Exploring Central Havana, Cuba
Central Havana (Centro Habana) is a densely populated, urban neighborhood, located between Vedado and Old Havana. Central Havana has many restaurants, bars, stores, and discos. It’s bordered by the Havana Malecon which is a fantastic night spot where locals and foreigners gather almost every night to party.
Central Havana Life
In Central Havana, the streets are almost always packed with people. There will be motorcycles driving beside you, people riding bikes, and cars and trucks slowly chugging along. It might feel like you are in a festival, but really this is just everyday life for this neighborhood. It’s noisy, too. Dogs will be barking and people will be talking loudly. Men push carts filled with bread and produce, shouting and singing loudly about their products and prices.
There are hundreds of cheap places to buy fast food in Central Havana and it seems like everybody is selling pizza, sandwiches, coffee, or juice. If you clearly look like a tourist, then it is possible that some locals will approach you to strike up conversations and ask you about your nationality. If you’re not in the mood to chat you can just politely say no, and continue walking.
While there are not many clearly defined tourist attractions in Central Havana, there are still plenty of interesting places to see, especially for the traveler looking to explore a little bit off the beaten path. Central Havana is a maze of small, crowded streets. Due to the high population density, it is also a great place to find hundreds of tiny shops and businesses. The following is a summary of some important roads in the neighborhood.
Neptuno is probably the busiest street in Central Havana. It starts just two streets north of the Capitolio and winds its way through the neighborhood, passing through some of the most congested shopping areas in the city. Neptuno it is also a major taxi route for travelers going to Vedado. Walking along Neptuno can feel hectic but it will also give you a window into the average daily life in the city.
Starting just south of the Capitolio, Zanja runs through the middle of Central Havana. It makes its way through some of the poorest areas of the neighborhood, including the old Barrio Chino (Chinatown) district. In recent years, there has been a concerted effort to modernize this area and that can be seen in the clusters of new, higher-end paladares and food stands which are popping up along Zanja street.
Reina (Simón Bolívar)
Starting just south of the Parque Central, which is located beside the Capitolio, is Reina Street. It’s a mecca for small shops and street vendors, who sell not only food, but also handmade clothes, shoes and household items. Several bazaars and flea markets are located near the eastern end of Reina, which are always interesting to browse. Closer to the Vedado neighborhood this street takes on the name Carlos Tercero. While small shops continue to spill onto the sidewalk in this area, the major attraction is the huge, spiral shaped Carlos Tercero shopping center.
Avenida de Italia (Galiano)
This is one of the most famous streets in Central Havana. It is lined with large shopping malls as well as a few large discos, clubs, theaters and music halls. Even if you have no desire to shop at all, it is always fun to walk down this perpetually bustling street and see the locals going about their business.
Huge, Cheap Flea Market in Central Havana
Check out this inexpensive flea market where you can get a great pair of hand made leather sandals for less than 9CUC ($9). The atmosphere is great, the sellers are friendly, the prices are cheap and even negotiable. Learn about more fantastic places like this in the Real Havana guide.