Hanoi Old Quarter: 10 best things to do at day & night

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The center of the city, Hanoi Old Quarter, offers French-colonial architecture, a rich food culture and a long history. In the heart of the city you will find streets full of scooters, street food stalls, cyclists and walkers. There are a lot of great things to do in Hanoi Old Quarter and a lot of sights and museums that you can visit.

Just like Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi exists in districts. The most famous and important districts in Hanoi are Ba Dinh District (also known as the French Quarter) where the government offices are located and Hoan Kiem District (also known as the Old Quarter), which is considered the business center and the main tourist destination in the city.

Hoan Kiem district

Hanoi Old Quarter is located in Hoan Kiem district, near Hoan Kiem Lake. In this neighborhood you will find beautiful colonial architecture, Buddhist temples and pagodas.

The atmosphere of the old center is reflected in the old shopping streets that are named after the original companies that are around 1000 years old. The preserved retail properties that lie along these roads were built just over a century ago and in a long and narrow style to avoid having to pay high taxes. The front part of the building is where the trade takes place and the family lives in the rest of the house. Although one storehouse was intended for one family (with many generations in it), it is more common nowadays that several families sit under one roof.

Expect to find many trendy cafes, bars, a variety of restaurants, bakeries, boutiques and art galleries in this historic area.

A common street scene in Hanoi is that the streets are full of scooters, bicycles and cars. Then there are the many street vendors with their stalls on the doorstep and people walking everywhere in between. In the popular Old Quarter this is no exception, so don’t expect to be able to walk around in a relaxed way to view sights in peace. But the experience of exploring the historic center is a must-do and really worth it.

Hanoi Old Quarter on the weekend

This neighborhood is relatively pedestrian-friendly compared to other cities in Vietnam. The streets are closed to cars and scooters on weekends and evenings to make way for bia hoi bars and food stalls with a variety of Vietnamese food.

How to get to Hanoi Old Quarter and go around

From Hanoi airport to the center

  • Bus: bus number 86, a premium bus, has both English and Vietnamese broadcasting system. The price is $ 1.5 and it takes 1 hour. Avoid other regular buses.
  • Taxi: it costs around $ 20 for a trip from the airport to the city center.
  • Grab: Grab is a taxi app like Uber. Read here: how does Grab work.

Getting around the old quarter in Hanoi

  • Grab: They are cheap and almost always available.
  • Walking: The best way is to walk through Hanoi Old Quarter yourself. Most sights are also within walking distance of each other.
  • Cyclo: Cyclo has been a well-known means of transport in Vietnam for decades. Nowadays it is used in tourism. It is a unique experience to see the city on a cyclo, at your own pace.

Old Quarter 10 things to do & see

In case you don’t know where to start your journey around Hanoi Old Quarter, the best sights and activities are:

1. Wandering around the streets

Hanoi Old Quarter

Hanoi Old Quarter is full of colonial buildings, narrow alleys, lots of people and scooters. This district is over 1,000 years old and the Old Quarter is still the heart of the city. Here you will also find a range of hostels and guesthouses. The best way to see this old city center is walking around the streets and alleys. You can go strolling through the old streets for hours if you want to.

Hanoi Old Quarter
Hanoi Old Quarter

If you would do this in the morning, afternoon and in the late evening you will see three times a totally different Old Quarter. In the morning you will see people having breakfast at the small street food stalls, during the day time it is teeming with motorbikes and the busy life of the traders, at night you will see the streets full of people sitting on the plastic stools having dinner or drinking beer. There is a great atmosphere that is best to enjoy while wandering around the old town.

2. Street food tour

One of the best things to do in Hanoi is a street food tour with a local guide. First of all you will explore the old town with a local and walk through streets and hidden alleys you might not have found yourself. You also get a unique inside of the local culture, where you snack and dine on plastic stools between the locals, while listed to great stories.

The second reason is that you can taste some of the best street food in Hanoi. In Hanoi you will find an innumerable number of street food stalls, with many different types of street food. It can be overwhelming if you have to go out here on your own. If you go with a guide, you are assured that you will eat at trusted hygienic street stalls and the places where they sell the best food. It is very interesting, a lot of fun and a great way to explore Hanoi Old Quarter.

