15 Best Things To Do Hanoi Old Quarter (With Walking Route)

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Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is a place that amazed me beyond my expectations. I was stunned by its incredible culture, which is visible in every corner of its lively streets. Hanoi is definitely worth visiting, and I would say yes in a heartbeat!

Let me tell you a little background about myself. I am a Filipino, and I used to think that Vietnam was very similar to the Philippines. We both eat rice, we are neighbors in South East Asia, and we lie at the same latitudes on a map. Our houses look alike, and we share many similarities. Sometimes, I could not even distinguish between Filipinos and Vietnamese when I saw them side by side. However, my perception changed when I visited Hanoi.

I was surprised by how different their culture was from mine. Even though the people looked similar to me, I felt like an outsider in their world – a real traveler. Nevertheless, it was also a fun and interesting experience. I think you would feel the same joy if you ever go to Hanoi.

As a traveler, I feel a calling to share the good experiences I had during my travels. I want others to have the same experience as well. That is why I will guide you on how you can enjoy your stay in Hanoi, especially in its Old Quarter. 

A glimpse to the streets of Hanoi Old Quarter

If you are visiting Hanoi, I suggest exploring it by foot. Save your money for motorcycle rental in other places in Vietnam.

Here are four reasons why. (Click to expand)
  • The first reason is that Hanoi has tons of attractions that are relatively close to each other. You will not get tired easily by walking from one destination to another.
  • The second reason is that Hanoi experiences four seasons. If you visit in the right season, Hanoi will be a completely walkable city. During late autumn, winter, and early spring, the temperature in Hanoi stays between 25°C (77°F) and 15°C (59°F). This mild temperature makes strolling around the city a pleasant activity.
  • The third reason is that trees fill the streets of Hanoi, especially in the Old Quarters. You will enjoy the lush view of the city walkways as you go from one attraction to another. You will not have to worry about sweating too much or getting sunburns in Hanoi. Besides, the streets are surrounded by two to three-level houses and stores that also provide shade.
  • The fourth reason is that Vietnamese culture is engraved on its streets. People eating in tiny chairs, conic hats, thousands of motorcycles, and bikes loaded with huge packages are just some of the fascinating aspects of Hanoi’s identity. There are many details about Vietnamese culture that you will see on the streets. You can only discover most of them if you walk and immerse yourself in them.

15 Best Things to Do in Hanoi Old Quarter

Hanoi has many tourist attractions and activities that you can enjoy without leaving the old quarter, the historic center of the city. There are fifteen interesting destinations and cultural attractions that await you in Hanoi Old Quarter. The best part is that you can visit them all in a day, exploring the city on foot.

Below, you can see them listed in an order that follows the proximity of each place. This post will surely be helpful to you if you are planning a walking tour of Hanoi Old Quarter. You can also refer to the map that I have created below:

More information about the map

I have categorized the places on the map according to the best time of the day to visit them.

  • Morning Destinations
  • Afternoon Destinations
  • Evening Destinations

I have also marked a route on the map to guide you on the order of visiting those destinations. The map shows two possible tracks.

  • Morning Route – includes your destination from morning until mid-afternoon
  • Late Afternoon Route – comes with the places you must go from late afternoon until evening

You can tick and untick the categories and routes on the map in the menu. To access the menu, click the upper-left icon of the map widget. You can also view the map on the app or another browser tab by clicking here.

1. Explore Dong Xuan Market, Taste Local Dishes, and Buy Travel Supplies

The first thing to do in Hanoi: Kick off your day in Hanoi by going to Dong Xuan Market to buy your supplies for the whole day. You can find water, on-the-road snacks, sunglasses, and Vietnamese conical hats at very affordable prices!

Here you can experience the life of a true local. Watch them buy and sell wet goods, vegetables, flowers, bags, and many more in a four-story soviet-style market building. In fact, Dong Xuan Market is Hanoi’s largest indoor market, situated in the northern part of the Hanoi Old Quarter.

Dong Xuan Market is also a great place to taste local dishes. It has a massive dining area where you can choose from a wide range of food to satisfy your morning appetite. You can even find exotic Vietnamese food here, such as fried frogs or duck blood soup (Tiet Canh).

