The Vietnamese particularly enjoy doing two things during their free time: visiting a park or a cafe. When you visit the Hoan Kiem District in Hanoi, you can visit Hoan Kiem Lake, which acts as a focal point of Vietnamese public life in the capital of Vietnam.
It is particularly famous because of the sacred turtle, which recently died. During the weekdays and weekends, people gather around the park and just relax, walk a dog, or take selfies. There is so much happening around the lake, so let’s play it like the locals and find out what there is to do around Hoan Kiem Lake!
1. What is so special about Hoan Kiem Lake?
Hoan Kiem Lake is indeed a focal point of the Vietnamese people’s lives. If it is the weekdays or weekends, there are always a lot of people simply enjoying a peaceful moment around the lake. Streets in Vietnam seem to be always crowded by busy motorbikes and cars, so it is a nice break from all the craziness.
People at the lake might be just sitting on benches or walking their dogs; it is always busy with locals and tourists at Hoan Kiem Lake. Because of its importance in Vietnamese people’s lives, surrounding the lake, you can find a lot of establishments, which can be fun and exciting for tourists to visit and experience.
2. Visit the historical St. Joseph's Cathedral
Two blocks or so west of the lake is the St. Joseph’s Cathedral. It is a historical building built back in 1886. You are not allowed to take pictures of the church inside and need to be dressed appropriately, but the church is open to the public. If you are lucky, you may see local Vietnamese Catholics here and catch a glimpse of the lives of 4 million Catholics in Vietnam.
Like the St. Joseph’s Cathedral, there are a lot of historical touristy locations near the lake that you can visit. These include Hoa Lo Prison, Vietnamese Women’s Museum, and Thang Long Water Puppet Theater. You can choose to design a day to visit one, two or all of these locations.
3. Let's take a smoothie break at a cafe with a lake view
Cafe hopping is a trend in Hanoi! When you walk around Vietnam and also see the street views from your hotel, you are curious where all of the Vietnamese people you see are going. There are a lot of people on bikes everywhere and you want to know where they are all heading to. Apparently, Vietnamese people enjoy going to parks, cafes, and karaoke. The popularity of cafes is obvious around Hoan Kiem Lake.
There are a lot of cafes to choose from and you see many locals and tourists taking a little break enjoying their coffee, tea, or smoothie. Quite frankly, if you are out for one afternoon, you are very likely to cafe hop twice or three times because it is simply so hot and busy on the streets that you want to take a little cafe break.
There are a lot to choose from, but if you are looking for a seat by the lake and a bird’s eye view of what seems like Hanoi’s Times Square/Shibuya Crossing, you should try those cafes high up on the 4th and 5th floor.
4. Walk around and discover beautiful architecture
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and Hoan Kiem Lake is really the center of Vietnamese people’s lives. Because of this, around the lake, there are a lot of establishments that are a big part of Vietnamese people’s lives and also tourists who visit Hanoi. When you visit the lake, take a walk around a few blocks away from the lake in each direction because you will run into impressive architecture.
Keep a lookout for one of the most luxurious hotels in Hanoi, Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi Hotel. It is 0.1 kilometers from the Hanoi Opera House, which is also an impressive building. Around these buildings there are many other beautiful buildings, which are popular for international tourists to see, and also for locals who are taking wedding photos. It is popular for Vietnamese couples to take wedding photos around this area, and if you are lucky, you may run into a happy groom and a beautiful bride getting their photos taken right at the hotel. Even if you do not stay at the hotel, you can always visit the cafe to take a moment to enjoy the luxury.
5. Shopping around Hoan Kiem Lake
Shopping around Hoan Kiem Lake can be little intimidating at first since there is simply a lot of traffic left and right when you walk down the streets. Around the lake, each street is very specific for selling one thing. For example, one street is filled with shoe store after shoe store, and another street is filled with books.
In Hanoi, you just need to find a particular street where you can find everything. Though a lot of things with well-known international brands are very likely not real, so you should be aware of that you are shopping. Of course, there are those shops that are more for tourists, so you can shop beautifully crafted letter sets and also fresh fruits from the Vietnamese ladies on the streets.
Hoan Kiem Lake as the center of tourism in Hanoi
As well as Hoan Kiem Lake being the focal point of Vietnamese people’s lives, it is also the focal point for tourists. Around the lake, there are accommodations, restaurants, cafes, shops, and museums making it convenient for a first-time tourist in Hanoi to get around.
Depending on what you are into, you can choose your activities and where to eat. There are choices of very cheap local Vietnamese food to luxurious hotel restaurants. Hoan Kiem Lake is a good starting point for anybody visiting Hanoi for the first time.
Get Trip101 in your inbox
You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
*5% off when you book with our promo code: TRIP101
*For our Canadian and US travellers, unfortunately due to financial services laws, we cannot provide a discount. This promotional code cannot be used with any other discount offer, including World Nomads Members’ discount for travel insurance policy holders.