What to see in the Old Quarter of Hanoi: lots of history and culture
Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, breathes history everywhere. Hanoi itself is not an incredibly beautiful city, but the Old Quarter of Hanoi has a special charm.
The old architecture of the Old Quarter of Hanoi blends with the French buildings of the colonial era. The narrow streets are filled with tourists walking around, souvenir shops, motorcycles parked on the sidewalks, bar terraces or simply locals sitting squatting and talking in the middle of the street.
Hanoi’s Old Town is where you’ll find almost everything you need to see if you visit the capital of Vietnam. If you want, you can get lost walking through those little streets and enjoy it like a child, but I also recommend you to visit some of the historical places that are in the old quarter of Hanoi and that are worth a visit because of their beauty and/or their history. So here is a list of the 5 most interesting places to see in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
What to see in the Old Quarter of Hanoi?
1. Hoan Kiem Lake (Sword Lake)
The most famous lake in the city is located in the old district of Hanoi. It is called Hoan Kiem Lake (Sword Lake). In the center of the lake there is a small island with a monument called the Turtle Tower dedicated to the fact that it was the fishing place of a Vietnamese king (Le Thanh Tong).
2. Jade Mountain Temple
Also in the lake we find the Temple of Jade Mountain. It was built in 1865 dedicated to the Confucianism and Taoist philosophers and a national hero, Tran Hung Dao.
3. Morning Sunlight Bridge
The temple is accessed by a beautiful and striking red wooden bridge. It’s one of the most famous attraction of the city. It has a really curious nickname: Morning Sunlight Bridge.
4. St Joseph’s Cathedral
Near Hoan Kiem Lake, you will also find St. Joseph’s Cathedral, another of the best known sites in the Old Quarter. It’s a Catholic Cathedral that was built in 1886 with a neo-Gothic style. Its imposing facade stands out especially for being surrounded by small buildings and alleys.
5. Hoa Lo Memorial Prison
Hanoi’s Hoa Lo Prison is a historic prison converted into a museum. It was used by French settlers to incarcerate Vietnamese political prisoners, and later, by North Vietnamese to incarcerate American prisoners of war during the Vietnam War.
A walk through the prison is a journey into the horror of war and torture. A visit is a must to understand a little of the history of this country and the strength of the Vietnamese people.
What to see outside of Hanoi’s Old Quarter?
Visit to the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh
Another must-see in Hanoi is the mausoleum where the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh, a national hero who always fought for Vietnam’s independence and freedom, against both the French and the Americans, is kept.
It was chilling to walk in silence near the body of the person who has most influenced this country in decades and above all to witness the sadness on the faces of the people, many of them, with tears in their eyes.
Where do you stay during your trip to Hanoi?
The two days we stayed in Hanoi were spent walking around the old town, which is where all the hotels, all the bars and the atmosphere are. We were meeting people from the hostel (Hanoi Backpacker Hostel) and meeting native couchsurfers to explain more about their country.
Apart from that, we also try to find a little party in the capital. We went to a bar and it closed at twelve in the morning, so we were a little disappointed… (At the end of 2017 I returned to Hanoi and I can say that the party theme has improved a lot. Nowadays, there are a lot of bars and clubs where you can go out any day of the week).
Trip from Hanoi To Sapa
After visiting much of Vietnam, I have no doubt that Hanoi was the city I liked best in Vietnam. Once we saw the capital of Vietnam we took the bus to see the rice terraces of Sapa and meet the ethnic minorities living there. Our last three days in Vietnam were spent trekking in the mountains.
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Nothing is more precious than independence and liberty.
– Ho Chi Minh –