As the capital of 1000 years of history, Hanoi has within it the finest touch of what Vietnamese culture has to offer. The city hosts more cultural sights than any other cities in Vietnam, including over 600 pagodas and temples. Even though some relics have not survived through wars and time, the city still has many interesting cultural and historical monuments for visitors and residents.
Hanoi has a compelling blend of Western and Eastern architecture. Prominent French architectural style is revealed among the tree-lined streets of Hoang Dieu or Phan Dinh Phung the Grand Opera House, the State Bank of Vietnam, the Presidential Palace (formerly Place of the Governor - General of French Indochina). St Joseph’s Cathedral, and the historic hotel Sofitel Metropole, etc. On the other hand, distinctive oriental flavor resides within the ancient architecture of the Tempe of Literature (Van Mieu- Quoc Tu Giam), the One Pillar Pagoda (Chua Mot Cot), the Flag Tower of Hanoi (Cot Co Ha Noi), the Temple of Quan Thanh, Ngoc Son and the Old Quarter, etc.
Hanoi is also home to a number of museums, including the Vietnamese History Museum, The National Museum of Ethnology, The National Museum of Fine Art, the Revolution Museum and the Museum of Ho Chi Minh.
The Temple of Literature or Van Mieu, built in 1070, is the cultural symbol of Hanoi. In 1076 Quoc Tu Giam, the country’s first university, was built in the temple vicinity. In 1482, King Le Thanh Tong ordered the names of prominent scholars to be engraved on turtle steles to honor the talent and encourage learning. The tradition was carried on to the successive dynasties. To this day, there remain 82 stelae in the complex.
The Old Quarter near Hoan Kiem lake showcases the original architecture of old Hanoi. At the beginning of the 20th century, the city consisted of 36 streets, most of which are now part of the Old Quarter. Each street is typically named “Hang” followed by the word for the product traditionally sold in that street such as drum (Hang Trong), jewelry (Hang Bac) etc. These days street names may not indicate what businesses there are. Other Old Quarter highlights include: local cuisine, clubs, bars, and night markets.
West Lake (Ho Tay) is a popular place for people to spend leisure time. It is the largest lake in Hanoi with an area of 500 hectares featuring a lot of famous pagodas and temples. There are small boats available for hire and floating restaurants for dining. A newly installed pathway now circles the lake, making for a great bicycle ride.