Havana is one of the world’s greatest secret cities. Having been well off the radar during the major travel boom experienced internationally in the last 20 years, Havana is an incredible time capsule just waiting to be discovered.
Free from the mod-cons and flashiness found in many capital cities, Havana is rustic, authentic, and a genuine pleasure to explore. From the classic cars of Old Havana, to the suburban fishing neighborhood of Jaimanitas; from the iconic Plaza de la Revolución to little known Chinatown, Havana seemingly has a hidden gem around every corner.
Understandably, travelers approach Cuba with caution, but you need not worry; this is a city crying out for visitors and you will be bowled over by the generous hospitality of those that you meet.
Travelling in Havana is all about getting to grips with real Cuban culture. There are no flashy, commercial tourist attractions nor gimmicky days out – this is the real deal. If you are prepared to scratch beneath the surface and embrace the unique Caribbean vibe, you will find yourself opened up to a whole new world.
Let’s take a look at where to stay in Havana, both on and off the tourist trail.
Also known as La Habana Vieja, Old Havana is the heart and soul of this secretive city. Havana was once a walled city, and to this day many of the remains can be seen throughout the neighborhood.
After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Cuba opened its doors to the world and it brought about some fantastic benefits. It meant that many of the stunning buildings in the heart of Old Havana were restored and renovated back to their former glory.
One of the most popular things to do in Old Havana is to hire a classic Cadillac and take a tour of the city streets. If you don’t fancy driving yourself, or know that you’ll be too busy taking photos, you can hire a car with tour guide and driver.
It goes without saying that some of the best Cuba Libre cocktails can be found within Old Havana.
Good For: Budding Historians, Culture Vultures, Families, Couples, Backpackers, Older Travelers, Luxury Travelers: All Kinds of Travelers
Neighborhood Highlights: Cathedral de San Cristóbal, Plaza Vieja, Museo de la Ciudad, Castillo de la Real Fuerza, Plaza de Armas, National Museum of Fine Arts
- Estancia Bohemia – Offering a sun terrace and amazing city views, rooms are typical of those found in Havana, and the hotel is on the upper end of the quality scale. All rooms have air conditioning and ensuite bathrooms. The hotel offers a complimentary breakfast and great coffee.
- B&B Old Havana – Quaint and cozy B&B Old Havana is a boutique hotel in the center of the neighborhood, just a two minute walk from Old Square. Rooms all have ensuite bathrooms and air conditioning. The staff are extremely accommodating and will happily give you directions to the city’s must-visit attractions.
- Hotel Inglaterra – Perfect for families or groups of friends, the hotel offers spacious double rooms with two beds, and triple rooms too. All rooms have a private ensuite bathroom, flat-screen TV and air conditioning. A complimentary breakfast is included in the room rate. WiFi is available – a rarity in Havana.
A little more ornate and refined than rustic Old Havana, Centro Havana is another great neighborhood for travelers to the Cuban capital. Home to the Gran Teatro de La Habana and El Capitolio building, there is a lot of architecture and culture to explore.
With plenty of shopping and retail outlets to peruse, bars to prop up, and locals to chat with, Centro Habana is the place to stay if you want to experience Havana at its most vibrant.
Centro Habana’s most redeeming feature is surely the coastal walkway that stretches along Malecón. This sidewalk runs from La Habana Vieja all the way down to Vedado. This is a great spot for a leisurely walk after ticking off the neighborhood’s cultural hotspots.
Cuba is still opening up for tourism, so much of the accommodation available in the city is ‘casas particulares’ homestay style, B&B rooms.
Good For: Budding Historians, Culture Vultures, Families, Couples, Backpackers, Older Travelers, Luxury Travelers: All Kinds of Travelers
Neighborhood Highlights: Gran Teatro de La Habana, El Capitolio Building. Museum of the Revolution, Callejón de Hamel, Palacio de los Matrimonios, San Lázaro Tower
- Casa Floridita – A real home away from home run by a local family, this whole apartment features a kitchen and living room area. Private parking is available on site. The apartment sleeps up to four people, so is ideal for families or travelling groups.
- The Lovers Place – This is a boutique private apartment complete with kitchen and living room space. The living room has a cozy sofa and flat screen TV. Spacious, bright and clean, the apartment is modern in style and has everything you could need. The kitchen has an oven, microwave and toaster. Air conditioning works throughout the apartment.
- Casa Amistad – Close to the beach and the neighborhood’s must-visit spots, Casa Amistad is only four minutes from the coast, in a safe area of town. It has a typical homestay setup that is really welcoming and homey. Rooms each have a terrace, TV and private bathroom. A home-cooked breakfast is available at extra cost. There is no WiFi.
Miramar is one of Havana’s more functional neighborhoods, sitting across town from Old Havana and Centro Havana.
As one of the city’s more affluent neighborhoods, Miramar offers visitors an insight into modern Cuba at its finest. Home to embassies, diplomatic meeting halls and the high and mighty Cuban gentry, Miramar is ideal for the luxury traveler. That said, there is a wonderful selection of ‘casas particulares’ in this neighborhood too.
