Inside a hustle and bustle of Hanoi, there exists the oldest continuously developed area namely Old Quarter - known as the heart of the capital city. Packed with charming colonial architecture, Buddhist temples and pagodas, it is located between the imperial citadel and the red river.
I - Hanoi Old Quarter history
The over-1000-year history of this Old Quarter started when King Ly Thai To decided to move the capital from Hoa Lu (Ninh Binh) to Hanoi in 1010. Afterward, the place began to attract craftsmen from all over the neighboring areas, through that time they organized themselves into craft cooperatives and guilds from the 13th century and it became crowded & lively in the 15th century. With the French influence in the 50s of the 19th century, western-style architecture prevailed against the traditional Vietnamese and Chinese architecture styles. Not only the architecture but also the culture of the Old Quarter seem like a salad dish mixed between East And West which attracts a number of tourists every year.
Ancient town - Source: Urbanisthanoi
While wandering, you should enjoy the energy, the buzz, the way locals live each day on the pavements of Hanoi. While having a seat with a cup of coffee, you can enjoy the constant motion of the Hanoi Old Quarter in a more profound way. You’ll notice Vietnamese women smiling next to their bicycle vendors selling fresh flowers and ripe fruits; youngsters gatherings with a cup of coffee, a dish of sunflower seed and small talks; cooks doing a roaring trade in pho, bun cha or banh mi. The longer you observe, the more extraordinary memories you get from hidden alleys, ancient temples and cozy coffee shops around this area.
II - An introduction to Hanoi 36 Streets in the Old Quarter
These days, the phrase ‘Hanoi - 36 districts’ or ‘Hanoi - 36 old streets, the other names of Old Quarter, is becoming well-known with most travelers to Vietnam. Behind this special name is a great history going back centuries when Hanoi was formerly named Thang Long.
Hang Ma Street - Source: Trung Nguyen
Although the name indicates the number 36, it is a rather poetic and metaphorical number that has different interpretations of its true meaning. In fact, there exist more than 70 streets in the Old Quarter. Each of these streets had its own characteristics and specialties of handicraft goods. Famous craftsmen from villages around Thang Long moved here, opened their shop next to another and year by year they formed the street for their craft product on their own.
Most of the street names in Hanoi Old Quarter begin with ‘Hang’ which means a store or a series of stores, and followed by the word indicating the specific product sold on the street. Nowadays, this tradition of selling the same goods as the street name is not true for most of the shops. However, there are some that are still doing so. A prime example is Hang Ma where funeral-related items, worship necessities, and paper decoration are used to being made and sold. Hang Tre still supplies handcrafted goods made of bamboo and wood. Thuoc Bac street still is a credible place for people to come and buy Chinese and Vietnamese medicine.
Nowadays, tourism has changed much of the Old Quarter, bringing in hotels, travel agencies and Western bars, the area represents a wonderful link between the past and the present. Fortunately, the appropriate management of Hanoi’s authority supports a lot in retaining a part of the old architecture in the Old Quarter and its ancient characteristics. Moreover, the development and dynamic atmosphere of this place is also a well-known feature with Western travelers and traders since the 15th century, when Hanoi was named Ke Cho (a busy business area). Nowadays, Hanoi and its Old Quarter are becoming busier and more famous than ever due to visitors’ will of traveling from all over the world.
III - List of attractions and activities in Hanoi Old Quarter
1 - Must-visit destinations
Hoa Lo Prison - Source: Leotie
Hoa Lo prison
Just 5 minutes away from the Old Quarter, Hoa Lo Prison is completely worth a visit. The relics is the former prison built in Hanoi by the French when Vietnam was still part of French Indochina. It was built to keep, torture, and execute Vietnamese traitors, especially political prisoners fighting for independence. Stepping through Hoa Lo Prison’s gate, tourists will easily catch the grave feeling brought by one of the most notorious prisons in the world of that period.
In present, Hoa Lo Prison has become one of the most impressive museums in Hanoi which preserves a great number of precious documents and artifacts. There are two rooms in Hoa Lo prison dedicated to the artifacts, photos, and text portray of the American pilot prisoners of war.
Hoan Kiem Lake - Source: Globalvolunteers
Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake, also called Sword Lake, is the heart and soul of Ha Noi. Despite being located in the middle of one of the busiest streets of Vietnam capital, Hoan Kiem Lake offers plenty of trees and shaded spots in which to escape the busy life outwards. Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi Old District is not just a place for people to wander and entertain but it has also been associated with the Hanoian’s soul for thousands of years.
If you are looking for a place to enjoy peaceful coffee and blend in with the locals, there’s no choice more suitable than Hoan Kiem Lake. It’s the gathering place of many Hanoian to do exercise in the morning and relax in the afternoon. Even more exciting is that the streets around Hoan Kiem lake become walking streets where several exciting activities like street music and folk games take place on the weekend ( Friday night, Saturday, Sunday). The lake is one part of Hanoian’s pride, and when you pay this amazing place a visit once, you know why.
