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10 Things To Do in Havana Only Locals Know About

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Oh, Habana… One of the most vibrant cities in the world. Havana is magical place for both travelers and locals alike. Believe me, there is so much more to it than the Hotel Nacional, Old Town, Hemingway Bars, and spotting the topless classic American cars. There are corners and places in this city that are reserved for the local Habaneros, and those ‘in the know’. Havana has so much to offer, but most of the time visitors just scratch the surface of the Cuban Capital.

See havana like a local - top 10 things to do in havana

Let me show you some of Havana’s hidden gems that the locals love! Why should I be your insider? I had visited many times until realized Havana was the place I needed to be. I packed up my stuff and moved there to give tours off the beaten path and show a bit more than meets the common tourist eye. I never get tired of discovering and wandering the streets of Havana. On my blog, I write about Havana and it’s many different sides. It’s the place I most love coming back to, because of friends and family but as well because of the vibe this city provides. Havana is a place worth discovering!

how to see havana like a local

10 Things To Do in Havana Only Locals Know About

Havana is a city with many faces that caters to many types of tourists. There are places for the Caribbean hipster, budget bars for the students, hangout spots for the common Habanero and much more. Here you will find a little bit of everything. Let me show you a mix of bars, hangout places and restaurants for any kind of local and traveler. Here are my favorite hidden gems in Havana.

see havana like a local

Cuba Libro  

Books, Insights & Great Coffee

Cuba Libro is described by the owner as ‘a bookstore, café & oasis’, and that description pretty much nails it. Located in the beautiful Vedado neighborhood, it provides coffee, travel advice, and books you are not likely to find anywhere else in Cuba.
The founder Connor Gorry is an American Journalist that has lived in Cuba for over 15 years now. She started the project as a bookstore for Cubans to get access to English literature, and soon after began serving coffee.

The café is in a beautiful yard with hammocks and lots of shade. It is highly frequented by young, alternative locals and travelers alike. There is a lovely community feeling to it and everyone always feels welcome. They also organize events such as art shows, readings and more.
Make sure to check out Connors book on Cuban Streetstyle while you are there – you will learn a lot about the different neighborhoods in Havana.

How To Find It:
Cuba Libro
is located in the corner of 19th and 24th street in the Vedado neighborhood.

Inside Cuba LIbro havana

Los Primos

Local Food and Shakes

There are so many great street food places in Havana, but Los Primos is one of my favorites. It is located in an old Mansion in the Vedado and serves delicious food and the best milkshakes and home-made lemonade. Have a traditional Ropa Vieja here while sitting on the porch surrounded by banana trees. Since the prices are low and it’s a place where locals love to go, it can get crowded during lunch hours. You shouldn't leave without trying the Batido (milkshake) de Guanaba or Mamey.

How To Find It:
Los Priomos is located in H and 21st street in the Vedado neighborhood.

Playita de 16

A Swim and a Beer with the Locals

Playita de 16 is an offbeat, yet exciting spot in Havana. It is located in Miramar, a neighborhood famous for being a bit posh and home to many embassies. Tucked into Miramar there is the little Playita (small beach) where locals go to enjoy a drink and a quick swim. Most of Havana’s beaches are a bit far from the main city, so this is the perfect inner-city hangout. It’s also the perfect spot to watch colorful Cuban sunsets. There are a couple of barcitos (tiny bars) around where you can grab a beer or soda and just hang out with the locals for a while.

How To Find It:
The beach is easy to find at 1st and 16th street in Playa (Miramar).

sol beer at beach in havana

Café Mamainé

Coffee, Art and Cocktails

This café is popular among students and professors from the university. It is one of my favorites and that not just because of the name. They have such a unique design, displaying art all over the café, and serve great coffee, breakfast, and cocktails. If you want to enjoy a mojito in a calm environment, you will love Café Mamainé. They also have a cute patio for those who prefer to sit outside.

