Hanoi is a sprawling city, but the main areas of interest to visitors are all conveniently congregated within easy reach of each other. The city’s most famous neighborhood, the Old Quarter, is laid out as a warrenlike maze north of Hoan Kiem Lake. Further south, the cacophonous streets and narrow shophouses yield to the tree-lined avenues and stately villas of the French Quarter. Immediately west of the Old Quarter is Ba Dinh District, home to Hanoi’s most important cultural and historical monuments. West Lake is a short ride northwest from here. Getting around on foot can be tiring, so if you intend to stick within the Old Quarter or elsewhere in Hoan Kiem District, break up your walks with a cyclo (pedicab) ride or two. Otherwise consider taking taxis, or if you’re feeling a little more adventurous, hop on the back of a xe om (motorcycle taxi). Keep in mind that many streets bear different names in different sections.
The Old Quarter. The logical starting point for most visitors, this ancient enclave bursts with amenities and attractions. After 1,000 years one of Hanoi’s main centers of commerce, the narrow streets are still alive with shops, markets, bars, and a plethora of people-watching opportunities.
The French Quarter. The wide avenues and graceful villas of the area south and southwest of Hoan Kiem Lake present an alluring change of pace after the frenetic hubbub of the Old Quarter. The area, large swathes of which were the old French Quarter, is much easier to navigate too, and the numerous restaurants and cafés make convenient refueling stations during a walking tour of its main sights.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Around. Ba Dinh District is home to a variety of historic sights, both ancient and more contemporary. Ho Chi Minh’s monolithic mausoleum dominates Ba Dinh Square, while the One Pillar Pagoda and Temple of Literature are venerable relics of the Ly Dynasty.
West Lake. Hanoi’s most westernized and upscale area, West Lake is home to some of the best of the city’s dining and lodging options. Hidden enclaves showcase an easier going side to Hanoi life.