Havana



Explore independent restaurants, guesthouses and galleries in the Cuban capital

The Cuban capital is basking in deliciously comfortable tropical temperatures and its rich cultural calendar is in full swing. This winter sees Havana's first World Music Festival taking place at the Círculo Social José Antonio Echeverría from 7-8 February (havanaworldmusic.com), while the Love & Peace Havana Festival will be staged at the new Fábrica de Arte Cubano  from 5-8 March (lovepeace havana.com).

Havana is made up of four separate districts of main interest to the visitor. Old Havana, next to the bay, is the historic Spanish colonial core of the city, with the majority of sights, hotels and state-run restaurants. West of the Old Town is Centro, a residential area, home to Chinatown and some outstanding private restaurants, or paladares. Further west, Vedado is leafy, arty and shines with some of Havana's best bars, clubs and paladares, as well as art galleries and museums.

Miramar, west of the Almendares River, is a smart suburb of embassies, restaurants, bars and attractions. They're all linked by the Malecón, Havana's serpentine seawall.



Take a hike
Start at the historic Plaza de Armas, dominated by the muscular 16th-century Castillo de la Fuerza and the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales.

Amble west down Old Havana's main shopping street, Calle Obispo, to the salmon- pink Hotel Ambos Mundos(Ernest Hemingway lived in room 511). Detour south to the Maqueta de La Habana Vieja at Calle Mercaderes 114 – a beautiful scale model of the city. Head back to Obispo and north along Calle San Ignacio to the spectacular Plaza de la Catedral.

All the sculpted stone glory and decorative flourishes of Spanish colonial architecture are contained in this square: the Cuban Baroque cathedral; the Palacio de Lombillo with its stained-glass, half-moon windows (mediopuntos); the El Patio restaurant in the Casa del Marqués de Aguas Claras, perfect for a refreshing mojito; and the magnificent Museo de Arte Colonial (www.ohch.cu; 9am-6.30pm daily; CUC2/£1.20).

Cultural afternoon
Head first to Havana's avant-garde galleries. Galería Habana is at Calle Línea between E and F in Vedado (10am-5pm Monday-Friday, until 1pm Saturday); while four young artists occupy a stunning building in Miramar (cubartspace7y60.com; by appointment only). One of Cuba's most exciting contemporary artists, Esterio Segura, runs an open studio  at Calzada del Cerro 1313 by way of appointment.

For another snapshot, opt for a guided photography tour with art curator Sussette Martínez (sussem@gmail.com; from CUC40/£25) taking in the collection of Alberto Korda and comtemporary artists' studios.

An aperitif
For a bird's-eye view of the entire historic Malecón, head for an early evening cocktail at La Torre, the 33rd floor bar of the Focsa building in Vedado at Calle 17 between M and N. For beautiful views of the white Capitol building and Prado boulevard, head to the rooftop pool of the Hotel Saratoga at the Prado 603 corner of Dragones (www.hotel-saratoga.com).

Meanwhile, Musician X Alfonso's new multimedia venue, Fábrica de Arte is at Calle 26 number 61 between 11 and 13 in Vedado. It opens from 6pm to 6am and has a small bar serving drinks and snacks.

Dining with the locals
Starbien ( is a paladar at Calle 29 number 205 between B and C (closed Sunday) that's garnered rave reviews for innovative dishes served in the garden of its Vedado mansion. Ríomar at 3ra y Final number 11, La Puntilla in Miramar is a stylish paladar with waterfront views.

To eat with the locals, try the Cuban Street Food Experience with Tanja Buwalda (thecubanfoodblog.com) who will talk you through Cuba's culinary history (esenciaexperien ces.com; £85pp).

Go to church
Mass at the Cuban Baroque Cathedral in La Habana Vieja is held at 10.30am on Sundays. Cuba's other religion is rumba.

On Sundays from 11am in Callejón de Hamel, throw some moves with the crowds, as exciting percussion rhythms thunder throughout the mural-decorated alley between Calle Aramburu and Calle Hospital in Centro Habana.

Out to brunch
La Imprenta, in a restored printing press building at Calle Mercaderes 208, is a good state-run restaurant in Old Havana serving up ceviche, sandwiches and tapas from 11 AM.

Window shopping
The daily Plaza de Armas book and curios market is perfect browsing ground. Posters and souvenirs can be bought at the Museo de Bellas Artes shop at Calle Trocadero between Zulueta and Monserrate (closes 2pm Sundays). 


Take a ride
Mastering how to hail the collective classic car taxis (almendrones) that follow set routes in the city is a must.

From the corner of Calle Neptuno and Consulado  in Centro, take a classic car out to Vedado via Calle Línea or Avenida 23 for 10 local Cuban pesos (10 CUP/25p). Common routes go via Avenida 3 in Miramar ("por tercera") or by Avenida 31 ("por treinta y uno").

Walk in the park
Walk among the illustrious dead at the Cementerio San Cristóbal at Avenida Zapata and Calle 12 in Vedado
(CUC5/ £3).

The guided tour (CUC1/60p) will show you the highlights, but also ask to see the exquisite gold mosaic mural by René Portocarrero inside the tomb of the Raúl de Zárraga family.

Icing on the cake
Havana isn't all mojitos and daiquiris. The Factoría Plaza Vieja (26) in the Old Town on Calle San Ignacio is a drinking hotspot.

For local flavour, head to the Malecón from dusk  to meet hundreds of locals flirting, fishing and lolling about on what is colloquially called "Havana's sofa".

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