Havana, Cuba: A Local’s Guide for Travelers [2024]

What feels like a thousand complex layers of history, culture, religion, and cuisine combine in messy, magical Havana, Cuba. More than just a layover on the way to Cuba’s spectacular beaches or the chance for the perfect Instagram, an experience visiting Havana is an opportunity to peel back the layers – just wait until you see what you find!

As locals, we’ve had no greater pleasure than calling Havana home – and a home away from home, experiencing it like fewer others get the chance to. Read on for everything you’ll need to know as you plan a visit to Havana, Cuba, including our local insight into the best things to do in Havana, where to stay, and when to visit – plus special guidance for American travelers hoping to (finally!) visit Cuba.

havana cuba travel

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Havana, Cuba

Ask anyone about Havana, Cuba, and they’re sure to mention a few special things that characterize the city: Cars. Cigars. Colorful casas and colonial castles. Communism, perhaps. There are a million things Havana is known for, but the experience of exploring Havana firsthand is so much more than that.

Bar hop alongside local mixology masters. Learn about revolution at a presidential palace riddled with bullet holes turned museum. Dance the night away to DJ sets by international superstars at a mixed-use arts space named one of the best places to visit in the entire world. These are just a few of the best things to do in Havana that are transforming the stereotypes – and making Havana more desirable for travelers than ever.

For those looking for a Caribbean vacation but are unsatisfied with the idea of being confined to a resort, planning a trip to Havana might be the perfect solution. Spend a few days exploring Havana before heading off to the nearby beach town of Varadero. It’s a classic vacation that mixes the richness of one of the world’s great cities with one of the best beaches in the Caribbean.

Havana makes for an incredible and quick getaway from Mexico, the Caribbean, or the United States, even as a great long weekend option; traveling to Havana from Miami is a quick 45-minute flight!

However, you can just as easily spend five or more days exploring Havana before heading out to the rest of the country to explore favorite destinations like Viñales, Trinidad, Baracoa, and more. It’s the perfect starting point to discover the best things to see and do in Cuba.

Read More: 3 Days in Havana: Ultimate Itinerary


Is Havana Safe?

Take it both from personal experience and from statistics: Havana, Cuba is safe for travelers! Even as a woman, I’ve never felt unsafe or uncertain when traveling in and around Havana – even alone. The city of Havana and the country of Cuba overall are known for being extremely safe for travelers, and you won’t have much to worry about here.

When traveling anywhere, make sure to take some basic safety steps and take basic measures to protect yourself against petty crimes like pickpocketing. However, you can visit Havana feeling confident and safe as you travel.

Read More: Is Cuba Safe? Ultimate Local Guide for Travelers

Can Americans Travel to Havana, Cuba?

Yes, Americans can travel to Havana! It may come as a surprise to learn, but it’s actually quite easy and 100% legal to travel to Cuba as an American. For most travelers from the United States, it’s no more difficult to travel to Havana than it is to travel anywhere else – check out our guide to traveling to Cuba from the United States for details.

However, it’s important to be aware that the U.S. imposes some restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba that you’ll have to keep in mind when traveling. The U.S. allows “Support for the Cuban People” travel, meaning that you’ll need to plan to support local Cuban small businesses while traveling rather than businesses run by the Cuban government.

One important detail of this is that many hotels in Cuba are at least partially owned by the Cuban government, making them off-limits to American travelers. Check out our guide to where to stay in Havana for some excellent places to stay in the city you’ll have no trouble booking.

cuba havana

Best Time to Visit Havana, Cuba

Havana is magic year-round. However, with Cuba’s year-round hot weather, it’s best to plan a trip during the relatively cooler, drier months of the year. Late November or December through April or May tends to be the best time to visit Havana for nice weather.

  • High Season: December – April
  • Shoulder Season: May – June, October – November
  • Low Season: July – September

However, December through April also correspond with the high season of travel. Havana never feels overrun with tourists, though this season is certainly busier. Prices for everything rise, particularly around the festive season in late December.