In terms of what to do in Miramar, there is surprisingly a great deal. Quinta Avenida is the perfect place for shopaholics on the lookout for boutique bargains, and the famous clock that stands proud on the intersection of 5th and 10th Street is the icon of the neighborhood.
The National Aquarium is a great place to spend the day, especially if travelling as a family. Coney Island at the western edge of the neighborhood has a cute selection of toddler-friendly rides and attractions, with super cheap admission fees.
Good For: Luxury Travelers, Families, Shopaholics, Older Travelers, Seasoned Travelers
Neighborhood Highlights: Quinta Avenida, The National Aquarium, Coney Island, Museo Orgánico de Romerillo, Iglesia de Jesús de Miramar, Playita del Tritón, Parque Diversiones
- BR & Martha White – This is an incredibly popular little homestay experience in central Miramar. Breakfast is included – home cooked and not to be missed. Guests have access to the kitchen and laundry facilities as well as the sun terrace. Rooms are simple but spacious. All have air conditioning and private bathroom.
- Casa Eduardo y Raquel – Bright and colorful, Casa Eduardo y Raquel is a highly recommended ‘casa particulares’ in central Miramar. The rooms are basic but homely and have everything you could need – bed, pillows, wardrobe and private bathroom. You have the choice of a double room or private apartment, the apartment has a kitchen and small lounge.
- Tere Hostel House – Tere Hostel is a hostel by name but hotel by nature. Offering private rooms with private bathrooms behind 5th Avenue, you will be within walking distance of the coast. Guest rooms come with a fridge and mini bar, coffee machine too. Breakfast is served each morning and is included in the room rate. No WiFi.
Barrio Chino de La Habana (Chinatown)
It may come as a surprise to many to read that there is a Chinatown in Havana, but there is. Nestled within the larger, expansive Centro Habana, Chinatown is a thriving community that is a joy to explore.
Within the laid back streets of Chinatown you will find some of the best Chinese food, not only in Cuba, but in all of the Caribbean. Although the Chinese community haven’t had an easy time of things historically in Cuba, those who remain have created a beautiful neighborhood feel and retained their multicultural ethos.
There was a big influx of Chinese immigrants in the mid 1880’s, but many returned home after the turbulent Cuban Revolution in the 1950’s. Those who remained in the country became proud Cuban citizens and worked to preserve this oriental microcosm.
For those who enjoy experiencing new environments, Chinatown will leave you culturally overloaded. Sit in one of the gorgeous, homely Chinese restaurants while watching the vintage Cadillacs cruising by.
Good For: Culture Vultures, Foodies, Laid Back Travelers, Backpackers, Like a Local Travelers
Neighborhood Highlights: Sociedad Yee Fung Toy Tong, Iglesia Nuestra Señora de La Caridad, Galleria Continua, Family Run Chinese Restaurants
- Casa Dominguez – This is a new accommodation option in the center of Chinatown. Breakfast is included in the room rate and an airport shuttle is available on request. There is the option to sleep up to three people per room per night. Casa Dominguez is a 600-meter walk from Capitolio Nacional. No WiFi is available.
- BR& Tu Casita en Campanario – This whole apartment holiday rental can sleep up to three people. The house comes with a kitchen, complete with basic cooking facilities like a fridge, gas cooker and microwave. It is located on a quiet Chinatown street with a private sun trapped courtyard. Bed linen is included, but there is no WiFi or air conditioning.
- Rafa House – In this homely ‘casa particulares’, guests have access to the kitchen and the cozy lounge area. A wholesome breakfast is provided each morning and hosts are happy to arrange an airport shuttle for you. The bedroom is cozy and features traditional Cuban furniture and decor. Staying here, you are only 500-meters away from Capitolio Nacional in central Chinatown.
If Havana had a ‘hipster’ neighborhood it would be El Vedado. This neighborhood is one of the most modern and forward-thinking in Havana. For a city that is essentially trapped in time, Vedado is at the very cutting edge.
Although not as refined as upmarket Miramar, or as historically significant as Old Havana, Vedado has a micro-culture of its own to explore. The streets – more like narrow alleys – are flanked by rustic and ramshackle buildings that have been repurposed into bars, clubs, and trendy coffee shops.
Although being a digital nomad in Havana is pretty tough due to the lack of widespread internet connection, Vedado is the best neighborhood for modern travelers.
For travelers keen to explore Havana’s unique nightlife scene, Vedado provides you with the perfect platform. Jazz clubs like La Zorra Y El Cuervo capture the essence of Cuba, and at nightclubs like La Gruta there is always enough rum to go around.
