Hanoi Old Quarter (Phố cổ Hà Nội), the oldest area of Hanoi, has been existing for hundreds of years, undergoing many vicissitudes of history. Old Quarter includes 36 streets which Hanoian proudly call “Hà Nội 36 phố phường” or 36 Streets .
I still remember the first time I wandered in the Old Quarter, I got lost and had to take a taxi out. 36 Streets, they’re too similar, like a big maze, and so difficult to distinguish if you visit just a few times. For now, I still enjoy strolling around the Old Quarter in my free times. In this article, I’m going to share with you my experiences, tips and top things to do in Hanoi Old Quarter for a day trip.
Where is Hanoi Old Quarter?
The majority of Old Quarter are in Hoan Kiem district, west and north of Hoan Kiem lake, home to 36 Streets and a huge number of people. The names of the streets in the quarter are very unique, most of them have “Hang” (Hàng – store) at the beginning, because long ago (hundreds of years ago), each street focus on selling a distinctive item, and people named the street according to the item that’s sold.
Highlights in the Old Quarter
The Old Quarter area is very large and has many sites to visit, but if you have only one day here, consider checkin out these places.
1. Dong Xuan market (chợ Đồng Xuân) is one of oldest and most famous markets in Hanoi. The market is very bustling with a lot of goods, most of them are wholesale, price is more expensive if retailing. Come here to learn more about the frantic trading scene, so typical of Hanoi.
2. O Quan Chuong (Ô Quan Chưởng) is a short street (75m, 250ft) with ancient gate remaining after war from over a century ago.
3. Dong Xuan alley (ngõ Đồng Xuân) is where you can enjoy most of street foods of Hanoi as Pho (phở), Bun cha (bún chả), Bun dau (bún đậu),… or snacks like chè, tofu (tào phớ),… These dishes are priced from $1,3, snacks are from $0.8.
4. Bach Ma temple (đền Bạch Mã – white horse temple), was built from Ly dynasty (about over 1000 years ago), is one of 4 sacred sites of the old Thang Long capital.
5. Ancient house at 87 Ma May street was built from early 20th century. The house preserves many cultural and architectural values of ancient Hanoi.
6. Lemon-tea, a super-popular drink in Hanoi that permeates Old Quarter (and Hanoi). Youngsters often gathers for lemon-tea in the evening. Go to Hoan Kiem lakeshore, Cathedral (near the lake) or Cho Gao street (phố Chợ Gạo) to enjoy the bustling atmosphere of Hanoi.
7. Ta Hien street, also the beer corner where locals and tourists love to go for a beer on the street; where the ancient and modern meet.
8. Ô mai Hồng Lam, a kind of jam, famous specialty of Hanoi made from many kinds of fruits. Among many similar shops on that very street, you are advised to shop at Hồng Lam, 11 Hang Duong street (phố Hàng Đường). Ô Mai Sấu ( relatively translate to Crocodile fruit) is highly recommended (I love it most and have been a fan of this brand for years), could be a very good choice for souvenir and gift.
9. Snails and shells on Dinh Liet street is sold from 4.30pm. The place-to-go for this kind of food!
10. Bun cha – You must not forget to try this dish. To me, Hanoi Pho is second to this one. It is addictive, especially on Hang Buom or Hang Than (at $1.5). Don’t even try expensive fancy restaurant (not even as good), stop for ones whose enticing smoky haze from the grilling is visible and touches your nose from far away. It is mesmerizing.
Hotels in (or near) Hanoi Old Quarter
Hanoi Old Quarter is the heart of Hanoi’s culture, commerce and tourism, hence packed with a variety of accomodation choices, from motels to 5-star hotels. Go for Hang Be (Hàng Bè), Ma May (Mã Mây), Thuoc Bac (Thuốc Bắc), Hang Ma (Hàng Mã), Hang Bac (Hang Bạc). These streets have many hotels for good prices.
Itinerary exploring Old Quarter for 1 day
7.30am. Leave (walk, by taxi or cyclo) for Dong Xuan alley on Hang Chieu street (phố Hàng Chiếu). to have breakfast with Pho, bun cha, bun rieu, etc.
8.30am. Visit Dong Xuan market right besides, stroll around the market.
9am. Keep walking to O Quan Chuong, take photos with the only remaining ancient gate of Hanoi.
9.30am. Head for Bach Ma temple. Remember to avoid short, sexy or too exposed clothes.
10.15am. Get to the ancient house at 87 Ma May street ($0,5/entrance ticket). If it’s already 12 p.m when you’re done with the house, you can go to Hang Buom street nearby to eat Bun Cha for lunch, or visit Nola cafe, very close to the house (in a alley), to have a rest. This cafe has a very impressive decor.
11am. Visit Kim Ngan temple at 42 Hang Bac street (phố Hàng Bạc – Silver Store street), where worship the ancestor of jeweler.
12am. Have lunch at Bun dau restaurant on Phat Loc alley (ngõ Phất Lộc). Note, the Bun dau is authentically dipped in mam tom (mắm tôm – shrimp sauce), a super-smelly sauce even to locals. If you can’t eat shrimp sauce, you can totally eat with fish sauce, which I do all the time. Still tasty as much. Don’t forget to order Cha Com (chả cốm – a very tasty dish eaten Bun Dau).
You can also eat Bun Cha in other restaurants (on Phat Loc alley, near Hang Mam street).
1pm. After lunch, you can rest in Shot cafe at 60 Phat Loc. The cafe has airy space and beautiful decor.
2pm. Keep going to Hoan Kiem lake and Ngoc Son temple (đền Ngọc Sơn).
3pm. If you want to watch Water Puppet, you can buy ticket at Thang Long water puppet nearby Ngoc Son temple.
4pm. Wander to buy souvenirs, eat snail in Dinh Liet street or drink beer in Ta Hien.
7pm. Eat Cha Ca (widely translated to Fish cake) at Thang Long fish cake – 21 Duong Thanh street (phố Đường Thành).
8pm. Stroll on streets. Hanoi at night is even more beautiful when social life starts moving and importantly the cool breeze evokes a lovely delight. If you travel on weekend, you can visit Night Market (Chợ Đêm) on Hang Ngang (Hàng Ngang) and Hang Dao street (phố Hàng Đào), or drink a cup of coffee or lemon-tea on the lakeshore, Cathedral or Cho Gao street (phố Chợ Gạo).
Tip: If get lost in Old Quarter (which I am almost so certain you will), use Google Map or get a taxi. Of course you can ask locals but it will end up really hard to follow for you don’t clearly understand the language.