This article is an ideal list of the best things to do in Hanoi Old Quarter for travelers looking to experience all the hidden and important part of the city – you can still see glimpses of previous generations despite the modernization that is going on relentlessly. The Old Quarter which located in Hoan Kiem Distric is pedestrian-friendly compared to other cities in Vietnam – on weekends and evenings, the streets are closed off to motorized vehicles to make way for bia hoi (fresh beer) bars and food stalls selling a variety of Vietnamese food.
1.Water puppet show in Thang Long Theater
Located along Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre hold daily shows comprises 17 short sketches using traditional puppets within a 50-minutes performance. Each story is accompaniment by a group of different traditional musicians who playing traditional operatic songs using drums, wooden bells, horns, bamboo flutes and cymbals. Aside from the general admission fee of VND 100,000, there’s an additional camera or video fee if you wish to photograph or film the show. Tickets sell out well in advance so it’s worth booking yours as soon as you arrive in town.
2. Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple
Hoan Kiem Lake is the place for many public activities of Hanoians. You can find local people jogging, enjoying coffee, even practicing Tai Chi and dancing on the shores of the lake at any time of the day. Ngoc Son Temple, an 18th century pagoda sitting in on a small island, is surrounded by this peaceful lake. Visitors can access Ngoc Son Temple via an ornate wooden bridge. Inside the temple are several altars dedicated to military leader Tran Hung Dao, large bronze bust, some ancient artefacts including ceramics, and a preserved specimen of a giant turtle found in the lake weighing 250kg. Tickets to Ngoc Son Temple can be purchased at a booth in front of the bridge.
Dong Xuan Market is the largest market in Hanoi and has a wide array of products for sale over four floors. Located on the northern edge of the Old Quarter, it is an imposing Soviet-style building, surrounded by merchant shops and stalls. It is a rough-and-ready type of market, especially in the ground floor wet market area. However, head up the stairs and you will find cheap printed tees, bolts of fabric, school uniforms, luggage stalls and much more, all available at wholesale prices. It is quite an experience, even if you only leave with a pair of cheap sunglasses and a Vietnamese conical hat.
4. Saint Joseph Cathedral of Hanoi
Saint Joseph Cathedral of Hanoi is known as the oldest Roman Catholic Church in the city. Prior to the construction of the cathedral in 1886, the French occupation demolished Bao Thien Pagoda, an important Vietnamese temple that was built during the Ly Dynasty. Saint Joseph Cathedral of Hanoi was inspired by Notre Dame de Paris, boasting a neo-Gothic architectural style, twin bell towers, intricately-designed altar, and colorful paintings and stained-glass windows from France. Surrounded by plenty of trees and flowers, a statue of Mother Maria is also set within the courtyard in front of the cathedral.
Constructed in 11th century during the reign of Emperor Ly Thai To, this small pagoda honors a white horse which locals believed had guided the emperor in constructing walls of the Hanoi Citadel. Bach Ma Temple has undergone several refurbishments throughout the years, where you can see colorful murals, a red-lacquered palanquin, the shrine of Confucius, and a phoenix altar that were added in the 18th century. Open daily, entrance is free of charge but do dress appropriately out of respect for the local monks and devotees.
Built by the French to house Vietnamese political prisoners, Maison Centrale in Hanoi also known as Hoa Lo Prison however was called “Hanoi Hilton” by American POW during the Vietnam War. The fortress was once a vast colonial-style prison, most of which was torn down in the 1990s. Visiting today you will find the small southern section resting alongside a hotel and office complex. The prison is still a popular tourist attraction for those on the war history trail. Official records claim inmates numbered in their hundreds although it was not unknown for up to 2,000 prisoners to be crammed into a space reserved for 600 inmates.
The Weekend Night Market in Hanoi is a busy, bustling gathering of stalls and vendors that brings crowds in droves. Taking place every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 19:00, the market runs through the Old Quarter, starting from Hang Dao Street and running north to the edge of Dong Xuan Market. The fashion items on sale won’t turn many heads and the souvenirs can all be found in the surrounding stalls, but there it is a fun environment and the endless food vendors have interesting and exotic things to try. Bartering is normal here and, as with all busy markets, be aware of your belongings.0