Good For: Backpackers, Long Term Travelers, Digital Nomads, Culture Vultures, Foodies, Party Animals
Neighborhood Highlights: Fronton Jai Alai o Ponce Carrasco, Quinta de los Molinos, Museo Napoleónico, Pabellón Cuba, San Lazaro Tower, Monumento a José Miguel Gómez, Museo de Artes Decorativas
- Hotel Nacional de Cuba – One of the more up market hotels in Havana, Hotel Nacional de Cuba features luxury suites and private rooms. Free WiFi is available throughout the hotel, and a complimentary breakfast is served in the restaurant each morning. All rooms have an ensuite bathroom with complimentary toiletries, some feature bath tubs.
- BR & Corazon de la Habana – This is an excellent mid-range hotel, ideal for travelers who need WiFi access during their time in Havana. All rooms have tea and coffee making facilities and air conditioning. The hotel has its own bar, outdoor terrace, and room service is provided on request. The breakfast is one of the best in Havana.
- NH Collection Victoria – This highly recommended hotel in Havana offers both an indoor and outdoor swimming pool as well as fitness centers. All rooms feature complimentary toiletries and ensuite bathrooms. Premium rooms offer a balcony or terrace with city views. Rooms are modern, light and spacious. WiFi is available.
Habana del Este
Ideal for travelers who are seeking to spend a little more time in Havana and want to experience what it is to live like a local, Habana del Este can be found across the port – east of Centro Habana – and is home to some of the best beaches around the capital.
One of the best beachside communities in the Habana del Este neighborhood is Guanabo. Whether you are staying in Havana for a few days or a few months, do try to visit Guanabo if you can. This is a popular choice for inner-city Cubans wanting a quick weekend getaway. There is a really family-friendly feel to the area that offers travelers a further taste of authentic Cuba.
Closer to inner-city Havana, you will find historical gems like Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro. This fort was built in the 16th-Century and has stood the test of time and Cuba’s turbulent past.
Good For: Off-the-Beaten-Track Travelers, Active Travelers, Families, Beach Bums, Like a Local Travelers
Neighborhood Highlights: Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro, Guanabo, Playas de las Hermanitas, Playa Bacuranao, Playa Tarara, Playa de El Rincón
- Mahelis Mas – This is a classic Havana ‘casa particulares’ offering the choice of two apartments. Both feature a basic kitchen complete with fridge and microwave. Guests have access to the cute outdoor seating area. The space is homey, bright and clean. The apartment can sleep up to three people. There is no WiFi or air conditioning.
- Te Quedaras – Te Quedaras is a spacious apartment rental which sleeps up to seven people across three bedrooms. The house has WiFi, flat screen TV and air conditioning. Guests have access to their own private kitchen that is equipped with gas stove, fridge and microwave. Breakfast can be provided for $8 per person.
- Guanabo, Elba Gonzales – A holiday apartment in beach Guanabo, this apartment can sleep up to four people across two double beds. Guests have access to basic kitchen facilities including a fridge and stove top. The apartment has its own outdoor terrace complete with hammock. There is air conditioning but no WiFi.
Rustic, authentic, and totally trapped in time, Jaimanitas is a quaint fishing village that falls just within Havana’s city limits.
Slowly entering into a period of revival, there is no doubt that within the next twenty years Jaimanitas will be topping the charts as Havana’s coolest neighborhood. This charming area is adorned with mosaics and street art. A living, breathing masterpiece in its own right, Jaimanitas is a culture vulture’s dream come true.
The art of the area was heavily influenced by Josee Foster, who established his studio in Jaimanitas in the mid 1970’s. He inspired locals to decorate their properties and, as such, Jaimanitas is now a colorful and vibrant place to explore. To put it in perspective, Jaimanitas is like a mini version of Gaudi’s Park Güell in Barcelona.
You will find the neighborhood’s greatest installations and murals at Fusterlandia – the home of the pioneering artist himself. The artwork tells the story of Cuba with a sense of pride.
Good For: Art Lovers, Culture Vultures, Off-the-Beaten-Track Travelers, Families, Backpackers, Couples, Like a Local Travelers: All Kinds of Travelers
Neighborhood Highlights: Fusterlandia, Playa de Jaimanitas, Marina Hemingway, Mosaics and Murals that can be found throughout the neighborhood
- El Retiro – With an amazing sea view but a 12-minute walk to the sandy beach, El Retiro is in one of the most picturesque settings in Jaimanitas. The house comes with flat screen TV, air conditioning and kitchen. Breakfast can be delivered to the house daily. It features modern decor and new furnishings.
- House by the Sea in Havana – This is a family-sized holiday home in the heart of Jaimanitas which sleeps up to 10-people. It is ideal for families who want to visit Havana but not stay in the city center. Featuring a sizeable outdoor pool and outdoor terrace, the House by the Sea has four bedrooms available and a sofa bed in the living room. WiFi is available.
- Casa de Lester – This sea view apartment can sleep up to four people across two bedrooms. Casa de Lester has an outdoor terrace and a small, walled garden. There is air conditioning throughout the house, including the bedrooms. Basic kitchen facilities are available, including gas stove, fridge and microwave.