I did not try these foods because I did not have any plan of eating them. I sometimes get sick from eating exotic food, even if they are edible. But if you are feeling adventurous, you can give your taste buds a brand new sensation.

If you prefer more familiar food, you should not miss Banh Coun (Steamed Rice Rolls), Bun Cha (grilled pork and noodle), and their all-time-famous egg coffee! Dong Xuan Market is open from 6 in the morning until 7 in the evening.

2. Quan Chuong City Gate (Old City Gate) – Imagine Hanoi’s Past

Quan Chuong City Gate

If you are a history enthusiast, you will love visiting Quan Chuong City Gate. It is the only remaining gate from the Thang Long Citadel, a symbol of ancient Hanoi’s architecture and history. You can see the past through this gate, which contrasts with the modern city around it.

Hanoi is famous for being a place where the old meets new, and Quan Chuong City Gate is a spot where you can witness the old and early story of the city. This gate helps you visualize the magnificent ancient Hanoi that you will discover for the day.

But be careful when you go to this spot. Motorcycles zoom past the gate, so you need to stay away from the road if you want to take photos.

3. Drink Coffee at Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square and Watch the Amazing Chaotic Streets of Hanoi from Above

Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square​

Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square is located at the northern end of Hoan Kiem Lake. It is a lively hub of shops, restaurants, and bars with a view of Hanoi’s fascinating streets. If you want to see the city skyline while drinking the best Vietnamese coffees, the coffee shops around Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square are the place to be.

You can also enjoy a meal with a view of Hoan Kiem Lake at the establishments on the 3rd and 4th floors of the buildings around the square. You will see and be amazed by how the motorcycles, cars, carts, and people move at the intersection without crashing into each other. This is the spot that made me think that traffic lights are not needed in Hanoi!

The square may seem quiet during the mornings and afternoons, but it transforms into a vibrant place at night (especially on weekends). You will see a beautiful Hanoi illuminated with fun and festive activities. Art and music fill the street, creating a joyful atmosphere for the locals and visitors. This is when you experience the new side of the ancient city of Hanoi.

If you want to try something different, you can skip lunch in the square and have it on Hanoi Train Street. There are good restaurants on Train Street too, where you can watch the trains pass by.

4. Catch an Extraordinary Experience in Hanoi Train Street

Hanoi Street Train

Hanoi Train Street is a unique and unforgettable experience in Hanoi. It is one of the most popular attractions in the Hanoi Old Quarter. You can stand and sit next to the train as it zooms past you. The train connects Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the two major cities in Vietnam.

Actually Hanoi Train Street is not a place for informal settlers. It is also a tourist destination, with restaurants along the railway. You can enjoy delicious food and friendly service from the store owners. All the reviews that I’ve read agree on this.

Train Schedule & Tips

During weekdays, the train comes at times:

  • 6:00 in the morning 
  • 7:10 in the evening

During weekends, catch the train passing at times:

  • 9:15 in the morning
  • 11:30 in the morning
  • 3:20 in the afternoon
  • 5:45 in the afternoon
  • 6:40 in the evening
  • 7:00 in the evening

I suggest that you come 10 to 20 minutes earlier to find a good spot to watch the train.

5. Uncover the Dark Side of Hanoi: Visit Hoa Lo Prison Relic

Hoa Lo Prison Relic​

Hoa Lo Prison Relic is a revelatory historical site in Hanoi that you must visit. It was an unescapable prison that shaped a part of Vietnamese history. For 36 years, until 1932, no prisoners escaped from this site. It is also known as Hanoi Hilton.

The site reveals how brutal life in the prison was. It is an eye-opening experience that will make you appreciate the freedom we enjoy today. The site exhibits many artifacts, including the guillotine used for sentencing. You can buy a fact booklet inside to learn more about them.

You don’t need a guide to explore the site. It has directions written in English, French and Vietnamese. You will not get lost inside the place.

For the latest visiting information please check the official website of Hoa Lo Prison Relic.

