48 Hours In: Havana

Explore independent restaurants, guesthouses and galleries in the Cuban capital, says Claire Boobbyer

Travel essentials

Why go now?

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 (1) from 7-8 February (havanaworldmusic.com), while the Love & Peace Havana Festival will be staged at the new Fábrica de Arte Cubano (2) from 5-8 March (lovepeace havana.com).

The Independent Travel Offers: Our favourite Cuba holiday

Touch down

The only airline with direct flights from the UK to Havana is Virgin Atlantic (0844 2092 770; virginatlantic.com), which flies twice weekly from Gatwick from £670 return.

Modern taxis line up to take visitors from José Martí airport to Havana for a fixed fare of CUC25 (£15) to Old Havana and CUC20 (£12) to Vedado.

Get your bearings

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.

The Habana Bus Tour (9am-9pm daily; CUC5/£3 per day) will get you around the sights if time is short. There are three routes, the shortest of which departs from Alameda de Paula (3).

Much more fun is to hire a classic gleaming American convertible with a driver. Enrique Jiménez of Gran Car (00 53 5 295 0956) comes highly recommended, with tours costing around CUC25 (£15) per car per hour.

Check in

Hotel Terral (4) at the Malecón corner of Calle Lealtad (0808 238 0042; habaguanexhotels.com) has modern, minimalist rooms with floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking the Florida Straits. The breakfasts – without limits – are superb and guests receive discount vouchers for museums and restaurants in Old Havana. Doubles start at CUC130 (£79), including breakfast.

Five blocks from the Malecón, Casa Concordia (5), on the corner of Calle Concordia and San Nicolas (00 53 5 254 5240; casaconcordia.promotemyplace.com), is a new, handsome three-bedroom independent apartment, furnished and decorated by architects. Rental starts at US$1,680 (£1,027) per week; double room rates from US$75 (£46).

Casa 1932 (6) is an elegant Cuban homestay (casa particular) at Calle Campanario 63 bajos, between San Lázaro and Lagunas, embellished with antiques and Art Deco flourishes (00 53 7 863 6203; casahabana.net). Double rooms start at CUC30 (£18), including breakfast.

Day one

Take a hike

Start at the historic Plaza de Armas (7), 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 (8) (Ernest Hemingway lived in room 511). Detour south to the Maqueta de La Habana Vieja (9) 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 (10).

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 (00 53 7 862 6440; www.ohch.cu; 9am-6.30pm daily; CUC2/£1.20).

Lunch on the run

El Chanchullero (11) in Plaza del Cristo (00 53 7 861 0915; el-chanchullero.com) is a tapas bar serving tasty platters of garlic shrimp and chicken skewers.

Cultural afternoon

Head first to Havana's avant-garde galleries. Galería Habana (12) is at Calle Línea between E and F in Vedado (00 53 7 832 7101; 10am-5pm Monday-Friday, until 1pm Saturday); while four young artists occupy a stunning building (13) in Miramar (cubartspace7y60.com; by appointment only). One of Cuba's most exciting contemporary artists, Esterio Segura, runs an open studio (14) at Calzada del Cerro 1313 by way of appointment (00 53 7 870 5431).

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 (15), the 33rd floor bar of the Focsa building in Vedado at Calle 17 between M and N (00 53 7 832 2451). For beautiful views of the white Capitol (16) building and Prado boulevard, head to the rooftop pool of the Hotel Saratoga (17) at the Prado 603 corner of Dragones (00 53 7 868 1000; www.hotel-saratoga.com).

Meanwhile, Musician X Alfonso's new multimedia venue, Fábrica de Arte (2) 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 (18) is a paladar at Calle 29 number 205 between B and C (00 53 7 830 0711; closed Sunday) that's garnered rave reviews for innovative dishes served in the garden of its Vedado mansion.

Ríomar (19) at 3ra y Final number 11, La Puntilla in Miramar (00 53 7209 4838) 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).

Baroque and stroll: the Cathedral Baroque and stroll: the Cathedral

Day two

Sunday morning: go to church

Mass at the Cuban Baroque Cathedral (10) 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 (20), 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 (21), 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 11am.

Window shopping

The daily Plaza de Armas (7) book and curios market is perfect browsing ground. Posters and souvenirs can be bought at the Museo de Bellas Artes shop (22) at Calle Trocadero between Zulueta and Monserrate (closes 2pm Sundays). Head to the Hotel Conde de Villanueva at Calle Mercaderes for your authentic smokes at the on-site La Casa del Habano (23).

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 (24) 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 (25) 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 (00 537 866 4453) is a drinking hotspot where beer is brewed on the premises.

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

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam