Havana, Cuba

La Habana, as locals call their capital, is the largest city in the Caribbean and one of the most fascinating cities. If you plan to visit Havana, don’t wait too long. Try to go as soon as possible. At this moment Havana is still very unique with its beautiful old buildings, a city where time stood still. A city that doesn’t have the regular shopping streets you’ll find anywhere in the world, with well known designer brands. It’s a city where you can still feel the grandeur of its glory days. The 50’s cars make you feel, like my 8-year-old son said, as if you landed in a Cars movie. You’ll never see so many classic cars driving on the public road ever again in your life, it’s just incredible!

Bit by bit the city is being renovated. Some find it disappointing as it has a certain charm, all those dilapidated buildings. But if there were no renovations, the city would totally collapse and nothing would remain of the old City of Havana, so these renovations are a real necessity.
Havana is maybe not the most kid friendly city in the world. There’s nothing specific to do with kids. There are no special children’s museums or restaurants with kids’ menus. But if the kids like a bit of history, sun and adventure, you’ll find plenty to do in Havana with your kids. And Cuban people love children. So you will feel welcome wherever you come with your little ones.

The Internet in Havana is one of the worst I have ever experienced in my life. Don’t expect to get any online work done while visiting the city. Even in the hotels where they claim to have WiFi, the Internet is a disaster. But it kind of made it fun too. Of course we were showing symptoms of digital withdrawal, and not just us, especially the children were complaining about the lack of connection with the digital world. But it made us realise how much more relaxed it is to have all the time in the world to talk, read, look around and listen to each other. Something vacation is actually about!

The city is roughly divided in 3 neighborhoods, Old Havana, Vedado and the somewhat newer suburban districts. Taking a ride with a Classic car was for us the best way to discover the highlights of the city and determine where we wanted to spend more time, so it’s something we did the first day. The next days we spent exploring the city further, walking through Havana Vieja, visit the Catedral, La Plaza Vieja, El Capitolio and many other beautiful buildings. The children loved climbing up the cathedral tower to have a view of the old city and going to the revolution museum to learn about history, according to Cuba, see people taking salsa classes and the yacht that started the Cuban revolution “Granma”.
Something you cannot miss whilst there is enjoy the sun set over the Malécon. Many Habaneros come out at night to stroll along the boulevard and talk whilst sitting on the wall by the ocean. As most people only have 2 TV channels (Cuban and Venezuelan TV) they like to go out at night and socialize with their friends and families.

And if you would really like to do something local with your children, and have all the time in the world, visit Coppelia, the largest ice cream parlor in the world. The parlor was built in the sixties by Fidel Castro to introduce his love for dairy products to the Cuban people.
The building is shaped like a huge blue UFO. The queues are extremely long, so be patient. Cuban people stand here for hours to get a scoop or 2 of their favorite ice cream. Queues for tourists are shorter but you pay twice as much for the same ice cream. When the parlor opened there was a choice of more than 25 flavors, but nowadays the selection is limited to 3 flavors instead. Sometimes the non-tourist section has more, but going to the tourist section doesn’t give you the authentic Cuban experience.

As Havana doesn’t have any beaches, another great thing to do is go to Santa Maria del Mar, about 20km outside of Havana. A nice and refreshing break, especially for the kids, from sight seeing. There are several possibilities to come there. By bus is of course the cheapest, or with your own rental car. We chose to ask one of the classic car drivers to bring us and wait for us at the beach. (They don’t charge extra). And actually you should ask them to wait for you or you’ll have difficulty getting back to the city! The beach is everything you expect from a tropical Caribbean beach, white sand, blue and clear waters.
Locals rent out sunbeds on the public beach. But you can also go to the Tropicoco hotel and rent one there. As the reviews for the Tropicoco are not very positive we chose to rent a sunbed from a local and sit with the Cubans, which was actually a very unique experience. Especially on the weekends many locals can be found at the beach enjoying some beers, food and music with their families. Beware of the current at Santa Maria beach, which can be dangerous at times!

We only spent 4 days in Havana. For us that was enough, especially with the children. But many people spend a week or more to see all the museums and sites of the city or make day trips to other towns and sites around Havana.
It’s a perfect city to either start or end your Cuban trip or as a stopover when travelling from Europe to other cities in Latin America. It actually doesn’t matter why you go to Havana, the only important thing is that you enjoy the city and just go, take the kids and make beautiful memories.

Here are some awesome things to do in Havana with kids. And a few things to do without, maybe on a date-night. If you follow this list you will for sure see all the major highlights of this wonderful city. Use it as a check-list. It works really well.

