One day in Havana Itinerary – The best things to see and do
If you’re looking to spend one full day exploring the iconic Cuban capital of Havana and want to see as much as possible, you’ve come to the right place. After spending time exploring the best spots in the city, we’ve assembled a one day in Havana travel guide so you can see the highlights in one single day.
One day is a popular amount of time to visit Havana if touring the city from the popular beach area of Varadero, or if arriving into the port on a cruise. From the glamourous hotels, bars and restaurants to the rich colonial history and remnants of the Revolution, Havana is a destination that’ll touch your heart and soul.
Read on for our one day in Havana itinerary.
Getting around Havana
Before we share the best things to do in Havana in one day, we thought it’d be good to cover the preferred way to get around the city. Many of the key attractions are located in the centre of Havana, so you can walk around in a circular route and see them on foot. However, for the iconic fortresses, El Malecon, Fusterlandia and other attractions that are a little further out, you’re going to need a car.
We personally recommend hiring a classic car with driver for a couple of hours (a convertible if you’re feeling fancy). Whilst super touristic and cliché, it’s an extremely fun way to see the sites of Havana and you have the freedom to spend as much time as you like in each place.
You’ll find drivers with classic cars parked on the side streets of Havana. Simply approach a driver with a car you like the look of and negotiate a price. Expect to pay around 30 euros per hour. If you’d prefer to avoid negotiation and want a driver you can trust, we recommend booking online using Cuban Compass Tours.
Without further delay, here are the top sites to see in Havana in one day!
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See the impressive architecture of Fusterlandia
We were blown away by the colourful architecture of Fusterlandia. This sprawling labyrinth of mosaic covered streets is the artwork of Cuban artist José Fuster. He started the project in 1975 in an effort to improve his run-down fishing community. Inspired by iconic artists Picasso and Gaudi, his artwork soon encompassed his entire home and spread to other houses and streets in the neighbourhood.
Fusterlandia is located on the western edge of Havana and the 15-minute drive by taxi is well worth it. For an entrance fee of $2, you can tour the entire home of José Fuster, browsing his unique artwork. The area is vast, colourful and unlike anything you’ve ever seen!
Plaza de la Revolución is one of the largest public squares in the world. It was the site of many important events during the Cuban Revolution and has since been transformed with an array of monuments and memorabilia. Top things to see here include the huge building murals of freedom fighters Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, the José Martí Memorial. It also has a plethora of important governments buildings, a library and theatre.
The square is a huge space to wander around on foot, taking pictures of the monuments and learning about the history of each site. Another cool photo opportunity at Revolution Square is the rows of classic 1950’s cars all lined up in the car park, ready to take tourists to other areas of Havana.
The National Capital Building of Cuba is one of the country’s most iconic buildings. Appearing much like The White House in Washington D.C, El Capitolio is one meter higher, wider and longer than its US counterpart. The building really is a marvel to behold, especially with the rows of colourful classic cars that pass by every second.
Once the former headquarters of Cuban congress, but now an academy of science and technology, we recommend starting your walking tour of Havana here and then venturing to the other sites in the city. Gaze at El Capitolio from the other side of the road and capture some of your best Havana photos.
The Grand Theatre of Havana
Right next to the Capital building is an equally as impressive building, The Grand Theatre of Havana, or Gran Teatro de La Habana. It was designed by Belgian architect Paul Belau, was built in 1914 and is currently home to the Cuban National Ballet. Even if you don’t have time to see a show during your visit, it’s well worth walking by the theatre for a glimpse at its grand architecture. It boasts huge arches, intricate turrets and tall marble sculptures.
Located right next to the Capital building and theatre, Central Park is a nice place to relax in the shade after sightseeing in the sun. Enjoy a drink on a park bench and enjoy people watching in this quiet city spot. The gardens are neatly manicured and it boasts colonial stone statues that appear much like the other old squares of the city.
See the real Havana
Havana has a somewhat elusive and glamourous reputation. It’s no doubt a cool place to visit and has some beautiful sites. However, it has a side to it that is very different and is a real representation of how many locals live. Outside of the newly renovated and highly maintained squares, buildings are falling apart and locals can’t afford or find the supplies to maintain them. Streets have a much more rugged appearance and shops have completely empty shelves.
To see what life is really like for many Cubans, we highly encourage you to head away from the tourist trail into the old Havana that many tourists don’t see. It’s eye opening and will give you an insight into another aspect of Havana. We recommend hiring a tour guide to take you to these areas of town. They’re easy to find, but you don’t want to get lost!