Street food tour with Local Vietnam

Are you excited to taste some of the best street food and explore the streets with a local guide? Then join our Street Food tour in Hanoi!

3. Visit the markets

Weekend Night Market in Hanoi

There are many unique markets in Hanoi that you can visit to get a glimpse of local life. There are also several markets in Hanoi Old Quarter, but the two main once you should visit are the Dong Xuan market and the Weekend Night Market.

The Dong Xuan market is the largest market in Hanoi and has a wide range of products for sale over four floors. Located on the northern edge of the old quarter, it is an imposing Soviet-style building, surrounded on all sides by shops and stalls. You will find a lot of different things here, from souvenirs to food and from drinks to clothing.

The Weekend Night Market in Hanoi is a busy, lively gathering of stalls and sellers. The market runs through Hanoi Old Quarter every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 7 pm. You will find clothing and souvenirs, but the best are the endless food stalls that sometimes also sell interesting and exotic food.

4. Hoan Kiem Lake

Hoan Kiem Lake

The northern part of the famous Hoan Kiem Lake is right at Hanoi Old Quarter. Around the lake you see locals jogging, enjoying a cup of coffee and even Tai Chi and line dancing. The Ngoc Son Temple is located in this tranquil lake, an 18th-century pagoda on a small island that is accessed via an ornate wooden bridge. Combine a walk through the old streets with a walk (partly) around the lake to escape from the streets filled with motorbikes.

5. Cyclo tour

Hanoi cyclo tour

If you are not into walking so much, another great way to explore Hanoi Old Quarter is with a traditional cyclo. This is a traditional way of transpartation that used to dominate the streets in Vietnam. Now, they are mostly found in tourist areas, but still a great experience to travel with through the city. A cyclo is a three wheels bicycle where the driver sits in the back and the passenger(s) in the front seat.

While being on a cyclo, you experience the old traditional way of transportation while having a more relaxing view of the local life. It is recommended to extent your cyclo ride and go around Hoan Kiem Lake. You can also choose to see some other sights around town that are further away from the old town, such as Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the One Pillar Pagoda and Hanoi train street.

Tip! Interested to go on a cyclo tour? Check our unique Hanoi cyclo tour here.

6. Water puppet show

Right next to the Hoan Kiem Lake you will find Thang Long Theatre, where you can enjoy a traditional water puppet show. Here you will see puppets in the water that in a short show depict Vietnamese traditions and culture. Every story comes with a Vietnamese orchestra, with musicians playing traditional opera music with drums, wooden bells, horns and bamboo flutes.

7. Drink Bia Hoi & enjoy nightlife

Bia Hoi street in Hanoi

If you are looking for great nightlife in Hanoi, you are in the right spot. You don’t have to look far, because everywhere you walk in the evening and night you will see crowded streets where people are enjoying the nightlife. Cozy restaurants, BBQ on the street, dance cafes, loud bars and beer establishments can be found in every street. But probably the best thing to do at night is drinking Bia Hoi at a local street stall. Bia Hoi is the cheapest beer in the world, with a glass of beer already from $0,20.

The cheap beer does not always taste very great, but sitting between the locals and watching people walking by is a unique experience that everybody should at least do one time while visiting Hanoi. After drinking Bia Hoi you could continue to one of the bars, or go to the beautiful lit Hoan Kiem lake, where people come to relax.

8. Sightseeing around the Old Quarter

 St. Joseph's Cathedral, Hanoi
St. Joseph’s Cathedral

If you don’t feel like wandering aimlessly through the ancient streets, you can also visit a number of sights in and around Hanoi’s old town. In the Old Quarter you can find the oldest church in Hanoi, the St. Joseph’s Cathedral. It is the first building of the French colonial government in Indochina. The Long Bien bridge all the way in the north of the city center was bombed several times during the American war and quickly restored by the Vietnamese. It is designed by Gustave Eiffel (known from the Eiffel Tower).

Ma May ancient house was built at the end of the 19th century with the typical architecture of that time. It has been restored and reflects the traditional architecture of the old quarter of Hanoi. The Hanoi Opera House is a concert hall and built in the French colonial style from 1901 to 1911. There are also a few temples here that are very easy to spot between the houses. The Bach Ma temple is the most well known temples in Hanoi. It dates from the 11th century and is known as the oldest of its kind in the old quarter of Hanoi.

