Time for a throwback to our Cuba trip! As you could read in my previous post about this trip, we absolutely loved Havana. We visited several neighborhoods, each with their own vibe. In this post I will tell you about them and share our favourite places in each neighborhood, most of them bars or restaurants.
Neighborhood 1: Havana Centro
We stayed in Havana Centro during our first few days in Havana. This neighbourhood is great for seeing the daily life; it is less touristy and “polished” than Havana Vieja. You’ll see laundry hanging to dry, colorful cars and houses, dusty roads and people buying their groceries at the local market. Our casa had a nice balcony with rocking chairs, and we just sat on the balcony and watched daily life going on below us on the street.
This place is pretty famous, since the restaurant featured in the movie “Fresas y Chocolate” – that I admittedly never watched. It is located in a run-down apartment building that is a sight by itself, featuring amazing staircases and murals. Both the restaurant and the bar are very popular and around dinner time there’s a long waiting line. Here’s a little secret though: there is a second rooftop terrace, one floor above the bar, that you can reach via a small iron stairwell. This rooftop terrace is not formally part of La Guarida: there are no tables and chairs (just concrete benches) and the waiters do not come up there. But the view is the same – if not better – and it is less busy. We bought our drinks (cocktails around 5 euros) at the rooftop bar and took them up to watch the sunset.
Of course, the famous Malecon had to be on the list. During the day this boulevard is already a great place for watching oldtimers and daily life. But around sunset the colors and shadows make for a true spectacle. If you like photography you will be able to capture some great pictures here!
The Hotel National is a hotel with an interesting history. Lots of celebrities were guests here, both in recent and past times: think Frank Sinatra and Rita Hayworth. The hotel was also home to a huge mafia conferences in 1946. In the gardens you can see traces of the Cuban Missile Crisis: there are some tunnels and a small museum you can visit. Personally I enjoy history most with a cocktail in hand and this place is perfect for it, featuring a terrace looking out over the garden and ocean.
On our way back from the Hotel Nacional to our casa particular we came across this bakery, that had a line of people waiting to get in. Since it was around lunchtime, we decided to join in. The long wait ended up being useful as there was SO much to chose from and it gave us some time to decide. We bought some sweet and savory pastries to take away, that we later ate on our room’s balcony in our rocking chairs. Even though this is not the cheapest place, compared to eating out it saves you a lot of money.
Neighborhood 2: Havana Vieja
This is the touristy part of Havana, but you can still find authentic streets here if you just wander around a bit.
La Bien Paga
If you are on a budget, like we were, you should circle this place on your map! It offers sandwiches and ‘fast food’ both to take away and eat in (in a tiny dining area). The prices are ridiculously cheap and the food is great. Our recommendations are the hamburgers and the ‘Cuban’ (a typical Cuban sandwich) for the meat lovers. If you’re vegetarian, try the cheese sandwich. It was the only vegetarian option on the menu when we were there, but it features melted cheese, pickles and a special sauce and tastes amazing. I could have eaten nothing but these sandwiches all day (actually, I think this happened one day).
This hotel, situated opposite the Capitolio, has a very nice rooftop terrace with views over the Capitolio, China Town and Havana Central. If you are lucky enough to get a seat just beside the huge hotel logo, you will be able to watch the oldtimers drive by on the street below. The cocktails here are good and strong, and cost around 6 euros. The roof features a really nice swimming pool as well, and apparently – we did not try – you can use the pool even if you’re not staying at the hotel, as long as you buy a number of drinks.
This bar is probably somewhat of a hidden gem, I could not even find it on Tripadvisor when I wanted to check the name. It is however a popular spot with locals so you still have to be lucky to get a table. Beers are cheap and if you are traveling in a group (or really thirsty :)) you can order a 3 liter beer ‘tower’ here, including a tap and system with ice to keep the beer cool. Lots of locals order these and then spend the rest of their day just chilling. The large terrace looks out on a mural and a street that is on the route of all the oldtimer tours, so whilst enjoying your beer you will see the most amazing cars drive by!
Neighborhood 3: Vedado
We visited Havana both at the beginning and the end of our trip. The first time we stayed in Havana Centro, near the historic centre. The second time we stayed in Vedado, a posh neighborhood further from the centre. We spent one afternoon walking around the area (which is the main thing we would recommend to do!) and were impressed by all the mansions that must have once been beautiful. Another place to visit is Parque John Lennon, where you can find a statue of John Lennon on a bench. When we were there, a guard was keeping John’s glasses safe and placing them on the statue each time someone wanted to take a picture.
This place was around the corner of our casa particular, so we came here several times and we were never disappointed! The portion sizes are super generous, food is tasty and the cocktails are strong at amazing prices. We paid just 1 CUC (around 1 euro) for the best cocktails. Our favourite dish here was the ‘ropa vieja’, a typical Cuban dish. It does get very busy here, so arrive early or be prepared to wait in line.
Of course there’s many more places to visit in these neighborhoods and outside of them, but this is our selection of our favourite ones and the lesser known places, that you will not be able to find on Tripadvisor. I am sure we will visit Havana again in the future, so let me know if you have any places to add!