1. Hoan Kiem Lake
Covering an area of around 12 hectares, Hoan Kiem Lake (Hồ Hoàn Kiếm, meaning Lake of the Returned Sword, also known as Sword Lake), is located at the historical center of the city. The lake is considered the center of Ha Noi, not only physically but also symbolically.
The Turtle Tower (Thap Rua) standing on a small island near the centre of lake is linked to a legend. Near the northern shore of the lake is Ngoc Son (Jade Mountain) Temple, which is connected to the shore by the wooden red-painted The Huc Bridge (meaning Morning Sunlight Bridge).
Not only special for its history and nearby historical sites, Hoan Kiem Lake has a beautiful landscape; it is considered a scenic, relaxing escape from the chaos and bustle of the Old Quarter’s streets.
Since Hoan Kiem Lake is centrally located, it takes only few minutes walking from Ha Noi Old Quarter and about 40 minutes driving from Noi Bai International Airport to get here. Visitors can do exercise in the morning, wander or take a cyclo tour around the lake to enjoy the stunning landscape, fresh air and peaceful moments.
2. St. Joseph’s Cathedral
One of the most attractive destinations for fancy Ha Noi tours is St. Joseph’s Cathedral, an ancient but gorgeous building, which is a great treasure of Ha Noi’s tourism.
St Joseph's Cathedral is known simply as the "Big Church" among the Vietnamese of Ha Noi. It is a Roman Catholic cathedral with neo-gothic style which was consecrated on the night of Christmas in 1886. It is the oldest Roman Catholic church in Ha Noi.
Located at 40 Nha Chung street, the church was one of the first structures built by the French colonial government in Indochina when it opened in December 1886.
The Cathedral is noteworthy for its square towers, elaborate altar and stained-glass windows.
The architecture with domes of the cathedral follows the Gothic style and design of Paris Cathedral is 64.5m in length, 20.5m in width with two bell towers of 31.5m-height. Though the appearance of the cathedral including the doors, the colorful window glass and the religious paintings for decoration follows Western style, the main interior part is decorated in Vietnamese way with two typical colors yellow and red. Outside, in front of the cathedral is the statue of Mother Maria.
Today, taking advantage of beautiful architecture and good venue at the center of the city, the area surrounding the cathedral is always packed with hundreds of local people and tourists hanging out with friends for drinking, talking, and watching the streets.
3. Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
Located at 57B Dinh Tien Hoang Street, nearby Hoan Kiem Lake in the centre of Ha Noi, Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is a popular address for both domestic and foreign tourists, who want to enjoy water puppet shows and discover the beauty of this unique Vietnamese traditional art.
Thang Long Theatre holds the Asian record for “the only theatre in Asia that performs water puppetry all 365 days of the year”. The theater has brought water puppetry art to more than 40 foreign countries like Japan, France, America, Australia, Spain, etc, through performance tours, or international cultural exchange programs or puppetry festivals.
The playhouse has 300 seats, serving about 1,700 shows each year. The theatre offers three to six shows a day, depending on whether it’s the low or high season.
Traditional content of water puppet performance like daily life of Vietnamese farmers (cultivating, tending buffalo, catching fishes, etc), communal entertainment (swimming contest, dragon dancing, etc), or historical legends (Le Loi returns precious sword, etc.), with modest performance ways has appealed audiences for centuries. However, the artists of Thang Long Water Puppet Theater want to renew the old puppet shows with the effect of light, music and combination between people and puppets.
With its best efforts, the Theatre has been awarded many significant prizes in domestic and international water puppet festivals. Many artists have been conferred upon noble titles such as People’s Artist, Meritorious Artist, etc.
Address: 57B Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hoan Kiem District, Ha Noi
4. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Located in the centre of Ba Dinh Square, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is the place where the embalmed body of President Ho Chi Minh is preserved. It is built to show Vietnamese people's deep gratitude to President Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the country.
Construction work began on 2 September 1973, and the structure was formally inaugurated on 29 August 1975. The embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh is preserved in the cooled, central hall of the mausoleum.
Materials for the building, from exterior granite to interior wood, were contributed by people from all over the country. Even the garden surrounding the Mausoleum has a collection of plants and bonsais donated from all regions in Viet Nam.
5. The One Pillar Pagoda
The One Pillar Pagoda was built in 1049 after a dream of King Ly Thai Tong, who ruled from 1028 to 1054. This unique pagoda is located in what is now Chua Mot Cot Street in Ba Dinh District and is one of the historic relics associated with the Dien Huu Pagoda (Lasting Blessing).
King Ly Thai Tong dreamed of being led to a lotus lamp by Avalokitesvara. The King was advised by a monk to build a pagoda with a stone pillar in the middle and a lotus lamp above like in his dream.
The pagoda was built in a square, three meters long on each side, and it has a curved roof. It was built on a stone pillar of 1.20 meters in diameter and 4 meters high which is actually two overlapping posts skillfully joined as one.
6. Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam (Temple of Literature)
Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam (Temple of Literature – The First University of Viet Nam) is located in Van Mieu Street, 2 kilometers west of Hoan Kiem Lake. It was established in 1070-1076 under the Ly Dynasty (1010-1225). After many royal examinations, in 1482 King Le Thanh Tong (who reigned from 1460 to 1497) ordered the erection of stone steles inscribed with the names and native lands of the first laureates of the royal examinations since the royal examinations began in 1442.
