Havana is a major city built around its ample and protected harbor. The oldest colonial-era buildings are closest to the harbor, and the bulk of the expansion heads out west from there. The city is bordered along its northern edge by the Caribbean Sea. The majority of Havana's denizens live in large, densely populated working-class neighborhoods to the south of the principal downtown business and tourist neighborhoods. While there are communities on the eastern side of the harbor, the most important neighborhoods and developments are all found on the western side. These communities are generally laid out in a series of abutting grids, although they often abut at odd angles.

While the streets in Vedado and Playa tend to be numbered or carry a letter designation, the neighborhoods of La Habana Vieja and Centro Habana have only named streets. To make matters more confusing, most of the streets in La Habana Vieja and Centro Habana have two or more names -- those that appear on maps and street signs are often different from their common names. Wherever possible, I've tried to give the most common and popularly used name.

In La Habana Vieja and Centro Habana, street names are generally displayed on little plaques or signs attached to the sides of corner buildings at street intersections. The plaques tend to be hung relatively high, at about 3m (10 ft.) or so. In Vedado and Playa, you'll want to look lower, as most intersections feature a .5m-high (1 1/2-ft.) concrete block in a sort of pyramid shape, with the street name engraved on it.


Street addresses are usually given as follows: Prado no. 22, e/Tejadillo y Empedrado; or 23 e/L y M. In the case of the first example, the address is for building 22 on Paseo del Prado, located between the cross streets Calle Tejadillo and Calle Empedrado. In the second case, the address is for an unnumbered building on Calle 23 between Calles L and M. Note that Cuban addresses frequently omit the word "Calle" or "Avenida." Also, Cubans usually refer to Avenida 5 as "Quinta Avenida," "5ta Avenida," or -- most commonly -- simply "5ta."

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