The Hanoi Old Quarter, also known as the 36 streets, is a historic neighborhood in Vietnam’s capital city. It offers a captivating cultural experience filled with vibrant streets, ancient shops, delicious street food, and charming architecture. In this article, we will take you on a journey through the heart of Hanoi and explore the hidden gems of the Old Quarter. From bustling markets to peaceful pagodas, this neighborhood has something to offer for everyone.
Overview of Hanoi’s Old Quarter
The Old Quarter, also known as the 36 streets, is the historic heart of Hanoi and a must-visit destination for travelers seeking an authentic cultural experience. Spread over just a few square kilometers, this charming neighborhood is known for its narrow streets, bustling markets, and traditional architecture. From colorful shops to ancient temples, the Old Quarter offers a sensory overload of sights, sounds, and smells.
The History and Significance of the Old Quarter
The history of the Old Quarter dates back over a thousand years when Hanoi was established as the capital of Vietnam. Initially, each street in the Old Quarter was dedicated to a specific trade, creating a vibrant commercial hub. Over the centuries, the neighborhood has evolved, reflecting the cultural, social, and economic changes of Vietnam. Today, the Old Quarter stands as a living testament to Hanoi’s rich heritage.
Exploring the Ancient Streets of Hanoi
The Old Quarter is a labyrinth of narrow streets, each with its own unique character and specialty. Let’s explore some of the most famous streets and what they have to offer.
Hang Gai Street: The Silk Street
As you wander down Hang Gai Street, also known as Silk Street, you’ll be captivated by the colorful displays of silk products. From luxurious clothing and accessories to beautiful silk paintings, this street is a haven for silk enthusiasts. Don’t miss the opportunity to bring back a piece of Vietnamese silk as a unique souvenir.
Hang Bac Street: The Silver Street
If you’re a jewelry lover, Hang Bac Street, or the Silver Street, is a must-visit. This street is renowned for its silver jewelry shops, offering a wide range of intricate and beautifully crafted pieces. Whether you’re looking for traditional designs or contemporary styles, Hang Bac Street has something to suit every taste.
Hang Ma Street: The Festive Street
Prepare to be amazed by the vibrant atmosphere of Hang Ma Street, especially during festive seasons. This street is a treasure trove of decorations, particularly during Lunar New Year when it comes alive with colorful lanterns, paper offerings, and festive ornaments. Walking down Hang Ma Street is like stepping into a whimsical wonderland of celebration.
Hang Be Street: The Paper Street
For those interested in Vietnamese arts and crafts, Hang Be Street is a paradise. This street is famous for its paper shops, selling traditional paper products such as handcrafted greeting cards, notebooks, and artwork. You can witness skilled craftsmen creating intricate designs, giving you a glimpse into the rich traditions of Vietnamese paper-making.
Hang Quat Street: The Fan Street
To beat the Hanoi heat, head to Hang Quat Street, also known as the Fan Street, where you’ll find an array of beautifully crafted Vietnamese fans. From delicate handheld fans to ornate wall-mounted fans, this street offers a wide selection of designs, colors, and materials. A traditional Vietnamese fan makes for a unique and practical souvenir to remember your visit.
Historical Landmarks in the Old Quarter
The Old Quarter is not only a bustling commercial area but also home to several historical landmarks that showcase Hanoi’s past and cultural heritage.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Situated at the heart of the Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem Lake is a serene oasis amidst the chaos of the city. Legend has it that an ancient emperor was gifted a magical sword by a divine turtle in this lake, hence its name, which means “Lake of the Restored Sword.” The lake provides stunning photo opportunities, especially when illuminated at night.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral
A symbol of French colonial architecture, St. Joseph’s Cathedral is a striking landmark in the heart of the Old Quarter. Modeled after the famous Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, this Gothic-style church is a must-visit for architecture enthusiasts. Attend a Sunday mass or simply admire the beautiful facade and serene atmosphere.
Bach Ma Temple
Dedicated to the White Horse God, Bach Ma Temple is one of the oldest temples in Hanoi. Located on Hang Buom Street, this temple is a spiritual sanctuary amid the bustling streets. Take a moment of tranquility and explore the intricate architecture and artistic details of this historical gem.
The Temple of Literature
Just outside the Old Quarter lies the magnificent Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s first national university. Built in 1070, this complex is a fascinating example of ancient Vietnamese architecture and Confucian influence. Stroll through the picturesque courtyards and learn about the country’s rich educational history.
Hidden Gems and Local Hangouts
While the main streets of the Old Quarter offer plenty to explore, there are also hidden gems and local hangouts that provide an authentic taste of Hanoi’s culture.
Duong’s Restaurant is known as a restaurant run by chef Duong – Top chef Vietnam, considered by many diners to be one of the best restaurants in Hanoi Old Quarter. Duong’s Restaurant is on the MICHELIN Guide’s voting list. A good place to eat that you should not miss.
