Things to do in Havana

With a rich and fascinating history, Havana's sightseeing is centred around its varied architecture, with everything from museums and churches to colonial forts and elaborate city squares. With its friendly residents juxtaposed by elegantly dilapidated buildings and occasionally derelict streets, there's nothing quite like Havana.

Just breathing in the scents and watching the vintage cars roll down the streets make for a great day out. But heading into the historic old town of La Habana Vieja is a must, with the UNESCO World Heritage Site and its magnificent colonial buildings ripe for exploration. Tourists can take in the sights and sounds as they stroll down the Calle Obispo, a pedestrian boulevard meanders through the streets, past the Parque Central and to some of the more hidden gems of Old Havana. The best view of the city is from the Camera Obscura, which provides a 360-degree look from atop the Plaza Vieja, while travellers are encouraged to take a stroll along the pretty pier.

Visit the cigar factories and rum distilleries to sample some world-famous Cuban exports, and visit the Plaza de la Revolución to imagine the historic speeches of political figures such as Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. The Museo de la Revolución is also a major stop for history buffs. Fans of Ernest Hemingway can visit the museum dedicated to him on the outskirts of town, set in his lovely old residence where he wrote a few of his best books.

Havana is special for visitors simply because it feels so authentic, with a distinct character and little of the tacky tourist developments that overrun many other Caribbean destinations. After a long day of sightseeing in the city, travellers can head to the nearby beaches, most of which are located no more than 20 minutes away, to soak up some Caribbean sun and sip on a rum cocktail.

Playas del Este photo

Playas del Este

Twenty-five minutes east of Havana are the Playas del Este, a chain of sandy beaches stretching for six miles (10km) between Bacuranao and Guanabo. There are a few tourist hotels l…

Playas del Este

Twenty-five minutes east of Havana are the Playas del Este, a chain of sandy beaches stretching for six miles (10km) between Bacuranao and Guanabo. There are a few tourist hotels lining the coast but facilities are fairly limited for the most part, with most visitors primarily there to enjoy its clear and warm turquoise waters. There are a number of pristine 'tourist' beaches in Cuba but the Playas del Este are fun because they offer a more genuine experience of the festive Cuban lifestyle, making it a great place to mix with locals. There are usually lots of vendors selling food and beer at reasonable prices on these beaches and people are generally outgoing and friendly.

Address Ave Las Terrazas e/11 y 12, La Habana del Este

Museo de la Ciudad (Museum of the City) photo

Museo de la Ciudad (Museum of the City)

The grand Baroque residence of Cuba's former colonial governors, the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, was built in 1791 and now houses Havana's primary museum collection. Known …

Museo de la Ciudad (Museum of the City)

The grand Baroque residence of Cuba's former colonial governors, the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, was built in 1791 and now houses Havana's primary museum collection. Known as the Museum of the City, its exhibits tell tales of Havana, such as its founding and its wars for national independence. The colourful Hall of Flags contains the original Cuban flag, as well as a number of others used by the Spanish colonial government. There are also exhibits relating to archaeology, folklore and weaponry, and an art collection of porcelain, paintings and antique furniture.

Address Calle Tacón, Plaza de Armas, Habana Vieja

Cigar Factories photo

Cigar Factories

The art of cigar-making in Cuba is a source of national pride. The main factories in Havana offer tours that showcase how cigars are still rolled by hand. Visitors will discover ho…

Cigar Factories

The art of cigar-making in Cuba is a source of national pride. The main factories in Havana offer tours that showcase how cigars are still rolled by hand. Visitors will discover how the oldest factory called Partagas, founded in 1827, still employs a reader to keep workers entertained, supporting theories as to why many of its famous cigars are named after literary characters. Havana's other cigar factories are La Corona and the lesser-visited Romeo y Julieta. Los Cohiba Esplendidos are supposed to be the best cigars in Cuba, formerly only available to Fidel Castro, but travellers are advised never to buy cigars from street vendors as they're usually fake.

Address Partagas Factory: Calle Industria 520, Centro Habana

Plaza de la Revolución photo

Plaza de la Revolución

The Plaza de la Revolucion is a famous landmark in Havana. The gigantic square, which is dominated by the imposing José Martí Memorial, has provided the setting for numerous poli…

Plaza de la Revolución

The Plaza de la Revolucion is a famous landmark in Havana. The gigantic square, which is dominated by the imposing José Martí Memorial, has provided the setting for numerous political rallies. The podium in front of the memorial is where important political figures such as Fidel Castro have addressed more than a million Cubans on important occasions, such as 1 May and 26 July each year. At the foot of the memorial is a museum dedicated to Martí, a national hero of the Second War of Independence in 1895. On the far side of the square is the much-photographed Che Guevara mural with the slogan Hasta la Victoria Siempre (Forever Onwards Towards Victory).

