With so much to see and do, I was able to maximize my time in Cuba with some advanced planning. While I’d definitely recommend staying longer if you can, it is possible to have a memorable trip in just a couple of days.
Ready to get packing? Here’s how to spend 48 hours in Havana.
Get Your Bearings
I visited Havana with my best friend on an epic girl’s trip to the Florida Keys and Cuba. To make the most of our 48 hours in Havana, we started our trip with an hour-long tour in a classic car. Lounging in a bubblegum-pink vintage convertible was the perfect way to to tour the city.
The driver took us around to all of the top sites, and I was able to get a sense of what was where. Before going, check out my tips for renting a car in Cuba. It’s easy and totally worth it.
While it’s fun to do a tour by car, I found that a pedicab is the best way to get around. To see as much as possible in our short time, we hired a driver for the entire day.
It’s an affordable option, and it let us comfortably take in the city while still getting around efficiently. The bicycle rickshaw drivers are locals who know where everything is and can give you an insider view of the city.
Lunch at La Guarida
La Guarida restaurant is a local icon, and it has a distinctly Cuban atmosphere. It’s the perfect place to get your first taste of the local cuisine, but it’s incredibly popular with tourists and locals alike so be sure to book in advance.
Reserve a table on their website or give them a call on Skype.
Get Yo’ Drink On!
When you’ve only got 48 hours, it’s okay to start your day with booze before breakfast — especially in Havana! After all, this is the birthplace of the mojito and daiquiri.
La Bodeguita is the place to go for mojitos, while La Floridita is all about the daiquiris. Just keep in mind that both places are busy, so you’ll want to get there before they open.
La Bodeguita opens their doors at 8 a.m., and you can get into La Floridita after 11 a.m.
As you likely already know, Cuba has a rich culture and intriguing history. Just in the short time that I was in Havana, I learned so much. Since you can’t get around to everything in two days, I’d recommend picking one or two spots for your first day and then see what you’ve got time for on day two.
The Capitol Building, El Capitolio, is a grandiose building in the heart of Havana. You’ll surely end up passing by, and I’d recommend popping in to see the stunning architecture inside.
The Museum of Revolution is another impressive building, which offers a world-class history lesson that will give you a deeper understanding of Cuban life and culture.
Normally a cemetery wouldn’t top my to-do list, but the nineteenth century Cementario de Cristobal Colon is one of the most historically significant cemeteries in the world. If you’re a history buff, don’t miss this one.
Last but certainly not least for fans of the famous American novelist, there’s Ernest Hemingway’s House. Known as Finca Vigía by the locals, it is just a quick bus or taxi ride from central Havana.
Sunset Stroll on El Malecón
This five-mile coastal road has an energy like nowhere else in Havana. Take in the sunset here as you steal a glimpse into what life is like for Habaneros.
Whatever you do, do not forget your camera when headed here! El Malecón is at its most beautiful just as the street lights start turning on.
Dinner and a Show at La Parisienne at Hotel Nacional
End your stroll down El Malecón at the Hotel Nacional. The old world charm here is undeniable, and I absolutely loved the show at La Parisienne.
The Cabaret at La Parisienne at Hotel Nacional is an explosion of color! This non-stop show is an unforgettable dance through the history of Cuba.
Sunrise Walk Old Havana
When you only have two days in such a culturally rich place, you have to get up early! But rather than rushing to see all of the top spots, I recommend simply wandering around aimlessly for awhile. Beat the tourists (and most locals) by getting out and about at sunrise.
There are so many winding streets that will take you off the beaten path. Spend some time just taking in the beauty of Old Havana.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, get over to Vedado, Havana’s central business district for a breakfast. The locals’ favorite morning beverage is a frozen coffee, so tack that onto your order, too.
Café Mamainé is a cozy little restaurant that is perfect for sampling authentic Cuban food. The café also features locally produced art, making the eatery a cultural hotspot.
Shop for Rum and Cigars
Whether it’s for yourself or your loved ones back home, rum and cigars are a must-buy when in Cuba! When it comes to rum and cigars, Cubans make them best. So, even if you think you’re not a fan, I’d highly recommend learning a little bit more about the local specialties and giving them a try.
Hit the Beach
When it comes to beaches, Varadero is where tourists go, while Habaneros lounge at Guanabo. The easiest way to get to Guanabo is to grab a taxi from the park at the corner of Agramonte and Misión.
From Guanabo, it’s less than two hours to Varadero. If you’ve got more time to spend in Cuba, it’s worth the trip, but if you’re limited to 48 hours on the island, you probably won’t get around to it.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of sun, get back to your cultural checklist. Again, in my opinion, the Capitol Building, Museum of Revolution, Cementario de Cristobal Colon and Ernest Hemingway’s House are must-sees. Whatever you didn’t get to on day one, try to check out on day two.
Dinner at a Paladar
Paladar is the local name for a privately-owned restaurant. Since most eateries are government-owned, eating at a paladar is one of the best ways to try homemade Cuban food in a family-run spot.
My top picks for paladars are Paladar Los Mercaderes, which has a romantic feel and mouthwateringly good food; El Cocinero, a rooftop-terrace restaurant that serves up great food with a panoramic view; and Ríomar, a lovely waterfront place.
Other than quaint cafés, most of the best places to eat in Havana require reservations, so do plan ahead, especially if you’ll only have time to check out a few places.
Night out at Fabrica De Arte Cubano
This art-gallery-turned-nightclub is the hottest ticket in town. Open Thursday till Sunday, this is where the locals go!
I’d recommend checking it out, but don’t make my mistake.
We arrived there too late and ended up waiting for an hour in line without getting in. Try arriving early in the evening to make sure you’ve got plenty of time to check it out.