Hanoi Old Quarter – what still remains of an Ancient Hanoi

Though being the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi is not all about modernity. If a comparison must be made between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, 2 biggest and busiest cities, Hanoi wins the special place in my heart. The city where I was born has a speechless charm that is shown through every corner of the streets, every people I meet and every food I eat. If you want to know why I love my city so much, let’s spend at least 2 days in your Vietnam tours exploring Hanoi Old Quarter.

In the history of Hanoi Old Quarter, the “36 streets” is the oldest part locating in the heart of Hanoi, next to Hoan Kiem Lake. This comprises of thousand years old streets with the colonial architecture style dating back to the 15th century. Actually, there are more than 36 streets counted inside the area, in some of the documents I read, the total number of streets is 76. Some researchers also believe that the number 36 stands for 36 guild locations that were workshops, not streets. Time after time, as the city developed more and more, these names were coined to the streets. Now, the Old Quarter has changed so much but still can preserve some of the main characteristics.


Hanoi ancient house
The typical architecture of Hanoi ancient house

The most narrow and cramped part in the center of Hanoi

When you are on a Hanoi walking tour for a stroll around the old town, mind your step, otherwise you can get collided with other people or even the traffic! All of the streets are so narrow and zigzagging. Trust me, you can get lost for the first time here. Despite limited space, houses, shops and traffic are crazily packed that for most of the time, pedestrians must walk down the streets while the sidewalks are occupied by businesses. The fact is that it is not legal to own the sidewalks for selling; but you can sometimes see the funny situation in Hanoi when the police come to repress the people that are sitting outside for coffee. However, once they leave, everything goes back to normal.

You will also be surprised when looking at the houses in the Old Quarter, no tall and large buildings, only ancient and small houses. Of course, except for some hotels that newly built for foreign travelers. The front part of houses in the area are mostly used for opening stores, coffee shops, restaurants, travel agencies; but insides, 3 to 4 generations are living under one roof. These long and thin houses are called “tube houses”. Many residents do not want to move out of the area because Old Quarter is really a “gold mine”, they can earn their living even with an extremely tiny space.

Not only the hidden things in Old Quarter, there are many unique things to do in Hanoi that await you. So you can escape the tourist trap to explore Hanoi in an authentic way.

Hanoi Old Quarter
A narrow street with shops and vehicles on 2 sides

Long lasting business in Hanoi Old Quarter

As mentioned above, main streets inside the Old Quarter were named after the guilds. All of the names start with “Hang”, this means “store” in English. Then, the second words after “Hang” indicate the type of product that families living inside make and sell. Due to rapid change of life and also demand of residents, now only some of the street can preserve the tradition.

There is a street called Hang Bac. “Bac” means silver, so if you want to find a piece of silver jewelry, you should come here. If you want to buy wrapping paper or decoration, come to Hang Ma street. If you want to buy casual clothing, come to Hang Ngang and Hang Dao street. For the rest of the street, nowadays, there are many other types of products are sold, thus being very convenient for all inhabitants & the travelers.

Hang Bac Street
Hang Bac Street a.k.a Silver Street

Hanoi coffee culture and Hanoi street food

Sidewalks coffee shops are the most prominent image you can catch everywhere in the Old Quarter. Coffee is such an integral part in Vietnamese life; and drinking coffee is not at all a luxury thing to do for Hanoian. People here enjoy sitting on plastic chairs, sipping coffee that slowly drips from a filter, chitchatting with friends and watching the hectic pace of life. If one day you can’t stand the bustle, find yourself a hidden coffee shop; or treat yourself with a cup of Vietnamese egg coffee. There are some places for coffee drinkers that lie inside the ancient houses. You will need to go through a long alley or walk up a narrow stair. Once you manage to get here, you will leave behind all worries and sorrows I am sure.

In additions to coffee, Hanoi Old Quarter is second most well known for Vietnamese street food. Vietnam, from a long time ago, is considered as a kitchen of the world; and Hanoi, the capital will give you chance to taste the specialties from all over the country. The way people hear enjoy food is as simple as they do with coffee. Fancy restaurants do exist, but food vendors or local restaurants still stand out most of the time. For this reason, when visiting Hanoi, foreign travelers always choose to take part in a Hanoi street food tour around the town.


Hanoi coffee culture
A coffee shop on the sidewalk

Nightlife activities in the Old Quarter

If the Old town only has ancient features, it cannot be enough for the young generations and travelers. When the night falls, a part of the town is crammed with beer shops, bars, pubs and music. You should not miss taking some cups of craft beer, together with some snacks such as French fries, fried chicken wings, fermented pork roll.

On every weekend, there is a list of activities waiting for you; such as night market, pedestrian area, live music, traditional performance and games. If you are lucky to stay in Hanoi from Friday night to Saturday night, you will be up all night!

Hanoi nightlife
A noisy Hanoi when the night falls

Suggestions for hassle-free Vietnam tours 2024/25

If you would like to have a perfect Hanoi tour combining with other Vietnam destinations, here are some suggested Vietnam tours for you:


Hanoi Old Quarter is a valuable heritage of the past and is facing rapid change of life. But we all hope that even with the change, its charming will not disappear in the near future. 

Minh Vu – Travel Specialist

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