Activities & Attractions

Hanoi Old Quarter Guide: What To Do, Where To Stay & Food To Eat

Food, accommodation and things to do in Hanoi Old Quarter

One of the most ancient capital cities with a history dating as far back as a millennium, Hanoi is synonymous with old-school Vietnamese charm. At the heart of the city lies the timeless Hanoi Old Quarter, where you can explore numerous landmarks and buildings in French colonial architecture style, as well as a rich food culture.

Whether you’re a local or tourist looking to visit this destination, this guide on where to stay, the must-try foods, and things to do in Hanoi Old Quarter will help you make the most of your vacation here.

– What to do in Hanoi Old Quarter –

1. Get your portrait drawn at Hoan Kiem lake

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Hoan Kiem lake is to Hanoi what the River Thames is to London – it’s the symbol of the city. Thus, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the majority of tourism activities are centered around this part. Many street artists go here on a daily basis to sell their works, and if you like, you can have them draw your own portrait for a fee of VND70,000-VND100,000 (~USD3.01-USD4.29).

Image credit: @manhmon93

Every weekend, the area turns into a pedestrian-friendly area as no vehicles are permitted in the area around the lake then. Visit during this time to see bands playing live music on the street, circus acts, and other entertainment activities such as Jenga, chess, and more.  

2. Visit Ngoc Son temple

Image credit: Redsvn

Built in the 19th century on the Jade Island, the ancient Ngoc Son temple welcomes thousands of visitors every day. It can be accessed easily from the Hoan Kiem lake via the The Huc bridge, a graceful structure of classical Vietnamese design painted bright red.

The temple is dedicated to worshipping the national hero Tran Hung Dao and also preserves a mummified turtle carcass. Considered a sacred animal, the turtle is associated with a popular local legend about how Emperor Le Thai To fended off the invasion of the Chinese Ming Dynasty with a magical sword bestowed upon him by the gods. He then returned the sword to a golden turtle at this very lake, which gave birth to the name Hoan Kiem (meaning “Return Sword”).

Image credit: @truongnguyen56

Opening hours: 7.30AM-5.30PM, Daily
Entrance fee: VND20,000 VND (~USD0.86)

3. Watch a water puppet show

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Water puppetry is a traditional Vietnamese art form that dates as far back as the 11th century and is believed to be originally performed in flooded rice paddy fields. Till today, audiences in Hanoi can see how performers standing in waist-deep water behind the screen control puppets via rods and strings hidden underwater, giving the impression that the puppets are moving on their own.

Visitors can enjoy a water puppet show accompanied by traditional instruments by visiting the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater. Hour-long performances here are based on folklore and legends, with English translations on headsets available although the spoken narrative is entirely in Vietnamese.

Address: 57B Dinh Tien Hoang Str., Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Opening hours: 3PM-8PM, Daily (Last performance begins at 6:30PM)
Ticket price: From VND100,000 (~USD4.30) per person

4. Take a picture at the St. Joseph’s Cathedral

Image credit: Tho

Come to the St. Joseph’s Cathedral on early weekday mornings or afternoons, where the cathedral opens its doors to the mass and you can come in to see its interior designs. This city landmark was built in 1886 by the French occupation in Gothic Revival style that draws inspiration from the Notre Dame de Paris. You can clearly spot the resemblance in the twin granite-stone bell towers that adorn the façade.

Inside the cathedral
Image credit: cat_huongthao

Those who wish to attend masses here can also visit on Sundays, but simply marveling at the magnificence of the architecture designs is a memorable experience in and of itself.

Address: 40 Nha Chung Str., Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Opening hours: Mon – Sat 5.30AM and 6.15PM | Sun 5AM-11AM and 4PM-8PM

5. Learn about the old Hanoian lifestyle at the Ma May Ancient House

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The ancient house on Ma May street is one of the few places where visitors can have a glimpse of the past lifestyle of Hanoians. Ma May Ancient House is a prime example of traditional Vietnamese architecture, where the living room by the entrance is connected by an open courtyard to the kitchen inside, with the second floor dedicated to the living quarters.

Estimated to be over a century old, the place was home to 6 families before it was bought by the city’s authorities, restored, and turned into an exhibit in 1999.

Image credit: @ayako.trek

Address: 87 Ma May Str., Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Opening hours: 8AM-5PM, Daily
Entrance fee: VND10,000 (~USD0.43), free for children under 6

6. Go shopping at Dong Xuan Market

Image credit: @_rakurai

The Dong Xuan market as we know it as today is a massive three-story building constructed by the French in 1890, though ancient Hanoians had been trading at the site long before that due to its convenient location close to the Red River.

