Walking Hanoi - Part 2 - Old Quarter to the French Quarter - review by Rusty Compass
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Walking Hanoi - Part 2 - Old Quarter to the French Quarter

| 27 Jul 2017
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Walking Hanoi - Part 2 - Old Quarter to the French Quarter
Start - St Josephs Cathedral Hanoi
Our rating
27 Jul 2017

This Hanoi walk takes us from the Catholic centre of the Old Quarter through the French colonial architecture of the precinct known as the French Quarter. When I last did the walk, it was a stinking hot 38 degree day - but I still had a great time. And the shade of Hanoi’s tree lined streets provided some relief.

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This Hanoi walk takes us through the colonial architecture of the precinct known as the French Quarter. The Opera House, The Metropole Hotel, the Vietnam History Museum and other important architectural and historical landmarks are located here. And there are plenty of other interesting street scenes as well.

Use the map below to find your way. You can comfortably see the main buildings in 3.0 hours on foot.



Best to move at a leisurely pace, make an afternoon of it, check out the Vietnamese History Museum (allow at least an hour) and grab a drink at the historic Metropole Hotel too (they ain’t cheap). 

Start - St Joseph’s Cathedral Hanoi Nha Tho St - 1886

The centre of the Catholic Church in Hanoi is a good place to start the walk. The protection of Vietnam’s small but often persecuted Catholic population provided one of the pretexts for French colonisation in the mid nineteenth century.

The church and colonisation are inseparable and the church has played an outsize role in Vietnam’s modern history. Check out the Neo-Gothic St Joseph’s Cathedral and the complex of Catholic church buildings that run alongside it towards the the old Archcbishop’s Residence - the building that sits in Hang Trong Park. It’s now a library - though we’ve never been allowed in to check out the books.

The French demolished a large pagoda to create these church structures.


Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi

Walk through Nam Huong Temple to Hoan Kiem Lake, the spiritual heart of Hanoi - steeped in legends of national struggle against foreign invaders.

The "restored sword" legend has it that Emperor Le Loi was empowered by a magical sword in his 15th century battle against Chinese invaders. After his victory, he returned the magical sword to a tortoise in the lake marking the return of sovereignty and peace in the kingdom.

The tortoise tower in the centre of the lake marks the event.

A legendary huge tortoise that lived in the lake for decades died in early 2016 prompting concern of a bad omen from the city’s superstitious folk.


Sofitel Metropole Hotel, Hanoi

Vietnam’s most beautiful colonial era hotel opened in 1901. It played witness to the upheaval of Hanoi’s twentieth century. If the budget won’t cover a stay, try and grab a drink here during your visit.


Metropole Hanoi
Photo: Mark Bowyer Metropole Hanoi

Government Guest House, Hanoi

The State Guest House was formerly the residence of the French colonial Governor of Tonkin. Tonkin was the name for the northern Vietnam region during colonial times. After the 1945 revolution, it became the office of Ho Chi Minh’s government prior to the return of the French.

I stayed in the less picturesque Soviet era concrete block at the back- part of the same complex -  on my first visit to Hanoi in 1990.


Former residence of the Governor of Tonkin. Now the Government Guest House, Hanoi
Photo: Mark Bowyer Former residence of the Governor of Tonkin. Now the Government Guest House, Hanoi

State Bank of Vietnam, Hanoi

The old Bank of Indochina building is now the headquarters for the State Bank of Vietnam. Built in the 1930s, it brings together art deco, local design features, and a strong sense of authority - the stuff big banks like.


The old Bank of Indochina, Hanoi - now the State Bank
Photo: Mark Bowyer The old Bank of Indochina, Hanoi - now the State Bank

Museum of Vietnamese History, Hanoi

One of Hanoi’s best museums is also one its most interesting pieces of architecture. During French times it was the School of the Far East (École française d'Extrême-Orient EFEO) - a centre for the study of local archaeology, languages and society. It’s an outstanding example of the Indochine architectural style - fusing Asiatic and French architectural influences. The style flourished in the 1920s and 30s.


Opera House, Hanoi

Hanoi’s French colonial Opera House is one of the most photographed landmarks in the city. Inaugurated in 1911, it’s modelled on the Palais Garnier in Paris. It continues to be a centre of performance in the city. Catch a show here if you can.


University of Science and Pasteur Institute

Continue along Le Thanh Tong St past the Science University, through a park dedicated to Louis Pasteur, wrapping up at the old Pasteur Institute. These buildings are two of our favourites. Like the Vietnamese History Museum, they are the work of French planner and architect Ernest Hebrard. Hebrard was one of the great architects of Indochina. He created buildings and influenced city planning in Hanoi, Dalat, Saigon and Phnom Penh.

For more on the work of Hebrard, check this blog piece.

The gallery below is a general portrait of Hanoi’s incredible architectural heritage.



Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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