How To Find It:
On Calle L # 206 e/15 and 17


Beach Time with the locals

Guanabo might be the most popular beach of the Playas del Este. It is also a small town with lots of options for food and local treats. It’s especially popular among locals as you can get there very cheaply! Grab a route taxi for 2CUC or by bus for only 40 cents. For under 1 Cuban Peso, two people can get to Guanabo and enjoy some time together on the beach. You’ll find the most locals go in the summer months.They bring food, music, and drinks and basically sit in the water the whole day. If you visit during winter or spring, you might be alone on the beach, also not the worst situation for a tourist. When you go, make sure to have a stroll around the village as well.

Guanabo beach havana

Clandestina 99

Souvenirs for Locals & Travelers

Clandestina might not be as hidden as it once was, but it is still a local favorite. The shop sells t-shirts, posters and other things with unique designs, and a significant portion of Cuban humour. The founder is a Cuban Designer who still creates most of the designs herself. Some of shirts you might see are more of an inside joke for the locals, but others make great souvenirs. The t-shirts, bags and other pieces really look unique and stylish! She is sure to include her outlook on Havana and the local life there in her designs. Make sure to stop by and check them out. They also have a great map of Habana Vieja with more hidden gems and advice from locals.

How To Find It:
It is located in Calle Villegas No. 403, close to the Plaza de Christo.

El Bosque de La Habana

Nature in the Middle of the City

Another strange, yet fascinating place is the Bosque (forest) in the middle of the city. Walk under a bridge and then over the river, and you’ll stumble upon a park completely surrounded by lush greenery. There you can escape the city, breathe in a bit of nature and even witness some Santeria rituals. A few years ago it was quite abandoned, but now they are reviving it with the Havana World Music festival and other activities. Bosque de la Habana is definitely worth checking it out.

How To Find It:
It is located where the neighborhoods of Vedado and Playa meet.

El bosque Habana

Photo Cred: Cuba Holidays

Casa Balear

Drinks for local's pockets

The casa Balear is actually a cultural center, but it also has a bar with the cheapest Mojitos in town. On Sundays, they let the patrons take part, giving you the chance to be part of some dance shows or even lessons. All the other days you can enjoy a drink with the locals there, especially young habaneros who love to come here because of how affordable it is. I can’t say they are the best Mojitos in Havana, but they certainly are the cheapest. They also have beer and other drinks and sometimes even live music. It is a nice place to visit and meet some locals.

How To Find It:
it is located at the most popular spot 23rd and G in the Vedado

Berthold Brecht

Party with local artists

If you’re on the hunt for great local talent and bands that play more than just Salsa and Reggaetón, then you should check out the concerts in the Berthold Brecht theater. Usually they start around 11pm and there is a great local crowd in there. You can see bands like Interactivo, Telmary and other amazing artists.

How To Find It:
The Berthold Brecht is located in 13th street and I.

view of havana

La Casa del Arbol

alternative music in the heart of Havana

This one is genuinely hidden yet located in the middle of Habana Vieja. It's basically a house that opens its door sometimes for local rock bands and their fans. It is a bit hard to get the information online, but you can check with a local in Clandestina or the Café Dandy to get some info on the events. That is how Cuba works by the way – word of mouth is so much more popular than looking it up online. They are on Facebook as well, but of course their posts are in Spanish. There are similar places all around the city that are dedicated to hip-hop and other genres, because there is so much more to Cuban music than just salsa. 

How To Find It:
La Casa del Arbol can be found at the Plaza de Christo in Old Havana.

Havana is a city that has hundreds of hidden gems. There are tattoo-shops in people’s living rooms, cafeterias in people’s garages and spontaneous concerts in parks and backyards. Havana is a place that needs some time to go over and to be able to discover every inch of it. I am still mesmerized every time I go. On my blog and Instagram, you can find much more about the city and local life in Cuba.

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About the author
Ines Bahr from locally abroad

Ines travels since she started breathing. Her biggest passion is discovering a place as a local, and even though she is a German Passport holder, Ines feels at home in the world and in Havana, where she lived with her Cuban family for a couple years. She and her partner moved back to Europe but still have Havana in their hearts. She writes about what she loves and captures her world with her camera.