Parque central in Havana

One Day in Havana by a long-term traveler

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There is no place like Cuba on the entire planet, and more specifically, there is no other city in the world quite like Havana. This is why I strongly recommend you make time to visit this unique contrast-filled metropole during your Cuba holiday, even if you just spend one day in Havana and the rest of the time on a Caribbean beach!

After spending the majority of the last two years in Havana, I want to share my absolute best tips for your 24 hours in Havana itinerary. And as you might be a bit different from me, I’ll through in a few alternatives to you have a little menu to choose from!

As there are lots of things to do for your 24 hours in Havana, make sure you arrive early in the morning to make the most of your day (unless you decided to arrive the night before) and start with a solid Cuban breakfast in Old Havana!

Also, before you arrive in Cuba, download the offline map app MapsMe, and plot all the places in this one-day Havana guide so you don’t forget anything or get lost in the conglomerate of streets!

How to Spend One Day in Havana from a Local’s Perspective

Advice on how to spend one day in Havana from a local’s perspective. Go beyond the best things to do in Havana and discover the local favorites.

Explore the malecon during your one day in Havana

Morning

Start with a traditional Cuban breakfast in Old Havana

If you decided to arrive the night before, an excellent choice you will not regret is to stay at a casa particular, where you can also choose to have a traditional Cuban breakfast for $5, made by your host!

A casa particular is a privately owned house in Cuba, where you can rent a room in the house of a Cuban family and chat a little bit about life in Cuba. Or rent a whole place to yourself, at whatever price and standard you prefer.

I recommend you find one in Old Havana, in the middle of the historic part of the capital filled with narrow streets surrounded by classic colonial buildings in all kinds of colors, and a variety of states!

If you arrive in the morning start your one day in Havana with breakfast at El Café on Calle (street) Amargura in Old Havana, one of my favorite places for breakfast or a light lunch. This is close to the main street in the Old City, to Parque Central, and the famous Capitolio capital building. From here, you are within walking distance to “everything” in Old Havana, and even over to the Central Havana district!

After your Cuban coffee, fresh juice, and breakfast of choice, head up to Parque Central on the verge between Old and Central Havana, surrounded by the National Theater of Cuba, and several venerable hotels.

Here you will find a long line of Classic American Cars ready to take you for a ride, which is a good idea to do before it gets too hot later in the day (remember sunscreen!). Find a driver that speaks your language, and choose the long tour! A drive in a classic American car may sound touristy but it is one of the best things you can do during your 24 hours in Havana.

Classic American Car Tour

You will start your Classic American Car tour flying down the Malecon boardwalk, through the modern city district of Vedado with the architectural gem Yara cinema and Coppelia ice cream shop, and past the University of Havana. You will make a stop in the Bosque de la Habana, the Havana forest, where you can have a mojito at a small bar and find remnants of Santeria rituals performed in the deep green forest around it.

Santeria is the Afro-Cuban religion that arrived in Cuba with the slave trade centuries ago, and the religion was illegal for a long time until it merged into a mix of catholicism and the Afro-Cuban faith in peaceful coexistence when the ban was lifted.

You will see signs of Santeria’s natural place in Cuban society everywhere if you look for it, there are little shops with religious artifacts, people in all-white clothes (they have just received their personal saint during the last year), and colorful jewelry or insignia people carry.

Back to the classic car tour, where lastly, you will visit Fusterlandia. This is an amazing neighborhood called Jaimanitas that is created by the artist José Fuster, who over more than 30 years decorated his own house and a whole block in stunning mosaic, which has now become a landmark in Havana!

On your way back, make sure you ask the driver to make a stop at the heladeria, the ice cream bar El Gelateria in Miramar to cool down before you get back to Old Havana.

The venerable El Capitolio in Havana before lunch

When you step out of the car back in Parque Central, you are only minutes away from the Capitolio, a building that has a remarkable resemblance to the White House in Washington, but the actual inspiration for the building was the Pantheon in Paris!

You can admire the building from the outside, or take part in a guided tour inside where you will see the point of kilometro zero of Cuba, as well as the Statue of the Republic. This huge statue was made in bronze in Rome, put together in the Capitolio when it arrived, is covered with 22-carat gold, and weighs around 49 tons!

Afternoon

Eat lunch during your one day in Havana at El Dandy

Now might be a good time to stop for lunch, make your way a couple of blocks to Parque Cristo, on the corner of Calle (street) Villegas and Teniente Rey, and find a table at El Dandy.

My favorite meal here is the taco con pollo, the chicken taco, followed by a strong Cuban coffee, and maybe a mojito or a Cuba Libre!

Explore Old Havana for a couple of hours

All fueled up, stroll down to Plaza Vieja, where there normally is a lot of life and music, and several museums to visit. Then set your course towards Plaza de la Catedral and enter the Catholic cathedral in the old city where traditional Catholicism has been merged with the Afro-Cuban Santeria religion in the same place of worship.  

Each Catholic saint has its counterpart in Santeria, and if you choose to visit the cathedral with a guide, he will tell you the history of Santeria and its place in Cuban society.

Head over to Obispo Street, passing by Plaza de Armas (the only place in Havana with a wooden floor, funny story behind that). Stop at Hotel Ambos Mundos, where Hemingway stayed every time he visited Havana for over ten years before he bought his mansion, Finca Vigia just outside the city.

Step into a Cuban bookstore on Obispo Street, and notice what kind of literature is available in Cuba. You will soon notice that it is all in Spanish, and pretty much everything is connected to the revolution, or heroes of the fatherland, somehow.