Nha Hang Ngon
Indulge in a culinary adventure at Nha Hang Ngon, a renowned restaurant located on Phan Boi Chau Street. This unique eatery brings together the best of Vietnamese cuisine under one roof. From street food favorites to regional specialties, Nha Hang Ngon offers an unforgettable dining experience.
For coffee enthusiasts, a visit to Giang Cafe on Nguyen Huu Huan Street is a must. This legendary cafe is famous for its signature egg coffee, a rich and creamy concoction that has been delighting locals and visitors for decades. Be sure to savor this unique Hanoi specialty while immersing yourself in the cozy atmosphere of the cafe.
Ta Hien Street
Known as the “Beer Street,” Ta Hien Street is the perfect place to indulge in Hanoi’s vibrant nightlife. Join the bustling crowd of locals and tourists as you enjoy a refreshing glass of bia hơi, a light and inexpensive beer, and savor delicious street food from the nearby stalls. Ta Hien Street truly comes alive in the evening and offers an authentic taste of Hanoi’s social scene.
Dong Xuan Market
Dong Xuan Market is the largest covered market in Hanoi and a treasure trove for bargain hunters. Located on Dong Xuan Street, this bustling market offers everything from fresh produce and local delicacies to clothing, accessories, and souvenirs. Get lost in its maze-like aisles and soak in the energetic atmosphere.
The Old Quarter’s Vibrant Street Food Culture
No visit to Hanoi’s Old Quarter is complete without indulging in its vibrant street food scene. Let’s explore some of the must-try dishes that will leave your taste buds singing with delight.
Don’t miss: Best Hanoi Street Food Tours
Phở: Vietnam’s Beloved Noodle Soup
Phở is the quintessential Vietnamese dish that has gained popularity worldwide. This hearty noodle soup is served with tender slices of beef or chicken, fragrant herbs, and a savory broth. Whether you enjoy it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, pho Hanoi is a must-try when in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
Bún Chả: The Sizzling Pork Delight
Bún Chả is another iconic dish of Hanoi, loved for its mouthwatering flavors. Grilled pork patties and sliced pork belly are served over a bed of vermicelli noodles and fresh herbs. The dish is accompanied by a dipping sauce bursting with umami flavors. Delight in this sizzling pork delight and discover why it’s a local favorite.
Banh Mi: Vietnamese Baguette Sandwich
Banh Mi is a culinary fusion that showcases the French influence in Vietnamese cuisine. This delicious sandwich consists of a crispy baguette filled with flavorful meats, pâté, pickled vegetables, and fresh herbs. The combination of textures and flavors creates a mouthwatering explosion in every bite.
Egg Coffee: A Unique Hanoi Specialty
End your culinary journey with a cup of egg coffee, a unique and decadent Hanoi specialty. This velvety smooth beverage is made by whisking egg yolks with condensed milk before pouring it over strong Vietnamese coffee. The result is a rich and creamy concoction that is both indulgent and satisfying.
Exploring Beyond the Old Quarter: Day Trips from Hanoi
While the Old Quarter offers a plethora of experiences, don’t miss the opportunity to explore the surrounding areas. Here are some day trip options to consider.
Located about 60 kilometers southwest of Hanoi, the Perfume Pagoda is a complex of Buddhist temples nestled in the Huong Tich Mountains. Accessible by boat and a moderate hike, this pilgrimage site offers stunning natural scenery and breathtaking views. Immerse yourself in spirituality and tranquility as you explore the pagoda complex.
Hoa Lu and Tam Coc
Travel back in time with a visit to Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam. Discover the rich history and cultural significance of this former capital through ancient temples and citadels. Afterward, embark on a boat ride through the picturesque landscape of Tam Coc, often referred to as “Halong Bay on land,” thanks to its towering limestone karsts.
No trip to northern Vietnam is complete without visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Halong Bay. This natural wonder is renowned for its emerald waters, towering limestone pillars, and floating villages. Explore the bay on a traditional junk boat, kayak through hidden caves, and witness breathtaking sunsets that will leave you in awe.
Bat Trang Ceramic Village
Step into the world of traditional ceramics at Bat Trang Ceramic Village, located just outside Hanoi. This village has been producing exquisite pottery for centuries, and you can witness skilled craftsmen at work. Explore the narrow streets lined with pottery shops, and perhaps even try your hand at creating your own ceramic masterpiece.
Planning Your Visit to Hanoi’s Old Quarter
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Hanoi’s Old Quarter is during the spring (March to April) and autumn (September to November) seasons. The weather is pleasant with mild temperatures and fewer chances of rainfall. However, it’s worth noting that Hanoi experiences distinct seasons, each with its own unique charm.
The Old Quarter is best explored on foot, allowing you to soak in the vibrant atmosphere and discover hidden gems. However, if you prefer not to walk, cyclos (three-wheeled bicycles) and taxis are readily available. Grab and GoViet are popular ride-hailing apps that offer convenient transportation options within Hanoi.