If you’re looking for that sweet spot of nice weather, smaller crowds, and lower prices, aim for the shoulder seasons, particularly May and June, before Atlantic Hurricane Season picks up and rainy weather starts in earnest.

Read More: Best Time to Visit Cuba: Month By Month Breakdown

Havana Map

We created a detailed Havana map to help visitors explore the best of the city. Here you’ll find our favorite Havana restaurants, hotels, the best things to do, and the destinations you can’t skip when in Havana. Click on the Havana map to zoom, explore, and download for your Havana travel experience.

plaza vieja havana

Things To Do in Havana, Cuba

Whether you’re looking to explore Havana’s historic landmarks, dive into its culinary scene, or even experience its cultural scene, there are plenty of things to do in Havana for travelers of every interest.

We can’t dive deep into all of them here – check out our exhaustive guide, 45+ Best Things To Do in Havana, for more of that. However, these are a few favorite things to do in and around Havana you can’t skip during your visit:

1. Explore Old Havana

Exploring the bucket list destination of Old Havana is hands down the best thing to do in Havana. With its early 20th-century buildings in bright colors, classic American cars, and winding cobblestone streets, it’s incredibly enchanting.

A popular place to start a self-guided walking tour is in the Plaza Central, from which you can head down the bustling Calle Obispo that cuts through the center of Old Havana. Or, sign up for a free tour of Old Havana or a private guided tour to explore with the guidance of locals.

Trace a route between Havana’s four historic plazas (Plaza Vieja, Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza de Armas, and Plaza de San Francisco) to cover most of the old city. Make sure to also take a stroll on the Paseo del Prado heading towards the Malecón sea wall, especially towards the evening, to enjoy the sunset over the ocean.

One thing that makes Old Havana so unique? People actually live here! While parts of Old Havana have been transformed into museums and apartments for rent to visitors, you’ll still see Cubans living their everyday lives – kids playing in the streets, fruit and vegetable markets filled with locals, and more.

Read More: Top 10 Apps to Download for Travel to Cuba

2. Shop at Clandestina

Clandestina is a Cuban design brand based in Havana that is taking Cuba and the rest of the world by storm. Based out of its charming storefront in Old Havana (located at 403 Villegas near El Capitolio), Clandestina is one of the first and only Cuban brands to market and sell its products online worldwide.

Clandestina’s design store carries hand-printed clothes, posters, items for the home, and much more. Not only do these items make perfect souvenirs with their often tongue-in-cheek Cuba-related themes, but you’ll also be supporting a groundbreaking Cuban small business.

Travel Insurance

Cuba requires that all travelers have proof of a comprehensive travel insurance policy in order to enter the country. Check out our guide to travel insurance for Cuba for more details. We recommend these brands for Cuba travel insurance:

  • Visitors Coverage: Coverage for Cuba travel available to citizens of all countries, though not currently available to residents of New York and Maryland in the United States.
  • Insubuy: Coverage for Cuba travel available to citizens of all countries and states of the United States.

3. Walk – Or Drive – Along the Malecón

The Malecón is Havana’s emblematic oceanfront promenade. It has long been a favorite gathering spot in Havana, especially in the evening and to watch the sunset. It’s one of the most iconic images of Havana, and no visit to the city is complete without strolling on the Malecón.

This coastal highway is also famous as the route for the most famous of all things to do in Havana – taking a ride in one of the city’s many candy-colored vintage convertibles. This activity is one of the most iconic things to do in Havana for a reason – it’s really cool! You can book a ride in a classic convertible in Havana ahead of time for a hotel pickup and to avoid haggling over prices, or find drivers in Havana’s Parque Central.

4. Explore El Vedado

The Havana neighborhood of El Vedado is packed with great places to eat, as well as plenty of fun bars and clubs. This makes the neighborhood one of the best places to stay in Havana. It also means you should definitely plan on exploring the neighborhood whether you stay here or not!

