Hanoi Old Quarter - The Essential Guide and Tips

Hanoi Old Quarter is the first part of the city that we started exploring after landing in Hanoi or rather Ha Noi, North Vietnam. Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam even though Ho Chi Minh (also known as Saigon) is the most populated city in Vietnam.

The old quarter used to be the commercial hub of the city and is roughly 100 years old. Another name for it is the 36 old streets since each street has its own specific merchandise to sell. You can observe that stores along the same street selling very similar items (e.g. LED lights, souvenirs, houseware, etc).

Hanoi  is roughly 3 hours flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia making it a popular destination for those seeking a quick getaway outside Malaysia. Except for the summer months, the weather here is generally cooler than in Malaysia too. We chose to go in December for the cooler climate. It ranged from 12 – 22 °C while we were there for Christmas.

As we were only here for four days (and two of those days was allocated for our Halong Bay tour), we had a very limited time to explore the city.

In this guide, we will cover the essentials:

How to get around in Hanoi Old Quarter

1. Getting to Hanoi city from the Noi Bai airport

To get to Hanoi city from Noi Bai International airport, you can take a taxi or minivan, call a Grab car or take bus 86 (the cheapest option).

The stand for bus 86 is right after the minivan stands. If you just got your sim card from near the information counter, head straight to the main exit of the airport and exit through one of the doors there. You should see a couple of minivans on the left. Walk over to the minivans, you should notice a bus sign for bus 86 there. It apparently comes every 15 minutes.

Something to note about the buses, they don’t expect you to pay the driver for a ticket. There is instead, a designated ticket collector who will go around the bus collecting the money and handing tickets to the passengers.The ticket collector for our bus was very helpful and told us where should get off for the old quarter. The bus does have announcements in English but the sound quality from the bus speakers makes it quite hard to hear.

2. Getting around Hanoi Old Quarter

Here are the different modes of transportation you can use to explore the old quarter:

1. Walking – Of course, you could just walk around cover this touristy hot spot of the city. Most of the attractions are not too far to each other. But do pick a strategic location when selecting your accommodation. By doing this, you can easily walk and save that money for something else. Like Halong Bay or a train ticket to the mountainous region of Hanoi to visit the remote Sapa village.

Walking around hanoi old quarter
Walking around Old Quarter, Hanoi.

2. Grab Car service– Grabbing a taxi or cab using GrabCar here in Hanoi is straightforward and reliable. The prices are reasonable and fixed beforehand. Another thing to note is that you might encounter a driver who doesn’t know English well. It’s better to get your phone ready with Google translate (or similar apps) open. Or you can print out a list of all the places you’d like to visit and show the driver where you’d like to go – make sure you use Vietnamese spellings and denotations!

3. Hopping on an electric car – This is another green alternative besides walking. One can enjoy a hassle-free city tour around Hanoi Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake. If you have younger children or old folks in your group, this is a much safer way to explore the city. Crossing the roads here in Hanoi is tricky and takes some amount of self-assurance.

Tips: The electric car tickets are available for sale at the ticket stall located on Dinh Tien Hoang Street in front of Hoan Kiem Lake (GPS location: 21.031626, 105.853051)

Electric car tour at Hoan Kiem lake
Electric car tour at Hoan Kiem lake.
Information board for the electric car tour at Hoan Kiem lake
Information board for the electric car tour at Hoan Kiem lake.
Close up of the information board for the electric car tour at Hoan Kiem lake
Close up of the information board for the electric car tour at Hoan Kiem lake.

4. Cycling might be another option if you are the adventurous sort because navigating a motorbike, scooter or bicycle through the streets could be a challenging experience here in Hanoi Old Quarter during rush hour.

Things to do in Hanoi Old Quarter

1. Watch Thang Long Water Puppet Show

Thang Long Water Puppet Show at Hanoi Old Quarter
Thang Long Water Puppet Show at Hanoi Old Quarter.

The performance schedule can be found from their official website – Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. There are three timings spread throughout the day. Reservations can be made through the email below. We personally didn’t go for this as we preferred to spend the time strolling around town.

The reviews on TripAdvisor seem to be divided on whether it’s worth going or not. But the tickets are inexpensive and the show runs for an hour, give or take. Some people leave mid-show apparently. I have friends who watched and enjoyed it though. It really depends on your interest.

Do note that the show is in Vietnamese so unless you’re fluent in Vietnamese or have a willing translator with you, the plot line might escape you.

  • Address: 57b Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi – Vietnam.
  • Tel: 024 38249494 – 024 38255450
  • Email: [email protected]

2. Visit Temples around Hanoi Old Quarter

We didn’t manage to see most of these but here we have gathered and compiled a list of the popular temples in and around  Hanoi Old Quarter.

2.1. Tran Quoc Pagoda

Tran Quoc Pagoda is the temple that we made time for. We like the multi-story tower and the view of the West Lake that almost surrounds the entire compound. After you are done exploring the temple grounds, take a stroll along the lake. We made our way to the Ba Dinh district after seeing this temple.

Thanh Quoc Pagoda
Thanh Quoc Pagoda, Hanoi.
  • Opening Hours: Daily 7:30 am – 11:30 am  and 1:30 pm – 6:30 pm
  • Entrance Fee: Free
  • Coordinates: 21.048016,105.8372461

2.2. One Pillar Pagoda

This pagoda is near to both the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Ho Chi Minh Museum. These three attractions can be covered in the same day.

One Pillar Pagoda, Hanoi
One Pillar Pagoda, Hanoi.
  • Opening Hours: Daily 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • Entrance Fee: Free
  • Coordinates: 21.0358362,105.8335811

2.3. Van Mieu Mon/ Temple of Literature

Temple of Literature, Hanoi
Temple of Literature, Hanoi.
  • Opening Hours: Daily 7:30 am – 6:00 pm (summer), 8:00 am – 6:00 pm (winter)
  • Entrance Fee: 30,000 VND
  • Coordinates: 21.0272955,105.8323752

2.4. Ngoc Son Temple/ Temple of the Jade Mountain (near Hoan Kiem Lake)

Ngoc Son Temple, Hanoi
Ngoc Son Temple, Hanoi.
  • Opening Hours: Daily 8:00 am to 5:00 pm
  • Entrance Fee: Free
  • Coordinates: 21.0307351,105.8523984

2.5. Bach Ma Temple

Bach Ma Temple, Hanoi
Bach Ma Temple, Hanoi.
  • Opening Hours: 8:00 am – 11:00 am and 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm, closed on Monday
  • Entrance Fee: Free
  • Coordinates: 21.0356759,105.8509524

2.6. Taoist Temple Quan Thanh

Quan Thanh temple is in close proximity to the first temple in our list, Tran Quoc. It was already closed by the time we got here. Plan accordingly if you aim to see this one.

Quan Thanh temple
Quan Thanh Temple – oldest temple in Hanoi.
  • Opening Hours: Daily – 5:00 am to 7:00 pm
  • Entrance Fee: 10,000 VND
  • Coordinates: 21.043035,105.8363414

2.7. Quan Su Temple

Cổng chùa Quán Sứ, Hanoi
Cổng chùa Quán Sứ, Hanoi.
  • Opening Hours: Daily 7:30 am – 11:30 am and 1:30 pm – 5:30 pm
  • Entrance Fee: Free
  • Coordinates: 21.0244934,105.8453387

2.8. Ba Da pagoda (near Hoan Kiem Lake)

Chua Ba Da Temple, Hanoi
Chua Ba Da Temple, Hanoi.
  • Opening Hours: –
  • Entrance Fee: Free
  • Coordinates: 21.0289582,105.8503425

2.9. Ly Trieu Quoc Su Pagoda

Ly Quoc Su Pagoda is near St Joseph’s Cathedral. We just briefly peeped in when we were here. The quite atmosphere inside contrasts highly with the busy traffic outside. The temple is hard to miss with it’s warm yellow tones.

