“La Isla Grande” as they call it, located only a few miles away from Florida, Cuba lives on a time and space of its own!
A great trip to Cuba starts for sure from its famous capital: Havana! Right in the moment you step out from your plane, you will feel a special air that for sure you’ll miss once back home.
Havana is the larger city of the island and has many different neighbors or “Barrios” as called in Spanish, which all worth a visit!
The very heart of the city is the famous Havana Vieja, where the narrow streets, the cafes, and the music spreading out from every corner make sure you have really arrived in Cuba! Havana Vieja is also the neighbor which has been restored the most in the recent years, so a lot of the buildings facades shine in bright colors, especially the ones in the main squares.
Havana Vieja walking tour in the morning
El Capitolio and Hemingway’s Floridita
For a great tour in this part of the city, I suggest you start from the El Capitolio Square in which this stunning white building and the “Gran Teatro Alicia Alonso” stand out with no rivals!
(Tip: on the east side of the square there are some beautiful colorful colonial buildings where you can take amazing Cuba-style pics!)
Then pass through El Parque Central (note: squares in Cuba are called Parque!) and start getting into the narrow streets of Havana Vieja! Right at the corner of the Parque Central there is another square on which you would find the most important hotel in town, called “Manzana” and “El Floridita” the famous bar where Hemingway was used to go!
Enter then in Calle Opispo street and go straight, let lose yourselves in this magical atmosphere where Cuban people, tourists, music, souvenir shops, bars and street food shops mix all together!
A must to see in this street is the old Chemist with all the white porcelain bottles ordered on dark wooden shelves!
A Mojito stop at “La Bodeguita del Medio”
Right after the Chemist turn left and take Cuba street until “La Bodeguida del Medio” where the Mojito was born! Unless this is the most touristic crowed place in Havana Vieja, it is still a must once you are here! You don’t have to be in a hurry when waiting for your cocktail, just try to enter the Cuban slow time flowing mood!
Cuba is all about getting into the right local mood and that’s this happy relaxed soul sensation that you will remember once back home! So just feel the music and sign the wall of this iconic bar!
Plaza de Armas and local shopping at “Casa del Cafè”
Pass then to Plaza de la Catedral, visit the cathedral and then take Calle Mercaders which, with Calle Obispo and Calle Oficios are the cutest streets in Havana Vieja!
Visit then the beautiful Plaza de Armas and take a rest on the benches that lay under the many palm trees of this square!
(Tip: In the south-east corner of the square there is a shop called “Casa del Cafè” that is the best place in town where to buy local cigars, rum, and coffee!)
Walking along Calle Oficios don’t miss the beautiful courtyards, called “patios”, of the colonial buildings and some enchanting art galleries! Take a look at Plaza de San Francisco, just a few steps away from Plaza Vieja!
Here you have two cool options for lunch!
Lunch & Coffee spots in Havana Vieja
The first option you have for lunch in Havana Vieja is the big pub called “Cerveceria Factoria” famous for its homemade beer, its tables on the square and its live Cuban music! Sit down, relax and enjoy!
Another cool spot stands just next to the Cerveceria and it’s called “Cafè Bohemia”! Step into this white and light blue building and you’ll eat a very tasteful lunch in an enchanting colonial patio!
That is for sure the right moment for a good coffee and there is nothing better than the groundfloor cafè of the Hotel Los Frailes in Calle Oficios, which has a beautiful patio, always some live music and great coffee too! Take it at the counter and go back exploring the city!
After having restore yourselves, take again the road back to El Parque Central, it’s easy to get there and maybe try to lose a little in new narrow streets, with fewer tourists and authentic Cuban homes.
Old Car tour through Havana
Once back in Parque central, choose the old American car you like the most among the dozens you’ll find parked there and negotiate a good price for one hour tour through the city. An acceptable price stays around 40 CUC more or less per car.
This is going to be one of your best Cuban memories I swear!
These old cars work as taxi too, so you can ask the driver to drop you at the start point or at your hotel/house in order to have a rest before your first night in Havana!
The driver will take you for sure at the iconic “Plaza de la Revoluciòn” where there are the well-known silhouettes of El Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, as well as the Josè Martì memorial. Take your time to take your pics in the square and with the car, don’t worry the driver is used to it!
Then enjoy the drive through the different neighbors of Havana such as the chic Vedado and the decadent Centro Havana. You’ll see all the famous hotels and places where back in the ’50s the American elite was used to have fun and meet, one of all the iconic Hotel Nacional!
Make sure your driver would pass on the long and famous seaside called “Malecòn”. Habaneros use to meet friends there and so, especially at the sunset, this place gets full of people and music!
Where to have dinner
Los Nardos Restaurant
For your first Havana dinner, I suggest you the restaurant in the Capitolio square called “Los Nardos” which, with an elegant atmosphere, delicious dishes and chic prices will surprise you! Try the avocado with shrimps and some creole receipt and you won’t regret!
Later explore the narrow streets of Havana at night, enter in some bars from where salsa notes come out and enjoy the night!
– Walking through Havana Vieja streets you will find some people with traditional dresses, maybe smoking cigars or playing. Be aware that most of them are there just to be photographed and will ask you money for the pic! So before taking pictures ask if you would pay and maybe try to take pictures of more realistic people living the real Cuban life, but always ask if you can, in order to not to be too much intrusive!
What to bring from home
– Bring from home with you some t-shirts, pens, and soap to leave to some people who will ask you around the city, you could really help them in their daily life
– If you note around the city some women all dressed in white clothes, consider that they are followers of the Cuban religion called “Santeria” which was born during the colonial period as a mix of Catholicism and African religions.
HAVE A WONDERFUL TRIP!