Havana is a fascinating city. It’s also huge. To see Havana in one day you’ll need to be organized and ruthless about what you want to see. The city, Cuba’s capital is unique and combines a crumbling colonial grandeur with the hot sultry music of the bars and clubs. There’s a unique combination here of colonial architecture with Art Deco and socialist monuments. The open-air plazas are glorious and the Malecon that stretches along the coastline of the city is just pure Cuba. There is a lot to do and see in Cuba, so this one day in Havana itinerary focuses on seeing the key attractions and learning a little about the city and its people. Come on in!
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Practical Considerations for Spending One Day in Havana
You’ll need to plan ahead to make the most of your one day in Havana. And there are a few things that you’ll need to organize before you arrive. We’re assuming that you’re arriving into Havana international airport – you can read everything that you need to know about arriving at Havana airport here. It includes what you’ll need to enter the country, including a Cuban Tourist card (buy it here if you haven’t already got one) and medical insurance, which is a requirement to enter the country. If you’re from the UK or Europe, then you can get a quote for Cuba Travel Insurance from True Traveller.
Getting from Havana Airport to Havana
Havana airport is about 30 minutes drive to the city of Havana. There are four Viazul buses a day from the airport to the Viazul Bus station in Havana. You’ll need to check the times to see if they leave at the right time for your flight arrival.
The Viazul Bus station is about 3.6km (2.2 miles) from Old Havana, which is where we recommend you stay to maximise your one day in Havana Cuba, so you might want to consider pre-booking a transfer from the airport to your casa particular or hotel in Havana. You can book both shared and private transfers.
Organising your internet access in Cuba
Our guide to accessing the internet while you’re in Cuba is here, but you should also consider pre-booking a Cuban Tourist SIM to make your internet access easier while you’re here. You can read all about Cuban Tourist SIMs in our guide here, or TLDR: Pre-order one and pick it up at Havana Airport on arrival.
Cash, Currency and Cards in Cuba
You should also read our guide to Cuban Currency here. And also understand that while the Cuban government have blocked Cuban banks from accepting US dollars, Cubanos still want them. Much of our one day in Havana itinerary will have you meet locals, trying out new things, takings photos and you’ll need some cash for that. So read the guide, and bring some foreign currency with you too.
Personal Security in Havana, Cuba
Havana and Cuba are one of the safest places to travel. But petty theft does happen. Especially if you openly display valuables and don’t look after them. Take all the usual precautions that you would anywhere else. Lock your valuables in your accommodation in a portable travel safe, don’t leave valuables lying around and don’t openly display wads of cash and you’ll be fine.
Build flexibility into your schedule
It’s best when you’re visiting Cuba to have a plan. And a back up. And sometimes to have a back up to the back up. Things move a little more slowly here. Life is laidback. Service at cafés and restaurants will not be what you’re used to at home. Just because you’re given a 50-page menu doesn’t mean that it’s all available. Plan for extra time at lunch. And dinner. And chill out, have another cocktail and enjoy it.
Getting Around Havana Cuba
There is a very busy, very cheap public transport system in Havana Cuba. It is, however, primarily arranged to service the local community. It’s not going to help you trying to get around Havana quickly, so we recommend seeing most of Havana on foot. If you’re going to travel longer distances, then we recommend a taxi or a transfer for efficiency and speed.
Where to Stay to Maximise your 24 hours in Havana
Most of the places that you’ll want to see on a one day in Havana itinerary are located in Old Havana (Habana Vieja) so we recommend staying in Old Havana. Our recommendations of where to stay in Havana Vieja are:
The Casa Buenos Aires is in a superb location in the center of Old Havana, just one block from the Museum of the Revolution, making it easy to walk all the sights of Old Havana. There are three private, ensuite rooms here, all with a private bathroom and a private balcony. Breakfast and laundry are available here. There is internet access here, a glorious garden and terrace with a bar where you can enjoy a fabulous Cuban cocktail. See photos of the Casa Buenos Aires here.
The gorgeous Casa Giraldilla is a restored colonial house dates from the 1920s and has high ceilings and a glorious balcony for people watching. Carmen and Carlos speak English, Spanish, and a little French. All rooms are ensuite and have either a window or a balcony onto the street. There are two doubles and a twin room here. Breakfast and internet access is available here. There is a glorious terrace on the roof available to all guests. Book a room here.
The Casa de La Plaza de Cristo is in a building that dates from 1903, an 8-meter long balcony gives all guests a magnificent view of the Plaza de Cristo. It is a fabulous location to stay at in Old Havana. Rooms here are bright and airy, simply decorated and have air conditioning. Rooms are ensuite and breakfast is available for an additional cost. You can see the location of this great old Havana casa particular here.
Right, now I think we’re ready to go exploring! Here’s your one day in Havana itinerary.
One day in Havana Itinerary
You’re going to need to get up early to explore all the best that Havana has to offer in a day. If this all sounds too energetic to fit into one day, then you’ll want to explore our 2 days in Havana Itinerary and our 3 days in Havana Itinerary too.
Have an early morning walk along Havana’s Malecon
As you’re staying in Old Havana, then it’s an easy short walk to the Malecon, which is just beautiful at this time of the day. This is where Habana Vieja lives. Especially in the cool of the morning and the early evening (don’t worry you’ll be back here for sunset too!)
Head back to your Casa Particular for Breakfast
When you’ve worked up an appetite, head back to your Casa Particular for breakfast. Eating breakfast at your casa particular (read our guide to this unique accommodation option in Cuba here) is one of the best places you’ll eat in Cuba. It’s also an important way of supporting the local community here in Cuba. And you’re in for a feast – with great fresh fruit, amazing coffee and a whole host of other goodies. If your casa particular doesn’t provide breakfast, then try Café Bohemia on Plaza Vieja in Old Havana.
Take a (free) walking tour of Old Havana
The best way to get to know an area, city, country and people is to meet with the locals. The free walking tours run in Havana (and other cities in Cuba) are run by locals. There’s no fee for them, but you do have to book a place so that they know how many people to expect, you simply tip your guide appropriately for their time. I’ve taken free walking tours all over the world and they are simply brilliant. On the free walking tour of Old Havana, you’ll get to see and hear about all the major attractions of the area.
So you’ll see Havana’s four main squares, Plaza Vieja, Plaza de San Francisco de Asís, Plaza de Armas, and Plaza de la Catedral. You’ll start at the Hotel Inglaterra, the oldest hotel in Havana, you’ll get the history of El Capitolio, walk past the Partagás tobacco factory and find out about the Cuban Cigar making process. There are stunning buildings here – like the Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco de Asís, the Catedral de San Cristobál de la Habana and you’ll see the fort too on Plaza de Armas. Best of all, you’ll finish up in Old Havana with some great recommendations for your next stop. Havana’s Free Walking Tours are Free, but you need to reserve a place here.
You’ll read of many complaints about the food in Cuba. But it all depends on where you go and what you eat. Listen to your guide very carefully on what and where to eat. After lunch, we’re heading for a whistlestop (hey you’ve got a lot to pack into one day!) tour of the Museum of the Revolution here in Havana.
Visit the Museum of the Revolution
If you plan on spending longer in Havana, I’d also spend longer here. The Revolution(s) – yes there have been several – are so important to the Cuba that you see today and understanding a little more about it is key to understanding more of the psyche of the Cuban people. A quick trip to the Museum of the Revolution will give you the highlights. If they’re giving guided tours at the time that you visit (they usually take an hour), then go for it, and pick up the highlights. Make sure you see the vehicles in the garden of the museum that are remnants of some of the important parts of the most recent Cuban Revolution. If you have an interest in the history of the Cuban Revolution, the our Cuban Revolution Itinerary here will be useful.
Take a Classic Car Tour of the City
I’d argue that if you come to Havana and you don’t take a classic car tour, then have you actually visited at all? This is one of the best ways to see Havana Cuba. You can pick up a classic car tour – pick your colour and style from outside the Hotel Inglaterra. Or near the entrance to the Museum of the Revolution. You’ll need to negotiate, but the usual rate is about US$70 an hour. They have a standard route that they take, (there’s more on what to expect on a classic car tour here). You’ll need to pay cash, alternatively, you can prebook and prepay a vintage car tour in Havana here.
