What to do
- Visit “el Floridita” – home of the daiquiri
Whilst in Havana visiting the popular fish restaurant and cocktail bar, El Floridita, is a must. Not only is it where the famous cocktail of the daiquiri was invented, but it was also one of Ernest Hemingway’s favourite bars in the city. The building is brightly coloured in pink and white and is situated a few minutes from el Parque Central. The old-fashioned décor makes you feel like you are in the 1940s and the lively atmosphere inside makes it a great place to sit back, unwind and enjoy an original frozen daiquiri.
- Explore la Habana Vieja
Habana Vieja (the old town) is such a delight to explore. The streets are narrow and windy; when the sun is shining down, it is an exciting place to get lost in. There is a surprising contrast of well-built European style buildings, mixed in with Spanish colonial style buildings which gives Habana Vieja its unique feel. As you wander through the streets you will discover lots of little fruit and vegetable markets tucked away under the shade, as well as locals selling artisanal Cuban souvenirs and tobacco shops. This place feels like a maze, but each and every street you explore is different, with most offering brightly coloured houses and old vintage cars parked on the streets.
- Tour in an old vintage car
This must be on most traveller’s bucket lists. You will see hundreds, and I mean, hundreds, of old vintage Cadillacs drive by whilst in Havana. Blue, aqua, red, orange, pink – they literally come in every colour under the sun (if you are lucky you might spot the Dalmatian coloured one). A couple of the best spots to fix a ride in a Cadillac is at el Parque Central and Parque Luz Caballero. At both places, you will be approached endlessly for a ride, so get your bargaining skills on. The driver first offered us an hour’s drive for 50 CUC, but we managed to get it down to 25 CUC, so it is definitely worth a barter. Most of the drivers speak good English (definitely check beforehand that their English is good as it will make all the difference during the ride). On our tour we covered Casablanca (where Che Guevara’s old house is), El Malecón, Plaza de la Revolución and Hotel Nacional before being dropped off close to where we started.
- Walk el Malecón
Driving down el Malecón (the Malecón) is one thing, but walking it is another. The Malecón is a wide road that stretches for 8km along the coast of Havana (the road was originally built to protect the city from the harsh waves of the north coast). When you walk it, be prepared; every so often massive waves will break against the sea wall and if you are not looking (or just unlucky), you might get drenched by them! However, the panoramic views of the glistening ocean and the colourful old Cadillacs driving by may just make up for it.
- Visit el Capitolio & el Parque Central
Both el Capitolio (the national capital building) and el Parque Central (central park) are conveniently located in the heart of Havana. El Capitolio is a huge white building with guards standing outside the front (its size and grandeur reminds me of Westminster and the roof reminds me of St.Pauls in London). The building has had many restorations over the past few years, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go in when I visited in 2018, but it is open for the public again. This is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and well preserved buildings in Cuba with incredible architecture both inside and outside. From here, you are walking distance to el Parque Central which is a great place to sit down and enjoy Havana’s hustle and bustle.
10 best eats in Havana
If you are like me and you are obsessed with food, then Havana will not disappoint. There are so many cafes, bars and restaurants that offer Cuban, Latino, Spanish and Carribbean food that you really are spoilt for choice. I personally love visiting a mixture of restaurants, from small, quaint, off-beat restaurants to authentic Cuban restaurants which are usually slightly busier.
- El Cocinero // @elcocinerocuba
El Cocinero is one of Havana’s most popular restaurants, if not, the most popular restaurant to visit. The restaurant, lounge and terrace is set inside an old refurbished cooking oil factory. The building and infrastructure alone is worth going for. The roof top patio on the top floor is a perfect setting for a romantic dinner and is beautiful for watching the sun go down. As with most of the restaurants in Havana, the cuisine is traditional local food with Caribbean and Latin influences, so check out their menu before you go. If the food doesn’t tickle your fancy, then go there in the evening for drinks.
2. La Guarida // @laguaridahavana
Step off the street into the entrance of the city’s most famous restaurant, La Guarida (the hideout), where you feel like you are stepping into a 1940s film noir. As you enter the building and walk up the stairs you may have a few doubts in your head if you have arrived at the right place, as a decapitated statue greets you at the bottom of the stairs.
Once you arrive to the second floor you will instantly appreciate the surroundings as you sink into the old concrete floor and see the long dining tables, the beautiful chandeliers and the walls adorned with framed photos. The outside terrace has a traditional Spanish and Italian essence to it, but some of the best views can be found from Mirador bar which offers its own evolutionary cocktails. The restaurant offers traditional cuisine with French, Spanish and Mediterranean influences, along with more modern Cuban cuisine, also known as nueva cocina cubana. The restaurant has had lots of celebrities and well known figures visit in the past including Barack Obama, Paris Hilton and Rihanna for one of her cover shoots, so naturally, the restaurant is more expensive than most restaurants in Havana. There are also so many beautiful corners for photos here too.
