Best Cultural Experiences in Hanoi

Hanoi, sometimes known as “The Paris of the East” is at the core of Northern Vietnamese culture. The layout and architecture is a stunning mix of well preserved ancient streets in Old Quarter, where narrow alleys snake around an eclectic mix of buildings bursting with life, and grand French Colonial Architecture along avenues lined with trees.

Cultural Experiences in Hanoi
Lose yourself in the mesmerizing chaos of old Quarters narrow streets.

In Old Quarter, the beating heart of Hanoi, the streets are famous for how they’re each named for the type of product traditionally sold there. As the ancient trading capital of Northern Vietnam, you will find streets named for all sorts of goods, from chicken to silver. Spending an evening walking along its narrow alleys, sampling street food and freshly brewed beer is a wonderful way for anyone to get a taste of authentic Hanoian life. A fitting end to such an evening is to enjoy a Ca trù performance, hosted at Ca trù Thang Long.

Ca trù Thang Long
A traditional Ca Tru performance.

Among these streets and further south around Hoan Kiem Lake there are also a plethora of art galleries. The owners are more than happy to invite you inside and take you on a tour of their art, and the Vietnamese art style of the paint almost popping out of the frames, creating a distinct 3D effect, can be seen in many of the paintings. For more fine arts, The Fine Arts Museum is an obvious stop for any tour group.

art galleries
Along with Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi is the centre of Vietnamese art.

Also on the shore of Hoan Kiem is the Water Puppet Theatre, where a unique and somewhat bizarre experience awaits your guests. Here legends and myths from Vietnamese history and the history of the city itself are told through masterful puppetry performed in a pool of water, with the puppeteers well hidden behind a curtain.

The lake itself has always been at the centre of Hanoian life, and if you take a little time to visit Ngoc Son Temple, situated on a small island in the lake, your guests can learn the legend of “Sword Lake” and the turtles that dwell within.

Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral, an image of its older brother in Paris.

As you reach the southern end of Hoan Kiem Lake, the architecture undergoes a drastic change from the lively and organic buildings of old quarter to the more stately and refined colonial architecture. This part of Hanoi is known as the “French Quarter”, and it’s easy to see why, with prominent examples of French Colonial architecture here including sights such as the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Opera House and many more. A day spent wandering this part of Hanoi or enjoying it from the back of a Cycle is recommended for any cultural tour of the city.

Temple of Literature Hanoi
The Temple of Literature houses Vietnam’s oldest university.

Further west you can pay a visit to The Temple of Literature. Founded in 1070 and dedicated to Confucius and scholars, it contains Vietnam’s oldest university, The Imperial Academy, as well as some stunning gardens and several lakes. To the west, near the Imperial Palace, lies one of Vietnam’s most iconic temples, the One Pillar Pagoda. The unusual wooden structure stands atop a single pillar (hence the name) in order to resemble a Lotus Flower, and is sure to inspire and delight any visitor appreciative of peculiar and interesting architecture.

There is no shortage of options for a cultural itinerary in the city of Hanoi, whether you want to show your guests temples, performances, architecture or simply the daily life of its citizens.

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