Hanoi is one of the most difficult Asian cities to define. Architecturally it’s a beguiling mix of century-old pagodas, French colonial period buildings, Soviet-style public buildings, social housing and glittering crystal skyscrapers.
To get a taste of the city you have to head to the streets, particularly the Old Quarter. It’s here you’ll see how everyday Hanoians really live. Just keep an eye out for all the mopeds.
Hoan Kiem Lake was the starting point for Hanoi more than a thousand years ago and today it remains the centrepoint of the city. Visit at any time of the day and you’ll get a flavour of Hanoi. From people doing gymnastics at 5am, to the motorbikes racing late at night, there’s always something unexpected.
Hottest new venues
Two places have opened in recent years that are different aesthetically but similar in attitude. The first, Manzi art gallery, occupies a beautiful, white colonial villa on one of the best-preserved streets in Hanoi. Manzi exhibits some of the most recognised Vietnamese artists and has a great cafe should you wish to linger longer.
At night time, head to the dimly lit and atmospheric Tadioto, which is frequented by the city’s artists, intellectuals and business people who share a love of decent drinks, low-key vibes and jazz. It’s close to the Opera House and the History Museum.
Where the business crowd meets
New places keep opening in Hanoi, but it’s still hard to beat the time-honoured Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel. The Metropole remains the favourite spot with the local and international business set – especially the Bamboo Bar and Le Club Bar. Boasting great service, good music and effortless style, this grand dame is located at 15 Ngo Quyen, Hoan Kiem.
For a business dinner, the Cau Go Restaurant overlooking Hoan Kiem Lake is one of the best options with traditional Vietnamese food, while +84 Bar is the best place for after-dinner drinks, cigars and live music.
Eat, stay, play
Porte D’Annam: A cosy, dark-wood restaurant helmed by Didier Corlou and his wife Mai, who set up the enduringly popular Madame Hiên and Verticale restaurants. Styled like a traditional house it serves old favourites-style Vietnamese food; 22 Nah Tho, Hoan Kiem.
Quan An Ngon: Rustic villa that’s become a temple for street-food lovers; 18 Phan boi Chau, Hoan Kiem.
Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi: This Indochine icon is still the top inn in town – you can choose from the charming old wing or stylised new. Visit for a drink or afternoon tea; 15 Ngo Quyen, Hoan Kiem.
InterContinental West Lake Hotel: The best combination of business and leisure in a busy city, it feels almost like a resort with its West Lake views, balconies and Thai-influenced design. The splendid Sunset Bar is a must-go; 1 Nghi Tam, Quang An, Tay Ho.
Hanoi Creative City: Creative City is a great mix of cafes, restaurants, art galleries, pop-ups and street art, all in one place; 1 Luong Yen, Bach Dang, Hai Ba Trưng.
Ethnological Museum: Explains the diversity of Vietnam and has a wonderful garden with replicas of the mountain houses; Nguyen Van Huyen, Cau Giay.
Longtime resident of Hanoi, Diego Cortizas is co-owner and designer of Hanoi-based fashion label Chula Fashion.
Want to discover more of Hanoi’s best bits? Nab a copy of the all-new LUXE Hanoi guide…