Where to stay in Havana
Havana offers suitable accommodation for everyone's taste and budget. Traditional sightseers better choose a place near the historic center, which means not too far from the Parque Central. However, the old center also has chaotic and dirty parts. More sophisticated accommodations can be found near the new center, which is located about 5 km to the west. Travelers staying here, should take in account, that one need a ride to reach the old center. This article gives an overview of the different neighborhoods of the Cuban capital, so that you can pick the ideal neighborhood for your stay in the Cuban capital.
For visitors who spend only a few days in Havana, three parts of the city have tourist relevance. First and foremost, of course, is the historic Old Town »La Habana Vieja «. Bordering the old town to the west is the district of »Centro Habana«, which offers glimpses of the stereotypical Havana. On the western end of Centro Habana borders the upscale residential and business district »El Vedado«.
Stay in Havana: The 3 Best Areas to Stay in Havana:
- The historic old town: La Habana Vieja.
- The heart of the city: Centro Habana.
- The residential and business district: El Vedado.
Are locations outside these areas a good alternative? Generally, only accommodations in one of these three districts are a good choice. If you want to avoid having to make longer transfers, you should not choose accommodations in other parts of the city, such as Playa (e.g. Miramar & Jaimanitas) or Diez de Octubre (Vibora or Santos Suarez), at least not for short stays. These districts have a limited importance for visitors and are also poorly connected to the center. You should keep in mind: Havana's »public transport« is impracticable for most visitors. If you want to reach the center, you usually have no choice but to take a cab, making the trip not only relatively complicated and time-consuming, but also expensive (10 to 15 USD each way).
Only for travelers who want to spend time at the beach, accommodation next to the beautiful »beaches of Havana« can be an alternative to the three districts mentioned above. The so-called Playas del Este lay about 30 km east of the city center.
Havana has two urban centers
The Cuban capital was founded almost exactly 500 years ago on the shores of the great natural bay and initially grew on the area around the bay and its entrance. This part of the city is known as La Habana Vieja the historic old town. Over the years the city expanded beyond the old borders into the hinterland to the south, mostly along the coast to the west. Initially, the district of Centro Habana was formed to the west of the historic old town.
Towards the end of the 19th century, there occurred another rapid expansion period towards the west. In a few decades, the district of El Vedado was developed. The result of this development is that today Havana features two main centers, located about 5 km apart.
The old center lays between the historic old town Habana Vieja and Centro Habana at the Parque Central. In the vicinity of the central square are many large hotels, important buildings and sights: These include, for example, the Gran Teatro, the Capitolio and the Paseo del Marti (Prado), the Museum of the Revolution, the Edificio Bacardi and the most important art museum in the country, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.
West of the square is the Centro Habana district, where two authentic shopping streets are located. These are the pedestrian streets Boulevard de San Rafael and Galiano. East of the Parque Central, you will find the historic district of La Habana Vieja, which is entered by the more tourist-oriented pedestrian street Calle Obispo. Habana Vieja has numerous important historical buildings, squares, and fortresses to visit.
The new center of the city is located about 5 km west of the Parque Central, next to the border of the neighborhoods Centro Habana and El Vedado on the commercial street La Rampa, which is also known as Calle 23). This area has many eateries and large hotels, such as the historic Hotels Habana Libre and Hotel Nacional de Cuba. In the new center, the »nightlife« is particularly vibrant. In addition, you will find here the historic university, a number of embassies, ministries, and other significant institutions.
Is it better to stay in the old center or in the new center?
It depends. In most cases, it is better to select accommodation in the old center, ideally in Habana Vieja. However, the question of whether to stay near the old or modern center of the city cannot be answered in a categorical way.
For visitors who have planned only a few days in Havana, accommodation in the old city center is generally recommended. If you stay there, you can explore the historic city center on foot and do not have to deal much with the complicated transportation. In addition, there is a relatively good infrastructure (Eat & Drink, supermarkets, etc.).
What to expect staying in the old center
Centro Habana is a bustling part of the city. It is often noisy, dirty and – not only because of the heavy traffic – very stuffy. Air pollution is a problem in many places throughout the narrow streets. This part of town does not have a particularly good image among many Cubans. As a visitor, however, it is easy to find a place to stay. However, one should be a little careful not to choose accommodation along one of the main roads (see below).