Enjoy Sundowner Cocktails at the Hotel Nacional
There’s no time to stop, remember you’ve only got one day. And so, as part of your Classic Car tour of Havana, you’ll be driven to the Hotel Nacional, this famous hotel is equally famous for the cocktails on the lawn at sunset. So if you’ve timed this right, you’ll want to give your classic car driver a few extra bucks and ask him to stay around for you while you check out the cocktails at the National. They’re amazing. Check out our guide to Cuban cocktails for what you should choose. And then hustle, you need to get back in that classic car and head back to Old Havana. The great news is that you’ll be driving back along the Malecon as the sunset and it’s glorious.
Now you’ve got a choice. For the evening of your one day in Havana, you can either head for dinner and cocktails (see the recommendations below). Or experience the world of Cuban music. Read on and find out more!
Eat dinner in Old Havana
I’m hoping you were listening to the guide from the free walking tour earlier, as they’ll have given you some great options on where to eat dinner in Old Havana. If you didn’t get a recommendation then try O’Reilly 304 for an on-trend option with great service and good prices.
Cocktails at La Bodeguita del Medio and El Floridita
Don’t linger too long over dinner, you still have things to do in your one day in Havana. There are two cocktail bars that you must go to. La Bodeguita and El Floridita. La Bodeguita lays claim to being the place where the mojito was invented. Both were Ernest Hemingway’s haunts. They’re iconic Cuba and they’re so much fun. If you prefer to explore the cocktails of Havana with company, then head there with a local
Your alternative to dinner and cocktails is, well dinner, drinks and Cuban Music!
Head out for music (and dinner) in Havana Cuba
If you really want to make your 24 hours in Havana special, then the night is still young in Havana and it’s time to explore the sultry hot world of Cuban music. You have two options.
The Buena Vista Social Club Tribute
You’ll discover the origins of Cuban music at the Buena Vista Social Club Tribute. It’s a live show inspired by the Buena Vista Social Club, the iconic member’s club and music venue from the 1940s, and the famous Cuban band that took their name. Your ticket includes dinner and drinks. There are more details here, and you can book your ticket here.
Dinner, drinks, and cabaret at Cabaret Tropicana
This two-and-a-half-hour show comes with a dinner option (there are also drinks included) and you’ll get to see a stunning show where you’ll travel through all the Cuban genres from bolero to rumba, son to guaguancó, as well as mambo, salsa, and danzón. And yes, you can dance too. I challenge you not to! The Cabaret Tropicana de La Habana was inaugurated in 1939 and became the emblem of Cuban nightlife in the 1940s. It’s an open-air location and has welcome stars like Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Edith Piaf, and Ingrid Bergman. It’s a fabulous night out – you can book tickets here.
Want more Cuban Itineraries?
If you’re looking for alternative itineraries for Cuba, then head on over here to check out the different options. From more days in Havana to 7 days in Cuba right up to 14 days in Cuba.
- Here’s our 48 hours in Havana itinerary
- Here’s our 7 day colonial Cuba itinerary.
- Follow the Cuban Revolution in this Revolutionary Itinerary
Essential Resources for Exploring Cuba
Travel and Health Insurance is mandatory for entry to Cuba. If you have medical bills while there you won’t be allowed to leave the country until they’re settled.
Book your Viazul Bus tickets here
Pre-book and prepay shared & private shuttles here
Book the best FREE Walking Tours in Cuba
Reserve attractions, day trips, and activities in Cuba here
Download and install a VPN BEFORE you travel to Cuba > discount coupon here
Pack these Items – you’re unlikely to find them in Cuba
Final Words on a one day in Havana Itinerary
Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted after all that. But what a blast eh? Havana is hot, sultry and full-on and the best way to enjoy her is to get on with it and get involved! The city is big, so if you only have 24 hours in Havana, then you’ll want to make every minute count and plan your visit here carefully. Pre-book what you can take cash for what you can’t and make the most of every minute in your one day in Havana!
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