At the top of Obispo Street, visit the beautiful Museum of Fine Art, with a stunning foyer, and amazing architecture and details inside.

If you want to learn a little while walking the old city, you can also book a guided tour in advance, where a certified city guide will take you past all the important places and historic landmarks while telling you the history of Havana on the way. This tour normally includes a stop at the famous Bodequita del Medio for a cocktail, which is a historic landmark as well, but more of the trivial and entertaining kind!

Central Havana via Avenida San Rafael shopping street

From Parque Central, make your way down Avenida San Rafael entering Central Havana, a busy pedestrian street with lots of shops and restaurants, bars, and a small marketplace in Parque Fe de Valle where you might find some fun stuff for your travel collection.

Open your offline maps-me digital map (that you downloaded before you got here), and head over to the Malecon a few blocks away from Parque Fe de Valle along the wide Calle Galiano. Notice that you are passing Casa de la Musica here, in case you want to come back!

Normally you can check out the program for the Casa de la Musica on a sign outside, and find out if anything is going on for the night.

Once you reach the Malecon, enjoy the fresh wind, the views of the sea, the Vedado to your left, and El Morro to your right; the Habana fortress across the bay as you make your way back toward the old city.

If you want to take the time to visit El Morro, you can hail a taxi to take you across through the subsea tunnel and check out the tall lighthouse and the old fortifications of Fortaleza de San Carlos de La Cabaña. From here you have a spectacular view of the Havana skyline, the Malecon, and you can see all the way to the Vedado.

If you don’t head over to the fortresses, you will find yourself at the start of the Avenida Prado, a wide avenue with an artful pedestrian center zone where you are protected from the Caribbean sun by old quirky trees. Stroll slowly up the Prado, which at one time was the most fashionable address in Havana!

The houses here still have an air of grandiosity about them but most are really run down, so you have to use a little imagination to picture their former glory with intricate details, balconies, and windows.

The venerable Prado Avenue ends up by the lion statues back at Parque Central, where you might need a breather. Lucky for you, there are several rooftop bar options here!

Evening

Parque central in Havana

Havana cocktail stop

Head for the rooftop bar at Iberostar Parque Central, or at the elegant Manzana Kempinski (if you want to go here, make sure you book a table beforehand. This place is popular). Or if you want to stay indoors, you can head over to one of Hemingway’s favorite water holes back in the day, the Floridita.

This place is a bit touristy, but they have a nice bar and live music, and you can take your picture with a life-size statue of Hemingway along the bar if you want to!

If you have booked a stay in Havana for the night, this might be a good time to drop in and get your feet up for a moment before you head out for dinner and your Havana night out.

Best dinner in Havana

There are a variety of paladares; private restaurants, to choose from in Havana, but the most spectacular ones are probably the incredible Paladar San Cristobal and elegant La Guarida in Central Havana. These are also a bit pricy, but if you choose to go here, book a table beforehand, and get a bicycle taxi to take you into the streets of Central Havana!

For an authentic Cuban (and very cheap) experience, go to Café Cristo on the corner of Parque Cristo and order grilled chicken and rice for 280 CUP (just under two dollars).

For somewhere in the middle of the budget the rooftop Paladar El Fajoma in Old Havana is quiet and airy, with music at a comfortable level and nice night air.

If you still have the energy to keep going, you can head over to Bar Salsa Habana in Muralla Street to try your salsa moves or step over to the rooftop bar of La Guarida for a chill winding-down cocktail with a spectacular night view over Central Havana.

For the nightlife hungry who plan to sleep when you get old, get your sparkles and heels on and take a taxi over to Miramar and Bar LM. This is a Cuban glam night club with well-dressed guards, cover charge, short dresses, and pumping reggeaton that keeps going into the small hours.

Wow, that was a lot! Here is an extended listicle that you can save if you want to remember my top picks for your 24 hours in Havana!

Top places for breakfast:

El Café with a classic style with white columns and an airy atmosphere

Hotel Inglaterra for a hotel breakfast in historic surroundings

Mojito Mojito or La Vitrola on Plaza Vieja for a fun vibrant atmosphere with lots of life

Top places for lunch:

El Dandy in Parque Cristo for a super chic place with music and a cool vibe

The rooftop paladar of Malecon663 along the Malecon boardwalk for incredible views of the sea

Kilometro Zero on the top of Old Havana for a colorful experience, great food, and sometimes live music

Top places for dinner:

Café Cristo for the authentic (and cheap) Cuban experience

El Fajoma is a nice quiet rooftop budget restaurant (also inside seating) in Old Havana

Paladar San Cristobal in Central Havana for amazing food and a stunningly elegant and colorful atmosphere (President Obama dined here when he visited Cuba)

Top bars:

Salsa Habana in Old Havana for dancing

Casa de la Musica in Miramar for live music (you need to get a taxi here)

The rooftop bar of La Guarida in Central Havana for stunning night views and tranquil ambiance

Top three things to do in 24 hours in Havana:

Classic American car tour of greater Havana to see the whole city

Guided walk of Old Havana to learn a bit along the way

A sidecar motorcycle tour of Havana is a really cool way to see the city

You might have noticed that this guide to 24 hours in Havana is a bit packed, but it can be nice to have options so you can tailor your one day in Havana perfectly for what exactly you want to experience, and skip what might not be exactly for you!

Hopefully, you find a lot of good ideas here, and if you want to learn more about Havana and Cuba, things to do, and the best destinations, you will find the answer to most of your questions I have traveled in Cuba for four years and am happy to answer any question you might have.

Happy Travel Planning!

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