Everybody’s talking about Cuba these days. While the country is undergoing massive changes and gradually opening its borders, even to its biggest neighboring country, tourists are getting crazy about traveling to Cuba, with its capital Havana being the ultimate travel destination nobody wants to miss. Having only one day in Havana to spend can be pretty challenging if you want to fit in all the sights and activities this charismatic and exuberant city has to offer, but it’s still enough time to let the city captivate you with its energy and crumbling charm.
What’s the best time to visit Havana?
The period between March and June would be perfect. The summers are way too humid and hot, and due to the raining season, rain is expected almost every day during that period. Winter, however, gets fairly busy, primarily because of the people from the Northern Hemisphere.
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What’s good to know about Havana?
Havana City is a vibrant capital of Cuba founded more than 500 years ago as a Spanish colonial city. Its unique charm comes with picturesque streets of the Old Havana, historical plazas, old Cadillacs and the sound of Salsa. The colonial architecture, with its colorful yet crumbling facades, is undergoing some huge renovations these days, and with the support of the UNESCO World Heritage program, it manages to revive the former splendor.
One Day in Havana Itinerary
Follow this guide and make the best of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do on your one day in Havana.
Start Your Day at Habana Vieja
Habana Vieja, internationally known as Old Havana, is the oldest and most mesmerizing part of the city, shaped by various influences since the city’s foundation in 1519. Its cobblestone streets, impressive colonial buildings and the vivid atmosphere around them make it a perfect spot to start your one day in Havana adventure.
Visit the Cathedral and the Royal Force Castle
Wander through the picturesque streets, get off the track until you finally find your way to Cathedral Square. Visit the Cathedral, one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in Cuba.
Get around the corner and check out the Royal Force Castle, which is considered to be the oldest stone fort in the Americas.
Shop for Some Old Books at the Square of Arms
Take some rest in the shade of the trees at the Plaza de Armas. It’s a nice place for interaction with locals as it’s usually filled with people all ages. There are also many stalls selling old books, posters and other vintage items.
Visit Central Havana and Have Lunch at Barrio Chino
Central Havana is nothing like Old Havana. With its crumbling facades and broken pavements, it’s not the most representative place to be, but with its slightly chaotic atmosphere and the bustling streets, it’s the best place to get to know the local culture and the Cuba of today. If hungry, visit the Barrio Chino, or the Havana Chinatown. There is a nice mixture of both Cuban and international dishes at very fair prices.
Shop for Arts and Souvenirs at Almacenes San José Artisans’ Market
The San José Market is the ultimate place for art and souvenir shopping. There’s basically no Cuban souvenir you can’t get there. It’s also fantastic if you want some fresh pineapple or coconut juice, or Pina Colada cocktails.
Watch the Sunset at Malecón
Start your late afternoon walk near Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta, walk down the Malecón and watch one of the most spectacular sunsets. You will notice how the whole promenade transforms into a great place to lay back and relax in just a few hours, as it gets filled with locals hanging out and drinking rum.
Have Dinner at Paladar La Abadia
Located on the Malecón promenade, Paladar La Abadia is a great place to have a cheap (from 4 CUC on), yet quality local meal for dinner. It usually gets full in the late hours, so make sure you get there on time. You’d do well to have a few mojitos here, too.
Night in the Vedado District
After you fill your belly with some nice Cuban dishes, it’s time to have some fun. If you’re at least a bit into jazz, head to Zorra y el Cuervo for some late night jazz jamming. The 10 CUC entrance fee includes two cocktails. Make sure not to wear flip-flops.
Have an Arty Night out at Fabrica De Arte Cubano
Fabrica de Arte Cubano is the perfect place for those who don’t want to choose between a night at the Art Gallery, Movie Cinema, Dance Club and Fancy Rooftop terrace. It’s actually the best place on Earth to spend the evening at. Anyways, don’t come too late – it is only open until 3 AM.
Where to stay in Havana?
Melia Cohiba is a 5-star hotel located in the Vedado neighborhood. It’s a central business district and a great choice for travelers interested in tourist attractions and dining. The hotel offers beautiful ocean views from certain rooms, plus a pool and evening entertainment.
