Best Things To Do in Hanoi Old Quarter

History and Culture of Hanoi Old Quarter

Hanoi Old Quarter is located on the northeast of Hanoi, belonged to Hoan Kiem district. The location of the old town was purposely in between the imperial citadel and the red river which is considered an advantageous area for trading development.

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Old Quarter’s history was dated back to the 11th century when King Ly Thai To decided to move the capital from Hoa Lu to Hanoi. From 13thcentury, the place began to attract craftsmen from all over the neighbor areas, through the time organized themselves into craft cooperatives and guilds. Inhabitants from the same villages flocked together and operated on the same street, making the streets to have a homogenous look.

In the 15th century, there were at least 36 crafts guilds in the quarter which doesn’t equal to 36 streets but double that number – 76 streets. Streets that belonged to a craft guild will be name “Hang” (wares) following by the name of the product the guild was specialized in. For example, Hang Tre street indicated that the street where bamboo (tre) wares were being sold.

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Storekeepers back in the time were taxed according to the width of their storefront, so the storage and living space moved to the rear of the buildings. Consequently, the long and narrow buildings called tube houses became a familiar image in the Old Quarter. A typical measurement for such houses is 3m wide by 60m long.

In the 19th century, the area had been developed into a market network system. On the east was the busy residence together with the markets and crafts guilds. The business was constantly blooming ever since. On the north and the west sides lied the crafts villages and agricultural village.

With the French influence in the 50s, western-styled architecture prevailed against the traditional Vietnamese and Chinese architecture styles. Fusion blends between East and West not only in architecture but also in culture became trending.

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Nowadays there aren’t a prominent style to Hanoi Old Quarter but the French architecture can still be seen in many landmarks of which the famous one must be mentioned is Hanoi Opera House. Due to the globalization, the crafts guilds and cooperatives are mostly gone, except for some streets like Hang Gai (Street of Hemp/Silk) and Hang Bac (Silver Wares street)… where original crafts products still exist. On the other hand, come to Hanoi Old Quarter today, you can find a whole range of new products which have originality from all over the world. The old town has had its reputation as the busiest and most developed travel hub for travelers to Hanoi where you can enjoy attractions, foods, tourist services, and entertainments.

What to do & see in Hanoi Old Quarter

I’ve always been surprised at the fact that I never ran out of things to do at Hanoi Old Quarter even if I did not plan in advance. Hanoi Old Quarter is a maze of small alleys where you can find all the things that you never knew that you need. From all kinds of street foods, restaurants, sidewalk cafés to scared pagodas, grandeur opera house and rustic Long Bien Bridge. You’ll walk through dozens and dozens amaze.

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1. Enjoy sidewalk cafés

Vietnamese coffee has made a name for itself for its strong tastes and fragrant smells. Come to the old quarter of Hanoi, you can find the famous Vietnamese coffee in most amazing places – with just a plastic tool on the humble sidewalk, you can enjoy the very own Vietnamese coffee culture. Sidewalk cafes don’t have that kind of fancy design of a café house such as Starbucks, but it has something else – a sense of being a part of the everyday life of Hanoi.

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A sidewalk coffee can be found almost everywhere in the Old Quarter. Just take a short walk from Hoan Kiem Lake, you can find one in no time. Make enjoying sidewalk cafés a part of your nightlife tour around Hanoi and you won’t be disappointed.

2. Sightseeing from Long Bien Bridge

Long Bien Bridge is another heritage left from the days of French Colonialism. The architect that built this bridge was the very one who had constructed the symbolic Eiffel Tower. And just like Eiffel Tower, Long Bien Bridge also become a symbol which represents a specific period of the city’s history. It's rustic, vintage beauty has made Long Bien a wonderful place for photographers.

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You can access the bridge from Long Bien Railway Station located on Tran Nhat Duat street.

3. Hanoi Old Quarter Walking Tour

Just get a map of Hanoi and you are good to go on a tour around the old quarter. A large number of libraries, bookstores, art galleries are located just a street away from Hoan Kiem Lake.

Starting from the fountain on Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square, go deep into the network of alleys and streets, you’ll be a part of a hectic kind of traffic only to be found in the city of Hanoi. Here and there, you might catch a glimpse of the old-styled houses – the evidence of the glorious days of the busiest, most prosperous trading area of Vietnam. Streets that worth visiting:

– Hang Gai: silk, tailor-made clothing

– Hang Ma: traditional votive papers, the whole street became so colorful during Mid-Autumn festival

– Hang Bac: stores of silverware, jewelry and all kinds of accessory

– Hang Duong: stores of sugar, sweets and O Mai (sweetened and spiced dried fruits)

Ta Hien: sidewalk cafés, beers and street foods – literally a travel hub for all nationals

Street foods are available in both daytime and nighttime. During weekends, motorbikes and four-wheeled vehicles are prohibited in the old quarter, you can enjoy street performances quite leisurely.

