Last updated on October 27th, 2018 at 03:16 pm
Hanoi is becoming such an amazing destination in Asia, really unmissable, with its beautiful cafes and boutique accommodations.
The question is:
What are the best areas to stay in Hanoi (or even better where to stay in Hanoi)?
Well, this is exactly what you will find out in this guide.
Hanoi is a big Asia metropolis, with 8 million people. My personal suggestion is to book in the area you want to explore the most, even if you have to compromise on the price.
Booking in the wrong area may mean hours spent on transportation, stuck in traffic, which is quite frustrating.
If you are looking for the latest news on Hanoi and Vietnam, then you should check out Vietnam.net and the Voice of Vietnam. They are both in English with plenty of info on the latest events. A great source.
The best areas to stay in Hanoi tend to be all around the Old Quarter and the West Lake. This is where the city started, and this is where you will find the most charming streets and buildings.
The Old Quarter is located north of the Hoan Kiem area and the Hoan Kiem Lake. It’s the most touristy area of Hanoi, where you will find plenty of restaurants, cafes and accommodations, especially on the cheap side of the range.
It’s a beautiful maze of lanes and alleys with a bunch of larger streets. Cars tend not to venture too much in the lanes however scooters are literally everywhere.
It can be quite chaotic and noisy too and in this respect, I would absolutely suggest visiting the Old Quarter both in the day and in the night, however, if you are after a relaxing and quiet sleep night then probably this area is not the best.
If you have just a short stay (1 or 2 days) then the Old Quarter has to be. This is the most interesting part of Hanoi with local people still working in the streets, welding and hammering, shops selling everything you need, including bird cages (just in case you are after some bulky stuff).
It’s almost like a village in a city.
Surely you will see and meet lots of tourists, and this can be a good thing if you are after a fun night. It can be less so if you want to feel part of the local life and in this case, you probably want to book your accommodation elsewhere.
You almost have the feeling there are more hotels than houses in this part of Hanoi. There are some great options though. It’s also cheaper than in other parts of the city.
But be prepared that in most of the hotels it can be noisy. Be sure to have earplugs with you.
The Hanoi Legacy Hotel is actually good in this respect, especially if you get a room on the high floor. The view from the balcony to the old quarter is great. Lovely breakfast and so convenient to move around the area. It’s a great base at a bargain price
If you are after a bargain then have a look at the Hanoi Serenity Hotel, also very nice with a great breakfast too.
If you are looking for a hotel in the Old Quarter with a swimming pool then I would probably suggest checking the Sofitel Legend Metropole. It’s technically speaking in the French Quarter, however, less than 10 minutes walking from the Old Quarter core. It’s a beautiful old style building with one of the best retro design and service in Hanoi.
Another option is the Army Hotel, also minutes away from the Old Quarter core. The swimming pool is perfect, sunny in the morning and shady in the afternoon. The rooms are also nice with a good size breakfast. The pool is open also to externals for around $7 (great in case your hotel doesn’t have a pool).
As you may have noticed, there are no hotels in the Old Quarter with a swimming pool. You usually need to stay in the French Quarter (more expensive option) or north, almost in the Truc Bach area. Budget in 10-20 minutes walk.
You can find replica clothes, shoes, bags etc literally everywhere in the Old Quarter.
Be aware that the famous Dong Xuan market is mostly dedicated to retails/wholesale and they do not sell to the public. In saying that it’s a great place to wander around and surely for photography.
The Hanoi Night Market is also a great place for shopping, a drink and some food. There is a mix of local and tourist crowd.
Bargaining is a must, similar to Thailand if you are used to it. Start with 40-50% less than asked and meet somewhere in the middle. The sellers are used to that and it can be actually good fun when done with a smile and a laugh.
The Apron Up Restaurant is a good spot for dinner. They also have cooking classes in case you are interested to improve your Vietnamese skills 🙂
The best way to experience the Hanoi French Quarter is through a self guided walking tour. Just wandering around and admiring this controversial part of the city
Why controversial and, I may add, so widely different from the Old Quarter?
It all goes down to the history of Vietnam and the French Empire.
This part of the city was decided to be the centre of the French power in South East Asia. Most of the original Vietnamese buildings and religious temples were bulldozed and new ones were erected instead, using the 19th-century French architecture as a common style.
A great part of the area was actually owned by the church that created small parks and squares all around.
This may explain why this part of the city is actually surprisingly very walkable as access to motorbikes and cars is limited.
It is however quite controversial as the Vietnamese heritage has been lost, it almost seems to be in France in a few corners (humidity is different though 🙂 )
You can join an organised group or you can have your self guided walking tour. Here below you find a possible map with end/start at the Pasteur Street Brewing, a nice bar to have a beer and a few nibbles.
What is best?
They are both very characteristic.
The old quarter is more Vietnamese in style, still with some local life and cheaper prices in both accommodations and restaurants
The French Quarter is more French in style, there is much more open space, it’s more liveable and you do not feel almost oppressed by the tiny lanes and the chaotic traffic of the Old Quarter. It’s more of a Asian European experience but with a step back in time, in early 1900.
If you are after a higher class hotel, a quieter night and maybe a beautiful grand architecture then the French Quarter is a better option.
Keep in mind that you can always walk between the two areas in 10-20 minutes.
One of the most characteristic places in Hanoi is the Sofitel Legend Metropole. A beautiful interior with a historical atmosphere. They even have walking tours through the hotel where you can also experience the recently found bunkers. A lovely swimming pool (rare in centre of the city) helps to cool down the day.
