Hoan Kiem Lake
The serenity of Hoan Kiem Lake is a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, which is a maze of narrow lanes crammed with boutiques, art spaces, little cafes and restaurants, as well as Hanoi's signature street stalls.
Be warned, the traffic is crazy here - expect to see thousands of motorbikes, scooters and cyclos weaving their way through the ancient streets of the Old Quarter.
During your stay in Hanoi it’s definitely worth waking up early one morning to explore the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake. You’ll see vendors setting up their market stalls and local people in the parks and gardens around Hoan Kiem Lake practising tai chi or participating in exercise classes.
2. Hanoi's French Quarter (Ba Dinh District)
The old French Quarter of Hanoi is located immediately to the west of the Old Quarter. The wide boulevards of the French Quarter are lined with French-styled villas and mansions, sidewalk cafes, fine-dining restaurants and luxurious hotels.
This area is where the Ly kings established their Imperial City in the 11th century and it is here where you'll find the city's most important cultural and historical monuments, including the venerable Temple of Literature and the One Pillar Pagoda, both dating from the time of the Ly kings and well worth a visit for those interested in the earlier history of the region.
The rest of the 11th-century architecture was cleared by the French colonial government to build their own administrative buildings. The most impressive of these is the Presidential Palace, the former residence of the Governor-General of Indochina. The nearby Botanical Gardens have been preserved and provide a haven from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Temple of Literature
Built in 1070, the Temple of Literature is a Temple of Confucius, which also houses the Imperial Academy - Vietnam's first university. You might recognise the building, as it's featured on the 100,000 Vietnamese đong banknote.
Around Tet (Vietnamese New Year) the temple's calligraphists assemble outside the temple and write wishes in Han characters. These artworks of calligraphy are given away as gifts and used to decorate homes.
One Pillar Pagoda
Hanoi's One Pillar Pagoda is a historic Buddhist temple, constructed in 1094 by an emperor in celebration of the birth of his son.
Legend has it that the emperor was childless until he had a dream of a bodhisattva who handed him a baby son while seated on a lotus flower. This is why the temple has a beautiful pond with a pillar erected in the centre.
Hanoi's Presidential Palace was built by the French between 1900 and 1906 to house the French Governor-General of Indochina. The yellow building is typical of the European colonial style, with Italian influences.
After Vietnam gained independence in 1954, Ho Chi Minh refused to live in the symbolic colonial palace, instead building a traditional Vietnamese stilt house and carp pond in the grounds. Today, visitors can't enter the building, but can explore the surrounding gardens.
Located behind the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hanoi Botanical Garden or Bach Thao Park (which translates as "hundreds of plants") is Hanoi's little green lung.
Created by the French in 1890, the lush gardens once covered 33 hectares and were surrounded by French villas. Now, Bach Thao Park covers around 11 hectares, but is still home to tropical rainforest plants and other exotic flora, making for a peaceful trip into nature in the city.
3. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum
The mausoleum of the Vietnamese Communist revolutionary leader and national hero, Ho Chi Minh, is located in the old French Quarter and is a must-visit for anyone interested in understanding the country's complex political history and the mindset of modern-day Vietnam.
The mausoleum is based on Lenin’s mausoleum in Moscow and these architectural similarities echo the political and idealistic influence that the former Soviet Union had on the Vietnamese communist party.
The embalmed body of the former leader is on display in the central hall, protected at all times by a military honour guard. Visiting foreign dignitaries are often invited to pay their respects to Uncle Ho, who still plays an immensely important role in modern Vietnam's ideology.
A visit to the mausoleum and accompanying museum is extremely interesting both from a historical point of view, and to observe the reverence and respect with which the Vietnamese treat Ho Chi Minh.