Fascinating streets and sublime buildings fill Hanoi City Centre, an area that’s also known as Hoan Kiem District. The district cascades around the serene Hoan Kiem Lake, leading visitors through tree-lined boulevards of French villas and the vibrant colours of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Hanoi City Centre is home to many of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, including numerous museums and the remains of the old Imperial City. It is where Ho Chi Minh is buried and where tranquil temple complexes contrast the energy of local markets.
Hanoi City Centre can be split into three areas, distinguished by their different architecture and atmosphere. The Old Quarter is crowded and compact, a bustling collection of streets that celebrate ancient design. Traders carry baskets of fruit, pagodas and temples provide sanctuary, while every other house seems to have its own colourful signpost. These enthusiastic streets contrast the southern half of Hanoi City Centre, where colonial villas and broad streets have a far more peaceful ambience. Among its French-inspired charms are the neo-Gothic Hanoi Grand Cathedral and Hanoi Opera House. Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum and Ba Dinh Square are just two of the attractions to the west of Hanoi City Centre, an area that also contains the distinctive Temple of Literature complex.
Walking around Hoan Kiem Lake is an excellent way to get acquainted with Hanoi City Centre. A 30-minute circuit of the water can then lead into the French Quarter and Old Quarter. While most of the area close to the water is easily seen on foot, most visitors travel out to the temples and museums using taxis, pedicabs and motorbikes. Hanoi Railway Station is less than a kilometre from Hoam Kiem Lake while express buses from Noi Bai International Airport stop in both the French Quarter and Old Quarter.
The Ly Kings established their Imperial City almost 1,000 years ago, with the Temple of Literature as its centrepiece. This remarkable building became Vietnam’s first university and is now one of the country’s most loved attractions, with dozens of beautiful courtyards and tiered wooden pagodas.