Are you wondering where to stay in Havana? This neighborhood in depth guide will help you decide where to stay in this city! We’ve broken down the best areas to stay in Havana. We recommend the following neighborhoods: Old Havana, Centro, Chinatown, El Vedado, Miramar and Jaimanitas.
Cuba has long been a place of fascination for American travelers. Its shockingly close proximity to the United States, combined with a geopolitical relationship that’s been varying levels of frigid for decades, has resulted in a next door neighbor that sometimes seems alien.
Fortunately, a visit to Cuba doesn’t have to be intimidating. Cubans are a friendly people, and the capital of Havana is as welcoming as any metropolis. But it’s also as varied as you might expect a capital city to be. If you’re wondering where to stay in Havana, we’re ready to help you get a lay of the land and plan your trip more sensibly.
Where to stay in Havana: Best areas to stay in Havana
As for getting around Havana itself, there are countless options available to you. The stubborn and resourceful independence of Cuba’s history means residents have often had to make due with less, and the result is a tangled transit system that has served residents and visitors well despite being rather oblique and byzantine in execution.
Taxis take the form of government-run taxis, yellow (or yellow and black) “coco” taxis that use traditional fares, and luxury grancars. More affordable are public taxis known as almendrones that follow preset routes. If you’re looking for something a little more immersive, you may want to check out the open air bicycle taxis.
The city also has its own public bus system with 17 different routes. While these buses don’t reliably cover the entirety of the city, they do offer access to most of the areas to stay in Havana that we’re covering.
In other words, don’t worry too much about how to get around town. Instead, pay more consideration to the best places to stay in Havana for your personal sensibilities.
1. Old Havana
Old Havana, known to locals as La Habana Vieja, is the heart of the city’s colonial past, and that makes it undoubtedly one of the best places to stay in Havana for those interested in some historical tourism.
Located along the capital’s eastern edge, Old Havana is thick with historical architecture. You’ll find a rich mix of colonial style mansions, churches, parks, and plazas in Old Havana. In fact, the entire neighborhood has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982.
It’s a part of the city that’s been lovingly restored, and there’s a sense of preservation in this part of Havana that’s absent in a lot of similar Latin American historical districts. The beauty and density of the area is best explored on foot, and it’s very friendly to pedestrian travelers. It’s also rich with museums and attractions.
You’ll definitely want to check out Plaza Vieja. Located incredibly close to the bay, it’s also one of the busiest parts of town. Plaza Vieja is lively with street performers, home to some of the most important museums, and bursting at the seams with restaurants, bars, and shopping.
But as you might expect from a part of the city that’s so dense with tourists, Old Havana can be one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Havana.
The hotels are nicer than they are in many other parts of town, and they often sport boutique sensibilities more catered to the needs of foreign travelers, but you can expect to pay a premium for that privilege, especially for lodgings located in or close to Plaza Vieja.
Venturing out closer to the friends of Old Havana, particularly into the Prado, will lead you to more traditional residential areas. You’ll find the tourist crowds thinner here and the prices more affordable, but you may find yourself having to hunt down a place to stay using Airbnb rather than searching out a traditional hostel or hotel.
It’s common to find a Chinatown in major Latin American metropolises, but there isn’t a Chinatown anywhere that’s quite like Havana’s El Barrio Chino. It’s one of the oldest Chinatowns in the Latin American world, but it’s also a neighborhood surprisingly lacking in actual Chinese residents.
The rise of Fidel Castro saw a significant portion of Cuba’s Chinese population flee the state, but the 1990s saw an attempt to rejuvenate the flagging El Barrio Chino as a center for tourism. Today, its architecture is a far cry from the traditional colonial influence of much of Havana: a pocket of kitsch that’s worth a visit.
That said, this is a pretty compact neighborhood. What’s traditionally known as the heart of Chinatown only stretches about a block and a half, but it’s a dense block and a half. Government incentives have encouraged locals to generously promote local restaurants.
Chinatown itself often looks indistinguishable from similar enclaves in New York or San Francisco, but there’s a hint of Caribbean flair in the design and flavors of the area. Authentic Cantonese food is often accentuated with Caribbean spice, and there are pockets of other cuisines here as well.
Due to the underrepresentation of actual Chinese residents here, the authenticity of the food can vary pretty significantly. In terms of the culinary variety on offer here, it often feels more like an international village than a particular homage to Chinese or even pan-asian culture.
There have been recent attempts to highlight the historical importance of Chinatown, and you could spend a lazy afternoon tracking down the plaques that relate the neighborhood’s heritage. The highlight is undoubtedly the arch of Calle Dragones.
But if you’re looking for where to stay in Havana, Chinatown will likely stick out most due to its location. El Barrio Chino is located between Centro District and Old Havana, and that means that it offers a great level of accessibility to the city at large.
Just recognize that you may have to do some research if you’re trying to stay here. There aren’t a lot of hotels or hostels in the neighborhood proper, so you may have to hunt around for a private rental.
3. Centro Havana
To many tourists, Centro Havana is little more than a stretch of sinew connecting the city’s more exciting neighborhoods. But they’re missing out on this residential area‘s real charm.
Where Chinatown offers a level of largely manufactured international kitsch and much of Old Havana is devoted to providing a romantic vision of the city for vacationers, the Centro district is one of the best places to go if you want to see how real Cubans live, work, and play. Time seems to have stood still for much of Centro Havana, with much of the architecture dating back to the 1950s.
The most notable landmark of Centro Havana is the sea wall known as Malecon that fences in one side of the neighborhood. Commonly referred to as “Havana’s living room”, it’s a popular gathering place for Havanans from all walks of life.
