Boulevards and majestic buildings
If you need a break from the chaos of Old Quarter, wander down to Hanoi’s French Quarter, where wide open streets, majestic buildings and high-end hotels, restaurants and shops await.
The French Quarter lies to the southeast of Hoan Kiem lake and has an atmosphere far more refined than the mercantile 36 streets of the Old Quarter. In the late 19th century, when the French occupied Hanoi, they demolished many of the old Vietnamese buildings and replaced them with imposing and quite stunning French-style villas, particularly in this area, well into the 1900s. As well as the architecture, the quarter is characterised by wide tree-lined streets which, while still busy with traffic, are easier to navigate than the narrow alleys of Old Quarter. The area is also home to some of Hanoi’s ritziest restaurants and hotels.
Start at the statue of Ly Thai To, just to the east of the lake. From there, walk east along Le Thach Street and at the end of the street you'll find the beautiful Art Deco-style State Bank of Vietnam building. Turn right onto Ngo Quyen and the government guesthouse, previously the Building of the Governor of Tonkin (North Vietnam) and the Government Building of Vietnam, is on the right. A small park lies opposite and here you will usually find a number of cyclo drivers vying for business. Hop on if you’re not in a walking mood.
Next to the park is the famous Sofitel Metropole Legend Hotel, built in 1901. If you’re feeling flush, stop off for a drink or a spot of shopping at its high-end outlets. The hotel is a popular spot for wedding photos and you can create your own memories with some posing by the classic cars and cyclos parked out front.
Rather than walking past the front of the hotel, double-back and walk between the park and the hotel. At the end, turn right onto Ly Thai To. If dining at the Metropole isn’t to your taste, try Club Opera, along here on the left, or turn onto Ly Dao Thanh and head to 1997-opened Press Club; although pricey, the lunchtime set menu is good value. The jazz is only played during the evenings, but Binh Minh Jazz Club is just a little further down here, or perhaps try an afternoon tipple a block further east at Tadioto.
Turn left down Le Thanh Tong and come face to face with the imposing Opera House, the glorious pinnacle of French architecture in Hanoi. Given the amount of traffic that passes here, it’s tricky to get a clear view—or photo—but it’s certainly photogenic. The Opera House puts on regular concerts and plays at reasonable prices, so do check out what’s on when you’re in town. Highlands Coffee has a branch in the garden to the right of the Opera House if you’re ready for a break, or there are a number of cafes across the park opposite.
Walk to the left of the Opera House and 100 metres or so along Trang Tien is the National Museum of Vietnamese History, an excellent museum worth a few hours of your time.
The Army Guest House on nearby Pham Ngu Lao has a reasonable pool open to the public if you're looking to chill out for a few hours. If not, turn and back track along Trang Tien past the Opera House, and continue on, exploring the designer shops and book stores along the way. This street is home to the main branch of Trang Tien ice cream, Hanoi’s most famous ice cream outlet. On warm evenings it heaves with young people stopping off on motorbikes. Grab a takeaway popsicle or dine in for something more elaborate.
Trang Tien brings you back to the bottom of Hoan Kiem Lake, from where you can continue walking around the lake or relax with a coffee. While this route takes in the main highlights of the French Quarter, you should feel free to follow your nose down smaller streets, where you'll find plenty else of interest.
Samantha Brown is a reformed news reporter. She now edits most of the stuff you read on Travelfish.org, except for when you find a typo, and then that's something she wasn't allowed to look at.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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