Hoan Kiem Lake Hanoi: From Legend to Modern-Day Attractions

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Nestled in the heart of Vietnam’s vibrant capital, Hoan Kiem Lake stands as an enchanting oasis, offering a captivating blend of legend, history, and modern-day attractions. This serene body of water, known as the “Lake of the Returned Sword,” has long been a cherished symbol of Hanoi’s rich cultural heritage and a beloved gathering place for locals and visitors alike.

Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi
Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi

Where is Hoan Kiem Lake, how to get there?

Location of Hoan Kiem Lake

Hoan Kiem Lake is conveniently situated in the center of Hanoi’s bustling Old Quarter, seamlessly integrating with the city’s vibrant atmosphere. It is surrounded by ancient temples, colonial architecture, and narrow alleyways that exude the charm of bygone eras, making it an easily accessible destination for those exploring the city’s many attractions.

Getting to Hoan Kiem Lake by public transport

Navigating your way to Hoan Kiem Lake is a breeze thanks to Hanoi’s extensive public transportation system:

  • Bus: Numerous bus lines traverse the Old Quarter, dropping passengers off near the lake’s edge. Look for stops near the iconic Thang Long Imperial Citadel or Hang Gai Street for easy access.

Getting to Hoan Kiem Lake by taxi or ride-sharing services

If you prefer the convenience of private transportation, Hanoi’s abundant taxis and ride-sharing services like Grab and Go-Viet make accessing Hoan Kiem Lake a breeze. Simply enter the lake’s name as your destination, and you’ll be dropped off near one of its main entrances, ready to embark on your exploration.

History of Hoan Kiem Lake

Hoan Kiem Lake history
Hoan Kiem Lake history

Legend of the Lake and the Golden Turtle

Hoan Kiem Lake‘s allure is deeply rooted in a captivating legend that has been passed down through generations. According to the tale, in the 15th century, during a victorious military campaign against Chinese invaders, King Le Loi was gifted a magical sword by a giant golden turtle, believed to be a mythical creature residing in the lake’s waters.

This legendary sword, bestowed upon the king, is said to have granted him the strength and courage to defeat his enemies. After the victory, as a gesture of gratitude and to restore peace to the land, Le Loi returned to the lake to go fishing. It was then that the golden turtle resurfaced, requesting the return of the sword. The king obliged, and the turtle disappeared beneath the, taking the sword with it.

From that day forward, the lake became known as Hoan Kiem, which translates to “Lake of the Returned Sword,” commemorating this legendary event and the symbolic return of tranquility to the kingdom.

Evolution of the Lake over the years

While the legend of the golden turtle and the returned sword has endured for centuries, Hoan Kiem Lake itself has undergone significant transformations over time. Initially surrounded by lush green forests, the lake’s surroundings gradually evolved into an urban landscape as Hanoi grew and developed.

In the 19th century, the lake became a hub of cultural and social life, hosting a variety of activities such as boating, fishing, and entertainment. The construction of bridges and walkways further enhanced its accessibility, transforming it into a popular gathering place for the local community.

Today, Hoan Kiem Lake remains a cherished sanctuary within the bustling city, offering residents and visitors alike a peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle of urban life.

Significance of Hoan Kiem Lake in Vietnamese culture

People exercise in the morning around Hoan Kiem Lake
People exercise in the morning around Hoan Kiem Lake

Beyond its legendary origins, Hoan Kiem Lake holds profound cultural significance for the Vietnamese people. It symbolizes the nation’s resilience, triumph over adversity, and the importance of peace and tranquility – values deeply ingrained in the Vietnamese spirit.

The lake’s serene beauty and tranquil atmosphere provide a contemplative space for reflection and connection with the country’s heritage. It is a place where locals gather to exercise, socialize, and celebrate cultural events, further solidifying its importance as a cherished cultural landmark.