While visiting El Vedado, try out some of our favorite Havana restaurants like El Idilio, Fonda La Paila, or El Cheverongo. Mamaine in El Vedado is one of my personal favorite cafes in Havana and has a great range of food and coffee options all day.

An institution in El Vedado is Coppelia, well known in Havana and around Cuba as the country’s most famous ice cream parlor, with a rotating list of flavors. Coppelia is the perfect stop for an afternoon treat to escape from the sun.

Directly across the street from the Coppelia is the Yara, a landmark movie theater that hosts regular new releases of Cuban and Latin American films, as well as international film festivals. If you’re in town for a film festival, try getting tickets – they’re very cheap!

playas del este

5. Visit Playas del Este

Havana proper doesn’t have any true beaches – you’ll have to travel just east of the city to the aptly-named Playas del Este to experience the nearest beach! The beaches at Playas del Este are relatively easy and inexpensive to access, making them quite popular with locals and travelers with shorter itineraries.

Don’t expect the pristine beaches you’ll find at Varadero or on Cuba’s cays, but don’t scoff at these beaches either! The nicest Havana beaches that are part of the Playas del Este are Playa Santa Maria and Playa Marazul. Here you’ll find beachside hotels and restaurants nearby, which make renting chairs and finding facilities during a beach day quite easy.

You can easily arrange private transport with a taxi from the city. For a cheaper yet comfortable option, you can take a Havana Bus Tour hop-on hop-off bus (on the T3 line) departing from Old Havana’s Parque Central.

el cocinero habana
Courtesy of El Cocinero

Things To Do in Havana at Night

Visit Fábrica de Arte Cubano

There’s just nowhere like Fabrica de Arte Cubano. This unique mixed-use space in the El Vedado neighborhood includes multiple bars alongside spaces for rotating fine arts installations, event venues for live music and performances, and much more.

Come for internationally renowned musicians and DJs, as well as fashion shows, documentary screenings, and much more on rotation nightly. Plan on starting the night by eating at El Cocinero (located right next door!), then spending the whole evening here; there will be plenty to keep you entertained!

Join Locals on the Malecón

Havana’s Malecón – a famous oceanfront promenade – is one of Havana, Cuba’s favorite destinations at night. Not only is this a great place to enjoy an unforgettable sunset, but it turns into a favorite gathering spot for locals and travelers alike at night.

You’ll find vendors walking up and down the sea wall selling alcohol and snacks, or you can bring your own and enjoy. Not only is this one of the best ways to enjoy the Havana sunset, but it’s also one of the many awesome (free!) things to do in Havana at night.

Get A Drink With a View

While there are plenty of bars and restaurants in Old Havana with beautiful views and rooftops, the pool decks and rooftop bars at the three newest luxury hotels in the city – Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski, Iberostar Packard Hotel, and Royalton Habana – are fantastic spots to enjoy a happy hour drink and unmatched views.

My personal favorite is the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski, with its incredible view over Plaza Central and Havana’s beautifully restored theater. Drinks are delicious, prices are reasonable, and views are stunning. It’s one of the best date spots – or Instagram locations (if you’re into that) – in all of Havana.

Read More: 15+ Best Hotels in Havana

havana cuba

Where To Stay in Havana

It’s an exciting time to visit Havana, with an impressive number of new hotels and casa particular guest houses offering travelers more options than ever as they decide where to stay. We’ve created Havana accommodation guides galore (our best: Ultimate Guide to Where To Stay in Havana), but here are some of our favorite places to stay in Havana, Cuba:

Casa Giraldilla

$ | Old Havana | Aguacate #51

The tiny, three-bedroom Casa Giraldilla in Old Havana is one of the best casa particular guest houses in Old Havana. Beautiful interiors are only bested by balconies perfect for morning coffee, overlooking residential streets, and perfect for people-watching. Hosts Carmen and Carlos are lovely; they’ll prepare an excellent breakfast and bend over backward to help you enjoy your stay.