Ngoc Son Temple - Source: Xita
Ngoc Son Temple
Ngoc Son Temple located on an islet of Hoan Kiem Lake is a relic of culture and religious beliefs dedicated to Saint Tran Hung Dao, a Vietnamese hero who led the Vietnamese army to defeat the invasion of the Mongolians in the 13th century and Van Xuong De Quan, a Philosopher who is well known as the God of prosperities as for Vietnamese culture. Today, the temple is a popular destination for not only local people but also international visitors. Some come here to pray, others simply to learn more about Vietnamese belief.
The Huc Bridge - Source: Vietnamimmigration
The Huc Bridge
The Huc Bridge, located in the heart of Hoan Kiem Lake, is a beautiful construction built to connect Ngoc Son Temple and the lake bank. Known as “the bridge where light is absorbed”, this splendid symbol of Buddhist architecture is an indispensable part of Ngoc Son Temple. Constructed mostly by fine wood and painted with the bright red color, The Huc Bridge in the Old Quarter in Hanoi has been becoming a famous tourist destination in Hanoi due to its elegant beauty and sophisticated architectural features.
All the spaciousness and beautiful shade of the Hoan Kiem Lake and the surrounding holy area can be caught from this bridge.
Bach Ma Temple - Source: Salajean
Bach Ma Temple
Located in the center of the Old Quarter, Bach Ma temple is dedicated to Bach Ma or 'White Horse', a legendary horse that had shown Emperor Ly Thai the best way to construct the capital. This 11th-century Buddhist temple is considered to be Hanoi's oldest standing temple. Moreover, it was believed to be a major hideout for Vietnamese Resistance fighters during the French colonization.
Despite its old age, Bach Ma temple is still available for worshiping, and even serves for extended prayers, offerings, and ceremonies on the 1st and the 15th day of every lunar month. It is an excellent choice for foreigners to come and observe local traditions.
Hanoi Ancient House - Source: Nashaplaneta
Hanoi Ancient House
There’s just a few old architectures which are preserved as heritage exhibitions in Hanoi and the Ancient house at 87 Ma May street is one of them. Known as the cultural sites that visitors hardly miss in Hanoi Old Quarter, it provides a great amount of information about the history and life of Hanoian in the past.
Travelers can raise a better understanding of lifestyle and daily activities of the ancient Hanoians or buy some Vietnamese traditional decoration items and souvenirs when visiting the house.
Quan Chuong Gate - Source: Travelhanoi
Quan Chuong Gate
Quan Chuong Gate located at an end of O Quan Chuong Street seems the only gate that existed until now, of the 21 gates of the earthen fortification that surrounded the Thang Long Citadel. It was built in the 10th century and renovated in 1817 remained until today.
Not only Hanoi people but also many domestic and international tourists are interested when they visit here, by the ancient houses with the tile roof, small streets. Standing and witnessing numerous ups and downs of history for centuries, Quan Chuong Gate still preserves for Hanoi a simple but precious construct and becomes a proud image of the whole country.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral - Source: Wikipedia
St. Joseph’s Cathedral
Saint Joseph’s Cathedral is a tourist attraction that has a different architecture from the rest in Hanoi. Normally called as “The Big Church” by the locals, St Joseph’s Cathedral in the Old Quarter Hanoi is one of the first architectures erected by French colonists in Indochina and still intact after two dreadful wars due to well preservation. Today, it is widely known as a historical attraction that remains the ancient beauty of the bustling capital.
Hanoi Opera House - Source: Vietfuntravel
Hanoi Opera House
Hanoi Opera House, one of the most elegant buildings in Hanoi, took place in the heart of the French Quarter. This historic landmark was built in 1911 and modeled after the Paris Opera House. Its design exudes the charm of Paris with ivory columns, ornate railing, and Gothic arches. Ticket prices for guests to enjoy classic performances from Vietnamese opera, dance performances, and concerts by world-renowned artists range from 100,000VND to above.
2 - Best things to do in Hanoi Old Quarter
Watching water puppet show in Thang Long Theatre
Located along Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre holds daily shows comprising 17 short sketches using traditional puppets within a 50-minutes performance. Each story is accompanied by a group of different traditional musicians who play traditional operatic songs using drums, wooden bells, horns, bamboo flutes and cymbals. The general admission fee is VND 100,000 and if travelers want to bring a camera in, there’s an additional fee. Tickets sell out well in advance so it’s worth booking yours as soon as you arrive in town.
Wandering around 36 old streets
Hanoi’s Old Quarter is the traditional heart of the Vietnamese capital with each of the 36 streets in this rustic enclave dedicated to a particular trade - there’s haberdashery street, hardware street, porcelain street - and visitors can spend hours wandering the network of narrow lanes that haven’t changed much in decades.