3. Al Carbon // @alcarbon.cuba
Al Carbon is a personal favourite of mine. The restaurant is situated on Calle El Chacon, a street just off the old town which leads to the sea. The restaurant is popular with locals and offers many Carribean and Cuban dishes; it now specialises in grilled dishes. One of the most popular dishes on their menu is the grilled octopus (pulpo). The restaurant boasts an intimate ambience and is another luxury experience in Havana.
4. El Dandy // #eldandycuba
El Dandy is an old-fashioned coffee shop, tapas and cocktail bar that offers a very chilled and relaxing atmosphere. When you enter El Dandy, you’ll feel like you’re stepping back in time to the 1950s to when El Dandy was previously open, the place has retained a lot of its original interiors and had a dusty, vintage feel to it. This bar is a great place to escape the strong heat in the afternoon and refuel after walking el Malecón. They serve a good mix of Cuban, Mexican and Spanish food and are a lot cheaper in comparison to the recommendations above.
5. Chacon 162 // @barchacon162
Chacon 162 is a hidden gem tucked away in the corners of la Habana Vieja. From the outside it looks a little basic, but it does basic beautifully. This place is always busy during both lunch and dinner time and offers a selection of mouth-watering Cuban, Carribean and seafood dishes. Their cerviche and lobster are especially popular. This is a great place to recline after a long morning or evening of exploring. The streets are very small, so most of the tables are set back in the shade; it’s a perfect casual spot to sit back and chill. Their cocktails are exceptional, especially their piña coladas and their staff are very friendly.
6. Vistamar Paladar // @paladarvistamar
Vistamar Paladar is another charming restaurant which is located just off el Malecón with amazing ocean views. The restaurant offers both indoor and outdoor seating with an infinity pool in the middle. Vistamar Paladar has a really luxurious feel, style, taste and an ocean view that is unforgettable. Make sure you book in advance before you go and check what time the sunsets as you’ll want to be there to see the most gorgeous cascades of orange across the sky.
7. Dona Eutimia // @donaeutimia
Dona Eutimia is an exquisite restaurant in the heart of the Habana Vieja which serves traditional Cuban, Latin and Carribean dishes. In fact, they offer so much that it is likely you will return for more. This is precisely the kind of spot you will want to encounter when exploring Havana, a place that harkens back to the past and gives you a taste of how delicious Cuban food can be. Some of its most popular dishes include the shredded beef and rice, lamb (ropa vieja) and picadillo.
8. San Cristobal – Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski // @kempinskihavana
Ok, so strictly speaking this recommendation isn’t a standalone restaurant, it is Cuba’s quintessential first luxury hotel. However, this place had to make the list due to the breath-taking views that it offers. Their rooftop restaurant called San Cristobal is primarily for hotel guests however, they do open the restaurant and bar to the wider public in the evening. The restaurant offers the most gorgeous panoramic views overlooking el Parque Central and el Capitolio. Make sure you stay for sunset where you will feel like you are in a picturesque, Cuban dream. The restaurant is expensive, but offers a brilliant assortment of fresh and light plates with specials from the tropics. It is a particular great place to book for a celebration.
9. Lamparilla – Tapas y Cervezas // #lamparilla
Lamparilla is another gem in the old town. Great for brunch, lunch and dinner, the tapas restaurant offers a wide mix of Carribean, Latin, Spanish, Cuban and Central American food which are all remarkably well presented with imagination and flair. Croquetas served in mini trolleys and desserts served in coconut shells, this place goes above and beyond to make their food stand out. Lamparilla offers a very cool and chilled atmosphere with many funky & distinct objects hanging from the walls. It offers a truly exciting experience, their constant stream of quick service makes you sit excitedly in anticipation for the next dish. From their suckling pig to their ropa vieja, Cuban cerviche and lobster tataki, both their food and drinks will you make you say “wow” and will certainly not disappoint.
10. Casa Miglis // @casamiglis
Casa Miglis, is a Cuban-Swedish fusion restaurant owned by a Swedish film director named, Mr.Miglis. The restaurant has many typical Swedish dishes designed with a Cuban twist. They offer everything from toast skagen (Scandinavian classic toast) to Cuban chicken nuggets and traditional Cuban seafood casserole. The old-school wooden interiors and dark blue walls makes the bar a classic and intimate setting for the evening. The restaurant through the back is dimly lit with low hanging lights from the ceiling and candles which really gives the restaurant a cosy ambience.