A great alternative is the Hotel de l’Opera Hanoi, MGallery with its very stylish interior, a beautiful building, a great breakfast buffet and a prime location, close to really everything you need.
This is the area of Hanoi where probably the most expats live.
Because it’s more easy-going, quieter, not that chaotic as the Old Quarter, with many green areas around the 17km lake perimeter.
On a misty day, early in the morning, you almost do not see the other end of the lake. A relaxing place to have a walk, an area where the locals go for exercise (yoga, etc)
There are restaurants and cafes around, plenty of options to spend the full day, however, you are sort of far from the Hanoi city centre, which is, in my opinion, the most interesting part.
A taxi ride takes around 25-40minutes or much more on peak traffic time (7-9am and 5-7pm).
There are a few beautiful hotels, much quieter and very romantic too. A great solution for families with kids or for a romantic hideaway.
West Lake is the ideal place in case you want to stay in a quieter area and you don’t mind the short trip to the major attractions in the city centre.
A quick tip here, pre-load on your mobile the Grab app. The trips can be much less expensive than by taxi. Uber was also another option however they closed the service in April 2018.
The InterContinental Hanoi Westlake is one of my favourite hotels in the area, and for a few reasons
Another option is the Hanoi Club Hotel. The location is even better, around 10 minutes by taxi, or Grab, to the Old Quarter. You can even walk there, it will take 35-45 minutes, it can be quite scenic, especially if you go through the Tran Quoc Pagoda. The pool is facing the lake, the building is not spectacular however the rooms have a good view of the lake. It’s a great value option, especially considering the proximity to the Old Quarter.
If you are after food and drinks options then you should check out:
Ba Dinh is another beautiful area of Hanoi, less touristy than the others in this post.
It’s considered to be the neighbourhood for the Vietnamese elite. Lots of parks, green areas, small lakes.
It has also the highest concentration of iconic sites to visit as:
and so many more.
It’s a great area to stay if you prefer a quieter place to stay, with lots of green around and the many iconic attractions next door.
A drive to the old quarter takes around 15-25 minutes based on the time of the day. It’s a good compromise especially if you have already visited the city centre.
The Lotte Hotel is located on the top levels of the 65-floor Lotte building. The view is second to none and there is both an indoor and an outdoor pool which is great for the winter and summer too. It’s less than 3km from the iconic sites, which you can literally see from the rooftop and possibly your bedroom. It’s a 5-star accommodation with a 3-star price. Needless to say it is quite often booked out.
This is one of my favourite areas of Hanoi. It’s technically part of Ba Dinh, however, I wanted to dedicate a few more words for it (it really deserves that).
Truc Bach is nestled between the Old Quarter and the West Lake. You can get the best of all, in a quieter environment and in a walkable distance to everything.
Most of the hotels are meters away from the Ba Dinh iconic sites, the West Lake and 10 minutes walk to the centre of the city.
Have a look at the Hotel Genial if you are thinking to base yourself in this area. It’s a new hotel, quiet, clean, with complimentary breakfast and prices that you will not believe!!
In the area have a look at the Home, a cosy restaurant not to be missed. A little boutique gem that should be in any bucket food list.
Hai Ba Trung is probably not the top place to be for your first trip in Hanoi, and probably not even the second one.
Because it is more of an area inhabited by Vietnamese with almost no real attractions if not the local life, which can be really interesting if you are into street photography.
There is plenty of shopping opportunities, of all kinds, even for tourists and at a more reasonable price too.
I would definitely suggest visiting Hai Ba Trung if you are in the city for 4 or 5 days. You can experience how the locals live in Hanoi. You can spend a morning walking and wandering around.
There are accommodations in this area and usually they are cheaper too, however, I may suggest to base yourself in Hai Ba Trung only for a long stay (you can save some money) and rent a motorbike.
If just for a few days I would personally stay in the central area or close to the West Lake. No much point spending the holiday stuck in traffic.
One of the most interesting site to visit, especially for photography, is the street train. It’s actually located on the border of Hai Ba Trang (check map here), and 20 minutes walk from the French Quarter.
Here the trains pass literally cm from the houses and the local life.
There is also another similar location with the train in the middle of the city, in the Old Quarter (see map here). It is more touristy though.
Trains at 3:30pm, 5:30pm and 6:30pm in the weekend and at 7pm during the week. Be safe, don’t get too close!
Once you arrive at the Noi Bai International Airport you can catch one of these means of transportation to the city centre:
The bad news is that Uber does not operate any more in Hanoi. Grab is still working and it is the quickest and cheapest way to move around Hanoi (remember to download the app).
Taxis are also a good option. Just make sure the meter is started by the driver once you get in the car. If they do not want to, then just ask to leave the taxi, you could have a bad surprise at the end.
In the city you can also take a motorbike-taxi, it’s quicker and cheaper too, but more dangerous of course. You need to bargain the price prior to the trip. Budget a bit more than $.5/km (10kdong/km).
The Cyclo-taxi is another option, but mostly to tour the city centre or to go to West Lake(~20kdong/hour).
This is a list of travel photography destinations in Hanoi. I will keep updating it with more trips to come:
Stef Ferro is the founder and editor of MEL365, a travel & photography website made to enhance the travelling experience and improve the photography work.
Stef is a professional travel photographer with past experience in the cycling and film industry.
Stef runs travel photography workshops in Melbourne and around the world.