The beautiful neo-Gothic St Joseph's Cathedral in downtown Hanoi was consecrated in 1886 and remains active today thanks to the city being home to a large community of local Catholics.
Vietnam is predominantly Buddhist, but that didn't stop the French colonists from attempting to save souls the Catholic way. The French demolished 800-year-old Bao Thien pagoda, which stood on the site and was important to the Vietnamese, in order to build the distinctly European-style church. It was built by French missionary and apostolic vicar of Tonkin Paul-François Puginier, with Paris' Notre Dame in mind. The still very active bell towers reach 31.5 metres high, making this an impressive building.
The church was closed in 1975 upon the reunification of Vietnam, and was not reopened until 1985; mass was only held again in 1990.
Access the cathedral via a side door, as the frontage is blocked off by temporary gating. The interior is majestic, and the church is known for its beautiful, French-produced stained glass—incredibly, the original has survived decades of tumultuous times.
The square around the cathedral is popular with locals just hanging out sipping tea and munching on sunflower seeds along the footpaths, and during the spring wedding season you'll likely see couples having pre-wedding photos taken outside the church.
We suggest heading to the rooftop of Eden to enjoy the view with a coffee, or the balcony of Hanoi House to sip a beer and watch the goings on in the square. For a meal, try La Place or Marilyn, both with balconies looking on to the square.
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These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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