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes photo

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

The Bellas Artes Museum was founded in 1913 and is split into two buildings, one housing international art and the other Cuban art. Both collections should delight any visitor who …

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

The Bellas Artes Museum was founded in 1913 and is split into two buildings, one housing international art and the other Cuban art. Both collections should delight any visitor who has an interest in art. The Colección de Arte Universal covers everything from ancient Greek artefacts and Latin American pieces to art by French, Dutch and Italian painters, while the Colección de Arte Cubano contains works from the 16th to the 20th centuries by prominent Cuban artists.

The latter galleries have rooms dedicated to religion, landscape, portraits and scenes from everyday Cuban life. Artwork by Gainsborough, Goya and Rubens are all featured, while the contemporary section includes Gitana Tropical by Victor Manuel Garcia and El Rapto de las Mulatas by Carlos Enriquez.

Address Corner of Calle Trocadero (between Calles Zulueta and Monserrate) and Calle San Rafael (between Calles Zulueta and Monserrate)

Museo de la Revolución photo

Museo de la Revolución

Formerly the Presidential Palace and headquarters of the Cuban government, this impressive building now houses documents, photographs and artefacts pertaining to the Cuban Revoluti…

Museo de la Revolución

Formerly the Presidential Palace and headquarters of the Cuban government, this impressive building now houses documents, photographs and artefacts pertaining to the Cuban Revolution. The museum provides an excellent introduction to Cuba's struggle for independence, such as the striking displays of blood-stained and bullet-riddled uniforms, and exhibits of life under Spanish colonisation.

In front of the museum entrance stands a watchtower that was part of the old city walls, as well as a tank used by Fidel Castro during the Invasion of the Bay of Pigs in 1961. Behind the museum is the glass-encased yacht, the 'Granma', which brought 82 revolutionaries, including Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, from Mexico to set the wheel of revolution in motion.

Address Calle Refugio, between Calle Agramonte and Av de las Misiones, Centro Habana

Montemar Natural Park photo

Montemar Natural Park

Cuba is developing its ecotourism and one of the prime spots for getting back to nature is the Montemar Natural Park. The vast peninsula is home to one of the largest swamps in the…

Montemar Natural Park

Cuba is developing its ecotourism and one of the prime spots for getting back to nature is the Montemar Natural Park. The vast peninsula is home to one of the largest swamps in the Caribbean, as well as forests, crystal-clear lagoons and canals. Its exuberant flora, including more than 900 species of plants, is complemented by its rich fauna, consisting of 160 bird species and many other animals, even crocodiles. One of the park's many interesting features is the Laguna del Tesoro (Treasure Lagoon), a fresh water reservoir inhabited by golden trout. There are nature trails, a bird watching centre and the largest flooded cave in Cuba, as well as a scuba centre, crocodile farm and several restaurants.

Capitolio Nacional photo

Capitolio Nacional

One of Havana's grandest pieces of architecture, the Capitolio is an important landmark and one of Centro Habana's major sights. A monumental stone stairway leads to the vast domed…

Capitolio Nacional

One of Havana's grandest pieces of architecture, the Capitolio is an important landmark and one of Centro Habana's major sights. A monumental stone stairway leads to the vast domed hall, from where tours will take visitors to elaborately decorated chambers that once housed the seat of Cuban Congress. Today it's home to the National Library and Academy of Sciences, a planetarium and a museum.

Directly beneath the dome lies an imitation 24-carat diamond set into the marble floor, from where all highway distances between Havana and all sites in Cuba are measured. The building is today a bit rundown and the inside is often closed for renovations. Even so, the outside is great for photo opportunities.

Address Paseo de Marti, Centro Habana

Habana Vieja (Old Havana) photo

Habana Vieja (Old Havana)

Old Havana (Habana Vieja) is the historic section of Cuba's capital, its ruined defensive walls still attempting to fence in the district. During the years of Prohibition in the Un…

Habana Vieja (Old Havana)

Old Havana (Habana Vieja) is the historic section of Cuba's capital, its ruined defensive walls still attempting to fence in the district. During the years of Prohibition in the United States, it turned into a playground for Americans flocking here for liquor, gambling and hedonism. One of the district's most famous bars is La Bodeguita del Medio, which was the favoured haunt of the legendary US writer Ernest Hemingway. It's cobble-stoned streets are now lined with museums, hotels and restaurants, while striking churches and restored colonial buildings with grand facades surround the picturesque plazas hosting afternoon chess, domino games and salsa performances.

Acuario Nacional photo

Acuario Nacional

Acuario Nacional is a scientific research centre dedicated to conservation and public education. It features around eight big tanks containing truly beautiful freshwater and saltwa…

Acuario Nacional

Acuario Nacional is a scientific research centre dedicated to conservation and public education. It features around eight big tanks containing truly beautiful freshwater and saltwater fish, along with seals and other tropical species. Some of the biggest drawcards for kids are the reproduction of a mangrove forest and the marine grotto, while lunchtime is best experienced at the delightful underwater restaurant. The aquarium is consistently voted a top Havana tourist attraction for kids, so families shouldn't miss out.