Drinking cold beer
Drinking cool beer is common and even the best thing to do in Old Quarter Hanoi at night for some. Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen Street are the most popular places to grab some beer. It’s always crowded with locals and foreigners enjoying beer together at night. Now it has become a popular gathering destination for couples. Grabbing some beer, feeling the music and sharing funny stories together might be great to spend your night.
Dong Xuan Market - Source: Shutterstock
Shopping in Dong Xuan Market
Located on the northern edge of the Old Quarter, Dong Xuan Market is housed within a four-story Soviet-style building established in 1889. It is a traditional type of market, especially a bustling wet market section on the ground floor, where locals shop for fresh goods while the back section sells an array of fresh flowers from all across Vietnam. If you’re looking to shop for souvenirs, head to the upper levels, where you can find tee shirts, fabrics, school uniforms, handbags, handicrafts, all of which are sold at wholesale prices. Shopping in this market might be an interesting experience, even if you only leave with a conical hat.
Checking Old Quarter Night Market
Hanoi Weekend Night Market is held every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Night Market in Hanoi Old Quarter is a busy and bustling gathering of vendors. Taking place from Hang Dao Street and running north to the edge of Dong Xuan Market since 19:00 every day, the market starts from Hang Dao Street to the edge of Dong Xuan Market, night market is a place travelers can easily find inexpensive t-shirts, handicrafts, accessories, shoes, sunglasses, and souvenirs. However, bargaining is part of the vibrant life here so don't forget it. A good start is to offer about 75 percent of the opening price.
Traveling around by 2-storey convertible bus
A modern and comfortable way to explore Hanoi. Hanoi City tour Hop on – Hop off is a flexible, modern and comfortable way to explore famous scenic spots of not only the Old Quarter but also most of the capital. Hanoi City tour 01 route goes through 25 streets with 13 stops, giving a favorable choice for passengers to easily access 30 unique sights of Hanoi, allowing visitors to explore and experience the capital in their own ways.
It's worth hanging around the Old Quarter Vietnam by cyclo. This interesting way of traveling can give travelers exciting experiences and opportunities to get closer to Hanoi's pace of life and culture. The tinkle of cyclo has been part of Hanoian’s memory since the early twentieth century. Relaxing on the cyclo, enjoying splendid moments of Hanoi, breathing in the fresh air and the scent of the faint aroma of milky flowers in the streets passing through might help you find some peace inside your soul. To catch a cyclo, you can go to the Dao Stress (Hang Dao), Ngang Stress (Hang Ngang) or the Hoan Kiem Lake area.
Spending a burning night at local bars, clubs and pubs
Bar in Hanoi - Source: Hanoi Photo
Bia Hoi Junction
Opening Hours: Daily 11am – late night
Address: Ta Hien & Pho Luong Ngoc Quyen, Old Quarter, Hanoi
Legend Beer Hanoi
Opening Hours: Daily 11am - 23:00
Address: 01-03-05 Dinh Tien Hoang street, Hanoi
Tel: 043 776 1666
Le Pub Hanoi
Opening Hours: Daily 07am - late night
Address: 25 Hang Be street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
Tel: 043 926 2104
King Pirates Pub
Opening Hours: Daily 09am – 01:00
Address: 24B Hang Giay street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
Binh Minh’s Jazz Club
Opening Hours: Daily 08am – 24:00
Address: 1 Trang Tien street, French Quarter, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
Tel: 043 942 0400
Opening Hours: Daily 10:30am - late
Address: 61 Ma May street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
Tel: 0165 333 6087
IV - Top rated restaurants in Hanoi Old Quarter
The Old Quarter is an appropriate choice for one who wants to enjoy authentic regional delicacies at affordable prices. This bustling area is filled up with humble-looking dining venues hidden in narrow alleyways. Besides, most of these restaurants are conveniently located near Hanoi’s shopping streets and tourist attractions such as Hoan Kiem Lake, Saint Joseph’s Cathedral and Ancient House so you’ll never have to worry about finding a place to eat during the tour.
