48 Hours in Havana: The Ultimate Itinerary

Havana Capitol Building
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There’s a whole lot more to Havana than world-class rum and cigars. 

Havana is Cuba’s largest and most populated city. Havana is the center of the Cuban government, the beating heart of Cuba’s art scene and home to more than 2 million people. This city is a collection of neighborhoods, including a UNESCO World Heritage historic core, a bustling waterfront, and enough nooks and crannies to occupy intrepid urban explorers for weeks. 

To get to know Havana is to experience it through food, drink, music, and dance. This is a city that inspired Ernest Hemingway’s novels, captivated Al Capone, and entertained the likes of Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, Marlon Brando, and Rita Hayworth. It’s a city trapped in time where technological advancements have yet to take hold fully.

Havana is no average weekend destination. American credit and ATM cards don’t work. Neither do Uber or Lyft. This city is unlike any other you’ve ever visited, and you’ll want to plan wisely to make the most of your limited time. 

Here’s how to have the perfect 48 hours in Havana.

01 of 06

Day 1: Morning

view on Plaza Vieja of Havanna with Skyline and Capitol
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10 a.m.: Start your perfect 48 hours in Havana with breakfast, coffee, and fresh juice at Cafe Bohemia in Old Havana’s Plaza Vieja. Cafe Bohemia is an homage to Cuban journalist Ricardo Saenz, the owner's father. Saenz was the editor-in-chief of Bohemia, a magazine credited with being a leader in chronicling Cuban culture.

Cafe Bohemia’s outdoor seating area in this bustling public square is the perfect vantage point for watching the Havana’s historic core come to life in the morning.

After breakfast, explore this UNESCO World Heritage neighborhood. This is where you’ll find winding cobblestone streets, postcard-perfect churches, and architectural gems that have seen better days.

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02 of 06

Day 1: Afternoon

Vintage American Car Driving in Havana, Cuba
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12 p.m.: Make your way toward the waterfront and select a classic car for a city tour to get your bearings. Vintage car tours typically pass by the Havana Capitol, the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, and the Plaza de la Revolución, a public square that has hosted many political rallies and popes over the years. Plaza de la Revolucion is where Fidel Castro frequently addressed the Cuban people and where Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis have held masses.

Tours drive by government buildings in the square that honor Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, though routes can be customized. Classic car tours of Havana can also be booked online through sites like Airbnb and Get Your Guide or ahead of time directly with drivers or through Airbnb hosts.

Return to Plaza Vieja after your tour and head to the Azucar Lounge for lunch and do treat yourself to a giant frozen daiquiri while looking out onto Plaza Vieja from the restaurant’s balcony.

After a long lazy lunch, do a little souvenir shopping and head to a salsa class. You’ll want to book your class ahead of time through Airbnb Experiences, the most common tool for booking activities ahead of time in Havana. After an hour and a half or so of learning the ins and outs of Cuban salsa, get ready to show off your moves at Fabrica de Arte Cubano, a cab ride west of Old Havana. 

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03 of 06

Day 1: Evening

Fabrica de Arte Cubano

 Yoeztudioz / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

9 p.m.: Fabrica is part dance club, part art gallery, and part live performance venue. There’s likely to be a line when you arrive, but it moves quickly, and the exhibits start outside. Keep a lookout as you’re working way your way inside. At the door, you’ll get a card to track your food and drink purchases. You’ll pay as you exit.

Inside you’ll find several bars, a restaurant, and a casual snack spot in between exhibits from local artists and performances by local musicians and dancers. This is a chance to sample modern Cuba and its vibrant arts scene and to show off your new dance moves.

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04 of 06

Day 2: Morning

Cuba - Travel - Havana at work and play
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9 a.m.: Head to El Cuarto de Tula in Vedado for the breakfast special. El Cuarto de Tula is one of a few cute cafes in this trendy residential neighborhood. Its bargain breakfast special comes with eggs, toast, fresh fruit, pancakes, juice, and coffee.

Do take your time sipping on your coffee and juice. This restaurant is located along a main street and is an excellent place for people watching. Walk off breakfast while wandering Vedado and making your way toward Coppelia for an ice cream pit stop.

Coppelia is designed to resemble a massive spaceship or UFO. It’s one of the largest ice cream parlors in the world. It occupies an entire city block in the La Rambla section of Vedado and can hold up to 1,000 guests at a time.

Coppelia was envisioned as an ice cream parlor on par with the world’s finest. Nowadays, it carries only a few flavors but remains a local favorite. Don’t let a long line deter you. This ice cream—and experience—is worth the wait.

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05 of 06

Day 2: Afternoon

Cuba - Tourism - Hotel Nacional de Cuba
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12 p.m.: Walk off your ice cream with a short trek to the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, a glamorous Art Deco highrise that was a favorite of Al Capone and mid-century Hollywood. Find the window with a green curtain, and you’ll have spotted Al Capone’s old room. Do explore the hotel’s magnificent lobby and dining rooms and check out the historic photos on its walls.

Have lunch, and a mojito on the hotel’s expansive patio, then make your way towards the edge of the property nearest the water. It’s here you’ll find Hotel Nacional’s most interesting spot: a Cold War-era bunker. The bunker is meant to be an intimate museum, an ode to the hotel’s role in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

This spot housed anti-aircraft weaponry in the early 1960s and was a crucial part of Cuba’s defense plans. Nowadays, it offers a chance to walk through intact tunnels and learn about Cuba’s response to the events of 1962.

2 p.m.: Take a cab or tuk-tuk from the hotel to the Museo de la Revolution in Old Havana. The museum is housed in an opulent former presidential palace. Its exhibits focus on the Cuban revolution and recent Cuban history.

After wandering the museum for an hour or two, take a stroll down Paseo del Prado. Take your time and pop into the shops and galleries along the way.

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06 of 06

Day 2: Evening

Bar Floridita

 Michael Marquand / Getty Images

6 p.m.: Walk a few blocks to Bar Floridita for one of its famous daiquiris. The seafood restaurant and bar traces its history to 1817 and was a favorite hangout of Ernest Hemingway’s. A life-size statue of Hemingway now occupies his favorite spot at the bar. Authors Ezra Pound and Graham Greene also were regular customers.

After drinks, head to El Biky for one last epic dinner in Havana. El Biky is one of Havana's more popular restaurants. It serves traditional Cuban dishes but is best known for its international menu and seafood selection. Smoked salmon, piquillo peppers stuffed with tuna, shrimp cocktail, and octopus carpaccio are among its specialties. The restaurant regularly hosts live music, and there’s no better place to cap off a perfect 48 hours in Havana.

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