8 Ba Đình attractions to see on foot


Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital of over a thousand years, has no shortage of historical sites and tourist attractions. However, they are scattered across many districts of the city.

So if you don’t have much time and want to visit as many places as possible, Ba Đình District, with about a dozen tourist destinations, is an ideal choice. In this listicle, we will gather 8 of Ba Đình attractions that you can see on foot easily.


1. Hanoi Botanical Garden – the large green space of the capital city


Hanoi Botanical Garden Lake
An islet in the lake of Hanoi Botanical Garden. These cages are for pigeons.
Image credit: Thoanh Nguyen

Let’s kickstart our journey at Hanoi Botanical Garden, where you can enjoy yourself in a fresh open space with lots of plants and flowers. Located to the northeast of the city, Hanoi Botanical Garden was built in the 1890s when northern Vietnam, or Tonkin, was under the French protectorate. 

At that time, the government wanted to create a green area adjacent to their administrative buildings which still serve a similar function today.

Nung Mountain Temple
The temple on the hill of núi Nùng
Image credit: Cường Tử Tế

As the area of the garden was a plain surrounding a small lake, the government decided to diversify the terrain by creating a small hill and named it núi Nùng, meaning Nùng mountain. On this hill, people living around the garden built a small temple worshipping a local legendary hero. 

Moreover, the government also installed cages along the garden passages to exhibit birds and other animals. However, these animals were later moved to Hanoi Zoo near Thủ Lệ Lake.

Hanoi Botanical Garden Trees
Hanoi Botanical Garden is home to many ficus and sưa trees that may be hundreds of years old
Image credit: long nguyen

In Hanoi Botanical Garden, you can energize yourself by walking under the canopies of hundred-year-old giant trees dubbed as Hanoi’s green lung. Also in this garden, you can find many sưa (Dalbergia tonkinensis) trees unique to Vietnam, and a remarkable collection of orchids.

Hanoi Botanical Garden
Address: 3 Hoàng Hoa Thám Street, Ngọc Hà Ward Ba Đình District, Hanoi
Open hours: 5AM-10PM, Daily
Ticket prices: from VND5,000 (~USD0.22) to VND15,000 (~USD0.66)


2. Presidential Palace – colonial-era palace where the Vietnamese president works


Presidential Palace
The Presidential Palace is the biggest building that the French colonialists built in Indochina.
Image credit: Simon Pender

Situated beside Hanoi Botanical Garden is the Presidential Palace, an administrative building where you can see not only the workplace of the Vietnamese government but also the historical site where the independence of Vietnam was declared in 1945. 

As you leave the garden and go down Hoàng Hoa Thám Street, the first remarkable building that’ll catch your eye is the Presidential Palace. The whole building is coated in a bright yellow shade and shows the typical details of French colonial architecture.

In fact, this building was constructed from 1901 to 1906 as the residence of the French Governor-General of Indochina. Do not confuse this with the State Guest House, historically referred to as Tonkin Palace, which served similar functions.

Ho Chi Minh Stilt House
Hồ Chí Minh’s stilt house behind the Presidential Palace
Image credit: Anh Đức Lê

As the house of a key colonial administrator, the Presidential Palace was once the biggest building in Indochina. Designed to reflect the Italian Renaissance style, it has 30 aedicules or Roman-style rooms with lots of intricate columns and decorations. Today, it is the office of the President of Vietnam.

Politburo House and Fish Pond
The former Politburo Meeting House where many game-changing decisions of the Vietnam War were made.
Image credit: DAEHUN KIM

Though you are not allowed to enter the palace, the area behind it is a historical site open to the public with many things to discover. When Vietnam regained the capital from the French in 1954, Hồ Chí Minh decided to live in a stilt house in the backyard and used the palace for receiving distinguished guests only.

Not far away is the politburo meeting room where then-North Vietnamese strategies were discussed and determined. You can find all of these in the backyard of the Presidential Palace.

President Hồ Chí Minh’s Vestige in the Presidential Palace Area
Address
: 1 Hoàng Hoa Thám Street (Red Gate), Ngọc Hà Ward, Ba Đình District, Hanoi
Opening hours: Daily except for Monday afternoon
Winter: Mornings: 8AM-11AM. Afternoon: 1.30PM-4PM
Summer: Mornings: 7.30AM-11AM. Afternoon: 1.30PM-4PM
Ticket prices: VND25,000 (~USD1.09) for foreigners and free for Vietnamese citizens


3. Ba Đình Square – The place where you can see President Hồ Chí Minh


Ba Đình Square
Ba Đình Square with Hồ Chí Minh’s Mausoleum in the center
Image credit: Pedro Marcos Solórzano

As soon as you leave the Presidential Palace, you will immediately see Ba Đình Square, the venue where President Hồ Chí Minh delivered his Independence Proclamation on 2nd September 1945. 

