Some context, my friend is a pretty cool/hip, intelligent and fashionable person with a great appreciation for art, photography and authenticity. So I figure she’s looking for something similar when it comes to places to see and things to do in Havana.
In no particular order, here are a few of my favourite spots to check out in authentic Habana, Cuba! Lulu Blue, this ones for you!
We actually stumbled upon this refreshing restaurant/bar while searching for a restroom. I followed someone who looked kind of chic up some stairs into what seemed like a modern resto-oasis in the middle of Old Havana. Note: there are two locations to 304 O’Reilly — one on the north side (street-level) and another on the south side (upstairs). The north side option is cozier and more dimly lit with low tables. The south side option is more open, spacious and artistically decorated (the owner is a Cuban artist who has spent some time abroad in the U.S.) The rooftop was most picturesque and where we decided to enjoy cucumber lemonade (photographed), ceviché, grilled octopus, and other delicious tapas. The dishes are affordably priced with fresh ingredients, a rare find in Cuba! The menus for both locations are exactly the same, so it just depends on your vibe. Located at 304 O’Reilly & San Ignacio in Old Havana.
This restaurant/bar is probably one of the “hottest” and most expensive restaurants in Havana. Located inside part of a converted olive oil factory between Vedado and Miramar, it’s a ways from Old Havana, but worth the trek. The design, décor and ambiance are something to see, and it’s an especially good spot for people watching Cuba’s young “nouveau riche“. Yes, it’s slightly pretentious. And the food is only mediocre, so I wouldn’t recommend going for dinner but grabbing a cocktail or two instead. Go all the way up to the top rooftop (photographed) for drinks or if you do decide on dinner, the second rooftop has a nice sit-down setting – there are multiple outdoor spaces. Reservations are definitely recommended. Located at 26th & 11th streets between Vedado & Miramar, look for the tall smokestack!
Right next door to El Cocinero, is Fabrica de Arte Cubano or “FAC”, which translates to “Cuban Art Factory”. Cuban’s young artists, socialites and entrepreneurs gather here to listen to live bands, view art exhibitions in the gallery and just hang out. Doors only opened in 2014, so it’s still a relatively new concept to local Cubans and travellers alike. They say it’s a mixed crowd with relatively affordably priced drinks for all Cubans, but well… I’m not too sold on that. Located at 26th & 11th streets between Vedado & Miramar.
Yes that’s right, it’s a pharmacy. But I swear, you’ve never see a pharmacy more exquisite than this! Grandiose floor-to-ceiling cedar and mahogany, original crown-moldings, marble counter-tops with brass rails, and antique vials and storage vessels make this place something really special. I almost regret not purchasing one of the 19th-century French-porcelain apothecary’s jars myself! Still a functioning pharmacy, Habaneros — Havana residents — get prescriptions filled while visitors gaze in awe. Located on Calle Obispo & Aguiar in Old Havana.
Basically, I don’t remember the name of the place, but there’s this semi-outdoor café/bar that’s located on the south-east corner of Avenida 23 and Calle A in Vedado. It sits about 30 people with patio-style plastic tables and chairs, while a live 5-piece band plays salsa and merengue. It was probably the most authentic experience we’d had in all of Havana. We were the only foreigners there while locals drank beers and salsa’d. Look for the 40-ish year old male lead Cuban singer belting out the most amazing vocals while sporting a blue & white soccer jersey. It’s located across the street from La Rampa and a few streets down from Jazz Club La Zora Y El Cuervo at Avenida 23 & Calle A in Vedado.
Unfortunately Havana does not have many exact addresses, nor does Google Maps have street views there, so it was tough to find out specific locations during our trip. Always best to give yourself some extra time to get to your destination and look at this challenge as more of a reason to get lost and explore!
More sights to see and perhaps a bit more touristy: Museum of the Revolution, Revolution Plaza, National Capitol Building. A few more places to eat/drink: El Chanchullero, Bar El Dandy, Coppelia Ice Cream Parlour, and be sure to try churros in Old Havana with chocolate, strawberry & vanilla topping — yummmmm
Enjoy Havana, Cuba & thanks for reading!