Vedado is a large, mostly residential neighborhood a few miles west of Old Havana. Thick swaths of forest were converted into a closed military defense zone by Spanish colonizers, hence the name; “Vedado” means “forbidden” in Spanish. Residential development began in the mid-1850s, and the neighborhood was given its characteristic grid system. The streets are numbered and lettered instead of having names, making it one of the easiest places in Cuba for outsiders to navigate.
While Old Havana’s beautifully restored squares offer an unparalleled glimpse into Cuba’s colonial period, Vedado is rich in relics from another fascinating era in Cuba’s history. In the decades following Spain’s defeat in the 1898 Spanish-American war, Vedado was transformed by American investors and those benefiting from Cuba’s sugar trade boom.
One of the best ways to spend some days in Vedado is to simply wander the grid of stunning mansions from this era, each boasting one-of-a-kind Cuban architecture. Nowadays, many of these properties are still single-family homes, but a remarkable number of them were converted into state offices, government-sponsored cultural centers, and embassies after the 1959 Cuban revolution.
A glimpse of Cuba’s resplendent past isn’t the only reason to visit Vedado. The neighborhood has become an important hub of contemporary Cuban culture. Vedado’s tree-lined avenues certainly offer serenity and a breath of fresh air for the traveler who just spent the day navigating bustling Old Havana. But despite Vedado’s tranquil facade, there is a lot going on beneath the surface.
If you know where to look, the neighborhood is home to some of the country’s best nightlife and a blossoming culinary scene. Many of those high-ceilinged mansions mentioned earlier now house some of the country’s best bars and most innovative restaurants, such as Los Naranjos on 17th and A or Le Chansonnier on 15th and J. Even though these spots might be hiding in plain sight, it certainly doesn’t stop them from filling up.
Vedado is also the epicenter of the arts in Havana. A wide of variety Cuban music can be found any night of the week at a plethora of unique venues, including some of the country’s hottest jazz clubs. Vedado has several cinemas, is home to numerous arts and culture festivals, and is always featuring fresh talent in its plays and ballets. What’s more, most of these events are either free or very affordable. A ticket to the latest play to hit the theater will set you back about $5.
Whether you want to cruise past the newly opened U.S. embassy on Havana’s iconic seafront boulevard in a classic car, immerse yourself in Cuba’s rich history, or meet the musicians and artists who are shaping Cuba’s culture today, a trip to Vedado is not to be missed!
Written by Jaime Hamre