Culturally, just walking around is all you need to do, but its always hot from 11am to 5pm, so you need to find cool places to go – the museum of the Revolution is great as is the Bellas Artes which is housed in an amazing 60’s building. Walk along the Malecon on an early evening, it’s the road that runs along the sea front, its where all the locals hang out, fishermen, families, lovers, musicians, it catches the evening breeze and runs from the old town to Verdado. Soak in the atmosphere with barbecued food from one of the many shacks that are aimed more for the locals.
Modernisation has certainly come to Havana – there is an old warehouse up in the suburbs by the docks which has turned into an arts house music venue – its mainly for young people, but we didn’t feel too out of place – Fabrica de Arte Cubano has live theatre, video installations, art, sculpture, food bars and is all very cheap . on a weekend its frequented by all the young locals and apparently after midnight turns into a dance and music venue too. We ate beforehand in Cocinero, which is alongside Fabrica de Arte in the same building, on the lovely roof terrace under an avocado tree.
Its easy to hail taxis in the street, and more than often they will be the classic 50’s style cars – agree a price before you get in – as it can vary greatly. It seems that the pristine cars with smart driver are double the price, as well as the open top ones. For short distances hop into the little yellow coco taxis – kids loved that, but generally its lovely to walk and if you get onto the malecon, you will always be able to find your bearings.
There isn’t much to buy in Havana, except rum and cigars – but there is a big warehouse full of handicrafts right by the seafront, just a short walk down from the old town – we bought a string hammock, and some carved wooden spoons. Next door is a brewery that makes its own beer – its also a great spot to sit, cool down and take a bite to eat – aimed at both locals and tourists it’s a calm spot to relax.
We stayed at the Saratoga, an old colonial style hotel which is perfectly situated for the old town, the malecon and then a short taxi ride to Verdado where the hotel nacional and all the 1960’s buildings are. The Saratoga has a lovely rooftop swimming pool with great views of the city and is a breezy haven in the heat after a day of sightseeing. There are lots of hotels to stay in, Hotel Florida in the old town looks good, the nacional is a government run hotel which is famous for its gardens overlooking the malecon and the sea and has hosted an array of celebrities in its past – its very bustling and commercial, but has all the nightlife of live music right there in its gardens. But our favourite has to be the hotel Riviera with its immaculate 50’s interior. It was the last of the hotels to be built by the mafia in its heyday and still retains all its design features – its not in such a handy area, but with transport so easy and not too expensive, it’s a very affordable stylish place to stay expecially if you love 50’s vintage furniture.