Image credit: Sandra Cohen-Rose 

Whether you’re simply looking for a souvenir, or stocking up for clothing or travel items for the next leg of your journey, you name it, they have it. This market is divided into 3 sections, all filled to the brim with shops and stalls offering all manner of goods to purchase at reasonable prices. 

Address: Dong Xuan Str., Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Opening hours: 6AM-6PM, Daily

7. Check out the night market during the weekend

Image credit:@thelittlebrickhouse

Hang Dao street is where local merchants flock to every weekend evening to display their goods. Even if you’re not planning to shop for trinkets, this is still a fun environment to be in with the buzzing crowds. 

Growling tummies can also find numerous street food vendors offering a wide array of unique treats such as ô mai (dried fruits marinated in salt, sugar, or other spices), dried squid cooked with tamarind sauce, or rolled ice cream.

Different types of ô mai at the Hang Dao Night Market
Image credit: @walkerpub

That said, as with most other crowded spaces, pickpocketing is an issue here, so leave your valuables at home and keep an eye on your belongings.

Address: Hang Dao Str., Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Opening hours: Fri – Sun, 6PM-11PM

8. Immerse in the buzzing nightlife on Ta Hien Street

Image credit:
420 Munchies Restaurant

Dubbed the “Beer Street” of Hanoi, Ta Hien is the area with the most active nightlife in the city, making it your go-to destination if you are looking for a fun night out. Whether it’s dancing and loud music you seek, or a chill bar where you can enjoy a delicious cocktail and a casual chat with the bartender, you will find it here.

The street is always packed with locals and tourists, and as a Vietnamese saying goes, “liquor in, words out” – this is a great place to mingle and make new friends. Just start by finding any empty plastic stool at an open-air bustling bar you fancy, and order a cold bia hơi (northern Vietnamese draught beer).

Address: Ta Hien Str., Hoan Kiem, Hanoi

– Food to eat in Hanoi Old Quarter –

1. Phở

Image credit: @food.ziczac

No trip to Vietnam could be considered complete without trying phở at least once. Originated from Hanoi, this signature dish of the country is known for its inimitably tasteful broth made by simmering beef bones with cinnamon, ginger, and other spices. 

While you can find phở at every corner of Hanoi, we recommend hitting up Phở Cường on the outer edge of the Old Quarter. It’s lesser-known than the popular Phở Lý Quốc Sư, but serves better phở at a more reasonable price of VND30,000-VND50,000 (~USD1.29-USD2.15).

Recommended destination:  Phở Cường, 23 Hang Muoi Str., Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Opening hours: 6.30AM-10PM, Daily

2. Bún chả (Rice noodles with grilled pork)

Image credit: @shonchef

Bún chả is another well-loved dish of northern Vietnam, so much so that even Barack Obama himself couldn’t resist giving it a try during his trip to Hanoi in 2016. This simple dish includes grilled pork dipped in a sauce made from fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, garlic, and other ingredients, served with bún (rice noodles) and a wide variety of herbs. 

Every Bún chả stall also has garlic and chilli prepared on the table, so feel free to help yourself if you want to adjust the taste.

Recommended destination:  74 Hang Quat Str., Hoan Kiem, Hanoi.
Opening hours: 10.30AM-2PM, Daily
Price: VND30,000-VND50,000 (~USD1.29-USD2.15)

3. Bún bò Huế (Hue beef noodles)

Image credit: Mun Trang

As its name suggests, this dish has its roots in the Hue province of Vietnam. The highlight is a whole slice of pig’s leg complemented by beef and meatballs. The extremely flavorful broth, meanwhile, is made by simmering beef bones and pig’s legs with onion, lemongrass, fish sauce, and other spices.

While common sense dictates that the dish is best enjoyed in Hue, one can find some excellent Bún bò Huế restaurants in the old quarter of Hanoi.

Recommended destination: 5B Quang Trung Str., Hoan Kiem, Hanoi.
Opening hours: 7AM-9.30PM, Daily
Price: VND50,000-VND70,000 (~USD2.15-USD3.01)

4. Bún bò Nam Bộ (Southern beef noodles)

Image credit: @nana_nl

Just like Bún bò Huế, this is yet another dish whose name reveals its origin, but that’s where the similarities end. Though Bún bò Nam Bộ also features rice noodles and beef as the two main ingredients, it is vastly different compared to the Hue variation.

There is no broth at all here. Instead, the beef is briefly fried then served directly with rice noodles, peanut, fried onion, and plenty of herbs. The sauce is what makes or breaks the flavor – it’s made from fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, and other spices.