9. Visit museums

Hoa Lu prison museum in Hanoi
Hoa Lu prison museum

Some of the best museums in Vietnam can be found in Hanoi. Most of the museums in Hanoi are about the terrible Vietnam War, colonial past and unique culture. Not too far from the St. Joseph’s Cathedral, south of the Old Quarter you will find Hoa Lo prison. This prison, also known as Maison Centrale and the Hanoi Hilton, housed Vietnamese revolutionaries and American prisoners of war during the Vietnam War. The fort was once a huge colonial-style prison, most of which was demolished in the 1990s. Now it is a museum, where you can learn more about the time of French rule.

The Vietnamese Women’s Museum presents a tribute the the life of the women of Vietnam over the ages. From women during war times, to unique clothing of the ethnic minority woman. Other museums in Hanoi are further located from the old town.

10. Staying overnight in the Old Quarter

Staying overnight in the Old Quarter might be the most obvious best things to do in Hanoi Old Quarter. It is the place with tasty restaurants and street food, great nightlife, lots of options of hotels, hostels and homestays. In addition you are also on walking distance to a lot of the famous sights in Hanoi.

But besides that, this is also a great base for exploring the rest of North Vietnam. Tourist buses pick up travelers in this area and transport them to all corners of North Vietnam. When you have booked a cruise in Halong Bay you will often be picked up from the door of your hotel in the Old Quarter and driven to Halong where you go on the cruise. And the same goes for a trip to Ninh Binh, Mai Chau or Sapa. You often don’t need to go to a bus station to go to your next destination.

Hotels and hostels in Hanoi Old Quarter

The best hostels

  • Old Quarter View Hanoi Hostel
  • Central Backpackers Hostel – Old Quarter
  • Hanoi Vietnam Backpacker Hostels Downtown

The best hotels

  • Hanoi Old Town Hotel
  • New Vision Palace hotel
  • Hanoi Graceful Hotel
  • Hanoi Trendy Hotel & Spa
  • Hanoian Elite Home Hotel

Thebest High end hotels

  • Essence Hanoi Hotel & Spa
  • Hanoi La Siesta Hotel Trendy
  • Hanoi La Siesta Central Hotel & Spa

Restaurants and food

  • Bun Cha Huong Lien: This street tent was announced by TV presenter Anthony Bourdain who sat here with the former American president Barack Obama.
  • Bún Bò Nam Bo: Try the bún bò nam bo (Southern style beef noodle salad).
  • Banh Mì 25: Delicious banh mì sandwiches.
  • Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim: Serves one of the best nem chua (crab meat rolls) and bun cha (grilled pork with noodles) in the city.
  • Green Tangerine Restaurant Hanoi: Nice brasserie-style restaurant with authentic Vietnamese and French cuisine.
  • The Veg – Organic Vego & Tea: Good option for vegetarians.

Nightlife in Hanoi Old Quarter

The old quarter of Hanoi is busy at night, especially during the weekend. It would be a shame if you spent a night in Hanoi without going out at least once.

  • Bia Hoi Corner: Punctually on one is Bia Hoi Corner, also called Bia Hoi Junction or Bia Hoi street. This area is especially popular with backpackers because they can enjoy the famous bia hoi (Vietnamese draft beer) for only VND 5,000. The atmosphere here is very busy, with countless shops with plastic stools on the street.
  • Water puppet theater: A “must visit”, with live music and performances about the local lifestyle.
  • Hanoi Weekend Night Market: Busy, lively gathering of stalls and vendors every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m.
  • Legend Beer Hanoi: Located on the third floor of a building in the center of Hanoi, with a beautiful terrace overlooking the busy traffic and Hoan Kiem Lake.

Shopping

Hanoi Old Quarter is a shopping paradise because it offers many unique types of handicrafts, souvenirs, clothing and the like at reasonable prices. Here are some highlights around the old quarter of Hanoi where you can shop:

  • Hanoi night market (Hang Dao Street – after 7 pm every Friday, Saturday and Sunday): Clothing, accessories and lots of street food.
  • Dong Xuan market (Dong Xuan Street): They sell everything here.
  • Hang Da Market (Hang Da Street): clothing
  • Hang Dau Street: Shoes for both men and women
  • Trang Tien Plaza (Hang Bai Street): Clothing
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