Hanoi Travel Notes + Things to do in the Old Quarter

Just a few weeks ago, I was in Hanoi with my sister Audrey and our cousins Queen, Olivia, and Natalie. 

It was our first trip to anywhere together, without our moms!  We felt so grownup.  LOL!  It was supposed to be an all-girls trip, but since Audrey is pregnant, her husband Rich decided to tag along with their 2-year-old, Liam.

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Hanoi isn’t the kind of place you’ll want to visit every few months, but it is a charming, colorful, and bustling city, where you can eat well on the cheap, so it’s definitely worth a visit.  I can see myself back here in a couple of years.

We stayed at this hotel right in the heart of the Old Quarter, and we got to explore the area almost every day of our stay.  I’ll be doing separate posts about the food (I miss it already!) and our day trip to Ninh Binh, a province about 2.5 hours away from Hanoi.

In the meantime here are some snaps from around the Old Quarter and French Quarter, plus a short list of things to do around the area at the end of the post.  Enjoy!

IMG_1862IMG_1996IMG_3442IMG_1866IMG_1817IMG_1867IMG_3440IMG_1920IMG_3443IMG_3441IMG_1915IMG_1916IMG_1864IMG_1863IMG_1910IMG_1860IMG_1566IMG_1928Top things to do & see around the Old Quarter/French Quarter:

  1. Hoan Kiem Lake is right smack in the middle of this district, so it’s easy to explore all the surrounding streets without getting lost.
  2. Sofitel Legend Metropole is one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve ever seen, and I’ll be writing more about it in a separate post.
  3. From the Metropole, you can walk to the Hanoi Opera House, which was built by the French colonial administration in the 1900’s and modeled after the Palais Garnier in Paris.
  4. St. Joseph’s Cathedral (also called Hanoi Cathedral) was built in neo-gothic style in the 1880’s. It was closed the first time we dropped by, but we were able to go in on our second try.  I always get a little bit emotional when I pray at a new church in a new country for the first time, and this was no exception.
  5. Keep yourself hydrated with fresh sugarcane juice while walking around.  They also sell young coconuts that are so tender, you can just plug in a straw and enjoy your drink.
  6. Shop for pasalubong in one of the many little shops around the neighborhood.  You can find things like Vietnamese conical hats, local crafts, embroidered fabrics and bags, handmade goods, paintings, Viet coffee beans, and lots of “overruns” of North Face backpacks.  A lot of the small building along the streets have shops on the ground floor, with living areas for the vendors and their families on the upper floors.
  7. Immerse yourself in Vietnam’s coffee culture by going cafe hopping!  There’s nothing quite like a tall glass of iced Vietnamese coffee on a scorching day.
  8. Eat well on the cheap!  Feast on fresh rolls, pho, banh mi, Cha ca, bun cha, and more.  And when you get tired on Vietnamese food, book a table at a French restaurant!  I gained 3 lbs on this 4-day trip, and it was worth it.  Food posts coming up soon, so stay tuned 🙂
  9. Explore the neighborhood at night.  The streets fronting the lake are crammed with people having dinner on low tables and stools, hanging out, walking around, or driving by in motorcycles!  It is so noisy and crowded that you’ll really feel like you’re in the middle of everything.  Our second night there, they had a fireworks display by the lake in celebration of the Vietnamese’ Victory Day.
  10. If you have a day to spare, pop in one of the many tour operators around the Old Quarter and book a day trip to a nearby province.  My cousins and I explored the province of Ninh Binh, and I’ll tell you all about that soon.

More of my Hanoi travel posts here.

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