Ly Quoc Su Pagoda Hanoi
Ly Quoc Su Pagoda, Hanoi. (Photo credits from vietnamnet.vn)
  • Opening Hours: 6:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • Entrance Fee: Free
  • Coordinates: 21.0296735,105.8491006

3. Visit Historical and Architectural Buildings around Hanoi Old Quarter

3.1. Presidential Palace, Hanoi

Presidential Palace Hanoi
Presidential Palace, Hanoi.
  • Opening Hours: Daily 7:30 am – 4:00 pm and closed between 11:00 am – 1:30 pm
  • Entrance Fee: 25,000 VND
  • Coordinates: 21.0392784,105.8345864

3.2. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum/ Ho Chi Minh Museum

This is the final resting-place of the famous and highly respected Communist leader, Ho Chi Minh. This building is located in the Ba Dinh district and when you are here, you will definitely not fail to notice the soldiers that patrol the area.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Hanoi
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hanoi.
  • Opening Hours: 8.00 am – 12.00 pm (Mon & Fri) and 8.00 am – 4.30 pm (all other days)
  • Entrance Fee: 40,000 VND
  • Coordinates: 21.0367771,105.8324575

3.3. St Joseph’s Cathedral

St Joseph’s cathedral happened to be 5 minutes walk from our chosen hostel, Luxury Backpackers. Here it is, decorated for Christmas.

St Joseph Cathedral in Hanoi at Christmas
St Joseph Cathedral in Hanoi at Christmas.
Christmas lights at St Joseph Cathedral in Hanoi
Christmas lights at St Joseph Cathedral in Hanoi.
  • Opening Hours (outside): all time
  • Opening Hours (outside): it’s open only during mass. the mass schedule can be found on the signboard on the left of the church gate.
  • Entrance Fee: Free
  • Coordinates: 21.0287857,105.8468171

3.4. Hoa Lo Prison

Fun fact – Hỏa Lò stands for “Hell’s hole” or even “stove” which would appear to be a very ominous given that this was a prison. However, the name was actually derived from a street name since many stoves were sold outside before Vietnam was colonized by the French.

From the photo, the French name at the archway already tells you that the French built this. There were a more than a thousand war prisoners retained here back in the 1960s. Today, not much of the original prison structure remains. The part that does remain, now serves as a museum.

Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi
Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi.
  • Opening Hours: daily 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • Entrance Fee: 20,000 VND
  • Coordinates: 21.0252637,105.8441577

3.5. Hanoi Flag Tower

Hanoi Flag Tower
Hanoi Flag Tower.
  • Opening Hours: daily 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • Entrance Fee: 30,000 VND
  • Coordinates: 21.0326613,105.8375744

3.6. Vietnam Museum of Ethnology

The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is a little out of the way from Hanoi Old Quarter. Pay this place a visit if you wish to learn about the different ethnic groups in Vietnam.

Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
Vietnam Museum of Ethnology.
  • Opening Hours: Daily except for Monday, 8:30 am – 5:30 pm
  • Entrance Fee: 25,000 VND
  • Coordinates: 21.0384168,105.7965263

3.7. The Old Quarter train street

The train track at  Old Quarter train street was a lot shorter than we expected. Just allocate 20-30min for this if you’re planning to see it. It is  pretty close to Hoan Kiem Lake though, just 1 kilometer away by walking. (12 mins walk).

The location of train street at Tran Phu Road
The location of train street at Tran Phu Road.
Unique traffic light at Tran Phu Road, Hanoi
Unique traffic light at Tran Phu Road, Hanoi.
  • Opening Hours: Daily
  • Entrance Fee: Free
  • Coordinates: 21.030098, 105.844072

3.8. The Long Bien Bridge (& Long Bien train station)

From the look of the bridge, our first thought was that it was probably not used anymore. We assumed this based on the photos we had seen online.

Then, we saw the light of a train coming from the other side. Everyone moved to the station and we got to see the train as it blared past. So, if you’re thinking of coming here, be alert of the train.

However, we did not expect that the bridge would be over as well as surrounded by the rush hour traffic. That, plus the height factor and the state of the tracks got my heart pumping a bit faster.

Note: there’s a cafe where you can view the bridge in comfort. The name of the cafe is Serein Cafe Lounge.

