Founded more than a millennium ago; established as the centre of government for the Indochina in 1888; and named as the capital of reunified North and South Vietnam in 1975, Hanoi is a city rich...
Owing to its long history and diverse and cosmopolitan nature, Hanoi enjoys an exciting food culture. Cooking is considered an art form in Vietnam, and as a result the capital has no shortage of impressive dishes and eateries.
Packed with charming colonial architecture, the Old Quarter is Hanoi’s major commercial district. A maze of ancient trade streets, the Old Quarter is a great place to experience traditional and modern Vietnamese fare. Preserved shop-houses host restaurants, bakeries and bars; while street vendors ply the streets hawking local and adventurous delicacies. Hang Hanh, a lively street near Hoan Kiem Lake, is a popular Vietnamese hang out, lined with cafés and restaurants. As the city’s major business and tourism hub, the Old Quarter comes alive at night with live music venues, discos, clubs, bars and karaoke joints.
The wide tree-lined boulevards of the French Quarter offer a refreshing contrast to the chaotic cobblestoned lanes of the Old Quarter. Dotted with lemon-hued colonial villas, the French Quarter is home to embassies, upscale hotels and designer restaurants. Visitors could be forgiven for thinking they were in Paris as the Quarter’s main artery, Trang Tien, is lined with cafes, bookshops and art galleries, and permeated with the smell baguettes and café au lait – a reminder of Hanoi’s French colonial history.
A typical Hanoi breakfast consists of pho. Pho can be bought on city blocks all throughout the city, as makeshift pho stands with vendors serving the steaming noodles broth populate the street corners. The classic Vietnamese noodle soup is sold from sunrise to last call.
Another authentic Hanoi food experience is to pull up a stool at one of the city’s many bia hois (beer halls), and indulge in the local beer. Draft beer (bia hoi) is sacred to Vietnam, and can be enjoyed all throughout the city.
Shopping in Hanoi does not disappoint. The thousand-year old Vietnamese capital brims with an array of shopping opportunities, ranging for cheap and cheerful to expensive and impressive.
Most of the city’s retail trade is conducted near Hoan Kiem Lake, within the Hoan Kiem District. Hang Bac Street – one of the oldest streets in Vietnam – has its roots in silver making, dating back to the 13th century, and is still a great place to pick up beautiful Vietnamese jewellery. Hang Gai Street (Silk Street) is renowned its craftsmen, and is a go-to for personally tailored suits and garbs. While Hang Dau Street is a haven for shoe-lovers.
Little Hanoi, a shopping area which covers Nha Tho Street and Xuan Dieu Street, brims with tourists looking to pick up souvenirs and unusual pieces. The area also hosts a few upmarket flagship shops, including Burberry and Esprit. Pho Trang Tien is Hanoi’s premier art street, boasting private galleries and workshops. Trang Tien Plaza attracts a young and trendy crowd with imported brand names in fashion, apparel and electronic goods.
The city also has a good range of markets, which provide a great opportunity to experience Hanoi’s social setting and retail scene. Hanoi’s largest covered market, Dong Xuan is a sprawling traditional Vietnamese market, home to stalls selling everything from trinkets to fake goods and fashion to home wares. Cho 19-12 (the 19-12 Market) is one of Hanoi's most interesting markets; a labyrinth of local goods, produce and oddities.