  • Drive around in a 1950’s American convertible car and see the highlights of the city.
  • Visit the Plaza de la Revolucion (you’ll probably stop there when you make the classic car tour).
  • Visit Habana Vieja with its beautiful buildings.
  • Drink a Daiquiri at El Floridita, according to Hemingway they serve(d) the best in the world.
  • Visit the Museo de la Revolucion (and take a Latin dancing class).
  • Visit the Havana Club rum factory.
  • Visit the Cohiba sigar factory.
  • Ice cream at Coppelia, the largest ice cream parlor in the world.
  • Eat at a Paladare (a private Cuban restaurant).
  • Eat the local Cuban dish ‘Ropa Vieja’ (old clothes), DELICOUS!!
  • Visit the Cuban Missile Crisis tunnels and museum in the gardens of Hotel Nacional de Cuba.
  • Then have a mojito in the gardens of Hotel Nacional de Cuba around sunset.
  • Watch the cannons fire at El Morro Cabaña every night at 9 pm.
  • Visit a night show featuring some of the members of the Buena Vista Social club.
  • Go to the Gran Teatro de la Habana to see the Ballet Nacional de Cuba (if you’re lucky).
  • Go to the Tropicana or Cabaret Parisien show (unfortunately no kids allowed).
  • Visit Santa Maria del Mar for a day at the beach, you can go there with you own car, by bus or take a (classic) cab.
  • Visit Plaza Vieja, especially around dusk. It has many restaurants where parents can have a drink on the terrace while the children are being entertained on the square.
  • Explore the tobacco fields and see how the “Guajiros” make a cigar in Viñales.

Hotel Nacional de Cuba

Calle 21 y O, Vedado, 10400
La Habana, Cuba
+(53) 7 8363564
www.hotelnacionaldecuba.com

Price range

$$$$

Location

Located on the Malecón, in the middle of Vedado, Havana.Vedado is a central business district and urban neighbourhood developed in the first half of the 20th century during the Republic period.

Accommodation

Hotel Nacional de Cuba was, until recently, one of the few five star hotels in Cuba. It is state owned. The rooms are quite dated, but still have a special historic air. Don’t expect extreme luxury here, it is luxury according to Cuban standards.
As far as I understood, connecting rooms are not available or only limited. We booked two triple rooms. But as the triple rooms are not really located close to each other we decided to make a boys- and a girls-room. If the children would be older, we would book 3 double rooms in stead.

Dining

The hotel has 3 restaurants and a cafeteria that serves light food and snacks. Apart from breakfast did not eat in the hotel, so I cannot elaborate on the food of the hotel.

Services and amenities for kids

For an overview of the services and amenities for kids at this hotel click here. Amenities provided by the hotel in green.

Extra info

When you drive towards the hotel you already feel the iconic state it has. The building stands on a hill and is grand, just a few meters from the sea. The Cuban flag hangs high on the top of the building. This is Cuba’s pride. When entering the lobby it feels like you step into the past… back to the 30’s when the hotel opened its doors, in a time when Cuba was still a prime destination for well to do Americans. The wooden ceiling, the tiles, the old school reception every breathes history. The colonial lobby is tropical, beautiful and very lively. Both locals and tourists walk through the hotel, in and out to the gardens where the bar is located, a great place to drink the famous Hotel Nacional Mojito. Don’t leave without having one! Even if you are not staying at the hotel it is worth visiting the bar and sipping one in the setting sun while overlooking the Malecón and looking at the Habaneros strolling along the boulevard by the sea.

In the garden of the hotels you can also visit the tunnels of the Cuban Missile Crisis and a small museum. The children loved walking through the spooky tunnels and learning a bit about Cuban history.

Not much has changed since the opening of the hotel, where hundreds of famous people have stayed over the past eight decades. The casino has long closed, but apart from that it feels like time stood still. The famous Cabaret Parisien can still be viewed every night. However, the show is only for adults, so you will have to arrange a babysitter if you want like to enjoy the show and learn to dance.

Hotel Saratoga

Paseo de Martí, La Habana, Cuba
+(53) 7 8681000
www.hotel-saratoga.com

Price range

$$$$

Location
The Saratoga hotel is located on the border of Havana Central and Havana Vieja. It overlooks El Capitolio, an almost exact copy of the Capitol in Washington D.C. Although it is said that El Capitolio is just a few centimeters higher than the US Capitol.
Accommodation
For Cuban standards this is the highest possible standard. At the time of writing the first luxurious western hotel was about to open its doors, this will definitely change the status of Hotel Saratoga as Cuba’s more luxurious hotel. The rooms are spacious, clean, have modern colonial style furniture, great beds, a good air-conditioning and the bathroom features all modern amenities.
We booked two junior suites “Saratoga”, the rooms can accommodate an extra bed (even two) and are connecting, upon request.
Dining
The hotel has two restaurants. Unfortunately we did not have the opportunity to have dinner here so I cannot elaborate on that. The breakfast in the Anacaona restaurant is good. The restaurant serves Italian food at night. We did have lunch at the Piscina Mirador and there the food was fine.
Services and amenities for kids

For an overview of the services and amenities for kids at this hotel click here. Amenities provided by the hotel in green.