Long Bien train station in Hanoi
Long Bien train station in Hanoi.
Long Bien bridge in Hanoi
Long Bien bridge in Hanoi.
  • Opening Hours: Daily
  • Entrance Fee: Free
  • Coordinates: 21.0403499,105.848939

4. Hoan Kiem Lake

The lake is a major focal point for tourist as well as locals. The streets around Hoan Kien Lake will be closed to traffic during weekend and public holiday. There were throngs of tourist and locals alike enjoying a stroll here with their families and loved ones when we visited back in Christmas of 2017. Of course, there were street vendors and musicians too.  

Ngoc Son Temple is close-by to Hoan Kiem Lake and there is a pagoda (Turtle Tower) in the middle of the lake, too.

Yellow carnations at Hoan Kiem lake
Yellow carnations at Hoan Kiem lake.
Hoan Kiem lake at night
Turtle Tower – Hoan Kiem lake at night.

What to eat and drink in Hanoi Old Quarter

1. The Ice blended Coconut Coffee at Cong Caphe

We tried the coconut coffee smoothie at this café called Cong Caphe. Cong Caphe has many branches in Hanoi. The one that we went to was on 54 Hang Dieu street. You can sit upstairs for a good view of the street below.

There is another one near Hoan Kiem Lake roundabout which has a better view during night time. The coffee smoothie was not too sweet and we enjoyed it. The coconut flavor is subtle but compliments the bitterness of the coffee well, in our opinion.

Coconut coffee smoothie from Cong Caphe
Coconut coffee smoothie from Cong Caphe.

2. The Egg Coffee at Cafe Đinh

Another must-try coffee in Hanoi called egg coffee. Basically, it’s a coffee mixed with raw egg yolk which gives it a creamy consistency as you can tell from the photo below. This hidden cafe serves the best egg coffee in the town. You guys might be wondering if coffee mixed with RAW egg yolk might taste a little strange. It is not, actually. Just be sure to drink it when it’s still warm. You might be surprised to find yourself enjoying it!

Fun fact: This unique way of preparing coffee came about as a way to substitute milk when it was not available.

Egg Coffee at Cafe Dinh
Egg Coffee at Cafe Dinh.
  • Opening Hours: Daily 7:00 am – 9:30 pm
  • Coordinates: 21.0319254,105.8522724

3. Street Coffee

Vietnam is the second largest coffee producer after Brazil so it was not surprising to pass by many different coffee shops. There are shops that just sell coffee. Like this one. We went back to this one later on in the day cause we saw a lot of locals enjoying the same coffee there. 

Tip: Follow the crowd of locals to find their favorite haunts.

We enjoyed a cup of ice coffee here by the street in Vietnamese typical seating arrangements. Back in Malaysia where we’re from, you wouldn’t find coffee served like this. Here, they prefer to leave the condensed milk un-stirred for ice coffee.

Streetside coffee at Hanoi
Streetside coffee at Hanoi.
Typical streetside coffee shop at Hanoi
Typical streetside coffee shop at Hanoi.

4. Grilled Banana Cake

This delicious treat can be found in the weekend night market also known as the Old Quarter night market. Banana slices are wrapped in a layer of glutinous rice and grilled with charcoal. The grilled banana cakes are then drizzled in coconut milk/cream with peanuts sprinkled on top. As you bite in, the outer layer is crispy, but the filling is soft and chewy.

It was hands down the best thing we ate in Hanoi. We don’t make banana fritters this way back in Malaysia which is a shame.

Grilled Banana Cake stand in Hanoi
Grilled Banana Cake stand in Hanoi.
Grilled Banana Cake
Grilled Banana Cake.

5. Banh Mi at Bami Bread

Banh is a Vietnamese sandwich of sorts. It is a tasty combination of French style baguettes with native Vietnamese ingredients – spring onions, beef, leafy greens, etc. Bami Bread appears to be a chain store in Hanoi. This particular stall that we tried was overflowing with customers. We waited about 30 minutes for ours to be served.

Bami Bread Hanoi
Bami Bread, Hanoi.

It wasn’t this stand (refer to the picture below) but you can get banh mi literally everywhere in Hanoi.

Banh stall in Hanoi
Banh stall in Hanoi.

