Havana City Guide: Where To Stay, What To Eat and How To Explore This Beautiful City
|Gifted Trip with Iberostar|
Cuba has been on my ‘to visit’ list for many many years, especially Havana.
I would see my travel blogger and real life friends heading out there, dancing to salsa music, drinking mojitos and riding in classic cars and I would get serious FOMO. It was time to do something about it.
Cuba is a destination seen by most of us brits as a beach holiday destination. With all-inclusive resorts filling the coastline of Varadaro, a city break may not be high on people’s lists when they think of this part of the world. But coming to Cuba and NOT experiencing the vibrancy of Havana is a huge mistake and I’m here to tell you why!
We flew across from Gatwick for four days in the city which seems excessive for the near 14 hour journey, but having done it I can honestly say it was 100% worth the travel. The flights are tiring but we still felt like we had the perfect amount of time to explore this fascinating city AND have a relaxing break while we were there. And these trips always feel longer once you’re there and having fun!
If a quick city break isn’t your bag, then you can always tag your visit to Havana onto a longer holiday to Miami for example, or have a week of sun worshipping on the other side of Cuba and fly in for a few days exploring the city at the start or end of your break….I’m not letting you get away with missing out on this one!
Let’s take a look at our four day trip and all the best things to do, see, eat and of course where to stay when you visit Havana!
WHERE TO STAY
During our trip to Havana we stayed at the Iberostar Grand Packard hotel, situated about 5-10minutes walk from Old Havana. Right on the Malecon with sea views, stunning modern interiors and top quality food, the Grand Packard is a luxurious oasis of calm amongst the colourful and vibrant streets of Havana.
The rooms at the Iberostar Grand Packard are beautiful. With large king size beds, floor to ceiling glass windows looking out over the city streets, neat and modern bathrooms and all the amenities you could possibly need, you know instantly you’re in for a wonderful stay.
The bathroom is partitioned off with a frosted glass door and boats his and hers sinks, beautiful toiletries, a huge monsoon shower and perfectly lit mirrors. There’s plenty of wardrobe space, modern coffee machines, a mini bar, flat screen tv and it’s oh so quiet which makes for a great night’s sleep on that memory foam mattress. Every single night we were out as soon as our heads hit the pillow and awake feeling refreshed the very next morning.
Before visiting Cuba we were told by many friends that the food was a bit of a let down – bland, boring and without variety. However the food at the Iberostar Grand Packard was anything but! With 5 restaurants including a tapas restaurant, gourmet, traditional and snack bar, you were always well fed and the flavours were so so good! Breakfast has a wonderful choice of pastries, juicy fruit, fresh omelettes, pancakes, meats, cheese, smoothies and more which was all served until 10am if you fancied a lie in, and of course came with endless cups of strong Cuban coffee!
We loved the tapas restaurant for a yummy selection of Spanish dishes with a crisp white wine, and the snack bar on the terrace was always serving well portioned tasty food to keep you going during a day of sightseeing! We genuinely couldn’t fault it and the service was super speedy so you didn’t miss out on any holiday time.
Get ready for those views…
One of my favourite parts of the Iberostar Grand Packard is it’s roof top terrace with infinity pool looking out over the city. You can swim in their pool high above the streets of Havana, sunbathe on their luxury beds, or enjoy a cocktail with views of the Malecon – it’s bliss! In Feb/March the sun doesn’t tend to hit the sunbeds until about 2pm, so we enjoyed our mornings out sightseeing in the city and our afternoons relaxing by the pool which is the perfect mix for a city holiday!
Sipping on a cocktail, glass of wine or Cuban beer in the evening looking out over the sea was simply wonderful and I really do feel like this terrace give the Grans Packard an edge over other hotels in the city – it’s perfect.
During our stay we also visited the hotel Spa for a relaxation session and a massage. With saunas, mood showers, jacuzzis, steam rooms and more, it’s the perfect little haven inside the hotel for a well deserved break.
We booked in for a 60 minute couples massage and it was total heaven – one of the best massages I’ve had in a while and the spa staff were super friendly, generous with time and made sure we were very much looked after. I can’t recommend their spa enough – make sure you book yourself in for a treatment during your stay, especially after all that walking round the city, you deserve it!
It’s also worth noting that the hotel has well-priced wifi packages you can buy which is a godsend in Havana where signal and wifi are pretty much non-existent! Personally I loved being able to switch off during our time there and have a little break from my phone addiction, but it was very useful to be able to log on with a coffee when you got back to the hotel, if only for half an hour.
WHAT TO DO
Havana is such a fun loving and vibrant city there’s a million and one things to do while you’re there and its hard to put into one blog post! So here are the top 5 things to do in Havana on your city break…
Classic Car Ride
Those classic cars you see when you look at photos of Havana, they’re everywhere! And they’re not just for tourists, they’re working taxis and people’s actual cars, it’s amazing to see them all pull up at a stop light!
