Havana is quickly becoming the go-to destination for a sun-soaked city break unlike any other!
As travel restrictions surrounding Cuba ease up, the island is expecting a boost in tourism with its capital city leading the charge thanks to its historical monuments, vintage cars, spectacular architecture and of course, its vibrant and unique nightlife.
Plus with famous faces from the Rolling Stones to the Kardashians having already paid a visit to the Caribbean island, it’s firmly establishing itself as a glamorous destination – but the great news is that you don’t need a celebrity budget to go exploring.
With an increasing number of flights available to Cuba from the UK, not to mention companies such as Expedia opening up hotel bookings, planning a trip to Havana has never been easier.
Then there’s the fact the city is about to celebrate its 500th anniversary, sure to make for even more of a surge in interest.
We’ve created the ultimate guide to exploring the city from the best things to see and do, to brilliant hotels for a cheap stay in the city and even a few travel hacks for a fuss-free, budget-friendly stay.
How to get there:
The easiest route from the UK to Cuba is with Virgin Atlantic, who offers direct flights from London Gatwick straight to Havana, with a flight time of approximately 9 hours and 40 minute. You can find seats from £498.50 for a June departure.
You can also find London-Havana routes from £468 on Iberia or on Skyscanner from £467.
There are flights from non-London airports on offer too, including Manchester, Cardiff and Edinburgh – but these usually include a stopover.
The best things to see:
Revolution Square: The Plaza de la Revolución draws in crowds of tourists thanks to its impressive landmarks such as the José Martí Memorial, not to mention the towering buildings with immense tributes to historical figures from Fidel Castro to Che Guevara .
Ernest Hemingway’s House: A visit to his house, Finca Vigia, which has been preserved as a museum, is a must. Although you can’t go inside, you can peer through the windows into rooms filled with thousands of books, walls adorned with stuffed animal heads and the typewriter on which he bashed out For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea – usually standing up.
Fusterlandia: Cuban artist José Fuster has turned his neighbourhood into a work of art, covering the walls and buildings with a series of colourful and eye-catching mosaics. It’s a short drive outside of Havana, but it’s definitely worth the trip.
National Capitol Building: Standing tall in the heart of Old Havana is this impressive building, which was initially the seat of government in Cuba until after the Cuban Revolution. It’s currently undergoing renovations, but it’s definitely worth taking in – plus the surrounding areas are packed with vintage cars and salsa bars if you want to soak up local culture.
The Malecon: Between the ocean and Havana sits this impressive seawall, which runs from one end of the city to the other. Take a leisurely stroll to soak up the city skyline – but be warned of the splash back from nearby waves that have been known to leave a few tourists soaked!
H Uppmann Cigar Factory: Each cigar is painstakingly made by hand and instead of music while they worked, one of the staff would step up to a podium to read out articles from the daily newspaper. If you fancy stocking up on your cigar supply stop by the factory shop which has a range of cigars in all shapes and sizes – a single Cohiba will set you back £15.
The best things to do
Take a ride in a vintage car: Buicks, Chevrolets and Oldsmobiles are just some of the retro vehicles on offer, and in Old Havana you’ll be spoiled for choice with companies offering tours of the city in one of the cars.
Sip on cocktails in La Floridita: One of Ernest Hemingway’s favourite Cuban bars, nowadays it has an extensive menu of delicious cocktails, not to mention there’s plenty of live salsa music and entertainment on offer
Take a stroll through Old Havana: Colourful buildings, spontaneous live music performances, cigar shops and foodie havens are just some of the attractions on offer in this bustling district. By day it’s a sightseeing hotspot – by night, the bars come alive with salsa dancing and cocktails.
Have dinner at La Guarida: The city’s best-known paladar, or Cuban restaurant, is located on the top floor of a dilapidated building and reached by flights of stone steps that pass the open windows of apartments.
The menu delivers dishes like peppers stuffed with tuna, smoked marlin tacos and lobster in a Pernod sauce, followed by lemon tart with almonds.
The 5 best bars in Havana – if you want to try some rum, a little salsa or a cheeky cigar
Expedia has opened up online bookings for hotels in Cuba as travel restrictions ease up
Where to stay
Saratoga Hotel: It claims to be the city’s grand dame and with its elegant neo-classical features it was easy to see why it’s been a favourite haunt of socialites and artists since the 1930s. For more information visit hotel-saratoga.com .
Hotel Nacional de Cuba: This beautiful hotel is a stone’s throw from Old Havana so it’s ideal for sightseeing, not to mention the hotel has everything from a pool and spa to a live Cabaret show in the evenings.
Even if you don’t stay as a guest it’s definitely worth having a drink in the evening on the garden terrace for the beautiful ocean views. You can find rooms from £116 a night on TripAdvisor .
Cheap hotels: If you’re on a tight budget then Airbnb has lettings in Old Havana for as little as £16 a night , while Expedia recently opened up bookings on a whole host of budget-friendly hotels .
Top travel tips:
When to go: Expect year-round sun with average temperatures of 25C. Watch out for humidity. Peak season is from December to March and July/August when hotel costs are at their highest.
Cash is king: Don’t rely on ATMs or credit cards. You can’t change money before you go so take untorn, unmarked euros or pounds, not US dollars. Most hotels give fair rates and it’s easier than queuing up at the banks. Cuba has a two-currency system – Cuban pesos for locals and the CUC for tourists.
Top tip: Tipping is the norm for anyone from porters to waiters so keep small notes handy. And get some small coins for loo attendants. Spare loo roll might also come in handy.
Visa: All visitors need a £15 Tourist Card (a form of visa) which is available from your tour operator or the Cuban Consulate, 167 High Holborn, London WC1V 6PA.