Reviews and Bookings: Casa Giraldilla

Casa Flamboyan

$ – $$ | El Vedado | Calle 19, Between Calle E & Calle F

Casa Flamboyan is a stately yet welcoming mansion turned lovely casa particular guest house in El Vedado, now one of the best affordable places to stay in the area. While the interior design is relatively basic, common spaces like a shaded front patio and sunny rooftop terrace are perfect for enjoying long afternoons in one of Havana’s coolest neighborhoods.

Reviews and Bookings: Casa Flamboyan

Residencia Santa Clara – $$

$$ | Old Havana | Santa Clara #13

Residencia Santa Clara makes both our lists of best hotels in Havana and even the best hotels in Cuba, so you know it has to be something special. This boutique hotel in the heart of Old Havana has been awarded for its unique architectural charms, combining modern design with the neighborhood’s colonial buildings. Best of all, the fantastic, walkable location within Old Havana makes exploring the rest of the city a breeze.

Reviews and Bookings: Residencia Santa Clara

El Candil Boutique Hotel

$$ – $$$ | El Vedado | Calle 2 #457

One of the best examples of an immaculately converted and lovingly restored colonial mansion in the poshest areas of El Vedado, El Candil Boutique Hotel has all the modern amenities you could want and is among the best hotels in Havana, hands down. Gorgeous, historic details hit you the second you get in the door and continue through to the decor of the hotel’s spacious rooms.

Reviews and Bookings: El Candil Boutique Hotel

La Reserva Vedado

$$$ | El Vedado | Calle 2 #508

La Reserva Vedado is easily one of my favorite Havana hotels – this stunning historic home turned beautifully restored boutique hotel in El Vedado feels truly luxurious but won’t break the bank. Each room is unique and charming, and you’ll definitely make use of the lounge and garden for a sunset drink or morning coffee. The front porch and lush patio will make you feel as if you’re staying in a stylish friend’s personal home.

Reviews and Bookings: La Reserva Vedado

Iberostar Grand Packard

$$$ | Old Havana | Paseo del Prado #51

Among a handful of large, modern hotels in Havana, the Iberostar Grand Packard earns our recommendation as the best modern hotel in Havana. This 321-room hotel flawlessly combines a historic facade with new construction and all the amenities luxury-minded travelers could hope for. Perched along both the Paseo del Prado pedestrian thoroughfare and the Malecón oceanfront promenade, the hotel offers spectacular vistas across the city and bay, with an Old Havana location you can’t beat.

Reviews and Bookings: Iberostar Grand Packard

old havana cuba

Where To Eat in Havana

Cuba’s economic struggles over the past few decades have certainly left their impact on Cuban cuisine, but with the impressive abundance of incredible and innovative restaurants in Havana, you’d hardly ever know it. An increasingly diverse array of restaurants, cafes, and bars serving Cuban and Caribbean classics alongside international favorites makes the Havana culinary scene increasingly exciting.

Before traveling to Havana, make sure to download the AlaMesa app to help you discover more places to eat. This is the Cuban version of Yelp or TripAdvisor for restaurants, and it lists locations across the country. It’s one of a few apps for travel in Cuba that we highly recommend for travelers.

El Café

El Café is our favorite cafe in Havana and a top recommendation I always share with travelers looking for a great place for breakfast, brunch, and coffee. Located in the heart of Old Havana, El Café serves delicious, fresh food and coffee all day. Breakfast sandwiches on sourdough are a favorite, as are granola with fresh tropical fruit.

El Café | $ | Amargura #358 – Old Havana

El Dandy

El Dandy is another breakfast, lunch, and brunch spot that turns into a happy hour spot in the evening. This place is small and quaint but always attracts a crowd and has affordable but delicious options throughout the day. Amazing cocktails and delicious plates of classic Cuban and international dishes are favorites with locals and visitors alike (though vegetarians, be warned, the menu can be a bit meat-heavy).

