West Lake (Tay Ho Lake) in Hanoi is the cities largest natural like. For travelers it may only be a nice view, for locals it is an important place to find peace, socialize and work out. A walk around the lake gives you the chance to take a break from the busy city and also get a sense of the local and authentic life of the Hanoians.
Hanoi’s largest natural lake is the place for locals to socialize, find peace and exercise. The entire circumference of the lake is about 15 kilometers. There are many historic attractions around the lake, as well as beautiful hotels, wonderful restaurants, cozy cafes and lively nightlife. The lake, which falls under Tay Ho District, is also the most popular area for expats to live in.
Things to do at West Lake
1. Go around the lake
If you want to get a good look at the local life around West Lake, you should not stay along just one part of the lake. It is wonderful to walk along the lake where you can both admire the daily life and enjoy a beautiful view of the lake.
The distance around the lake is more than 12 kilometers, which is probably way too far to walk completely. The perfect alternative is a traditional cyclo. It is not only a less tiring option, but also a very fun alternative. Cyclos are common around this area, especially between Ba Dinh Square and Tran Quoc Pagoda. Negotiate a good price with the cyclo riders, because often they start with a much too high price.
A drive around the entire lake may also be too much for you. You can therefore also choose to cover a certain part with a cyclo and combine this with a walk and a visit to a cafe around the lake. The way back to your hotel in the Old Quarter is done by taxi.
Your last option might be to rent a bike yourself and cycle around West Lake. This way you have more freedom and you are less tied to the times of a cyclo rider.
2. Tran Quoc Pagoda
Without a doubt, the main highlight at West Lake is the impressive Tran Quoc Pagoda. It is Vietnam’s oldest temple, built in the 6th century on a small island in the lake. Tran Quoc Pagoda was built by King Ly Nam De as a symbol of Buddhism in Vietnam. If you want to visit the temple it self you have to be there between the opening times from 8am to 4pm, but the best time to make photos of the island with the temple is around sunset
3. Sunset & sunrise at West Lake
At West Lake you can find some of the best sunset and sunrises in Hanoi. Get a drink at one of the coffee shops and find a place to sit down along the lake to enjoy this moment.
4. Lake View cafes
Walking around the lake is the best way to get a taste of local life, but sipping a drink with great views may sound even better to many travelers. Around the lake you will find several cafes and restaurants and the best part is that many of these catering establishments have a place to sit on the roof, from which you have a great view. There are hundreds of cafes and restaurants to suit all budgets, as long as you choose one with several floors where you can sit to enjoy the view.
5. Lotus Pond
In the months of May and June you can find blooming lotuses around West Lake. The lotus flower is the national flower of Vietnam and produces especially beautiful view for photos. There are shops around the lake that rent Vietnamese traditional clothes to take pictures.
6. Boat trip over the lake
There is also a possibility to go out on the lake yourself. There are boats and swan pedal boats that are rented by the hour. Going out on the lake can be wonderful to escape the hustle and bustle of the city or for an intimate moment with your partner. In the summer make sure you don’t go at the hottest time of the day and in winter it can be chilly on the lake.
7. Ferris Wheel & Water park
If you want to see West Lake from above, you can go on the Ferris wheel which is on the edge of the lake. Please note that the Ferris wheel is part of the Ho Tay Water Park. If you want to cool down on hot summer days you immediately have a nice bonus. Entry fee to the park is $3 for children and $6 for adults.
8. Quan Thanh Temple
The Quan Thanh Temple is adjacent to the West Lake and was built in Ly Dynasty which lasted from 1010 to 1225. There are 4 temples built in Hanoi to defend the city from evil influences and ghosts, of which this is one. The temple is to worship the god Tran Vu to protect the city. In the temple you will also find a 4 meter bronze statue of this god, with a tortoise and snake. If you are interested in history and culture, it is definitely recommended to visit this temple.
The Van Nien Pagoda is located right on the western side of what West Lake. The small complex has a gate with 3 entrances, a temple of the goddess and the main pagoda dedicated to Buddha and Princess Lieu Hanh. The pagoda is over a thousand years old, built during the Le Dynasty making it one of the oldest shrines in Hanoi.
10. Chu Van An High School
This school is particularly special because of the building where it is located. Chu Van An High School was built in 1908 during the French colonial era and in that style too.
11. Bai Dinh Square
West Lake can be perfectly combined with some of the biggest attractions in Hanoi. Just 500 meters from the southernmost tip of the lake you find Ba Dinh Square; follow the road that passes Tran Quoc Pagoda along the lake to the south.
On this gigantic square you will find the impressive Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the final resting place of former President Ho Chi Minh. Behind the Maosoleum you will find the One Pillar pagoda, one of the most important religious sites in Vietnam. The presentential palace and Ho Chi Minh Stilt House, where Ho Chi Minh lived for a while, can be found in the park towards the main square. If you want to learn more about Uncle Ho, you can also visit the Ho Chi Minh museum here.
In short, there is plenty to do in the area with which you can combine a visit to the West Lake!
How to get to West Lake
West Lake is about 2 miles from the heart of the Old Quarter. If you are very fit you can choose to walk this part, but otherwise it is recommended to take a taxi. As mentioned before, it can be combined with other nearby attractions such as the Mausoleum and One Pillar Pagoda. It is therefore recommended to visit these first and therefore take a taxi to Ba Dinh Square. Visit the attractions around this square and then walk to West Lake in the late afternoon when it is not too hot during summer. You can also catch the beautiful sunset afterwards.
Best time to visit West Lake
You can visit West Lake all year. If you want to see the lotus fields, you have to come in either May or June.
Best time a day is in the later afternoon and evening. It will get a lot cooler if you are here during the hot summer. Around this time many locals will go to the lake to sociale, walk around or workout, so it is great the see something of the local life. In addition, West Lake is one of the best places to see the sunset in Hanoi.
Accommodation around West Lake
West Lake is located in the Tay Ho District where you can find many hotels and other accommodations. Nevertheless, it is advisable for travelers to look for a hotel in or around the Old Quarter. If you want to stay a little further from the tourist center, this would be the best option. This area is also popular among expats and for that reason you will also find many apartments for rent (also for a short period of time such as a few days).