Things to do at Hoan Kiem Lake Hanoi

Walk around the lake

Walk around the Hoan Kiem lake
Walk around the Hoan Kiem lake

One of the simplest yet most rewarding experiences at Hoan Kiem Lake is taking a leisurely stroll around its perimeter. The scenic path that encircles the lake offers a tranquil escape from the bustling city, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the peaceful atmosphere.

As you walk, you’ll have the opportunity to observe the vibrant life that surrounds the lake. Street vendors selling traditional snacks and souvenirs, local families enjoying picnics, and artists capturing the lake’s beauty on canvas all contribute to the vibrant tapestry of daily life in Hanoi.

Enjoy street foods

Street foods in Hoan Kiem Lake
Street foods in Hoan Kiem Lake

No visit to Hoan Kiem Lake would be complete without indulging in the tantalizing array of street foods that line its surrounding streets. This area is a haven for food enthusiasts, offering a diverse range of authentic Vietnamese culinary delights.

  • Pho Thin Bo Ho: Savor the rich flavors of this traditional beef noodle soup, a staple of Vietnamese cuisine, served piping hot by skilled vendors.
  • Kem Trang Tien: Cool down with a refreshing scoop of this beloved Vietnamese ice cream, often infused with flavors like coconut, mung bean, and durian.
  • Bun Cha Hanoi: Indulge in this iconic Hanoi dish, consisting of grilled pork patties served with a flavorful dipping sauce and fresh herbs, accompanied by vermicelli noodles.

Whether you’re seeking a quick snack or a full meal, the streets surrounding Hoan Kiem Lake offer an array of culinary treasures that will tantalize your taste buds.

Visit attractive locations near the lake

Ngoc Son Temple
Ngoc Son Temple

Hoan Kiem Lake is surrounded by a wealth of historical and cultural attractions, each offering a unique glimpse into Vietnam’s rich heritage and modern-day vibrancy.

  • Ngoc Son Temple: This picturesque temple, situated on a small island in the center of the lake, is accessible via the iconic Huc Bridge, a beautiful red-lacquered structure that adds to the lake’s charm. The temple is dedicated to Tran Hung Dao, a revered general who defended Vietnam against the Mongols in the 13th century.
  • Thang Long Imperial Citadel: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Thang Long Imperial Citadel lies near the lake’s western edge and served as the heart of Vietnamese power for centuries. Exploring its ancient structures and historical artifacts offers a fascinating journey through Vietnam’s imperial past.
  • The Old Quarter: Surrounding Hoan Kiem Lake, the Old Quarter is a labyrinth of narrow alleys lined with centuries-old colonial buildings and traditional Vietnamese shops. Immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere, indulge in authentic street food, and soak up the rich cultural heritage that permeates every corner.
  • St. Joseph’s Cathedral: A stunning example of neo-Gothic architecture, St. Joseph’s Cathedral stands as testament to Hanoi’s diversity and colonial influences. Its imposing facade and intricate details make it a must-visit for architecture enthusiasts.
  • Walking Street: For a lively evening experience, head to the iconic Walking Street, where the streets come alive with street performers, vendors, and a festive atmosphere that captures the essence of Hanoi’s nightlife.

Indulge in unique culinary experiences

Duong’s Restaurant
Duong’s Restaurant

Beyond the bustling street food scene, Hoan Kiem Lake and its surroundings offer a range of unique culinary experiences that are sure to delight foodies and cultural enthusiasts alike.