Wander through Old Havana on foot
You can see most of the sites in the historic Old Havana by walking between them, either with a tour guide or by yourself with a map (we recommend Google offline maps). Most sites are only a short distance from each other so you can easily complete them all within a few hours. Be sure to check out the following:
Old Square (Plaza Vieja)
Designed in 1559, Plaza Vieja is one of Havana’s most memorable squares. It boasts some of the most impressive architecture in Havana, with rows of colourful colonial buildings alongside more modern designs. It also hosts the Camera Obscura attraction. This is where you can see panoramic views of Havana from a 35m tower.
Take time to wander around the square taking pictures of the beautiful buildings and stop by one of the many galleries if you have time. Plaza Vieja hosts the Photographic Gallery of Cuba, Planetarium, Art Center La Casona and Museum of Cards, to name a few.
Plaza de la Cathedral
Plaza de la Cathedral is home to, you guessed it, Havana Cathedral. Quite possibly the most majestic church in Cuba, the cathedral has been visited by three popes and once held the remains of new world explorer, Christopher Columbus. It also has a rich history dating back to 1748. See the church from afar and then get up close to see the fossils that have grown into the stone walls of the building. Admittedly, the outside is more impressive that its dark interior, but you’ll certainly want to see both.
Take time to fully discover the cathedral, but don’t neglect the other corners of the square. It’s a place that’s full of interesting characters, colourful old buildings; and sometimes, live music and performances.
St. Francis of Asisi Basilica and square
Built in the 16th century, St Francis of Asisi Church and Convent is one of Havana’s prettiest buildings. With a tall bell tower and baroque-style architecture, it’s one of the most memorable churches you’ll see in the old town centre. Walk around the square to capture a full view of the grand exterior. Afterwards, venture inside to see the convent, statues and peaceful hallways.
St Francis of Asisi Square is right outside of Havana cruise port, so it’s the first thing you’ll see if arriving for the day by cruise ship.
Grab a drink at Ernest Hemmingway’s old hangouts
World famous American novelist Ernest Hemmingway spent decades of his life living in Cuba, finding inspiration for many of his pieces of work. If you’re a fan of his novels, or just want to see his key hangouts spots in town, be sure to stop by the following bars. They’re some of Havana’s tourist hotspots and you’ll find visitors queueing outside every day of the week.
La Bodeguita Del Medio – this small, unassuming bar is where Hemmingway stopped by for a Mojito, and you can too! Order a freshly made drink and marvel at the old décor and memorabilia of the iconic author.
El Floridita – El Floridita is the place to go for a classic Cuban Daquiri. It’s Hemmingway’s other drink spot in the city and it always has a vibrant atmosphere. It’s a little loud, overpriced and touristic, but it still provides a cool experience when visiting Havana. Stop by, pull up a stool, order and drink and listen to the live music.
Hotel Ambos Mundos – Instantly recognisable for its bright pink walls and Caribbean-style shutters, Hotel Ambos Mundos is where Ernest Hemmingway used to stay whilst in Havana. Walk by the hotel and look up at its grand façade to complete your Hemmingway walking tour.
Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas is Havana’s oldest square, founded in the early 1500’s, and the site where the colonial side of the city was born. Once the site of a church called ‘Iglesia Parroquial Mayor’, it changed name to ‘Plaza de Armas’ in the 16th century and was used as a garrison to take over a nearby fortress. It’s a site with huge historical significance and is a must-see on your one day in Havana tour.
Today, it’s home to Palacio de los Capitanes Generales (Captains Generals’ Palace) and a grand stone statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, the man who paved the way to Cuba independence in 1868. It also has a number of shaded areas, park benches and interesting colonial architecture. In our opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful areas of the city. You really feel like you’re walking through a period in the 16th century!
Museum of the Revolution
Stories, monuments and remnants of the Cuban Revolution can be found throughout Cuba. To gain an insight into this important historic event and get a better understanding of the country and its people, we highly recommend a stop at the Museum of the Revolution. The grand exterior of the museum is something you’ll probably come across anyway on your walking tour. It has a plethora of monuments and statues outside, plus a decommissioned tank.
Either walk past the museum and take pictures of the grand architecture, or peer inside for a deeper understanding of Cuba. It’s well worth exploring for an hour if you have time.
Have a drink at Hotel Nacional
Havana has many classic luxury hotels with a grand reputation, and Hotel Nacional is one of them. A Spanish-style architecture hotel that opened as the National Hotel of Cuba in 1930, Nacional overlooks the famous ‘El Malecon’ promenade on Havana’s seafront. You can stay overnight in the hotel, just like many famous figures over the past century, or you can simply visit.