Extra info
This is the hotel where the now famous people stay while in Havana. Madonna and Beyoncé, with her husband Jay Z, are just a few recent famous guests of the hotel. The hotel is indeed really posh for Cuban standards. And if you like modern luxury, your best place to stay would be here. However, when compared to the Hotel Nacional de Cuba the hotel certainly misses the Cuban flair and the hustle and bustle of the island. I was really glad we stayed in both of the hotels as they both give a totally different Cuban experience. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss the “Nacional” atmosphere, even if it meant less luxury. But to be fair I was, as a luxury traveller, also very happy to stay in Saratoga and have all the comfort around me after our few nights in Nacional.
Café Bohemia
Address: San Ignacio, La Habana, Cuba
Reservations: (+53) 7 8603722
Cuisine: Local meets international
Kidsmenu:
Experience: We had lunch here. It was a wonderful place for a lunch while exploring Havana Vieja. The restaurant is located on the Plaza Vieja, behind the façade of one of the beautifully renovated buildings that surround the square. They serve good salads, panini’s and delicious smoothies or juices.
El Cocinero
Address: Calle 26, La Habana, Cuba
Reservations: online or via phone (+53) 7 8322355
Cuisine: Cuban food
Kidsmenu:
Experience: We almost skipped this restaurant, as we were very tired of our day trip to Vinales. I am so glad we didn’t!! When we arrived there was a very long queue. Everyone wants to eat here. We made reservations for the rooftop restaurant, what I would certainly recommend. The atmosphere is relaxed, hip and happening. The food is good. Something I didn’t expect to find in Havana. The restaurant is located next to the Fabrica de Arte in Vedado.
La Guarida
Address: Concordia No.418 /Gervasio y Escobar.
Centro Habana. Ciudad de la Habana, Cuba
Reservations: online (recommended at least 2 days in advance) or via
phone (+53) 78669047 / (+53) 78662354 / (+53) 54147852
Cuisine: Surprisingly good Cuban food
Kidsmenu:
Experience: This Paladare (private Cuban restaurant) is one of my favorites, I don’t want to tell you too much about it as the surprise effect is really nice. I would therefor also recommend not to explore the entire website when making a reservation. The food is delicious and they have very good wines, we were wondering how they import these good wines into a country where many things are very difficult to arrange. On top of the building a nice and busy bar is located overlooking the city of Havana.
The building of the restaurant featured in the Oscar winning movie “Fresa y Chocolate”, something they still boast about.
La Guarida is an absolute dining must when visiting Havana.
Café Laurent
Address: Penthouse, 257 Calle M, La Habana 10400, Cuba
Reservations: (+53) 7 8312090
Website:
Cuisine: Delicious fushion of native food
Kidsmenu:
Experience: This paladar near Hotel Nacional is absolutely a hidden gem! The hotel is located on the top floor of an extremely ugly fifties building. When you enter the elevator or staircase you genuinely wonder, am I in the right place? But when you enter the restaurant the tables are beautifully set with while linen and they serve this wonderful food from what once was an apartment kitchen.
Los Mercaderes

Address: 207 Mercaderes, La Habana, Cuba
Reservations: (+53) 7 8012437
Website:
Cuisine: Typical Cuban food
Kidsmenu:

Experience: This paladare in Habana Vieja is one of the more traditional and refined paladares of Havana. The food is good and the atmosphere is relaxed and romantic, with musicians playing violin.

If you have only 3 nights in Havana, this is the first one I would go to, followed by either La Guarida or El Cocinero.

Nice cool ride in a classic convertible is very welcome in this warm weather – Havana, Cuba

Havana has a subtropical climate, during summer there is a wet season and during winter a dry season. Havana is a warm place to visit any time of year. With temperatures high enough to wear those flimsy dresses and shorts whenever you decide to visit this wonderful city. You can cool off in the water which has a nice temperature year-round.

August – October is the primary hurricane season, so check out the hurricane warnings if you decide to go during these months.

Below is the current temperature and forecast for the next days in Havana, decide for yourself if it’s tempting or not.

Havana
28°
32°
Sat
31°
Sun
32°
Mon
Weather from OpenWeatherMap