Recommended destination:  67 Hang Dieu Str., Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Opening hours: 7.30AM-10.30PM, Daily
Price: VND60,000-VND100,000 (~USD2.58-USD4.30)

5. Chả cá (Grilled fish)

Image credit: @kennytaste

If the name of the dish rings a bell to you but you cannot remember where you’ve seen it, that’s probably because you’ve passed by Chả Cá Street during your stay in the Old Quarter. That’s right, there is an entire street named after this dish. That should tell you how influential it is.

To make Chả cá, the fish is deboned, cut into thin slices, and marinated in a special sauce made from shrimp paste, turmeric, galangal, and other spices before getting grilled. It is best eaten with rice noodles, shrimp paste, and herbs.

Even to this day, number 14 Chả Cá Street is still home to the restaurant that invented the original recipe a century ago, and that’s of course where you should be heading to if you want to see what it’s all about for yourself.

Recommended destination: 14 Chả Cá Street
Opening hours: 11AM-2PM & 5PM-9PM, Daily
Price: From VND175,000VND (~USD7.53)

6. Gà tần thuốc bắc (Chicken cooked with Chinese herbs)

Gà tần consists of chicken cooked with various types of Chinese herbs such as mugwort, wolfberry, red dates, and lotus seeds. For the best taste, the chicken used has to be of a smaller breed known as gà ác, as they are much leaner. Some places even use empty beer or soft drink cans to cook the chicken, believing that the confined space helps infuse the aroma of the herbs into the meat.

This unique method results in a slightly thick black broth that might appeal intimidating at first but is extremely savory. The chicken, meanwhile, is super tender and literally falls off the bones as you eat. Gà tần is also thought to have a positive effect on one’s health, help reinvigorate the body, or treat backaches and headaches.

Recommended destination: 12C Hang Cot Str., Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Opening hours: 9AM-10PM, Daily
Price: VND60,000-VND100,000 (USD2.58-USD4.30)

7. Bún riêu cua (Rice noodles with freshwater crabs)

Image credit: @mailee.93

Using freshwater crabs as the main ingredient, which can easily be found in Vietnam’s rice paddies, this is a dish that bears a strong association with the country’s agriculture.

Like most other rice noodle dishes, the broth contributes to the majority of the taste. It’s made by cooking the meat and brains of freshwater crabs with shrimp paste, tomato, and spices. You can also ask for other toppings such as beef and tofu if you want.

Recommended destination: 11 Hang Bac Str., Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Opening hours: 6AM-6PM, Daily
Price: VND25,000-VND45,000 (USD1.08-USD1.94)

– Where to stay in Hanoi Old Quarter –

The area around Hoan Kiem Lake houses most of the major attractions, but only deeper inside the Old Quarter can you find the best street foods and charming ancient houses. Accommodation options are available in both areas.

While the entire Old Quarter area only spans across 2KM and is entirely walkable, it can be a chore navigating the intricate web of overlapping streets. So, be sure to pick your accommodations according to your needs to make the most out of your stay.

All prices are accurate at the time of writing.

Hotels near the Hoan Kiem lake

1. The Oriental Jade Hotel

Image credit:

If you are after utmost luxury and money isn’t an issue, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place than The Oriental Jade. This opulent 5-star hotel is one block away from the must-visit St. Joseph’s Cathedral and a 5-minute walk from Hoan Kiem lake, where most of the touristy activities take place.

Rates are steep, with a one-night stay in the most basic room starting at VND3,200,000 (~USD 137.71), but you’ll have free access to all the amenities you’d expect from a 5-star hotel including an in-house gym, a rooftop bar, and a rooftop swimming pool.

Image credit: The Oriental Jade Hotel

The hotel boasts a whopping 120 rooms and suites offering great views of the Hoan Kiem lake, the Grand Cathedral, and the western section of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Needless to say, the service is top-notch – the staff are professionally trained and always readily available to offer help. All the rooms feature king-size beds, two 42’’ LCD TVs, a minibar, coffee and tea-making facilities, and more. 

Price per night: from VND3,200,000 (~USD 137.71)
Address: 92-94 Hang Trong Str. – Hoan Kiem – Hanoi
Telephone: 024 3936 7777

2. JM Marvel Hotel & Spa

Image credit: JM Marvel Hotel

JM Marvel Hotel sits at the end of the street across from Hang Da market, one of the two signature markets in the Old Quarter, making it a favorite destination among shopaholics.

The hotel is on the pricier end, but its accessible location and elegant suites decorated with parquet flooring and Western-styled furniture are guaranteed to give you a bang for your VND.

