Hanoi's Old Quarter
If you only had one day to wander around Hanoi’s Old Quarter, what would you choose to do? Well, it is rather hard to answer that question as there are so many interesting sights and places to visit. Just one day isn’t enough, but here we try to give you a few ideas
As you can see on the map, the Old Quarter is actually quite small. So we have taken the liberty of adding some places that are within easy walking distance. As well as this there are one or two notable places such as: Bun Cha Huong Lien, where Obama and Bourdain ate, and The Metropole Hotel, that are a little further.
Begin your day by getting up early and then follow our list in an attempt to knock off as many of these sights as you can!
1. Have some 'Xoi' for breakfast
The chances are that you have had pho already and we mean to take nothing away from this fabulous staple but for a change we’d like to introduce you to Xoi which could be translated as sticky rice. This is a delicious breakfast dish that has many many variants and often has beans inside: black beans, black eyed beans, red beans, peanuts etc…
Great places for sticky rice are:
Xoi Yen – 35b Nguyen Huu Huan
Xoi Xeo -27 Ta Hien
If you go to ‘Xoi Xeo’, try to get the grated Mung Bean and crispy shallots as a topping.
2. Take a Stroll around the Old Quarter
This is a must and will help to burn off the carbs. Just wandering around the Old Quarter could take you a day, or a week. I know that I got lost over and over again when I first visited. The area is packed full of people and shops selling everything under the Sun. Combine this with the narrow streets and alleys and the very thin tunnel houses and you have a place that will enthral you.
Just be sure to watch your step, look out for motorbikes zipping along and prepare to have to zig zag your way along. It is quite an obstacle course.
3. Visit Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple
In amongst all of the mayhem in the Old Quarter is a little island of tranquillity. That is Ngoc Son Temple. It is situated on the famous Hoan Kiem lake and is accessed by an ancient red japanese bridge. Here you will be able to sit quietly for a moment along with some of the older generation of Hanoians or perhaps some of the more inquisitive youngsters keen to practise English.
At weekends the whole of Hoan Kiem Lake is closed to traffic and becomes a walking street. You will find all manner of vendors set up with items of food or toys for sale as well as offering games to play on . This is a very popular spot to hang out and you cannot but meet some locals and have a friendly chat.
4. Walk along Long Bien Bridge for a Selfie
So, long as you are visiting this place during rush hour you should also find it relatively quiet and peaceful. You will get stunning views over the Red River, Long Bien market and the middle wharf. It’s amazing to see such greenery in the city centre.
The bridge is an architectural dream and is visited all day long by people taking selfies. Check the train schedule for the chance to get a great photo as the train to Hai Phong rumbles over the 100+ year old structure.
5. Have some Bun 'Noodles' for Lunch
Bun meaning ‘Rice Vermicilli’ is a staple for Vietnamese and is eaten as commonly as simple rice. They are thin circular rice threads made from rice flour and are eaten in a variety of ways. They are eaten with minced pork patties, fish and fried slices of beef amongst a number of other ways. These noodles can also be wrapped in rice paper with other fresh ingredients: bean sprouts, lettuce, fish etc…, and then dipped into a sauce that has fish sauce and chilli as ingredients. (Check out our article on top Vietnamese street foods for even more culinary inspiration!)
Some local favourites are:
Bun Bo Nam Bo –
Bach Phuong Restaurant – 73 Hang Dieu
Bun Bo Hue –
Huong Viet – 13 Hang Ca
Bun Cha –
Huong Lien -24 Le Van Huu St
Dac Kim – 1 Hang Manh St
6. Have a Taste of Cafe Trung or 'Egg Coffee'
Vietnam is well-known for its coffee and the vietnamese delight in serving up and drinking americano style coffee, espresso style coffee, sweet milk coffee and as a unique specialty Egg Coffee (Cafe Trung). This is coffee with whisked egg and condensed milk. It is frothy and utterly delicious.
Two notable cafes for Egg Coffee are:
Giang Cafe – 39 Nguyen Huu Huan
Dinh Cafe – 13 Dinh Tien Hoang
There are thousands of cafes on the streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter alone and we have marked some of the best on the map for you to drop into. When you are feeling overwhelmed and need a pick me up. Find the nearest one and have a cup of joe.
7. Visit St Joseph's Cathedral
The cathedral itself only opens at weekends but you can visit the surrounding area at any time and still marvel at the architecture. Many young people hang out in the forecourt of the cathedral and it is always a lively area. It is surrounded by cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops so it is another great place to sit and watch people.
Of particular interest is the statue of the Virgin Mary outside the front of the cathedral as it is one of the few in the world that depicts the Virgin slaying a dragon.
8. Take a Stroll at the Night Market
Hanoi never sleeps nor misses a chance to sell you something. As the evening draws in, vendors in the night market begin to open their stalls and sell their goods. You will find toys for children, accessories and alcohol and clothing for all. Be sure to ask the price, twice and haggle because that is the custom and don’t be afraid to walk away in the hope that the vendor will come closer to your offered price. There will also be plenty of food and many local dishes available at the street stalls.
9. Enjoy the Hanoi Nightlife
If you enjoy people-watching and are happy to sit on the street whilst hordes of tourists and locals pass by, you will be very much at home in Hanoi. Life is very much lived on the street, even in the Winter Months.
Two of our favourite places to get a cool glass of amber nectar are:
Bia Hoi Corner – Ta Hien St
Pasteur Street – 1 Au Trieu St
After all of this, you are sure to be exhausted. Let’s hope you can have a lay in tomorrow. If not, perhaps you will decide to venture a little further afield to West Lake or even Bat Trang Pottery Village.