view from the top is spectacular, but you'll have to judge your time to know if it's worth the wait for the elevator.
Then I'd have the cab drive you down to the Capitolio
area and drop you off at the Partagas Cigar Factory
(Casa del Habano Partagas, Industria No. 320) Phone 537-33-8060 Tours every 15 min, 9:30-11:00 and 12:00-3:00
From here, it's walking time. This route shown is 5-1/4 kilometers in distance but you'll probably walk 6+ kilometers by the time you wander about. I'd make arrangements for the cab driver to meet you at 6:00 pm at a designated pick-up spot. For a suggestions, I'd pick someplace like right in front of El Templete
, a Havana church (circa 1519) right at the Northeast corner of Plaza Armas which is very easy to find. Your driver would have to park and walk there to meet you.
Here's what the El Templete church looks like. Very easy to recognize on the corner of Plaza de Armas.El Templete
From Partagas after your tour, walk past the Capitolio
(tour if you have time) then through Parque Central
and head a few blocks down the Prado
to see this wonderful streetscape.
Turn right onto Colon and walk the block over to the Museo de la Revolucion
where you can see the famous boat Granma
outside. Tour if you have time.
Now walk up Misiones past the Bacardi Building
and over to Calle Obispo.
Right at the corner of Calle Obispo is the Floridita Bar
of Hemingway fame, and as you wander down Obispo there are lots of bars and eateries to grab something to eat. Wander down Obispo to the Hotel Ambos Mundos
, also of Hemingway fame.
Follow Obispo to Calle Mercaderes then take a right and wander over to Plaza Vieja
, wonderfully restored and there's a microbrewery in the southwest corner. Got to keep those fluid levels up.
Then wander down to San Pedro at Sol to find the Havana Club Foundation
store and museum at Fundacion Havana Club at San Pedro y Sol, (Ave. del Puerto) #262. Great Havana Club souvenirs and neat stuff to look at.
Then continue wandering back over to Plaza de Armas
, then over to Plaza de la Catedral
to see the famous church. Fifty feet around the corner to the left of the front of the church is the famous La Bodeguita del Medio
for a Mojito. Sure it's a tourist spot, but heck, we're tourists and that's where Hemingway made the Mojito famous.
Now walk up San Ignacio to Tacon and along Tacon to the Palacio de la Artesania
(Artisans Palace) where you can also shop for nice souvenirs (touristy). Now wander back through the Artisans Market
in Parque Cespedes
By now you're probably dragging your butt and tired and you're probably about out of time. So wander back past the Castillo de Real Fuerza
to Plaza de Armas to meet your driver. As you pass Real Fuerza take special note of the bronze weathervane atop the bell tower. It is La Giraldilla de la Habana
which is the symbol of Havana, and the logo on every bottle of Havana Club rum.
You've had a quick overview, seen some nice stuff, and had a Havana appetizer. Next time back, you'll surely want the main course.
Remember, everybody will have a different idea of what they like. If you want to spend more time at museums then that's an option, but when you've only got a short time, spending 2 hours or more in a single museum really takes a bite out of your time allowance. No matter what, I'd strongly suggest you read a travel guide (Lonely Planet or my personal favourite, Moon Publications, Cuba) and learn a little about what you're going to see.
Oh, and to help you out, here's maps to help you find your way around.
The Blue Route is the Driving portion of your day's outing, and the Red Route is the Walking portion.
Have a great trip and enjoy Havana.