City Guide: Hanoi
Hanoi is the second biggest city in Vietnam and the former capital of the Northern part of the country. Till today, Hanoi is very important for the economy of Vietnam. At the same time, visiting Hanoi as a tourist is very interesting as you’ll read in this city guide.
Visiting Hanoi was a very interesting experience for many reasons. First of all, I was surprised how big the French influence is till today. Especially the architecture in the diplomatic quarter reminds me of Paris to some degree. In addition, the whole atmosphere, the streets, the parks and everything in this area has a french feel. At the same time, Hanoi has a very typical Asian and sort-of chaotic flair, which you’d rather expect in a city like Bangkok. Last but not least, the city has a very rich history, which makes it one of the most interesting places in Asia, in my opinon.
French Quarter in Hanoi
As I was staying at the Hilton Hanoi Opera and the Sofitel Legend Hanoi, I was located in the French Quarter during my stay. Thus, I started exploring the city from here. The most famous building in this part of the city is the Opera House, which beautifully showcases the French influence on the cities varied architecture.
The French Quarter also includes several other beautiful buildings, including the Sofitel. You can find several villas and a few very nice parks, which very much feel like France. This area is, till today, one of the major hotspots for expats and the elite of Hanoi.
If you are into museums, you may visit the National History Museum, which is located very close to the Opera House and offers an interesting insight into the history of Vietnam, especially before the years of occupation.
In the South of the French Quarter, you can not only find the very nice Thong Nhat Park, but also the Hoa Lo Prison, which is a very sad, but at the same time interesting place.
It’s showcasing how the French treated the Vietnamese during the times of occupation.
Hoan Kiem District in Hanoi
One of the areas in Hanoi I’d like to recommend especially is the Hoan Kiem District, which is located West of the French Quarter. Not only is it a vibrant and modern part of Hanoi, but it is also home to the Hoan Kiem Lake, which is a tranquil escape in the middle of the city.
You can walk or jog around the lake and admire the lovely gardens around. There’s also the Ngoc Son Temple, which can be accessed through a beautiful little bridge. Not only is the temple itself quite nice, but you can also enjoy lovely views of the Hoan Kiem Lake.
You might also recognize Thap Rua, a monument located in the middle of the lake.
If you don’t see it from the Ngoc Son Temple, be sure to walk around the lake for a while to spot this interesting monument.
West of the Hoan Kiem Lake, you can not only find several more temples, but also the St. Joseph Cathedral, one of only few Christian monuments in Hanoi.
The Old Quarter in Hanoi
If you are heading North from the Hoan Kiem District with its many restaurants and shops, you’ll find yourself in the Old Quarter after just a few minutes. This part of the city is very historic as the name suggests.
Yet, it’s not really about the historic architecutre of this part of Hanoi, but rather about the fascinating streetlife with hundreds of vendors and little shops that makes the Old Quarter of Hanoi so fascinating. Besides a couple of temples, which you’ll easily spot when walking through the Old Quarter, you should have a look at the architecture.
Some of the old buildings are the classic merchant houses from the 15th centuries, which made the city of Hoi An (which I’ll review later) famous. Another spot you should watch out for is the Quan Chuong Gate, which is the last remaining gate of the city walls, which protected the Old Quarter till the 19th century.
Another noteworthy monument is the Hang Dau Water Tank, which has been one of the most important water reservoires in the city for decades.
The Ba Dinh District of Hanoi
Hanoi’s Ba Dinh District is by far the most touristic place in the city. This part of the city is located East of the Old Quarter and the Hoan Kiem District. The area is mainly consisting of diplomatic residences and cultural as well as politically important buildings.
Among those are the Presidential Palace, the impressive Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the Citadel of Hanoi with the famous Cot Co Flag Tower and a couple of museums.
It’s tough to miss any of the monuments in this area as the Ba Dinh District is all about the cultural heritage and history of Vietnam. Till today, it feels like a place, where the victory of the people in the Vietnam War is celebrated.
It’s a little odd for foreigners, yet interesting to see. A place I’d also recommend at least admiring from the outside is the Cua Bac Catholic Church, which is the most colorful church I’ve ever seen.
What I’d especially like to recommend in this city guide is taking some time to visit the Thăng Long Citadel. It might sound like an old an run-down ruin, but is in fact still in a very good condition.
When visiting (there’s a small entrance fee), you can walk around the area and see some of the most important buildings of the resistance and North Vietnamese Government during the Vietnam War.
That might sound like an odd combination, but the Citadel was not only used by several dynasties of Vietnamese emperors, but also played an important role during the Vietnam War. It’s indeed a fascinating place, which is an UNESCO World Heritage Site for a reason.
Another place you should definitely not miss is the Temple of Literature, which is located South of the other attractions in the Ba Dinh District.
Not only are the different buildings in the temple interesting, but it is also a very calming and relaxing place to visit.
Even with the entrance fee, visiting the Temple of Literature Hanoi is totally worth it.
The West Lake of Hanoi
If there’s a really surreal place in Hanoi, it is the West Lake. You might expect a small lake or something, but the West Lake is just incredibly big.
From one side, you’ll have problems spotting the other end. That’s especially crazy as the lake is located in the North-West to the city and yet fully surrounded by the inner city anyways. If visiting as a tourist, the lake is nice for having a walk, but especially famous for one monument: The One Pillar Pagoda.
Other than that, the West Lake is a very fashionable address including luxury hotels, top-notch restaurant and shopping streets.
Overall impressions of visiting Hanoi
In this city guide, you should have gotten a good idea of what visiting Hanoi is like. Personally, I really enjoyed the city, which feels like a brilliant mixture of different cultures as well as historic periods.
On the one hand, the city feels modern and Asian, on the other hand it got a very European flair and a very variied culture. There are several interesting sights, I’d recommend visiting. Thus, I’d say that you should at least spend three days in Hanoi to explore all of the city. I’m sure you’ll love it!
Have you been to Hanoi? What do you like most about the city?