We recommend stopping by Hotel Nacional to marvel at the classic design of the exterior. Next, walk inside for more exploration and enjoy a drink in the patio bar area. You’ll get to experience the unique lounge experience of a luxury hotel in Havana and have fantastic panoramic views of ‘El Malecon’ as you enjoy your drink. If you’re lucky, a local live music band might serenade you!
Walk down the Malecon
El Malecon is Havana’s long seaside promenade that’s the famous meeting point for lovers. Locals hang out here on a weekend and friends sit down for a catch up throughout the day. It’s a famous area of the city that has been featured in books, music and films, so you’ll definitely want to add it to your one day Havana itinerary. We recommend including it as part of your classic car tour.
Walk down a short section of the promenade, take pictures of passing classic cars, with Hotel Nacional in the background. Simply soak in the atmosphere of Havana’s best meeting spot. This place is part of the breathing heart of Havana and it can’t be missed from your one day in Havana itinerary.
El Morro Fortress and Lighthouse and Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña
Every city has a scenic viewpoint, and in Havana’s case, it’s definitely El Morro Fortress and Lighthouse. Situated just above the Havana tunnel that gives access to the city from the east, Morro is a key fortress that was built to defend the city against pirates and invaders in the 1500’s. It’s a prime example of renaissance military architecture in the Caribbean. It also has a long history of warfare.
Morro is the perfect place to visit at the end of your one day in Havana visit, before heading to dinner and seeing what the evening has to offer. It’s also a good place to end your trip if you’re tired from all the sightseeing.
Spend time taking in the amazing panoramic views of the city, get up close to 16th century canons and walk the walls of the fortress. For a small cost, you can also climb to the top of the lighthouse. Right next to Morro Fortress, you then have Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña. This equally as impressive fortification is the site of the evening canon battery ceremony and boasts an interesting courtyard. We recommend checking out both fortresses before venturing to your next attraction. Many people see Morro and completely miss La Cabaña.
Enjoy a live performance dinner show at Club Tropicana
Cuba is no stranger to music and dance, which is one of its biggest exports! If you want to enjoy the world famous cabaret known as ‘Club Tropicana’, we recommend booking tickets for the evening of your visit. Sure, it’s a long day of sightseeing. However, how often do you get to enjoy a city as unique as Havana? It really comes alive on an evening!
The Tropicana cabaret shows has a line-up of different live shows depending on the day of the week. They offer drinks packages and dining options for the live show, which is an array of brightly coloured costumes, Cuban music and classic cabaret acts.
An evening at Club Tropicana is quite expensive compared to other live music venues. Some say this is worth it to see the world-famous show. However, you may also wish to visit a smaller and cheaper venue in the centre of town. There’s plenty to choose from in the capital of Cuban music! You can view ticket information and prices on the official Tropicana website here.
Experience the vibrant Havana nightlife
If you’re still not done with your one day in Havana itinerary and fancy sampling the eclectic nightlife, you’re going to have plenty of options. Whether you fancy sipping cocktails and listening to live music in a laid back atmosphere, or want to dance to the beat of the music in an upbeat club scene, you’re going to find something to keep you entertained all evening long. We recommend checking out some of the following bars, clubs and entertainment venues.
Buena Vista Social Night – the famous home of legendary Cuban musicians. It’s the go-to place for live music.
El Floridita – A small but lively bar that’s known for being Ernest Hemmingways Daquiri cocktail spot. It’s busy at hour of the day.
La Zorra y el Cuervo – An upbeat jazz bar with live music and a vibrant mix of locals and tourists.
That brings us to the end of our one in in Havana guide on the best things to do in the city. You can see all of the top sites in one action packed day and whilst you can’t see everything on offer, you’ll certainly get a great feel for this amazing city. Be sure to book an organised tour if you want to maximise your day-trip. Alternatively, save all of the attractions we’ve mentioned on your Google Maps app and explore by yourself. That way, you won’t waste any time getting lost.
We personally recommend Cuban Compass Tours as the go-to tour company to explore the city. We found their guides to be unbelievably friendly, welcoming and insightful on everything Havana has to offer.
Do you have any questions about our one day in Havana travel guide? What were your thoughts on the Cuban capital? Let us know in the comments section below. 😊
By RickyAuthor bio
An adventurer at heart that loves anything outdoors. Beaches, mountains and amazing scenery is everything I love about travel! I also enjoy home comforts and need a nice place to relax and re-charge after every trip.