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Residencia Santa Clara.
The insider guide to Havana

The insider guide to Havana

The inside track on Cuba's capital, an extraordinary Caribbean metropolis with Unesco World Heritage old town

Andrew Forbes

Friday, 30 August 2019, 07:56

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STAY:

Residencia Santa Clara

Authentic 'casa particular' close to Havanas harbour and within walking distance of the sights of Old Havana. Talented carpenter Alexis and his sister Marisol have created a stylish, family-run guesthouse with ground-floor bar and rooftop terrace. Recognised by Fábrica de Arte Cubano for its imaginative, contemporary renovation of an old Havana townhouse, this boutique property has light-filled guest rooms with lots of design features, like original wall murals; and private bathrooms with showers creatively made from recycled galvanised steel pipes and watering can roses. Free Wi-Fi.

Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana

The luxury 246-room Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana is the epitome of relaxed Cuban sophistication. Probably the finest hotel in Havana, its sleek, top-floor roof terrace is the capitals hot hangout, with spectacular views across to El Capitolio Nacional, and across the skyline of La Havana Vieja.

The tempting choice of bars and restaurants includes the first floor Bar Constante, with romantic tables for two, set on small balconies overlooking the city; and the stylish Evocación smoking lounge with the finest collection of Cuban cigars.

The ground floor is once again dedicated to luxury boutiques, echoing the buildings history as a 1920 upscale shopping centre.

The hotel is right by the Central Park, opposite the ornate Alicia Alonso Gran Teatro de La Habana - the citys finest example of Catalan modernist architecture - as well as being steps away from the legendary bar La Floridita.

Hotel Nacional de Cuba

This 1930s hotel is probably the most iconic of Cuba. Found in El Vedado, the wealthier business and residential district, the hotels position on a small hill means visitors have superb views across the city, bay and the Caribbean. Hotel Nacional de Cuba is a national monument, but I cant help but feel it has become a bit of pastiche of its remarkable history. Famous guests including Ernest Hemingway, Marlon Brando, Winston Churchill and Frank Sinatra have been immortalised in a rather tacky Hall of Fame in the public bar. The hotel is worthy of a visit, if only to enjoy an ice-cold Cristal or Bucanero beer on the terrace and then stroll down through the gardens to see the World Heritage guns from the old Santa Clara Battery, and the small exhibition about the Cuban Missile Crisis.

EAT:

TaBARish

It may sound a little strange to go all the way to Cuba to eat in a Russian restaurant but Tabarish was one of the best places for authentic Cuban food, friendly service, and excellent live music!

Start the meal with a house cocktail, like a Cuban mojito or daiquiri, and then order signature sharing plates like fish and seafood including grilled octopus; or classic meat dishes like ropa vieja (pulled pork).

Reliquia Bar Restaurant

Low-key Old Havana bar with well-priced drinks and live music.

La Guarida

Originally, paladares were informal, unregulated pop-up restaurants in peoples homes. Now most are licensed and have become part of Havana commercial dining scene. Probably the most famous of these private restaurants, La Guarida is an institution, attracting guests such as Beyoncé, and Pedro Almodóvar. Found in a romantically crumbling mansion apartment block, it was featured in the cult film Fresa y Chocolate and has become a tourist attraction in itself. Elegantly decorated with period furniture, antiques and art, a visit here is less about the food and more about being immersed in part of Havanas history.

El Cocinero Restaurant Terrace & Lounge

Rooftop bar and restaurant thats a hip choice for drinks. Nextdoor is the über cool Fábrica del Arte Cubano arts centre.

aQuí

Herminio López Díaz was a Cuban diplomat, posted to Communist Vietnam. Having left the Cuban government, he went into hospitality, creating his restaurant, aQuí - offering plenty of excellent home-cooked Cuban dishes. The restaurant is presently relocating. Intends to reopen later this year.

DO:

Casa de la Música de Galiano

The place for salsa lovers, where bands play into the early hours. Two floors, and three bars. Found on Calle Galiano, between Neptuno and Concordia.

Partagás Real Fábrica de Tabacos

This historic, landmark cigar factory close to the Capitol building has been a place of pilgrimage for cigar aficionados for more than a century. The actual factory has moved, and this dilapidated iconic building is now a museum and shop, selling premium cigars, as well as rum. The modern tobacco factory is nearby and offers tours of the rolling floor.

Classic car tour

In addition to the bright yellow Cocotaxis that noisily buzz though the city, one can also hail a classic car taxi. Its a special way to get around and explore the city and certainly considered a safer way to travel than on the auto rickshaws.

Museo de la Revolución

Dedicated to the protagonists, events and history of the Cuban Revolution, this museum is considerably more compelling than in sounds, thanks party to its setting, the spectacular former Presidential Palace, which still bears the bullet holes from an earlier failed revolutionary attack in 1957 on the then President Fulgencio Batista.

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana

The National Fine Arts museum is home to a huge collection of Cuban art, surely the most comprehensive in the world. Fascinating way to learn about the history of the island through works that date back to colonial times and continue to the present day.

TRAVEL:

Cuba Direct

Award-winning boutique travel agency that specialises in creating unique travel experiences for visitors to Cuba. Each member of the team has either lived or travelled extensively in the country so is well-equipped to provide knowledgeable advice, and create a tailored itinerary that can include not only Havana, but destinations across Cuba from the cities of Trinidad and Santiago de Cuba to the beach communities of Cayo Santa Maria and Veradero; and the wild landscapes of Baracoa. They arrange all the details including the necessary tourist visas or Tourist Cards. Independent travellers can apply online, or through local consulates.

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