6. Marvel at The Gothic Church of St. Joseph’s Cathedral

Saint Joseph’s Cathedral is a remarkable landmark in Hanoi. It is the center of Catholicism in the city and a testament to the French colonial influence in the 1800s. Despite the wars that ravaged Vietnam, the cathedral remains intact and majestic.

Many visitors come to Saint Joseph Cathedral to admire its Gothic architecture, which resembles the churches in France. The cathedral has high domes and tall glass windows that display colorful mosaics. The mosaics depict the Virgin Mary, saints, and scenes from the history of the Roman Catholic Church.

If you are interested in architecture, religion, or history, you should not miss Saint Joseph Cathedral when you are in Hanoi. The locals call it “The Big Church” because of its size and significance.

Saint Joseph’s Church Visiting Information

You can visit Saint Joseph’s Cathedral any time of the day. However, you can only enter the church when there is a mass going on. You need to wear decent clothes to get inside. You can check the latest mass schedule on the official website of Saint Joseph’s Cathedral.

The parishioners of Saint Joseph Cathedral celebrate two special days every year. The first one is on March 19th, the feast day of Saint Joseph. The second one is on Christmas, when the church is adorned with lights and decorations. These are the best days to see the cathedral and enjoy its festive mood.

7. Discover Ba Da Pagoda – The Ancient Religious Center of Hanoi

Ba Da Pagoda, also called Stone Lady Pagoda, is a religious and historic site in Hanoi. It is a place to visit if you want to see how Vietnamese people pray and connect with their inner selves.

The pagoda is the center of Buddhism in the Old Quarter. It is located in the middle of Nha Tho Street, approximately 100 meters away from Saint Joseph’s Cathedral. The temple is almost a millennium old!

The small entrance to the site is like a time tunnel going to the founding years of Hanoi. Ba Da Pagoda serves as a sanctuary for Hanoi’s residents who seek some quiet and balance from their busy work life.

You can grant yourself a bit of tranquility in your walking tour in Hanoi by hearing the chimes and smelling the incense in Ba Da Pagoda. The pagoda is open to everyone from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

8. Get Acquainted with The National Hero of Vietnam at King Le Thai To’s Temple

King Le Thai To's Temple​

King Le Thai To’s Temple is dedicated to a national hero in Vietnam, Le Loi, who later became King Le Thai To. He was the leader of the resistance who fought against the invaders in the 15th century. You can find King Le Thai To’s Temple in the west of Hoan Kiem Lake.

Your visit to King Le Thai To’s temple would not take long, as you could explore the whole site in less than 10 minutes. However, it could be an excellent place to sit, relax and enjoy the peacefulness of the surroundings. The monument exhibits a good architectural design that offers great photo opportunities.

There is no fee to enter the monument, and you are welcome to sit around in the garden and observe the place in silence. On weekend nights, there is a musical performance that you can watch for free in front of the temple.

9. Behold The Most French Building in Hanoi – The Opera House

Hanoi Opera House

Hanoi Opera House is one of the most beautiful structures in Hanoi.

If you want to get a different taste of the city, visiting Hanoi Opera is a thing to do. The French, who colonized Vietnam for six decades, constructed it in 1911. The design of the Hanoi Opera House is a marvel of neo-classical French architecture. You can find this spectacular structure in August Revolution Square in Hanoi.

Many people say that the exterior of Hanoi Opera House is just the tip of the iceberg. The visitors who have been inside the opera house said that its interiors are more appealing. They even mentioned that it is more captivating than the interiors of the Paris Opera House.

Sadly, the Hanoi Opera House is not open to the public. Visitors can only enter the structure when there are events and shows in the opera house. You can check the events on the website of Hanoi Opera House and book a seat there if you want.

10. Feed Your Curiosity; Discover Something New at National Museum of History

Hanoi National Museum of History

If you walk a few steps from Hanoi Opera House, you will reach the Vietnamese National Museum of History. This museum is a great place to see preserved artifacts from Vietnam.

The museum has an impressive architectural design on its exterior, similar to the opera house. The inside is not as spectacular, but it is still worth visiting. You will learn about the general history of Vietnam from prehistoric times to the present. You will also see artifacts like the Three-Faced Buddha and other items that are more than 1000 years old. The museum has more than 200,000 objects on display.