4. Shopping at Dong Xuan Market

Dong Xuan Market is a place worth visiting yet at the same time it can be a challenge for tourists for Dong Xuan market is the oldest traditional local market of Hanoi. It can be said as a paradise for shopping where you can find all the things you can imagine there. However, shopping at Dong Xuan market is only cheap for those who know how to bargain. Even if you’re not confident with your bargaining skill, Dong Xuan market is still the best place to buy food, clothing, and souvenirs.

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– When shopping at Dong Xuan Market, keep your eyes on your belongings. Dong Xuan market is not really famous for pickpocketing but it’s so busy and crowded at times so you can never be too cautious.

– When bargaining, it’s really effective to use some Vietnamese sentences with a lot of smiles. You can start offer at half of the price shop owners announced then raise your price gradually until the shop owner agrees.

– Location: Dong Xuan Street

5. Visit Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple

Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple (Temple of Jade Mountain) is the classic bits of Hanoi tourism. Located just next to the Old Quarter, the lake brings a fresh breath to the busy and crowded streets. Indeed, after the exhausting walking tour to the quarter where you have to weave through the ever-busy traffic flow of motorbikes and taxis, take a short rest on the bank of the lake would be refreshing.

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Ngoc Son Temple should be one of the best places in Hanoi to learn more about Vietnam worshipping culture. Ngoc Son Temple is dedicated to Van Xuong De Quan – The stars of literature, and Tran Hung Dao – a national hero.  The red The Huc Bridge is a site you should not miss when coming to Old Quarter.

The walking streets around Hoan Kiem Lake on weekends are also the safe, educational and exciting playgrounds for children and adults alike with traditional games and entertainments like O An Quan Game, Vietnam-style jumping rope game, the game of Jenga, chess games, etc. These streets host a significant number of street artists, traditional art performance like Cheo singing. Those who love to explore the local culture, visiting Hoan Kiem on weekends is a must-do thing.

Where to stay at Hanoi Old Quarter?

Our own hand-chosen list of best Hanoi Old Quarter hotels. There is no doubt that a large number of hotels and hostels are located in Hanoi Old Quarter. Most of the tourists also choose to stay at Hanoi old town for its convenient location and abundance of services. Below are some of the mid-ranged and upper-ranged boutique hotels we believe to offer quality services in Old Quarter.

1. Somerset Grand Hanoi

Add: 49 Hai Ba Trung, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi

Price from: USD 106

Somerset Grand Hanoi has made its name as one of the top hotels in the Old Quarter. With 185 hotel rooms, 3 restaurants, outdoor pool, tennis court, you can rest assured that the services from Somerset are top-notch. The hotel is only 7 minutes walking away from St.Joseph’s Cathedral and 11 minutes from Hoan Kiem Lake.

2. Hanoi La Siesta Hotel Trendy

Add: 12 Nguyen Quang Bich, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi

Price from: USD 76

It takes you only 17 minutes walking from the hotel to Hoan Kiem Lake, only a few minutes to the old quarter, Hanoi La Siesta Hotel Trendy offers 42 hotel rooms with modern facilities and decoration. You can expect from their restaurant and spa services.

3. Oriental Suite Hotel & Spa

Add: 58 Hang Dao, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi

Price from: USD 70

Just as the hotel’s name suggested, Oriental Suite Hotel & Spa emphasizes on the Asian style with darker color themes and the usage of woods. Bar & lounge, spa, sauna, and safe locker are available.

4. The Light Hotel

Add: 128-130 Hang Bong, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi

Price from: USD 69

This hotel is a reliable choice for your stay in the old quarter. They have an outdoor pool, free buffet breakfast and pool-side restaurant and bar with sophisticated design and decoration. From The Light Hotel, you’ll have to walk only 18 minutes to reach Hoan Kiem Lake.

5. Little Hanoi Deluxe Hotel

Add: 1 Yen Thai

Price from: USD 52

Little Hanoi Deluxe is praised for its friendly staff and good services. The hotel only has 15 hotel rooms but decoration and facilities are up top. But take in consideration that the hotel doesn’t have a restaurant but only a minibar.

6. Silk Queen Hotel

Add: 100 Hang Gai, Hoan Kiem

Price from: USD 48

The hotel location is very convenient for a short tour of the old quarter. All the popular sites are in within walking distance. Breakfast buffet is free of charge as well as the child caretaker services. Room rates are suitable for low-budget travelers.

7. Helios Legend Hotel

Add: 2D Duong Thanh, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi

Price from: USD 27

Rooms of Helios Legend Hotel are decorated with western styles, golden and silver colors are prominent. Restaurant, free breakfast and safe locker are available while child caretaker services are not available.