  • Egg Coffee: Indulge in this unique Vietnamese specialty at one of the local cafes. Egg coffee, or ca phetrung, is a rich and creamy beverage made by whisking egg yolks with condensed milk and coffee, creating a delightful fusion of flavors.
  • Tra Chanh (Vietnamese Lime Tea): Beat the heat with this refreshing Vietnamese lime tea, often served with a hint of mint and a touch of sweetness, making it the perfect thirst-quencher on a hot day.
  • Thuy Ta Cream (Butterfly Pea Flower Tea): Explore the vibrant and captivating world of Vietnamese herbal teas with the mesmerizing Thuy Ta Cream, a tea made from the butterfly pea flower that changes color when mixed with lime juice.
  • Duong’s Restaurant: For a more upscale dining experience, consider visiting Duong’s Restaurant near Hoan Kiem Lake. This renowned establishment offers a fusion of traditional Vietnamese flavors with a modern twist, showcasing the diversity and creativity of Vietnamese cuisine. (27 Ngo Huyen streets)
  • Banh Mi 25: Sample one of Vietnam’s most iconic street foods at Banh Mi 25, a popular spot known for its delectable banh mi sandwiches. Choose from a variety of fillings, from grilled pork to pate, all served on freshly baked baguettes for a satisfying culinary experience.
  • Cha Ca La Vong: Delight your taste buds with a visit to Cha Ca La Vong, a historic restaurant that has been serving up Hanoi’s famous cha ca dish for generations. This flavorful dish features turmeric-marinated fish cooked tableside with dill and served with rice noodles, peanuts, and fresh herbs.

Whether you’re craving traditional street food or seeking a more refined dining experience, the culinary offerings near Hoan Kiem Lake cater to every palate and promise a memorable gastronomic journey.


Hoan Kiem Lake is also known as “Lake of the Returned Sword”

The name “Hoan Kiem” translates to “Returned Sword,” referencing the lake’s legendary origins. According to folklore, Emperor Le Loi was given a magical sword by the Golden Turtle God to help him defeat Chinese invaders. After the victory, the turtle reclaimed the sword, hence the name “Lake of the Returned Sword.”

The lake is a popular spot for locals to exercise and socialize

Throughout the day, you’ll find locals of all ages engaging in various activities around Hoan Kiem Lake. From morning tai chi sessions to evening strolls, the lake serves as a communal space for exercise, relaxation, and socializing. Observing these daily rituals offers insight into the vibrant local culture and the importance of the lake in community life.

Frequently asked questions

Is it safe to visit Hoan Kiem Lake at night?

Yes, Hoan Kiem Lake is generally safe to visit at night, with many locals and tourists enjoying the serene atmosphere after dark. However, it’s advisable to exercise caution, especially in secluded areas, and avoid walking alone late at night. Stick to well-lit paths and populated areas to ensure a safe and pleasant nighttime experience.

Are there any entrance fees to access the lake and its surrounding attractions?

No, there are no entrance fees to access Hoan Kiem Lake or its surrounding attractions. The lake and its notable landmarks, such as Ngoc Son Temple and the Old Quarter, are open to the public free of charge, allowing visitors to explore and appreciate these cultural treasures without any financial barriers.

What are the best times of the day to visit Hoan Kiem Lake for different experiences?

  • Morning: Start your day with a peaceful walk around Hoan Kiem Lake to witness locals practicing tai chi and enjoying the cool morning air.
  • Afternoon: Indulge in street food delights and explore nearby attractions like Ngoc Son Temple in the afternoon when the sun casts a warm glow over the lake.
  • Evening: Experience the vibrant energy of the Walking Street and enjoy the bustling nightlife around the lake, filled with street performances and cultural festivities.

By timing your visit to coincide with different parts of the day, you can fully immerse yourself in the diverse experiences that Hoan Kiem Lake has to offer.


In conclusion, Hoan Kiem Lake stands as a timeless symbol of Hanoi’s rich history, cultural heritage, and natural beauty. From its mythical origins to its present-day role as a beloved gathering place, the lake encapsulates the essence of Vietnamese identity and resilience.

Whether you’re seeking a tranquil retreat, a culinary adventure, or a glimpse into Vietnam’s imperial past, Hoan Kiem Lake and its surroundings offer a myriad of experiences to captivate and inspire visitors. By exploring the legends, traditions, and attractions that define this iconic landmark, you can forge a deeper connection with the heart and soul of Hanoi, making your visit to Hoan Kiem Lake truly unforgettable.

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