6. Banh Cuon (Rolled Cake) at Banh Cuon Ba Hanh

This stall is well-known for its rolled cakes.

banh cuon ba hanh hanoi
Banh Cuon Ba Hanh, Hanoi.
  • Opening Hours: Daily 6:00 am – 10:00 pm
  • Coordinates: 21.029131,105.848724,15

7. Bun Cha at Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim

This restaurant is highly recommended for the ubiquitous Vietnamese food, Bun Cha. They serve barbecued pork with rice vermicelli, sea-crab spring rolls and fresh vegetables (leaves).

Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim Hanoi
Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim, Hanoi.
  • Opening Hours: Daily 10:00 am – 8:30 pm
  • Coordinates: 21.030988,105.847194

8. Bún Chả Hương Liên 

This place serves roughly the same menuas Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim but it is worth noting that the former American president, Obama has been here before.

  • Opening Hours: Daily 8:00 am – 9:00 pm
  • Coordinates: 21.0269562,105.8426118

9. Cha Cha Thang Long Restaurant (Tumeric and Dill Fish)

This restaurant has only one thing on the menu, grilled fish. The fish is already seasoned with tumeric and other spices. There was plenty of oil to fry the garnish in so we just added them in as we ate. When we first walked in, the restaurant only had two tables occupied. Late on, more customers came in and we could see why this place has survived on just one dish alone. We highly recommend this place if you’re in Hanoi. 

Dinner at Cha Ca La Vong restaurant
Dinner at Cha Ca La Vong restaurant.
  • Opening Hours: Daily 10:00 am – 9:30 pm
  • Coordinates: 21.0330704,105.8440738

Hanoi Old Quarter Night Market

1. The Old Quarter Night Market / Weekend Night Market

This market opens from 7:00 pm every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until about 11:00 pm. At about 6:30 pm, you can see the clothes and food vendors busily setting up their stalls.

The Old Quarter Night Market begins from Hang Dao Street which is north from the roundabout near Hoan Kiem Lake and continues north right up to the edge of Dong Xuan Market.

Setting up of Hanoi Weekend Night Market
Setting up of Hanoi Weekend Night Market.

2. Dong Xuan Night Market

This is a traditional Vietnamese market. The best time to visit this market is during the early or late hours of the day. It has indoor as well as outdoor stalls (available at night) selling everything ranging from electronic accessories (namely phone cases and speakers), handmade souvenirs, cheap clothes and local Vietnamese street food.

Tip: If you’re looking to buy some souvenirs to take back home, do shop on the weekends. There are more varieties to choose from then.

Crossing the road to Dong Xuan night market
Crossing the road to Dong Xuan night market.

Where We Stayed In Hanoi Old Quarter

Luxury Backpackers

The location of this hostel is really strategic. It’s just 8 mins walk from the famous Hoan Kiem Lake.

The double room was small but cozy. The shower room was spacious and somewhat interesting as it partially exposed to the outside (don’t worry, no risk to anyone’s modesty). The shower room design features something like an alcove with a really high opening at the top that allows the outside air to come in.

Breakfast is included on the first day. The WiFi is free and fast. The room comes with all the standard room facilities you would expect in a three star hotel. What we liked best is that you can refill your water anytime (self-service) in the kitchen downstairs.

General Tips

  1. There is private tour guide called Hanoi Free Private Tour Guide. It is not completely free though but you do get some invaluable local insight to Hanoi. There may be no tour fare or booking fee but you will be expected to bear the expenses for the guides for whatever activities they are bring you to. Advance booking is available through their website.
  2. Get yourself acquainted with a translation app (we used Google Translate)
  3. To avoid the heat, the best time to visit Hanoi is between December to February where the temperature ranges from 12 – 26 °C.

Conclusion

There is no shortage of temples, markets and cafes to explore in Hanoi’s old quarter. Let this guide serve as your reference in planning your own trip to Hanoi. We just had a little more than a full day to explore this energetic city. Make sure you allocate more time than we did ;). PS: Bring eyedrops and a mask if you are sensitive to dust/haze.

Did you find this guide useful? Leave a comment below.

Check out our other post on Vietnam where we took a cruise (Glory Legend) at the incredible Halong Bay

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