For the latest practical information please see the official website of the Vietnamese National Museum of History.

11. Visit Ngoc Son Temple, See Historical Artifacts, and Enjoy The View of The Lake

On the northern side of Hoan Kiem Lake, you can see Ngoc Son Temple standing on an island in the middle of the lake. A beautiful scarlet Vietnamese bridge named Cau The Huc connects it to the lakeshore. Ngoc Son Temple is a relaxing place to visit by the lake and see some historical figures.

The temple is also called the Temple of Jade Mountains in English. The Vietnamese built this temple to honor their war hero, Tran Hung Dao. He defeated the Mongolian army in an invasion in the 13th century. From the islet, you can enjoy a beautiful view of the lake. Fresh flowers and bonsai trees fill the temple’s surroundings, making it an excellent place to hang out and relax for a bit.

The most impressive thing that I found in the temple is the preserved giant tortoise. It scared me when I had my first glimpse of it.

The temple is open from 8 am to 6 pm. The tickets to enter cost a little VND, and you can buy them from the ticket booths near the temple’s gate before you cross the bridge.

12. Experience an Ancient Entertainment in Thang Long Water Puppet Theater

Water Puppets is a tradition unique to Northern Vietnam that originated in the Red River Delta in the 11th century. It is a must do in Hanoi if you want to experience the cultural highlights of northern Vietnam. The puppet shows retell the Vietnamese folklore, legends, and rice harvest celebrations.

The whole storytelling is accompanied by charming music by a Vietnamese orchestra playing wooden bells, horns, cymbals, bamboo flutes, and drums. The puppets are supported by large rods and controlled by a few puppeteers behind the bamboo screen.

Other visitors agree that it is a spectacle and photos don’t do it justice. They say that the puppetry displayed during the show is impressive, and the stories they narrate are lovely and humorous. It is definitely a must-watch piece of art.

The theater is open from 3 pm to 8 pm. Each show is a 50-minute amusement that you will never regret. If you take the 6:30 show on a weekend, you will come out from the theater and see the streets filled with crowds dancing, listening to live bands, and having fun.

13. Hoan Kiem Lake: Stroll, Relax, Eat, and Take Photos

Hoan Kiem Lake is the spot in Vietnam that makes me love Hanoi more and more. I think it is the ultimate life center of Hanoi.

The lakeshore is full of enjoyable and exhilarating activities day and night. The Vietnamese people living in Hanoi are so lucky to have a lake in the middle of their city. Hoan Kiem Lake is a place where you can discover, hang out, relax, exercise, eat, and bond together. Locals and visitors enjoy the serene view of the lake while they do their activities.

One famous attraction in Hoan Kiem Lake is Ngoc Son Temple. You can find it on an island in the northern part of the lake. Dao Rua is another islet in Hoan Kiem Lake that draws tourists’ attention. It is called Turtle Island, and it is where you can see the Thap Rua or Turtle Tower. The three-tiered tower is one of the most photographed attractions in Hanoi.

14. Hanoi Weekend Night Market: Buy Souvenirs

closes most of its streets to vehicles, allowing citizens and tourists to walk freely in the city center and roam around. This is the time when vendors take over the streets and sell different goods. You can buy handcrafted souvenirs, T-shirts, and many kinds of accessories at an affordable price!

might want to buy in the night market are: wooden or bamboo figurines like dragonflies, 3D pop-up cards showing Vietnam’s famous attractions, and ivory combs. You will also find fantastic phone cases here!

The night market starts at 7 pm. It stretches along Hang Dao Street from Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square to Dong Xuan Market.

15. Dine-in Old Quarter: A Beautiful Food Scene That’s Hard to Imagine!

Eating Vietnamese cuisine is an essential part of your Hanoi walking tour. After exploring the city on foot, you can enjoy mouth-watering dishes served in Old Quarter street restaurants. You can also experience dining the Vietnamese way by eating on small chairs and tables on the walkways. If you are a food lover, you will surely love the food in Old Quarter. It will be your perfect thing to do in Hanoi.