A rainbow of colours and some seriously cool classics, taking a ride in a classic car has to be number one on your list for your city break to Havana. You can hire a taxi to drive you to the best sightseeing spots, to get from A to B, or even just for half an hour round the block! But make sure you bring your camera…and a hair brush because that open roof wind is unforgiving!
Seeing the city by car is great but a walking tour is also a wonderful way to get a feel for Havana and learn more about it’s fascinating history. Our guide took us by bus (we cheated that part!) up to the old fort and also where Chez Guevara’s old residences used to be which came with a cracking view of the city and harbour.
From there we walked around the city learning about it’s architecture and history which was a great way to expand our knowledge and also get some steps in! Our guide was very friendly and super knowledgeable too – it’s definitely worth booking a tour of some kind when you’re visiting because Havana has a colourful history and you don’t want to miss out.
Wander Old Havana
Tours are a great way to learn the history of a city but exploring on your own is the best way to pick up the vibe of a place. Wander through the colourful streets of old Havana, stop for a coffee (or a mojito!) and people watch!
Join in with some salsa dancing, try out some street food, sit in the park and enjoy the sun. Old Havana was my favourite part of the city and it’s cobbled streets just beg to be explored.
Visit a Cigar Factory
We didn’t have time for this one but I’ve been told by so may friends that its great fun and really interesting.
See if you can get tickets to one of the many cigar factory tours and learn how they make this traditional Cuban item. I’ve seen them being made once before and it’s fascinating, even if like me you’re not a smoker!
There are many places in Havana you can book in for a salsa lesson, but why pay when you can join in with the locals at any bar!
There’s salsa music everywhere and you’re always encouraged to get up and dance! Put down your Daiquiri and slip into those dancing shoes, it’s time to swing!
BEST PLACES TO EAT & DRINK
Once your day-tripping is complete, and you’ve been back to the hotel for a sunbathing sesh, it’s time to experience the Cuban nightlife! I’m not one for clubs or ‘hard core rowdiness’ of an evening (I know, 30 going on 75!) but I do appreciate a cool bar, a fun atmosphere and a nice meal.
So here are my top picks of where to eat and drink in Havana!
El Del Frente
This is one of the coolest bars in the city….if you can find it! Hidden behind a plain and inconspicuous street door you’ll find the rooftop wonders of El Del Frente – a hipster hangout with killer daiquiris!
With cocktails around £5, very cool looking staff and chilled out vibes, El Del Frente is amazing to sit with a book during the day or with a round of drinks at sunset. Either way, you have to get yourself here for a tipple.
Possibly one of the most famous bars and restaurants in Havana, La Guarida was the backdrop for the film Strawberry and Chocolate back in the 90’s and has been a haunt for many a celebrity over the years. On the bottom it’s a run down looking level of flats, but on top it’s a rooftop bar with some serious views, a bustling restaurant and weirdly has some of the coolest toilets I’ve ever seen (if you know, you know)!
We manged to get in without a reservation after waiting with a cuba libre in the bar for around 40 mins but it’s best to book to avoid disappointment, especially at the weekend. The food was good, the service was quick and it was very cool to say we’d eaten at the same place as Beyonce!
If its salsa dancing and music you’re looking for then Van Van is your place! This very cool and traditional bar/restaurant always has some fab live music to dance to and it won’t break the bank either.
We didn’t eat here but it was awesome to sit and people watch with a pina colada, and the food heading passed us to other tables looked goooood. Such a fun place and a must for couples or groups alike!
La Floridita (Hemingway’s Bar)
And last but not least, La Floridita – aka Hemingway’s Bar! It is widely reported that Hemmingway himself used to frequent La Floridita, so often they actually named a drink after him – a double shot of rum called Papa’s Special!
Here you will find LOTS of tourists and a statue of Hemingway himself, so maybe avoid this one at peak times. But as it’s the birthplace of the daiquiri then you must go in for at least one!
Don’t fancy the crowds or want to hit up somewhere that’s not as famous? Well there are bars and restaurants on every corner, and most of them are so cheap (around £2.50 a beer and £3 per mojito) that you can have a drink in each one!
Happy hour is also a big thing in Havana too, so you’re not going to break the bank no matter how much fun you have!
Havana is one of the most exciting, friendly and vibrant cities I’ve ever visited. The locals are so kind, I felt safe down every street, the food and drink is incredibly reasonable and the weather we had was amazing – it was the perfect city break!
If you’re looking for a break where you can learn rich history, walk, relax and have some serious fun – Havana is your destination!
I for one will certainly be back…who’s with me?
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