Between 1442 and 1779, 124 doctoral examinations were held but now only 82 stone steles are preserved in Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam. The steles are placed on the back of stone turtles, the symbol of the immortality of the national quintessence.
7. Ha Noi Opera House
Amid the flow of history, the Ha Noi Opera House stands as the architectural, cultural and political symbol of the 1000-year-old Capital. Ha Noi Opera House is located in the August Revolution Square, the center of Ha Noi, near Hoan Kiem Lake and the Viet Nam History Museum. The theatre, designed and overseen by the French, was constructed from 1901 and finished in 1911. Its design is influenced by the European architectural style under the Renaissance period.
Ha Noi Opera House is of great architectural value, it marks a significant period in the history of architectural development in Viet Nam under the French at the end of nineteenth century to early twentieth century. It is a historical witness of the Revolution of Ha Noi.
Now, the Ha Noi Opera House is not only a venue for art performances, but also a place for visitors to enjoy an over 100-year-old historical architecture. Ha Noi Opera House has its special place in history and in the heart of every Vietnamese.
8. Presidential Palace
Presidential Palace in Ha Noi is a three-storey structure located on Hung Vuong Street and Hoang Van Thu Street on the north of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. The design of this palace was conceived by Auguste Henri Vildieu, a French architecture officially appointed for Viet Nam.
From 1901-1906, the palace was built by the French colonialists, as a palace of the General Indochina Governor. It has a special typical French structure and architecture. Since 1954, the Vietnamese Government took over this Palace to house the President. History says that Ho Chi Minh denied staying in it when he returned to independent Viet Nam after defeating the French in 1954. He rather began staying in a mere cottage within the premises of the palace from 1954 to 1958. Thus it has been used as the Presidential Palace for high-ranking level diplomatic meetings.
The tradition continues even now as the palace offers site for official receptions to guests and for other administrative meetings and is therefore closed to the public.
9. Long Bien bridge
The Long Bien Bridge was constructed during the French’s occupation of the country. It may be the most special bridge with unique historic, architectural, and cultural value. The bridge is not only a traffic construction, a nice architecture, but also a living historical relic.
Long Bien Bridge is the first steel bridge across the Red River in Ha Noi. It was built by the French from 1899 to 1902 and named after the Governor General of Indochina Paul Doumer. Vietnamese have called it Long Bien or Cai River Bridge for a long time, and Long Bien becomes the most popular name of the bridge. At that time, Long Bien was regarded as one of the four biggest bridges in the world and the most notably in Far East.
It was built directly by Vietnamese workers with indigenous construction materials like woods from Phu Tho, Yen Bai, Thanh Hoa province, cement from Hai Phong, Long Tho and lime from Hue.
More than 100 years with decades of war, Long Bien Bridge was bombarded many times by American army in 1967, 1972; and many spans of the bridge were destroyed.
Today, Long Bien Bridge is still being used by train, mopeds, bicycles and pedestrians. Other heavier vehicles use other nearby bridges to prevent damaging the century old bridge. Even now, the bridge still has its poetic significance with people living along the river banks, selling their products on the bridge. Standing on the bridge at sunrise or sunset brings anyone a sense of nostalgic of the old Ha Noi.
Despite various changes of the city and country, the Long Bien’s symbol and values permanently exist. It is forever the pride of Hanoians in particular and Vietnamese people in general.
10. Dong Xuan Market
The renowned Dong Xuan Market located in the Old Quarter of Ha Noi, 900m north of Hoan Kiem Lake. It has long been a favorite, a busy trade center that attracts buyers from many other places.
Dong Xuan Market is the oldest and largest market in Ha Noi. It was built in 1889 by the French colonial administration, covering an area of around 600 square meters. In 1994, the market was destroyed in a fire that resulted in the death of five people and the loss of an estimated US$4.5 million in stock. It has been renovated several times.
Nowadays, the market is run by the Dong Xuan Shareholding Company. To local residents, Dong Xuan is mostly reserved for bulk sale and distribution points for many wholesalers and retailers in Ha Noi. Main products include electronic devices, household equipments and clothing. At the back of the market is the trading place for animals (puppies, kitties, birds, fish, etc.) and plants (mostly Vietnamese bonsai).
The Northern end of the market holds mainly eating venue, serving both day and night time. It is a wise decision to stop here for local cuisines such as “Bun Cha”, “Bun Rieu” or chipping in a hot pot in a fall/winter night.
In 2003, the night market of the Dong Xuan Market was opened on the occasion of the 2003 Southeast Asian Games, this night market is organized as a tourist attraction rather than a business place where one can buy souvenirs, handicrafts and also taste traditional foods or enjoy cultural activities such as “Ca tru” (ceremonial songs) and “cheo” (traditional operetta).
Dong Xuan night market runs along Hang Ngang and Dong Xuan streets, from the junction with Hang Bac right up to Dong Xuan market. A huge range of goods is available for haggling over, such as rings, cuddly toys, handbags, clothes, etc.