When the seemingly endless sunny days finally come to an end, locals take to the Havana streets. Nightlife in Cuba’s capital is best enjoyed under the moonlight, where cocktails include plenty of ice and fruity flavors with mint leaves.

A trio of people walk in front of the illuminated Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso in Havana at night © Diana Rita Cabrera / Lonely Planet
The Havana nightlife scene is filled with salsa dancing, cocktails and delicious tapas © Diana Rita Cabrera / Lonely Planet

Hitting the right note  

It won’t be hard to find the heartbeat of the Cuban people. From the grand atmosphere at Teatro Karl Marx to a lazy seaside stroll on the Malecón, the music will always find you. In recent years, local bars and restaurants feature trios, quartets and septets that blend perfectly with an easy-going ambiente (cool ambience). Miramar and El Vedado stay up long after the Old Havana quarter shuts down, so if you’re a true night owl, opt to move to the western part of the city by the witching hour.

Summer nights are for rooftop bars

On a warm Havana night, cocktail in hand and a rooftop view of the city is all you need. Shabby chic bars like La Guarida’s stylish hub, or the high-end Hotel Gran Manzana by Kempinski offer up some of the most stunning views of the city skyline.

For a more pocket-friendly option, head over to Bar Encuentros, a chic speakeasy on top of a Vedado mansion. Or you could take the old Otis elevator up to the rooftop terrace of 'Hemingway-was-here' Hotel Ambos Mundos to sip on a daiquiri. If you’re lucky, you’ll glimpse a 2000-passenger cruise ship gliding through Havana’s narrow bay entrance.

Dancers performing at the Tropicana Cabaret in Havana, Cuba © Shutterstock
Get transported back to 1950s Havana by catching a show at the Tropicana Cabaret © Shutterstock

A taste of the high life

Nothing quite soothes the nostalgia for 1950s Cuba like a ride around the city in a classic American convertible. But if that's not enough, a show at the Tropicana Cabaret should do the trick. Known as 'paradise under the stars,' the highly choreographed, over-the-top musical revue is an absolute treat. In the rare case of a rainy night, the show is taken from the outdoor patio to the interior Arcos de Cristal hall.

If staying at (or nearby) Hotel Nacional, book a table at Cabaret Parisien, a slightly less extravagant and inexpensive version of the Tropicana show and located in downtown Vedado. The Cuban Golden Club performances on Friday evenings at Hotel Riviera’s Copa Room are another crowd favorite.

Travel tip: Patrons must be over 18 to enter Tropicana Cabaret. Men wearing shorts, tank tops or open-toed footwear will not be allowed to enter.

 A couple practices some "tango-salsa" steps in the Casa del Tango (The House of Tango) in Havana © Rodrigo Arabgua/ Getty
With its rich musical heritage, Havana is filled with spots to dance the night away © Rodrigo Arabgua/ Getty

Grooving the night away

There’s no way you can spend a night in Havana without swaying your hips to a salsa beat. For the ultimate Cuban musical experience there’s only one (well actually two) places you must visit: the two locations of Havana’s Casas de la Música (yes, literally 'the houses of music'). The first is in the town of Miramar in Playa and the second is located in Galeano in Centro Habana. The Casas host daily concerts (5 to 11pm), which feature some of Cuba's most popular bands like Havana de Primera, Pupi y los que Son Son and Maikel Blanco y su Salsa Mayor. Expect larger crowds as the weekend approaches, but there are great performances any night of the week.  

Keep an eye out for street posters which advertise concerts at La Tropical’s Salón Rosado or in the gardens outside 1830 restaurant.

A night at the theatre   

The magnificent Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso is home to the Cuban National Ballet School, where iconic plays like Swan Lake, Cinderella, Carmen and Don Quixote are performed regularly. Tickets can be purchased at the theatre’s lobby (Tue-Fri, 10am–5pm).  All theaters open at 8:30pm Thursdays to Saturdays and 5pm on Sundays.

A drag queen performs at Las Vegas Lounge in Havana, Cuba © David Aaron / Getty Images
LGBT-specific forms of entertainment are gaining acceptance in Havana © David Aaron / Getty Images

Thriving LGBT-friendly scene

A burgeoning private sector has led to a flourishing gay nightlife in Havana. Some local bars and restaurants – like King’s Bar and Café Madrigal – are part art gallery and part small-performance venue. Creative events that were totally off the radar (and illegal) in the first decades after the Revolution are now celebrated.

The shift in mindset has also allowed a new form of entertainment to take center stage. Teatro Nacional’s Café Cantante Mi Habana features the sensational Proyecto Divino – a drag show that runs every Saturday at 10pm. Located just off the Plaza de la Revolución, this is the only state-owned venue that stays open until 6am.  Be sure to arrive early, seating goes quickly. 

A gay landmark in the city, the also state-run Cabaret Las Vegas, hosts Havana’s most popular and regular drag performances. The smaller venue means there's always a line to get in. 

Getting an early start 

On Thursdays, local troubadours delight younger audiences at piano bar Diablo Tun Tun. There’s an unwritten rule to follow the party to King Bar for salsa, reggaeton and cocktails in the Vedado neighborhood.

Friday nights start at 5 at La Esencia Bar, which features a happy hour. Things only get better after 8pm, when the price list may reset, but no one leaves the dance floor.

Trio performs at the Fabrica de Arte Cubano in Havana. Diana Rita Cabrera / Lonely Planet
The Fábrica de Arte Cubano is a popular art gallery and musical venue in Havana © Diana Rita Cabrera / Lonely Planet

Havana hotspot

Simply put, if you come to Havana for just one night, there’s one place you must visit – Fábrica de Arte Cubano (FAC). A standalone culture venue that doubles as an art gallery and music spot, hosting everything from DJ jams to plays. And if that wasn’t enough, FAC offers an excellent array of tapas and cocktails. Take note, the gallery closes every three months (January, May and September) for full renovations.

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