The bustling capital of Vietnam, Hanoi, is a diverse metropolitan city that has architecturally been influenced over the centuries by other countries to become a unique attraction in South East Asia.
Home to the second largest population in the country, traffic lights are little more than street decoration for the hordes of motorbikes and cars that miraculously don’t collide constantly. To cross the road feels like you’re playing jeopardy with your life yet locals weave in and out of onrushing traffic with an unspoken understanding. It’s all part of the experience of being in this fascinating city.
Due to its location, Hanoi is a good launch pad to Halong Bay and Tam Coc as tours operate from the city. However, Hanoi a destination in itself. Specialist cafes, trendy restaurants and street merchants besides old temples are everywhere in the Old Quarter and our guide is designed to help discover all of the city’s hidden gems.
Most Instagrammable Spots in Hanoi
Train street is a unique and colourful narrow street in the Old Quarter, where many locals live and where a train passes through, at high speed, several times a day. What’s interesting about the street is how narrow it is. The train is sometimes mere inches from the doors and motorbikes parked outside.
I can only imagine how the locals must have adapted to its comings and goings, which is apparently twice a day, at just 3pm and 7pm, but I arrived at 1pm, and they were closing off the street for it to come through, so perhaps they’ve added another route to the schedule.
Tip: We went to the section between Khan Tien and Le Duan. Don’t be disappointed if you miss the train or don’t have time to catch sight of it. It comes and go so fast, so just go with the intention of seeing the location’s uniqueness.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral
St Joseph’s Cathedral is the oldest church in Hanoi and one of the first structures built by the French in 1886, resembling the famous Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. It’s a distinctive building in Hanoi, making it a beautiful backdrop for your Hanoi instacollection. Wander around the area after for this part of the city is alive with trendy bars and restaurants.
There are two instagrammable walls right beside St Joseph’s Cathedral. One of the walls is yellow, with a bench and the other is turquoise blue. Both beautifully styled and very grammable, with hanging pots, lush plants, colourful ceramics and tropical vines. Beautiful and fun content for your instafeed.
Tip:The walls are located at Ấu Triệu, the street to the right of St. Joseph’s Cathedral if you’re looking directly at it.
The Notes Coffee is a fun and friendly Instagrammable coffee shop in the centre of Hanoi, right beside Hoan Kiem Lake. Colourful post-it messages from coffee loving travellers and locals alike line the walls, tables and chairs. Messages contain motivation quotes, life learnings and declarations of love in their thousands, making this café one of the most inspirational places you can go. See if you can find my note as you scan the walls for reading material while savouring your great cup of coffee! And make sure you try the banh mi sandwich; naughty but oh so delicious!
Just walking around here you’ll feel the blend of French and Vietnamese architecture, making for some beautifully charismatic Instagram photos. We took to Le Lai street where there were many mansions and buildings of a distinctive French style and the walk led to the Ho Hoan Kiem lake.
Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel
If you’d like to capture a slice of old world charm, take to the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel in the French Quarter. The hotel is built in the French colonial style, and holds many luxury boutiques inside. Head to the main lobby to capture a shot with their beautiful black vintage cars. Perfect for lifestyle and fashion feeds, and such a lovely area to walk around after.
Best Coffee Shops in Hanoi
Speakeasy style concept right opposite St Joseph’s Cathedral. It’s no frills decor, and the coffee is Vietnamese style only, so you’ll find no cappuccinos here. However, the walk through the narrow lanes and up the backstairs to get there makes you feel like you’re in on a secret. I liked the interiors of this place, made you feel like you were visiting someone’s home. The view of St. Joseph’s Cathedral from their small terrace was lovely, I loved people watching from there with a cool glass of Baileys & Vietnamese Iced Coffee (45.000). Totally recommend you order one when you’re there.
Also with a view of St Joseph’s Cathedral, Eden Cafe is a little more on the trendy side, with wall art, colourful furniture, and tropical plant decor. They have a really amazing rooftop terrace also, that seems more fitted to fancy cocktails, than cappuccinos. I loved this coffee shop, and it’s probably my favourite in the city.
Cong Caphe is a popular coffee shop chain in Hanoi that I absolutely love. Each coffee shop is laid out differently but they all have the same khaki look, and military style decor with communist memorabilia. It’s a cool and quirky place to drink your daily latte. I tried a few different outlets and my personal favourite was the one located on a corner on Hang Mam street. Four floors, each one designed differently and offering a view of the chaotic Hanoi traffic.
Where to Eat in Hanoi
Cheap and cheerful restaurant in Old Town with delicious authentic Vietnamese food in a relaxed and casual setting. I highly recommend the mango and prawn salad to start and the stir-fried beef for the main. The cocktails were fantastic, and so so cheap. I was particularly fond of the daiquiri. It was only €1.50 and absolutely delicious!
Pizza 4 P’s
Artisan Napoli style pizza at its finest. This place brought us all the way back to Florence with its stone baked base, delicious sauce and Buffalo Mozzarella Margherita. Belissimo! (Approx 160.000) It was the best pizza we’ve had since we’ve been in South East Asia. We went there twice and would have gone three times, only it’s almost impossible to get in. Book in advance, or be prepared to wait for a couple of hours to be squeezed in!
Getting Around Hanoi
If at all possible, use Grab. We were the victim of super-fast running taxi meters on a couple of occasions, so I expect this is quite a common occurrence for foreigners in Hanoi. One particular ride cost us 200.000, when the same journey the next day in a Grab car cost us 45.000. We paid those infuriating inflated fees, but others have recommended threatening to get out of the car once the scam has been noticed. So be warned, it’s probably not your imagination if you see those red digits seemingly skyrocket upwards.
Where to stay in Hanoi
Sofitel Metropole Legend Hotel *****
For five-star luxury in the city’s most beautiful neighbourhood, the French quarter, consider a stay at the Sofitel Metropole Legend Hotel. The century old hotel was built in the French colonial style, featuring green shutters against white walls, boasting old world elegance and five-star service. Many famous faces from the past and present have had the privilege of staying there.
La Siesta Diamond Hotel & Spa ****
La Siesta Diamond Hotel & Spa offers exemplary service and beautifully appointed rooms in the heart of Old Town. We stayed here just one night and loved the location, by all of the trendy cafes and restaurants that we had hoped to visit. Four-star hotel, but feels like five, and fantastic value.
Hanoi La Siesta Central Hotel & Spa ****
A new hotel, just 6 months old, this stylish property has beautiful monochrome decor throughout, from the lobby to their trendy rooftop bar. True to our prior experience at La Siesta Diamond Hotel, the service was five-star, even though the hotel was just four stars (something that perhaps should be reviewed!). They couldn’t do more for us. Highly recommend for your stay in Hanoi.