Price per night:  from VND2,300,000VND (~U98.98)
Address: 16 Hang Da Str., Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Telephone: 024 3823 8855

3. Hanoi L’Heritage Diamond Hotel & Spa

Image credit: Hanoi L’Heritage Hotel

The Hanoi L’Heritage Diamond Hotel & Spa is a more reasonably-priced alternative to The Oriental Jade that still offers a convenient location and excellent services. While still only 5 minutes away from the Cathedral and the Hoan Kiem lake, the street it’s on is relatively quieter than the rest of the Old Quarter.

The hotel’s 55 rooms, meanwhile, are stylishly designed with a focus on customers’ comfort.

Price per night: From VND1,900,000 (~USD81.77)
Address: 17 Nha Chung Str., Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Telephone: 024 3710 1818

4. Bella Rosa Suite Hotel & Spa

Image credit: Bella Rosa Suite Hotel

For an affordable price, Bella Rosa Suite Hotel has a superb location right behind the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater, meaning you are only 10 steps away from one of Vietnam’s most renowned art forms.

The streets around are home to a wide variety of places to eat, from high-end restaurants to street food stalls – a heaven for foodie travellers. 

Price per night: from VND1,200,000 (~USD51.64)
Address: 11 Cau Go Str., Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Telephone: 024 3987 3333

Hotels deeper inside the Old Quarter

1. Hanoi Allure Hotel

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With Ma May and Ta Hien – 2 of the busiest streets of Hanoi at night – being just around the corner, Hanoi Allure Hotel is a solid option for those who want to immerse in the nightlife of the city. 

Simply go out at around 9PM, enter the first bar you see, and chances are you’ll have the best night of your life making friends with locals, dancing to great music, and getting drunk out of this world.

Price per night: From VND2,000,000 (~VND86.07)
Address: 52 Dao Duy Tu Str. – Hoan Kiem – Hanoi
Telephone: 024 3577 8888 

2. The Light Hotel

Image credit: The Light Hotel

Attaching itself to one of the backbone streets connecting the central part of the Old Quarter to the outer edge, this 11-storey building comes with 89 guest rooms fully equipped with the most modern European-imported furniture. There’s an outdoor swimming pool on the top floor, a garden view café on the 9th floor, and an in-house gym and spa – basically everything you could ever ask for to stay fit and dine with a view during your stay.

In the surrounding area, you can find all sorts of souvenir stores and shops offering antiquities for sale. And while it is not exactly close to the lake, it is still entirely possible to reach most of the popular attractions on foot.

Price per night: from VND1,700,000VND (~USD73.16)
Address: 130 Hang Bong Str., Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Telephone: 024 3391 1111

3. Hanoi Golden Holiday Hotel

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This is our recommendation for mid-range travelers. From VND1,300,000 (~USD55.95)/night, you get a nice cozy room with a king-size bed, a warm mattress on the wooden floor, and fruit and juices always ready on the table.

Located deep inside the old quarter, the place is great for intrepid spirits with a knack for exploration and a thirst to see everything the city has to offer, from its street food & street drink culture to beautiful ancient houses in French colonial style.

Price per night: from VND1,300,000 (~USD55.95)
Address: 43 Hang Dong Str., Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Telephone:  024 3200 4833

4. Classy Holiday Hotel & Spa

Image credit: Classy Holiday Hotel

An alternative to Hanoi Golden Holiday Hotel is Classy Holiday Hotel, and it is exactly that: classy. Rooms here are great for the price, featuring a comfy bed, fully-carpeted or hardwood floor, a personal safe for you to keep your valuable belongings, and an en-suite bathroom.

Location-wise, the hotel is on the “medicine street” where you can find numerous shops offering Chinese herbs for sale to remedy any ailment you share with the dispensary owners. The distinct aromas will no doubt stay with you for a long time. 

Price per night: from VND1,000,000 (~USD43.04)
Address: 49 Lan Ong Str., Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Telephone: 024 3923 1199

5. Spoon Hotel

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If you are on a budget but still want comfortable accommodation, Spoon Hotel is about as good as you can get. Rooms here cost as little as VND500,000 (~USD21.52) a night but are well equipped with clean beds, air conditioners, wardrobes, and private bathrooms to meet all your basic demands.

Great street food such as Bún bò Nam Bộ or phở is just one block away as well.

Price per night: from VND500,000 (~USD21.52)
Address: 19 Nguyen Van To Str., Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Telephone: 024 3212 3000

Where to eat, do, and stay in Hanoi Old Quarter, Vietnam

Hanoi Old Quarter is a goldmine of cultural, architectural, and historical significance where hidden gems can be found deep inside any alley. While visiting, don’t be afraid to venture off the beaten path to explore every nook and cranny – and you might come back with an amazing story to tell your friends and family.

Also check out:

Cover image adapted from Wikipedia, @julie.duli, 420 Munchies Restaurant, @food.ziczac

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Toan Ngo

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