Between historic Old Havana and the modern Vedado district lies Centro Habana (Central Havana). Much more than a transition zone, this is one of the capital’s most densely populated areas and gives visitors a window on to daily life.
By the late 18th century, an urban expansion became necessary beyond the city walls of Old Havana to house the new and growing population of the city. That neighborhood, Centro Habana, begins west of Old Havana; the Parque de la Fraternidad, Capitolio and surrounding grounds, form the boundary between the two neighborhoods.
A century later, an influx of Chinese immigration quickly gave rise to a dynamic new neighborhood. Like Chinatowns from Melbourne to Manhattan, Havana’s Barrio Chino is hectic, crowded with shops and restaurants, and signs in Chinese. Relatively small, picturesque Barrio Chino is undergoing a revival and is absolutely worth the visit. Another favorite tourist spot is Callejón de Hamel. A neighborhood project initiated by an Afrocuban painter and sculptor, art and community intersect in interesting ways here. The colorful murals on the houses turn the alley into an outdoor gallery, often accompanied by rhythmic traditional music.
The pedestrian boulevard San Rafael originates between Hotel Inglaterra and the Gran Teatro de la Habana. It is one of Havana’s most crowded streets, flowing with Habaneros of all walks of life.
The figurehead of this area is Hotel Terral, located on the Malecón. Opened in 2012, this hotel has a striking modern design and offers a whole new look to Central Havana.