At 320 meters long and 100 meters wide, this is currently the largest parade square in Vietnam, divided into 210 lawn patches.  Every patch represents a group of people attending the proclamation ceremony in 1945, so it’s a good place for you to enjoy the view and at the same time imagine the scale of that event.

Please note that some patches have been removed to make room for the National Assembly Building nearby.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Hồ Chí Minh’s Mausoleum has the shape of a cube with each side measuring 30 meters long.
Image credit: RIZKI SANZAYA

The position where Hồ Chí Minh declared Vietnam’s independence is now his mausoleum. The construction of this building started on 2nd September 1973 and ended on 16 May 1975, using various materials collected across the country. These materials are said to have been collected across the country despite the intense war. 

You can visit the mausoleum for free. However, you are required to dress formally, turn off mobile phones, cameras, and camcorders as well as keep quiet.

National Assembly Building of Vietnam
The National Assembly Building of Vietnam was built from 2009 to 2014 with 7 floors, including 2 basements.
Image credit: Quân Mai Ngọc

On the other side of Ba Đình Square is the National Assembly Building of Vietnam, where all meetings of the Vietnamese National Assembly are held. This building is restricted to the public; however, taking pictures with it from afar is acceptable.

President Hồ Chí Minh’s Mausoleum
Address
: 2 Hùng Vương Street, Điện Biên Ward, Ba Đình District, Hanoi
Open hours: Every morning except on Mondays and Fridays
Hot season (1st April-31st October): 7.30AM – 10.30AM.  For holidays, Saturdays, and Sundays: 7.30AM-11AM
Cold season (1st November-31st March): 8AM – 11AM. For holidays, Saturdays, and Sundays: 8AM-11.30AM
Ticket prices: VND25,000 (~USD1.09) for foreigners and free for Vietnamese citizens


4. The One-Pillar Pagoda – symbolic Buddhist pavilion with unique architecture


One-pillar pavilion
The One-Pillar Pagoda today
Image credit: Thiên Hoàn

Keep walking to the left of Hồ Chí Minh’s Mausoleum, you will find one of the most famous pagodas in Vietnam – The One-Pillar Pagoda, or Chùa Một Cột in Vietnamese. Actually, this so-called pagoda is a pavilion built on a giant pillar in the middle of a pond. 

Legend has it that in 1049, emperor Lý Nhân Tông dreamed of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, who led him to a brilliant lotus. Waking up, the emperor told many monks about his dream. He then decided to build a pagoda named Diên Hựu (延祐寺) to worship Guanyin. 

In this pagoda, a single-pillar pavilion was erected as a reference to the lotus in the emperor’s dream. He named the pavilion Liên Hoa Đài (蓮花臺) or the Lotus Pavilion.

One-pillar pavilion 1885
The One-Pillar Pagoda in 1885.
Image credit: manhhai

Two hundred years later, under the Trần Dynasty, the whole pagoda, including the pavilion, was reconstructed together with the whole site. The following centuries witnessed the ups and downs of the pagoda. 

By the 19th century, the pagoda had sustained serious damage. That’s why in 1847, under the Nguyễn Dynasty, it was renovated. Minor renovations were also conducted in 1852, 1864, and 1922.

Destroyed One-Pillar Pagoda
The ruin of the pavilion after the French’s explosion in 1954
Image credit: manhhai

In September 1954, before the French fully retreated from Vietnam, they ravaged many important buildings in Hanoi. The lotus pavilion, or the One-Pillar Pagoda, was completely destroyed by explosives.

Only one year later, the government of the then-Democratic Republic of Vietnam assigned Nguyễn Bá Lăng, who later helped extend the History Museum of Ho Chi Minh City, as the main architect to reconstruct the pavilion.

After its many rounds of reconstruction and renovation, the design of this pavilion was no longer the original one under the Lý Dynasty. However, it still has great historical and religious significance for Hanoians and the Vietnamese in general. 