El Dandy | $ | Teniente Rey y Villegas – Old Havana


Jibaro’s, located in a quiet corner of Old Havana, is one of my go-to places and top recommendations for restaurants in Havana. This restaurant is known as one of the more vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurants in Havana, so be sure to search it out if you’re sick of hunting down meat-free dishes around the city. The bar is a highlight that any guest will love, with increasingly more elevated mixology offerings.

Jibaro’s | $$ | Merced #69 – Old Havana

El del Frente

When the popular Havana restaurant O’Reilly 304 started to boom in popularity, owners quickly expanded down the street to meet demand, and El del Frente was born. While it might be sometimes overshadowed by its famous neighbor, I much prefer El del Frente. Its lovely rooftop dining space and bar are the perfect backdrop for its delicious, inventive Cuban dishes.

El del Frente | $$ | O’Reilly #303 – Old Havana

La Guarida

La Guarida is the most famous restaurant in Havana if not all of Cuba. Famous guests have included everyone from Madonna and the Kardashians to President Obama on his history-making trip to Cuba, who travel from far and wide to sample the best of Cuban cuisine.

La Guardia books up with reservations quickly and is pricey compared with most restaurants, but this place is worth the splurge for a delicious meal in a beautiful setting. Don’t miss the rooftop bar for an evening drink or meal with a view.

La Guarida | $$$ | Concordia #418 – Centro Habana

varadero beach

Day Trips From Havana

There are so many things to do in Havana that you may never feel you have enough time here to see it all. However, if you’re looking to use Havana as a base to explore the surrounding areas in Cuba, you’re in luck; there are several excellent day trips from Havana that we always recommend to travelers.

Read More: 8 Best Day Trips from Havana

Day Trips from Havana to Varadero

Taking a day trip from Havana to Varadero – Cuba’s most famous beach resort town, home to one of the best beaches in the Caribbean – is by far the most popular way to escape the city for the day. Varadero is just over 2 hours east of Havana; frequent buses and private transport options connect the cities, making the trip an easy one.

Hotels and private rental hosts can arrange private transportation to Varadero, or buses leave several times a day from the central bus station in Havana near the Plaza de la Revolución. Day trips from Havana to Varadero with transportation included are generally affordable and a great option on a quick itinerary. We’ve had travelers use the Civitatis day trips to Varadero, to rave reviews!

Of course, you can never go wrong with spending at least one night in Varadero. There are countless resorts in Varadero to choose from, and a great array of cheap casa particular guest houses and small, locally-owned hotels within steps of the beach as well. Staying a few blocks away from the beach means you’ll have easy access to a beautiful stretch of ocean.

vinales cuba

Day Trips from Havana to Viñales

Around 2 ½ hours west of Havana is Viñales, home to the Valle de Viñales and some of Cuba’s most beautiful natural landscape. Viñales is best known for its incredible limestone “mountain” structures that shoot straight up out of the valley floor and are covered with lush vegetation.

Viñales is also home to some of the best tobacco grown in Cuba, so it’s a perfect place to come if you want to learn more about the cigars that Cuba is so famous for.

On day trips to Viñales from Havana to Vinales, travelers can visit tobacco farms and meet farmers, see how they dry and store tobacco leaves, roll cigars, and try a sample! Viñales is also one of the best locations in Cuba for hiking; you’ll find caves to explore and countless hiking trails through the natural reserve for some beautiful views.

getting to havana

Getting To Havana, Cuba

Havana is the most accessible destination for travelers headed to Cuba and receives frequent flights from the United States, Canada, Latin America, and Europe. While recent announcements of a decrease in flights mean that travelers should book further in advance – if possible – Havana is still quite well-connected, relatively speaking.

Jose Martí International Airport

The Jose Martí International Airport in Havana is the largest international airport in the country. Located just outside of the city of Havana, it usually takes around 20 or 30 minutes to reach downtown Havana from the airport.