Address Third Ave and 62 St. Miramar, Playa

Website www.acuarionacional.cu

Camera Obscura photo

Camera Obscura

A camera obscura is a dark room in which a lens and a series of mirrors reflect images of exterior surroundings onto a concave surface. There is a Camera Obscura in Old Havana on t…

Camera Obscura

A camera obscura is a dark room in which a lens and a series of mirrors reflect images of exterior surroundings onto a concave surface. There is a Camera Obscura in Old Havana on the corner of Plaza Vieja, which offers spectacular 360-degree views over the city from a telescopic lens located atop a 115-foot (35m) tall tower. Guides give ten-minute tours of Old Havana and the bay, using the camera to point out special places, architectural highlights and the area's attractions. Apart from the camera tour visitors also gain access to a roof garden which is a nice spot from which to take photographs.

Address Corner Mercaderes and Brasil, Habana Vieja

Website www.netssa.com/camera_obscura.html

Ernest Hemingway Museum photo

Ernest Hemingway Museum

Cubans have adopted the rambunctious writer Ernest Hemingway as their own, especially in Havana where you'll find memorials to his apartments, regular haunts and favourite beverage…

Ernest Hemingway Museum

Cubans have adopted the rambunctious writer Ernest Hemingway as their own, especially in Havana where you'll find memorials to his apartments, regular haunts and favourite beverages. A keen fisherman and keener drinker, Hemingway references can be seen all over the harbour and bars of Cuba. Finca Vigia, his home just outside Havana, has been restored and now functions as a museum. In it he wrote two of his most famous books, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Visiting the house feels personal and intimate, where travellers can see his actual typewriter and library of over 8,000 books.

Address Finca Vigía, Havana

El Malécon photo

El Malécon

A five-mile (8km) esplanade, roadway and seawall, running between the harbour in Old Havana and the historically Russian area of Vedado, a stroll along El Malécon is the perfect w…

El Malécon

A five-mile (8km) esplanade, roadway and seawall, running between the harbour in Old Havana and the historically Russian area of Vedado, a stroll along El Malécon is the perfect way to start any Havana adventure. The two-hour walk, described by many as a cross-section of Cuban history, begins in Habana Vieja, where the buildings have had their famous pastel colours faded by the sun and the salty sea-wind, and continues past various monuments of struggle heroes such as Máximo Gomez and Calixto García, before ending up in Vedado, a funky downtown district with great sights and vibrant nightlife.

Address Between the harbour and Vedado, Havana

Bay of Pigs Museum photo

Bay of Pigs Museum

The famous Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961 was a humiliating failure for the United States, strengthening the Cuban people's support for Fidel Castro and their own government. The fas…

Bay of Pigs Museum

The famous Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961 was a humiliating failure for the United States, strengthening the Cuban people's support for Fidel Castro and their own government. The fascinating Bay of Pigs Museum (Muséo Playa Gíron) stands as a record of the Cuban victory, with displays showing actual plane wreckages, tanks, mortars and machine guns used in the battle, and maps and explanations concerning this most infamous event. Anyone with even a passing interest in modern history or foreign policy that has shaped our current world will find the Bay of Pigs Museum utterly enthralling.

Address Playa Gíron

Cayo Largo Del Sur photo

Cayo Largo Del Sur

Cayo Largo del Sur is a popular diving and snorkelling paradise southeast of Havana, boasting white sand and crystal-clear water. Explorers love to swim in its natural grottos, whi…

Cayo Largo Del Sur

Cayo Largo del Sur is a popular diving and snorkelling paradise southeast of Havana, boasting white sand and crystal-clear water. Explorers love to swim in its natural grottos, while marvelling at the wonderful variety of crustaceans and fish that call the coral reef home. This Cuban resort island is reached via yacht or plane from Havana, and once ashore travellers can rent motorcycles, bicycles, horses and watersports equipment. For those who want to sunbathe in their birthday suits, nudity is permitted on many of the island's beaches.

Varadero photo

Varadero

The 22 mile (36km) stretch of Varadero Beach has often been referred to as one of the world's most beautiful. Crystal-clear water makes for amazing diving, fishing and snorkelling,…

Varadero

The 22 mile (36km) stretch of Varadero Beach has often been referred to as one of the world's most beautiful. Crystal-clear water makes for amazing diving, fishing and snorkelling, and glass-bottom boat trips are unmissable. Varadero is situated on a spit of land reaching out into the Atlantic, boasting 23 world-renowned dive spots and dive centres providing lessons and equipment. Other attractions include deep sea fishing, windsurfing, parasailing, kayaking and sailing, while for landlubbers there are a number of restaurants, nightclubs, a skydiving centre, golf courses and more. The hotels in Cuba's most popular beach resort are some of the best in the Caribbean, enjoying close proximity to shopping complexes and artisanal markets.