The Old Quarter offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit every budget and preference. From luxury boutique hotels to cozy guesthouses and trendy hostels, there’s something for everyone. Consider staying in a traditional Vietnamese-style house or a charming colonial building for an authentic experience.
Safety Tips and Important Considerations
While Hanoi is generally safe, it’s important to exercise caution and be mindful of your belongings, especially in crowded areas. Take care when crossing the busy streets, as traffic can be overwhelming. Stay hydrated, dress appropriately for the weather, and be respectful of local customs and traditions. It’s also advisable to carry a copy of your passport and have emergency contact numbers handy.
Questions related to Hanoi’s Old Quarter
1. What is Hanoi known for?
A great place to explore on foot, this French-colonial city is also known for its delectable cuisine, vibrant nightlife, silks and handicrafts, as well as a multi-cultural community that’s made up of Chinese, French and Russian influences.
2. How many days should I spend in Hanoi?
You want to visit more attractions outside of the Old Quarter and around Hanoi. Have more time to enjoy and relax. If you have 3 days in total 2 days in hanoi 1 day for a day trip to Ha Long Bay or Ninh Binh is recommended. If you have >= 5 days, 3 days in Hanoi would be better.
3. What is the best currency to take to Vietnam?
The government-run Vietcombank can exchange dong for US dollars, Euros, British Pounds, Japanese Yen, Thai Baht, and Singapore dollars. Banks in major cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City will let you change foreign currencies and most travelers’ checks
4. What should avoid in Hanoi?
- Money switch
- The groin grab
- Fake taxis
- Fake travel companies
- The two-shine
- A fine bag of tea
- The coconut photo shoot
- Bait-and-switch massage
- Motorbike taxi
- The wandering fare
- Baggage fee
5. Is Hanoi safe at night?
Hanoi is generally a safe city to explore, and serious crimes against tourists are extremely rare, but it’s pertinent to exercise some caution. While it’s generally safe to walk around the streets of the Old Quarter at night, it’s best to avoid the darker lanes after around 10pm.
5. Best Hotels in Hanoi Old Quarter
Enjoy the comfort of a great room in the Hanoi Old Quarter, nightlife and attractions at any of the places below.
- Flora Centre Hotel & Spa
- Hanoi Calista Hotel
- HOTEL du LAC Hanoi
- Meritel Hanoi
- The West Hotel & Spa
- Hanoi Victor Gallery hotel & Spa
- Golden Sun Hotel
- La Passion Hanoi Hotel & Spa
- Hanoi Emerald Waters Hotel Valley
- Bendecir Hotel & Spa
6. Things to do in Hanoi?
Make sure to visit as many of these attractions in Hanoi as possible because they all offer entertainment, beauty and education at different turns.
- Visit the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
- Attend a cooking class
- Go on a Free Walking Tour
- Watch a Water Puppet Theatre Performance
- Food Trip Around Hanoi
- Sightsee Around the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
- Bike or Walk Around the Hoan Kiem Lake
- Soak Up Some Culture in the Hanoi Opera House
- Visit Ngoc Son Pagoda
- Visit the Temple of Literature
- Wander Around Hanoi Old Quarter
7. What food is Hanoi famous for?
Since a trip to Hanoi is not complete without sampling its traditional delicacies, here’s a list of the top must-try foods in Hanoi.
- Grilled pork with noodles (Bun Cha)
- Grilled fish with noodles (Bun Ca)
- Hanoi bread (Banh My Hanoi)
- Noodle soup (Pho)
- Grilled fish (Cha Ca)
- Rice porridge with pork spare ribs (Chao Suon)
- Moon cakes (Banh Trung Thu)
- Egg coffee (Cafe Trung)
- Fresh local beer (Bia Hoi)
8. Best Restaurants in Hanoi Old Quarter
Discover list of the best restaurants in Hanoi Old Quarter, catering to a wide array of styles, budgets and preferences.
- Duong’s Restaurant – 27 Ngo Huyen Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam
- Duong’s 2 Restaurant – Ma May street
- Essence Restaurant
- JW Cafe
- 3 Spoons
- Hoang Cuisine
- Cloud Nine Restaurant
- Era Restaurant
- Poke Hanoi
- Blue Diamond Rooftop Bar & Restaurant
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9. What to buy in the Hanoi Old Quarter?
Take a look at these recommended souvenirs to buy in Hanoi Old Quarter.
- Green Rice Flakes
- Assorted Dried Fruits
- Lotus Tea
- Banh Cha
- The Ceramics and Potteries
- Silk and Clothing
- Lacquer Paintings
Embark on an unforgettable journey through the vibrant charm of Hanoi’s historic Old Quarter. Immerse yourself in its bustling streets, witness its ancient shops, and indulge in mouthwatering street food. Explore hidden alleyways, peaceful pagodas, and cozy coffee shops that are waiting to be discovered. The Old Quarter, with its rich history and cultural significance, offers a cultural exploration like no other. Get ready to experience the heartbeat of Hanoi and create lasting memories in this captivating neighborhood.
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