According to vietnam-guide.com, here are the top 10 dishes that you must try in Old Quarter:

  1. Cha Ca (Turmeric Fish with Dill)
  2. Mien Xao Luon (Glass Noodles with Deep-Fried Eel)
  3. Bun Thang (Rice Vermicelli with Chicken, Egg, Pork)
  4. Banh Cuon (Rolled Cake)
  5. Banh Goi (Fried Dumplings)
  6. Xoi Xeo (Sweet Sticky Rice)
  7. Pho Xao (Stir-Fried Pho)
  8. Nem Chua Be (Crab Rolls)
  9. Chim Quay (BBQ Pigeon)
  10. Bun Rieu (Rice Noodles in Tomato Broth)

Tips: Visiting Hanoi Old Quarter

Are you planning to visit Hanoi soon? If so, I have some tips that can make your trip easier and more enjoyable. Here are some topics that you might be interested in. Click on the one that you want to learn more about.

Different Ways to Get to Hanoi Old Quarter from the Airport

There are different ways you can get to Hanoi Old Quarter once you arrive in Vietnam (Noi Bai International Airport.

  • Taxi – You will find many taxis waiting for you at the airport. Taking a taxi is the most convenient way to reach Old Quarter. However, be careful of “friendly locals” who might scam you. Many drivers or locals will offer you deals, but don’t fall for them! For me, a taxi should be your last option if you are going from the airport to Old Quarter. It is more expensive than other means of transportation.
  • Grab – is a car booking app that you can use as an alternative to taxis. It is the Uber in South East Asia. The price of one grab ride from the airport to Old Quarter (or vice versa) will be comparable to a taxi ride. One advantage of grab over taxis is credibility. Grab in Vietnam also offers motorbike rides. They are much cheaper than getting a car ride, though. They are more useful in Vietnam, especially if you do not have much luggage with you. Download the app from AppStore or Play Store
  • Hotel Car – Many hotels offer shuttle services. You can book accommodation with a shuttle service and arrange to be picked up from the airport. It might cost you a little, but it is usually cheaper than a taxi or grab.
  • Bus 86 – A good way to save money on your travels is to take public transportation. You can take the buses that follow route 86. They go to the city center from the airport, and back. These buses are air-conditioned, have free Wi-Fi, and have comfortable seats next to big glass windows. You can enjoy the sightseeing while riding them.

Bus 86 – Hanoi Old Quarter

To find bus 86 at the airport:

  • From Terminal 1 (the domestic airport): Go outside of the airport and look for the orange buses. They have #86 on their signboard.
  • From Terminal 2 (the international airport): Go outside and proceed to Bay #2. Find the large signage with “BUS STOP” and “86” and “To Hanoi City Center” on it. There you will see the buses going to Old Quarter.
Airport to Old Quarters (2)

Please note that the Old Quarter is not the final stop of these buses. The closest bus stop to Old Quarter is 142 Tran Quang Khai. If there is no traffic congestion, you can reach Old Quarter from the airport in about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Bus Schedule

Buses depart every 25 to 30 minutes. You buy your tickets as you ride the bus.

Hanoi Train Station
first trip: 5:05 in the morning
last trip: 09:40 in the evening

Noi Bai Airport
first trip: 6:25 in the morning
last trip: 11:05 in the evening

Bus 86 Route and stops (From Noi Bai Airport to Hanoi Center)
  1. Hanoi Train Station
  2. Bus stop opposite the Melia Hotel
  3. Hanoi Post Office (Buu Dien Hoan Kiem Lake)
  4. 23 Hang Tre St
  5. Long Bien Transpoint station (E11)
  6. Bus stop at intersection Yen Phu – Cua Bac
  7. Bus stop at intersection Au Co – Xuan Dieu
  8. Au Co – Lac Long Quan (468 Au Co St)
  9. VAECO Company
  10. Noi Bai Terminal 1
  11. Noi Bai Terminal 2
Bus 86 Route and stops (From Hanoi Center to Noi Bai Airport)
  1. Noi Bai Terminal 1 
  2. Noi Bai Terminal 2 
  3. VAECO Company
  4. Au Co – Lac Long Quan (523 Au Co str)
  5. Au Co – Xuan Dieu stop
  6. Bus stop at intersection Yen Phu – Cua Bac
  7. Long Bien Transpoint station
  8. 142 Tran Quang Khai
  9. Hanoi Opera House
  10. Hanoi Melia Hotel
  11. Hanoi Train Station