Compared to Centro Habana, Havaba Vieja is better maintained and, above all, there is much less transportation and therefore less noise and air pollution.
What to expect staying in the new center
The new city center contrasts with the stereotypical Havana. In the relatively upscale and green district of EL Vedado are ministries, embassies and other important Cuban and international institutions. Between the glamorous buildings, you can discover small but sometimes quite classy guesthouses and restaurants. This is the right place if you would like to dive into the real Cuba.
El Vedado represents a Havana that corresponds less to the cliché of the run-down city. Despite the fact that the old city center has been upgraded due to the advancing redevelopment, El Vedado continues to be the cultural center of the entire island. The district also has an authentic nightlife, not only because the university and most of the student residences are located here.
Especially those who want to stay several days in the city or rather seek peace and quiet in a sophisticated environment, should consider accommodation here. Also, for women traveling alone, a stay in this part of town can be recommended.
Stay in Habana Vieja
La Habana Vieja is the heart of the Cuban capital and the most important colonial old town in the Americas. After a long period of neglect, in recent years extensive redevelopment has taken place. The most important museums, squares and historic buildings are located in the historic center. There are various pedestrian zones and traffic-free squares.
Therefore, Habana Vieja is much calmer and the air is less polluted than in other parts of the city. There are plenty of nice places to have a drink or meal that are oriented towards an international clientele.
For short stays and for Havana newcomers, it is generally recommended to stay in Habana Vieja, whereby the north-western part, close to Parque Central, is strategically superior. If you don't stay near the Parque Central, you will stll be able to explore the old town on foot within 30 minutes. More information about the historic center can be found in the article about Habana Vieja.
Stay in Centro Habana
Centro Habana is the busiest part of Havana. The district offers insights into the typical, ramshackle and chaotic Havana. Staying here, you will experience the morbid charm of the capital: half-crumbling magnificent buildings, old American cars and noisy street vendors. In the summer months, the district hardly comes to rest. Until late at night, people linger in the streets to escape the unbearable heat that builds up inside the buildings during the hot days. Many places are noisy and dirty. Garbage cans overflow and flying merchants loudly offer their wares. In addition, there is a lot of transit traffic and consequently polluted air.
The opinions about the district differ widely. What for some makes Centro Habana's unique charm, for others makes it an unbearable madhouse.
Anyone who would like to stay should avoid the central transport arteries such as San Lazaro, Galiano, Malecóns, Prado, Zanja, Infanta and Neptuno. Strategically better locations are in the east, near the old town (Parque Central / Prado) or to the west near Vedado (University / Hotel Habana Libre / La Rampa) as well as in the north near, but not too close to the Malecón. More information about Centro Habana you will find in the corresponding article.
Stay in Vedado
The district is the former exclusive residential and business district of the upper middle and upper class. This part of the city is more modern and in much better shape than the long-neglected neighborhoods in the historic center of the city. On the western edge and along the Malecón, high-rise buildings from the 1940s and 1950s era dominate the cityscape. Among them are a number of upscale hotels, some of which are steeped in history. These include the mob hotels Hotel Nacional and Riveria, as well as the Hotel Presidente and the Habana Libre (originally Hilton).
Not far from the central main street La Rampa you will find the magnificent Avenida de los Presidentes. During weekends, both streets turn into the most important nightlife areas of the Cuban capital.
The best places for accommodation are within the lettered streets in the western part of the district. Stately estates lie there, partly embedded in lush tropical vegetation. Of course, the area is also home to the several embassies. For short stays, accommodations west of Avenidad Paseo are less recommended, as the way to the city center is somewhat longer.
If you choose to stay in Vedado, you will have to drive to the historic city center. A cab to the center costs between 5 and 10 USD, depending on your negotiating skills. However, there are also shared cabs and at off-peak times, inexpensive city buses are also good to go. Along the main roads Calle 23 and Linea there is quite a lot of transport and therefore noise and polluted air.
But there are also a number of attractions to visit in the Veadado. These include John Lennon Park, the huge Colón Cemetery, the Fabrica del Arte Cubano and the elegant El Cocinero restaurant.
Playas del Este & Guanabo