While there are bars and restaurants here, the party and dancing is just as likely to spill out into the streets as be relegated to traditional establishments.
If you’re looking for something a little more upscale, the recently renovated area around the Capitol building is home to some of the hippest and most modern galleries, restaurants, and bars in the entire city.
Centro Havana is also home to the National Theater, a cultural institution that hosts ballets and symphonies. The Partagas Cigar Museum offers a great opportunity to taste test some of Cuba’s most legendary exports.
The quieter and more domestic ambiance of Centro Havana makes it appropriate for people who are looking to avoid tourist traps and potentially stay in Havana for a longer period of time.
Here you’ll find all the necessities of life at prices that aren’t gouged to make a profit off of tourists. The groceries, pharmacies, bars, and restaurants here are catered to the locals, but that also means that there’s a general lack of hotels in the area.
Fortunately, this is a residential area, so resourceful travelers can stay in the Centro barrio on the cheap. There’s an abundant number of private rooms available for rental in this area. And being squarely in the city’s center means that Centro can offer you very easy access to most of the other barrios.
Vedado, the “forbidden neighborhood” of Havana, isn’t nearly as intimidating as its name would make it sound. Vedado (“forbidden” in Spanish) earned the name from the fact that it was originally military territory, but it’s since developed into two distinct and distinctly demilitarized neighborhoods: El Vedado and Nuevo Vedado. While they’re essentially sibling neighborhoods, there are some pretty serious differences between the two.
El Vedado is one of the nicer residential areas in the city. In contrast to the colonial time capsule of Old Havana, El Vedado is a window into life in the era of the American-invested sugar boom.
Some of the city’s most beautiful mansions occupy this area, and the architecture in general represents the opulent and romanticized era when American gangsters like Meyer Lansky ruled the roost.
If you’re looking for an immersive experience, you should consider taking a day to walk through the beautiful grid of streets, soaking in the stunning beauty of the surrounding mansions, many of which have since been converted into government buildings while still retaining their pristine appearance.
If El Vedado is a little too pricey for your tastes, you can always opt for a stay in Nuevo Vedado. This residential neighborhood is a little more proletariat, combining together sensible housing from the days preceding the revolution and a selection of pre-fabricated structures from after the rise of Castro.
It’s a quiet, residential stretch of territory that’s great for families and individuals looking for a longer stay in the city, and it offers some of the best sourced farmers markets in Havana. El Vedado and Nuevo Vedado are also quietly becoming some of the best spots for dining and nightlife in Havana. With no doubts this neighborhood is one of the best places to stay in Havana.
There are plenty of options for staying in El Vedado if you’re willing to spend a decent amount. It offers some of the best options you’ll find anywhere as far as rentable homes are concerned, but there are also some very nice hotels with important historical legacies.
Some of these hotels even serve as de facto museums of life in Havana when American business interests held the reins. Nuevo Vedado is significantly less expensive, and it’s a great place to settle if you’re looking to score a private room for a longer period of time.
Foreigners in Cuba for longer periods for business or diplomatic reasons know that Miramar is where to stay in Havana. This posh neighborhood is home to some of Cuba’s most influential business and political figures, but it also draws in diplomats from other countries and more well-off expats.
Part of the reason for this is practical. Miramar is home to some of the most important government buildings and embassies, so it makes sense that the most important visitors and residents live in this neighborhood. But that’s also resulted in a culture of comfort rising up in Miramar.
As you might expect based off of its demographic makeup, Miramar is an area especially friendly to the needs of foreigners. This neighborhood is home to possibly the best selection of high street shopping in the entire country, and many of its luxury culinary options are world class.
Notable landmarks include the National Aquarium, Karl Marx Theater, and the Jesus de Miramar Church. Most of the action in Miramar happens on or around Quinta Avenida, a street that’s also home to Miramar’s iconic colonial era clock tower.
If you’re staying here for the short term, you’ll be able to choose from some of the largest and classiest business hotels in the city. If you’re staying for a longer period of time, you may want to look at renting out rooms in one of the Batista era mansions.
But regardless of where you choose to stay in this neighborhood, you can expect to pay significantly more than you would practically anywhere else in Havana. It’s an exclusive area built precisely around the needs of the well-heeled.
There is frankly no neighborhood in the world that’s quite like Jaimanitas. Venture down the Playa past Miramar on your way towards Marina Hemingway and you’ll find a sleepy fishing village that’s quiet, peaceful, and far removed from the chaos of everyday Havanan life.
It’s also a living work of art. A significant portion of the neighborhood has been laid claim by José Rodriguez Fuster, a local artist whose beautiful ceramic tiles adorn many of the walls throughout town.
It’s a local tourist mecca with a truly unique personality. Beyond that, Jaimanitas’ claim to fame would have to be its seafood. This fishing hamlet is home to one of the most famed chefs in Cuba: a man by the name of Santy who offers a menu ranging from elaborate seafood dishes to hearty takes on local, savory classics.
For most visitors, Jaimanitas is a stopover in their trip rather than a place to stay in Havana, but that doesn’t mean it’s a neighborhood that’s not worth setting up shop in. The chaotic and seemingly random criss-cross of streets and humble, friendly people combine to create an environment that’s uniquely charming.
It may be a little off the beaten trail, and there may not be much to do in the way of landmarks or nightlife, but if you’re looking to kick back, relax, and really get to know the locals, it’s one of the best places to stay in Havana.
Accommodations may be a little harder to find in this part of Havana, but they tend to be cheap and refreshingly homey in what they have to offer guests.