Cha Ca Thang Long
Address: 21 Duong Thanh Street, Old Quarter Old Quarter, Hanoi Vietnam
Cuisines: Seafood, Asian, Vietnamese
Meals: Lunch, Dinner, Late Night
Features: Reservations, Seating, Serves Alcohol, Accepts Credit Cards, Table Service
Address: Alley 89 Ma May, Hanoi Vietnam
Cuisines: Café, Dessert, Vietnamese
Meals: Lunch, Dinner, Late Night
Features: Seating, Accepts Credit Cards, Table Service
Xoi Yen - one of the best food in Hanoi Old Quarter that you should not miss - Source: Nld
Address: 35b Nguyen Huu Huan Hoan Kiem, Hanoi 10000 Vietnam
Cuisines: Fast Food, Vietnamese
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Late Night
Features: Takeout, Outdoor Seating, Seating, Table Service
Essence Restaurant Hanoi
Address: 22 Ta Hien Street Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi 10000 Vietnam
Cuisines: Asia, Vietnamese
Meals: Lunch, Dinner, Late Night, Drinks
Features: Delivery, Takeout, Seating, Serves Alcohol, Full Bar, Free Wifi, Accepts Credit Cards, Table Service, Reservations
Special diets: Vegetarian Friendly, Gluten-free
Dac Kim is one of the best restaurants in Old Quarter Hanoi - Source: Chacahanoipho
Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim
Address: 67 Duong Thanh Street Old Quarter, Hanoi Vietnam
Cuisines: Asian, Vietnamese
Meals: Lunch, Dinner, After-hours
Features: Takeout, Outdoor Seating, Seating, Serves Alcohol, Table Service
For more choices, you can refer to: 15 best restaurants in Hanoi
V - Where to stay in Hanoi Old Quarter?
Somerset Grand Hanoi - Source: Booking
Somerset Grand Hanoi
Add: 49 Hai Ba Trung, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Distinguish feature: 3 restaurants, outdoor pool, tennis court, top-notch service, only 11 minutes from Hoan Kiem Lake
Price from: $106
Hanoi La Siesta Hotel Trendy
Add: 12 Nguyen Quang Bich, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Distinguish feature: modern facilities and decoration, restaurant, spa services, 17 minutes walking from the hotel to Hoan Kiem Lake
Price from: $76
Oriental Suite Hotel & Spa
Add: 58 Hang Dao, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Distinguish feature: Asian style, Bar & lounge, spa, sauna, safe locker
Price from: USD 70
The Light Hotel
Add: 128-130 Hang Bong, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Distinguish feature: outdoor pool, free buffet breakfast, pool-side restaurant, bar, 18 minutes to reach Hoan Kiem Lake.
Price from: $69
Little Hanoi Deluxe Hotel
Add: 1 Yen Thai
Distinguish feature: friendly staff, good services, minibar.
Price from: USD 52
Silk Queen Hotel
Add: 100 Hang Gai, Hoan Kiem
Distinguish feature: convenient for a short tour, free breakfast buffet, child caretaker services
Price from: $48
Helios Legend Hotel
Add: 2D Duong Thanh, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Distinguish feature: western styles, free breakfast and safe locker
Price from: $27
Le Bleu Art Déco Loft Homestay - one of top accommodation in Hanoi Old Quarter - Source: Fb Le Bleu Art Déco
Le Bleu Art Déco Loft
Address: Tran Hung Dao street, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi
Price: $45 - 50
Address: 2F Quang Trung, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi
Hanoi Family Homestay
Address: 19 Hang Vai, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi
Tuti Lakeside Homestay
Address: 8 Tran Nguyen Han street, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi
Address: 6 Hang Bong street, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi
See more: Accommodation in Hanoi
VI - Suggested itinerary to Hanoi Old Quarter
1 - One day itinerary
In the morning
Breakfast with Pho/ Bun cha/ Banh mi in the Old Quarter
Visiting Hoan Kiem Lake, Ngoc Son Temple, Ancient house
Lunch in Xoi Yen, having coffee and relaxing in Nola cafe
In the afternoon
Visiting Hoa Lo prison
Watching Water puppet show
Dinner in Essence Restaurant Hanoi
Relaxing in Ta Hien street (Beer street)
2 - Two days one night itinerary
In the morning
- Breakfast with Pho/ Bun cha/ Banh mi in the Old Quarter
- Visiting Hoan Kiem Lake, Ngoc Son Temple, St. Joseph’s Cathedral
- Lunch in Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim/ Cha Ca Thang Long
In the afternoon
- Visiting Hoa Lo prison
- Watching the Water Puppet Show
- Visiting the night market
- Going to Binh Minh’s Jazz Club
A corner of the Old Quarter Hanoi - Source: Trung Nguyen
In the morning:
- Breakfast with Pho/ Bun cha/ Banh mi in the Old Quarter
- Watching Flag raising and lowering ceremony at Ba Dinh Square
- Visiting Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
- Lunch in Xoi Yen, having coffee and relaxing in Nola cafe
In the afternoon:
- Visiting Ancient house, Dong Xuan Market
- Wander around 36 streets of the Old Quarter
- Dinner in a vendor shop with locals
- Dinner in Essence Restaurant Hanoi
- Relaxing in Ta Hien street (Beer street)
Hanoi Old Quarter is certainly a charming corner of Hanoi capital. You definitely have to visit the Old Quarter otherwise, you will lose half of the experience when coming to Hanoi.