Taxis from the airport cost around $25 USD, though the official rate has recently changed and is posted at the airport. Make sure to settle on this rate with the driver before getting in the car. Alternatively, book airport transportation online ahead of time – this is how we always travel when we get back to Havana!

Reviews and Bookings: Havana Airport Transfer – Pre-Book Online

Bus Transportation in Havana

Havana is well connected to smaller cities in Cuba by both buses and private transportation routes of shared taxis. The central bus station in Havana is located near the Plaza de la Revolución and offers routes across the country on a regular basis. Cuba’s regional buses are branded as Viazul, and are generally quite comfortable.

Outside of the bus station, you’ll usually find mini-buses or private taxis headed to destinations around the country, filling seats at a per-person rate until they’re full and then departing. This is a reliable and safe way to travel (we usually travel this way when we can!) and ensures you’ll get to your destination faster and more comfortably.

havana travel tips

Havana Travel Tips

1. Pack Wisely

The decades-long economic embargo imposed on Cuba by the United States means that it can be a challenge to find what some would consider to be basic items in Cuba. It’s hard to predict what you may or may not find on a daily basis in Cuba, so our advice to travelers is this: if there’s even a chance you may need something in Cuba, bring it with you.

Cuba is one of the only destinations we recommend travelers overpack for. Some things to consider adding to your suitcase? These are musts:

  • Basic First-Aid Kit
  • Medicines: Any medicine you regularly or occasionally take, including over-the-counter painkillers, pills for stomach issues, sleep aids, or the like. If you might need it, you need to bring it with you.
  • Toiletries: it’s almost impossible to find recognizable brand names here, so bring exactly what you need – and then some! – when traveling to Havana.
  • Sunscreen
  • Feminine Hygiene Products, if applicable
  • Diapers and Wipes, if applicable
  • Tech Products or Camera Gear: You will not come across these items easily in Havana. If you need an extra phone charger, camera battery, headphones, or the like, you will likely be unable to find these things in Havana.

Again – if you think you’ll need it, you should bring it! In Cuba, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to this; believe us!

What to Pack for Cuba

Check out our Ultimate Cuba Packing List to help you pack for your trip – we’re sharing exactly what to bring to Cuba and what we never travel without.

2. Be Knowledgeable About the Internet in Cuba

The internet in Cuba is slower than you’re probably used to, and there are far fewer places you can access wifi than you might be used to at home. Internet is now widely accessible across Cuba and especially in Havana, but don’t expect to be connected as much as you might be elsewhere!

Make sure to come with a VPN service (we’ve found NordVPN works best in Cuba and offers the fastest speeds in Cuba!) in order to access all the internet pages as you would at home. Otherwise, you may find some websites and apps inaccessible in Cuba. Read our guide to using a VPN in Cuba for more details.

Read More: Ultimate Guide: Using the Internet in Cuba

3. Cash is King

It’s important for travelers from the United States to be aware that American credit cards and debit cards will not work in Cuba – you’ll need to bring all the cash you plan to spend on your trip with you when traveling to Cuba.

Even if you don’t have U.S. credit cards or debit cards, cash is king in Cuba, and many restaurants, casa particular guest houses, tour providers, and more will not accept debit or credit cards. It is best to bring cash with you when you travel to Cuba and convert it to Cuban Pesos once you arrive.

Cuba’s national currency, the Cuban Peso, is currently experiencing significant inflation, which has led to two different exchange rates for foreign currency. What does this mean for travelers? Whether you’re visiting Cuba from the United States or from anywhere else, you’ll benefit greatly from bringing cash to Cuba. Read our guide to currency in Cuba for more details.

Carley Rojas Avila

Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Home to Havana and Explorers Away. She is a serial expat and traveler, having visited 40+ countries and counting. Carley has written for publications like Travel + Leisure, MSN, Associated Press, Weather Channel, Wealth of Geeks, and more. Find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.