Cuba is top of many a traveller’s wishlist, there is no shortage of things to do in Havana. A captivating capital, its galleries, theatres, markets and memorials to the revolution are all worth a visit. Equally pleasurable is soaking up the atmosphere of Old Havana. But, if you fancy visiting some of its more quirky corners, we’ve picked out a few of the more unusual for you.
Housed in an old peanut oil factory in Vedado and decked out with sleek lines, minimal shades and multiple rooms, Fábrica de Arte Cubano (FAC) follows the tried and tested route of counter-culture colonization of industrial spaces that has transformed Shoreditch, Berlin and New York’s Meatpacking District. Yet despite the cosmopolitan air, from the contemporary art displayed in the gallery space upstairs to bands playing in the rooms downstairs, FAC is quintessentially Cuban. A night here might involve sipping cocktails on the moonlit patio, watching a local theatre company, listening to classical music – or the latest Cuban hip-hop artists – or letting loose at a weekend club night.
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Also known as the Patio Areito or the Patio EGREM, this small but authentic music venue belongs to the inauspicious recording studios of the country’s most renowned record label, EGREM. A patio bar leads into a rather plain performance room where a different band or soloist play every evening. Expect anything from trova and son to rumba and hip-hop. El Jelengue de Areito, San Miguel no.410 e/ Campanario y Lealtad, Centro Habana. Tel: 862 0673.
Havana Super Tours run themed tours, all in vintage American cars, including an Art Deco Tour, a Hemingway Tour and a Mob Tour, tracing the history of the Mafia in pre-revolutionary Havana. Run by the irrepressible Luis Miguel and his team, tour prices start at $35–40CUC per person for three-hour trips, with a minimum of two people and a maximum of six per tour.
Antique and art dealers can be found all over the city since the Cuban government lifted many of its economic restrictions, but Memorias Animas is a real diamond. Though many of the vintage posters and photographs here are reproductions, they are excellent quality. You’ll struggle to find the same copies anywhere else. There are tonnes of originals too and the little shop is heaving with pre-revolutionary memorabilia. You'll find Cuban beer and cigar adverts, chocolate box covers, Cuban and American 1950s magazines. What's more, the store also has postcards from around the world and old photos of Havana.
The Casa de las Américas is housed in a dove-grey Art Deco building inlaid with panes of deep blue glass on Avenida de los Presidentes. It was established as a cultural institute in 1959 by the revolutionary heroine Haydee Santamaría. Her goal was to promote the arts, history and politics of the Americas. Today it hosts regular conferences, musical performances and talks, many of which are open to the general public. Outside of these events, visitors must stay in three restricted places. First, the bookshop. Second, the ground-floor reception area that sometimes hosts small art exhibitions. Third, and most worthwhile of all, the lovely little Galería Latinoamericana on the first floor.
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In the middle of an attractive park in Vedado dotted with weeping figs and rubber trees is Havana’s mighty ice-cream emporium, Coppelia. This location is the flagship branch of this national chain. Looking like a giant space pod atop a podium, the multi-chamber restaurant was designed by Mario Girona in 1966. His aim was to create an eating place with prices within the reach of every Cuban. Serving over a thousand customers a day, it’s a city institution, hugely popular with locals. Many regularly wait in line for over an hour for their treats. Cuban film buffs will recognize the park from the opening scenes of Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s seminal 1993 film, Fresa y Chocolate. Coppelia, Calle 23 esq. L. Tel: 7 832 6184.
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In the northeastern corner of Plaza Vieja, where Mercaderes crosses Brasil, is the Cámara Oscura. This unusual museum offers a captivating ten-minute tour of Habana Vieja and the bay through a 360-degree-rotating telescopic lens. It's definitely one of the most unique things to do in Havana. The museum is located at the top of the seven-storey Gómez Vila building, built in 1933 and one of only two post-colonial edifices on the square. The impressive piece of kit can pick out sights and scenes from all over the old city in close detail.