Hotel Nacional de Cuba
Hotel Nacional de Cuba is another 5-star hotel in the Vedado area. This historical hotel has a beautiful, grand lobby, nicely decorated rooms in a classical style and a stunning outside area with magnificent sea views.
Boutique Hotel 5tay8 Vedado
An impressive boutique hotel in Vedado district, the Boutique Hotel 5tay8 Vedado successfully combines the old colonial look and feel with a very comfortable, modern and minimalistic interior. The neighborhood is safe and beautiful with many old colonial buildings, but not too far from Old Havana.
ARTeHOTEL Calle2 Havana
ARTeHOTEL Calle2 Havana will leave a lasting impression on you. The hotel is located in a beautiful colonial building and offers really amazing design features. It’s also one of the top rated accommodation options by travelers in Havana.
DAY TRIPS FROM HAVANA
In addition to all the attractions already suggested for your one day in Havana, if you decide to stay a bit longer, you can always hire a guide and go on a day trip to see the local cigar or rum factories or to see Hemingway’s favorite spots while driving around in a beautiful classic car. Even better, you can opt for a day trip outside of the city in order to experience even more of what Cuba has to offer. Check out some of the suggestions below.
A Day Trip to Santa Clara
Santa Clara is a smaller city in central Cuba within a 3-hour drive from Havana. The city is famous for its revolutionary landmarks, including a gigantic statue of Che Guevara with a letter he wrote to Fidel Castro engraved into the large column below. The whole city seems to commemorate the fact that Santa Clara was the location of the last battle in the Cuban Revolution, which took place in 1958. It is a must-see for everyone interested in this turning point in modern Cuban history.
Snorkeling in the Bay of Pigs
The Bay of Pigs is a beautiful area known for its diving. The waters of the bay are teeming with marine fauna, including cochinos, i.e. the queen triggerfish, from which the Bay of Pigs derives its name in Spanish (Bahía de Cochinos). Due to its unique beauty, Fidel Castro owned a private island in the Bay of Pigs. It was also famously the site of a failed military invasion organized by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which sponsored a counter-revolutionary paramilitary group called Brigade 2506. The chain of events triggered by the failed invasion ultimately led to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. After snorkeling, the guides will usually take you to an amazing local restaurant.
A Day Trip to Viñales
Viñales is a sunny little town in western Cuba, which can be reached by taking a scenic two-and-a-half-hour road trip from Havana. Known for its colorful wooden houses, the town is situated in a beautiful valley filled tobacco and coffee plantations, breathtaking views, and secluded caves. Experience this hidden gem on horseback and see a part of Cuba you never knew existed! For more info, check out our One Day in Viñales Itinerary!
If you like one of our suggestions, remember to buy your tickets to all the attractions ASAP to skip the queues.
EXTRA TIPS FOR VISITING Havana
– Two currencies are used in Cuba – the CUC (the Cuban convertible peso, colloquially a cuc or a chavito), and CUP (simply the peso, sometimes called moneda nacional), neither of which are international. That means you’re going to have to exchange your money once you get here. Do not bring USD because they charge an additional 10% to exchange dollars.
– The chances are you won’t have your car with you when you come to Cuba. However, if you need a ride, you should check out ZunZunCar – these guys are excellent for booking transfers from city to city or from the airport to Havana, for example. Everything is done online, even paying, so the whole procedure is as smooth as possible.
– Tipping is Cuba is usually not obligatory, even though they sometimes charge an additional 10% for the service. If not, at least 5% is expected.
– Always check your receipt in bars and restaurants. Unfortunately, oftentimes the bill is incorrect, and you end up paying more than you should.
– Public transport, even being super cheap, is not the most efficient way of transportation. Taxis and taxi bicycles are pretty cheap, but be prepared to bargain.
– English is not widely spoken in Cuba. Therefore, learning some basic Spanish is a good idea. It will come in handy.
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If you have any other suggestions for this One Day in Havana Itinerary, feel free to share them in the comment section below!