Chùa Một Cột (One-pillar Pagoda)
Address
: Chùa Một Cột Street, Đội Cấn Ward, Ba Đình District, Hanoi
Open hours: 7AM – 6PM, Daily


5. Hanoi Flag Tower – imperial landmark with a Western fortification design


Hanoi Flag Tower
Hanoi Flag Tower today
Image credit: Savoir Aimer

Keep walking down the road, finish the Ông Ích Khiêm Street, then take a left turn to Lê Hồng Phong Street. Keep walking for another 800 meters and you will arrive at the Flag Tower, another ancient landmark of Hanoi.

The Flag Tower was built from 1805 to 1812 under the Nguyễn Dynasty, making it one of the latest parts of the imperial landmarks in Hanoi. A high tower erected on three square floors may remind you of similar fortifications in Europe.

The foundation covers an area of 2,007 square meters with the side length of each floor varying from 12 to 42 meters. The tower on top of the third floor is 18 meters tall. The tower has four gates, namely Nghiêm Húc (迎旭) to the east, Hồi Quang (回光) to the west, Hướng Minh (向明) to the south, and a nameless one to the north.

Vietnam Military History Museum
The Vietnam Military History Museum building as viewed from the third floor of the flag tower
Image credit: Hoàn Tấn Công

The flag tower today is part of the Vietnam Military History Museum complex. In this museum building, you can find many artifacts from various military conflicts throughout Vietnamese history, particularly the Indochinese wars from 1945 to 1975. Wrecks of many bombs, aeroplanes, and tanks are also exhibited outside.

Hanoi Flag Tower / Vietnam Military History Museum
Address:
28A Điện Biên Phủ Street, Ba Đình District, Hanoi
Open hours:
8AM – 11.30AM, 1PM – 4.30PM, Daily
Curation tours for delegations of over 150 visitors is available on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays
Ticket prices:
– VND40,000 (~USD1.75) for foreigners, VND20,000 (~USD0.87) for Vietnamese citizens
– 50% off for those aged below 15 and students, including international students studying in Vietnam (student card needed)
– Free tickets for the disabled and children under 6 years of age.
– Camera-holders may be charged around VND30,000 (~USD1.31) each.


6. Thăng Long Imperial Citadel – the emperor’s forbidden city through many centuries


Đoan Môn
Đoan Môn (端門), the southern gate of the Imperial Citadel built in the 17th century, serves as the entrance of the citadel site today.
Image credit: Jorian Krol

After visiting the Flag Tower, keep going up Hoàng Diệu Street for a few minutes. You will visit the remains of the Thăng Long Imperial Citadel, or Hoàng Thành Thăng Long in Vietnamese and 昇龍皇城 in Chinese words, where numerous Vietnamese emperors and aristocrats used to live in.

The citadel covers an area of approximately 18,395 hectares, featuring lots of buildings and artifacts stretching across 1,300 years. Some of the artifacts date back to the period when the country was a Tang Dynasty protectorate from the 7th to 9th century.

Thang Long Imperial Citadel 1870
The citadel in the 1870s reflects the Vauban style with fortifications at angles and sides. You can also spot the Flag Tower to the south of the citadel.
Image adapted from manhhai

The Imperial Citadel was built in 1011, when emperor Lý Thái Tổ moved the capital from Hoa Lư, Ninh Bình – a mountainous province in northeastern Vietnam – to the city of Đại La, and renamed it Thăng Long, which is Hanoi today. After a dozen centuries, many more buildings were added and removed.

Under the Nguyễn Dynasty (1802-1945), Hanoi was not the capital city, so the citadel was rebuilt to a smaller size. However, due to wars and conflicts, especially the French forces’ destruction during their time in Vietnam, just a few of those buildings remain unscathed in the Imperial Citadel today. 

18 Hoang Dieu Relic Site
81 Hoàng Diệu Archaeological Site, together with many areas in the citadel are still being excavated for more relics
Image credit: rozzet rozzet

A noteworthy area of the citadel is the floor of Kính Thiên Palace. Built in 1428 under the reign of emperor Lê Thái Tổ, right after his victory over the Ming troops, Kính Thiên Palace is the venue where the emperors met and discussed national matters with their subordinates every month. 

Cua Bac Hanoi
Cửa Bắc, the northern gate of the Imperial Citadel as seen from the outside. The holes on the walls are damage caused by cannonballs when the French attacked Hanoi in 1882.
Image credit: David Stubbins

The palace was situated in the center of the citadel and aligned on the same line with the Flag Tower, Đoan Môn, or the southern gate, and Cửa Bắc, or Chính Bắc Môn (正北門), the northern gate. However, the whole palace was demolished due to the Franco-Vietnam war in the 1880s.

