Historic museums, monuments and plazas. Energetic music and vintage cars. Architectural fusion in artsy neighborhoods and lively locals with fascinating traditions. This is Havana, Cuba – a city full of surprises, with an endless amount to discover. We’ve been bringing lifelong learners on educational tours to Havana for decades, and we have the insider’s scoop on the best things to do in Havana.
Pastel 17th-century colonial architecture pops against magnificent Baroque cathedrals and Neoclassical government buildings in La Habana Vieja, founded in 1519 as Havana’s original city center. Today, Old Havana is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-see for visitors wishing to piece the history of Havana together, connecting the city’s tumultuous past to its present. On a tour of Old Havana, learn about the evolution of Havana’s architecture, stroll through recently restored historic plazas, and explore military strongholds and monuments with a local expert.
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Is there a better way to learn about the cultural character of a city than by tasting its cuisine? Many locally owned restaurants in Havana (paladares) offer an exciting blend of Spanish and African influences in their dishes. A Havana food tour will introduce you to these paladares and the friendly locals who run them. On a food tour of Havana, visit an organic farm with an expert to gain insight into the various ways local food is grown. Learn how Cuba’s world-famous coffee is made in an eclectic café in Old Havana, sip a mojito in La Bodeguita del Medio – one of Hemingway’s favorite haunts – and study the traditional cooking methods behind several of Cuba’s most recognizable dishes.
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With five miles of sprawling ocean views, it’s no wonder the Malecón – Havana’s famous seaside promenade – is among the top things to do in Havana. Because a stroll down the Malecón appeals to both visitors and locals, it’s a great way to catch an authentic glimpse of Cuban life. From resident fisherman casting their lines out to sea to shopkeepers selling ornate trinkets along the boardwalk, Cuba’s local culture thrives near the ocean. Explore the Malecón’s parks and monuments dedicated to Cuban history, or listen to local musicians perform energetic jazz riffs at the Paseo del Prado.
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With brightly colored Chevrolets, Pontiacs and Buicks roaming the roads, Havana is a living museum of classic cars straight out of the 1950s. Cubans imported American cars for many years until the U.S. trade embargo was established in 1959, leaving Cuban transportation frozen in time. Hop into one of these classic models – many of which have been refurbished to operate as taxis – and head out on a classic car tour of Havana. As you drive past political street art and historic landmarks, learn about the history of Cuba’s complicated relationship with the United States – and why it’s important that we continue to foster relationships with Cuba’s people.
One of the largest public plazas in the world, La Plaza de la Revolución is among the most notable landmarks in Cuba. History buffs will enjoy touring Havana’s Revolution Square, where Fidel Castro gave speeches to millions and numerous political rallies have taken place throughout Cuba’s past. At Revolution Square, monuments of important figures rise up next to cultural institutions and government buildings, making these 11 acres a bustling hub of Cuban life. Gaze up at the 357-foot Jose Marti Memorial as you learn about his contributions to Cuban literature, visit the National Library with a local expert and stroll past the Ministry of the Interior, with its iconic wire mural of Che Guevara.
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Dominoes is a national pastime in Cuba, played enthusiastically in public and in private. As you explore Havana, you may notice boisterous games in action on front porches, inside parks and even in the middle of streets and sidewalks. Participating in a game or two is one of the best things to do in Havana to quickly immerse yourself in the local culture. On a tour of Havana, meet members of a local dominoes league and learn how the game serves as a way for them to socialize with neighbors and friends. Once you’ve mastered the rules of the game yourself, enter a friendly tournament to put your newfound skills to the test!
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No Havana tour is truly complete until you’re swaying to “Son Cubano,” played by local musicians in one of Havana’s many historic plazas. Havana’s intrinsic musical nature is rooted in many different cultures, and Cubans have greatly influenced the worldwide popularity of genres like jazz, salsa and rumba. Learn about the history of Cuban music, attend a performance at the Gran Teatro, meet with a local dance company and more. Every year, Havana hosts a jazz festival featuring local and international artists from all over the world. The largest in Latin America, the Havana Jazz Festival is one of the best things to do in Havana for music lovers.
There’s so much more to Cuba than just its capital city! If you find yourself craving adventure beyond the city walls, taking a day trip from Havana is a great way to connect with nature and learn more about the smaller villages in the countryside. Hike past limestone bluffs and lush tobacco fields in Viñales Valley, nestled in the Sierra de los Órganos Mountains. Explore Finca la Vigía, or “Lookout Farm” – Ernest Hemingway’s home in San Francisco de Paula, a working-class suburb of Havana. Or, if you’re an avid birdwatcher, take a day trip from Havana to the Sierra del Rosario Biosphere Reserve with a naturalist, where you may spot Yellow-Headed Warblers and Cuban Trogons flitting among the trees.
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Road Scholar has been taking lifelong learners on educational trips to Cuba since 1997. Tour Havana with our experts on a learning adventure to Cuba.
Have questions about what to expect on a Havana tour? Check out our Cuba Travel Guide for tips!
About the Author JoAnn Bell, Senior Vice President of Program Development, develops and manages more than 5,500 learning adventures in 150 countries and 50 states. JoAnn’s extensive travel industry experience informs her expert insight on everything from where to find the world’s most charming streets to must-see hidden gems across the globe.
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