Tips in riding Bus 86
  1. During peak hours, the bus might get crowded. Pay attention to your belongings and protect yourself from pickpockets.
  2. There are no luggage allowance restrictions on the bus.
  3. Connect to the Wi-Fi on the bus and track your location on Google maps. It should help you know if you are already near your destination.
  4. If the bus has two doors, you enter at the front and exit in the middle. 
  5. The bus conductor will ask for payment when you’re already on your way to your destination. Prepare exact cash for a faster transaction.
Airport to Old Quarters

My experience getting to Old Quarter from the Airport

I arrived in Vietnam at midnight and was surprised to see most of the stores closed. I expected a busier airport, considering that Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam. However, some shops were still open, such as tour companies and telecommunication booths.

Since there was no bus service after midnight, I decided to stay at the airport and sleep on the benches. Before I fell asleep, a few taxi drivers approached me and tried to make a deal with me. I was a little scared because of the stories I had read on other blogs, and it was my first time experiencing that kind of negotiation. They warned me to be careful of the “friendly locals” at the airport. Actually, I did not understand half of what the driver said. I just kept telling him that I was not interested. Thankfully, he left me alone after a few minutes without doing anything shady. I was still nervous after that incident and felt a bit paranoid. So, before I took my nap, I put all my essentials in my messenger bag and used it as my pillow to ensure the safety of my belongings.

Amazingly, I was able to sleep for four hours on a bench, and my stuff seemed untouched. I thought the bus would arrive by 7 in the morning, so I woke up at 6 to buy a local sim card, have breakfast, and get ready.

However, the bus was late. It arrived almost at 8 am! I was sure I did not miss any buses as I had been waiting in loading bay #2 since 7 o’clock. I guess it’s another thing that Vietnam and the Philippines have in common: Filipino time. LOL, I’m just kidding!

The bus finally came, and the conductor greeted me with a super friendly welcome to Vietnam. He also became our quick tour guide on the bus and answered all our questions. It was a great experience riding the bus with him.

Hanoi Old Quarter Weekend Night Experience

Hanoi is much better to experience on weekends.

This is because an incredible cultural event happens in Hanoi during weekend nights. People reclaim the streets of the Old Quarter and the streets around Hoan Kiem Lake. It’s the time when both locals and tourists celebrate Hanoi’s old and new culture.

Absolutely, a fascinating moment that you should not miss!

Weekends, Hanoi

I am very thankful that I spent a weekend in Hanoi. It was unintentional, but it turned out to be wonderful. I had no clue that there was such a joyous celebration in Hanoi every weekend. So when I discovered it, I was in total bliss. REALLY! I could not explain how happy I was at that time.

Weekends, Hanoi (2)

At that time, traditional music was playing out loud everywhere on the streets around Hoan Kiem Lake. Adults were dancing, teens were performing, and kids were learning to drive mini-cars.

Weekends, Hanoi (3)

Also, bands were playing Vietnamese musical instruments to the tune of modern songs. The whole lakeshore was jiving to the beat of the melody they created. There were also exhibitions around Hoan Kiem Lake. It was thrilling to watch the guys create a balanced tower from blocks of wood.

Hanoi, Vietnam (3)

Artists also occupy the lakeshore. They showcase their talent live and get claps and commissions. They paint or sketch the faces of the tourists and locals who walk around the lake. If you ask an artist to draw you, you have a beautiful lake to enjoy while you stay still for the drawing process.

Weekends, Hanoi (5)

Hanoi has revealed itself to me as a magnificent basin of cultural treasure. Even though time and technology have transformed the world and induced globalization, Hanoi has kept its identity intact in the city life.

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Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam

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