Hoàng thành Thăng Long / Thăng Long Imperial Citadel
Address: 19C Hoàng Diệu Street, Ba Đình District, Hanoi
Opening hours: Tue–Sun 8AM – 5PM | Closed Mondays
Ticket prices: VND30,000 (~USD1.31)
– 50% off for Vietnamese students aged under 15 years old and the elderly over 60 years of age (student card or ID needed)
– Free for children under six years of age
Telephone: 4 373 45427
Website


7. Cửa Bắc Church – Catholic church with an eclectic asymmetrical design


Cua Bac Church
Cửa Bắc Church today
Image credit: Chen Chong Ka

Opposite the north gate of the Thăng Long Imperial Citadel is Cửa Bắc Church – a beautiful church with unique architecture.

Formally known as the Church of Martyrs’ Lady, it was built in 1932 based on the design of architect Ernest Hébrard. Together with Hàm Long Church and St. Joseph Cathedral, Cửa Bắc Church is a major Catholic institution in Hanoi.

Cua Bac Church - Interior
The interior of the Cửa Bắc Church
Image credit: K

Visiting Cửa Bắc Church, you may recognize its eclectic design. With a closer look at the building details, you will see that this church combines western Art Deco style and traditional elements such as Vietnamese roof tiles.

Unlike other churches and cathedrals in Hanoi, Cửa Bắc church doesn’t have a symmetrical design. Instead, it has a tall bell tower on one side and a main building on the other. Indeed, you may consider this fascinating architecture as a background for your Instagram pictures.

Cửa Bắc Church
Address: 56 Phan Ðình Phùng Street, Quán Thánh Ward, Ba Ðình District, Hanoi
Masses:
– 7PM on weekdays
– 5.30AM and 7PM on Saturdays
– 6.30AM; 8.30AM (for children); 10.30AM (in English); 7PM on Sundays


8. Trúc Bạch and West Lakes – ideal spots to enjoy Hanoi sunsets


West Lake Sunset
The sunset on the West Lake
Image credit: Khoa Nguyễn Vũ

After visiting the Cửa Bắc Church, you can walk along Nguyễn Biểu Street, which in turn leads you to Trúc Bạch Lake, and further to the West Lake, where you can enjoy the magnificent sunset on the background of a large body of water. 

As the largest lake in Hanoi, the West Lake has a surface area of 5.2 sq km and a circumference of about 15 km. Originally it was part of the Red River before the river changed its flow, a phenomenon that has happened many times throughout the city’s history. Historical records about the lake traced back to the Hùng Kings’ period with tales about monsters and fantastic creatures passed down till today. 

Eurasian coot
Eurasian coots used to be the symbolic animal in the West Lake
Image credit: Richard Bartz/Wikimedia Commons

In the 11th and 12th centuries, the lake gradually turned into a place where emperors came to relax or hunt. The West Lake used to be home to Eurasian coots, a black duck-like bird species. However, as West Lake has been shrinking, the coots have disappeared since 1994.

Truc Bach Lake
Nightfall on Trúc Bạch Lake
Image credit: Damien Devillion

For Trúc Bạch Lake, it was actually a peaceful body of water on the southeastern side of the West Lake, making it an ideal place for fish, snails, and shrimp to live. In the 16th century, the locals started to build a dyke separating this body of water from the bigger West Lake so that they could catch the fish and shrimps more easily. The Trịnh Lords at this time also supported this idea. 

The new lake formed was named Trúc Bạch (竹帛), meaning Bamboo Silk. This is because in the 1730s, Lord Trịnh Giang had a palace called Trúc Lâm, meaning Bamboo Forest, on the lakeshore to imprison his disobedient concubines. In this palace, the women would then start making intricate silk. That’s why the lake took that name. 

Truc Bach and West Lakes
Thanh Niên street separating Trúc Bạch Lake (further) and the West Lake
Image credit: Duc Trung Duong

Today, the dyke separates the Trúc Bạch and the West Lakes still exists as Thanh Niên Street – a perfect spot to admire the beauty of both lakes.


Ba Đình’s attractions


There are still some interesting spots that we’ve left out along the way – from a secret tunnel in the Imperial Palace where the Vietnamese politburo directed important campaigns in the Vietnam War, a spot where John McCain’s plane was shot down in 1967, one of four sacred temples of Hanoi, and a 1500-year-old pagoda built on a small island.

We might cover them in future articles too, so check back soon!

Also check out:


Cover image adapted from  Thoanh Nguyen, Jorian Krol, and Khoa Nguyễn Vũ

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