Vietnam’s small elegant capital lies in the heart of the Red River Delta in the north of the country. While it may lack the bustling river life and physical beauty of the Mekong Delta in the south, there is a wealth of historical and spiritual sights to explore and the city is often called ‘the Paris of the Orient’. The city’s broad tree-lined boulevards, lakes and parks, belle époque villas and beautiful temples reflect a blend of Indo-Chinese and French colonial influences. Given the political and historical importance of Hanoi and its burgeoning population, it’s a surprisingly low-key but vibrant city, sharply in contrast to Ho Chi Minh City in the south. Nowhere is its liveliness more evident than in the tangle of streets known as the Old Quarter, the city’s commercial heart since the 15th-century. Hanoi is a good base for excursions to Ha Long Bay, and to Sa Pa and the northern mountains where you can sample life in rural Vietnam. There are some attractions closer by, like North Vietnam’s most famous pilgrimage site, the beautiful Perfume Pagoda, said to be named after the spring blossoms that scent the air.
WHERE TO STAY
17a Tran Hung Dao, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi (00 84 4 824 5346)
A stylish international hotel with a mock-colonial façade and eight floors of impeccably furnished rooms, some a touch on the small side. It also boasts a slick restaurant and a health club.
HILTON HANOI OPERA
1 Le Thanh Tong, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi (00 84 4 933 0530)
This luxurious property adjacent to the Opera House is a good-value option for those seeking five-star accommodation. Features 269 rooms with high-speed internet access, and satellite TV, while in-house services include a business centre, two executive floors, fitness centre and outdoor swimming pool. The Lobby Lounge bar has become a popular nightspot for delicious cocktails and visiting flamenco bands.
INTERCONTINENTAL HANOI WESTLAKE
1a Nghi Tam, Tay Ho, Hanoi (00 84 4 270 8888)
A very stylish hotel overlooking the 800-year-old Golden Lotus Pagoda in Hanoi’s largest lake, the InterContinental Hanoi Westlake has 359 good-sized and beautifully decorated rooms with LCD TVs and deep baths. The Milan restaurant serves Italian food, while Saigon specialises in the Vietnamese and Chinese cuisines, and Café du Lac is an excellent French brasserie.
44B Ly Thuong Kiet Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi (0800 032 4254)
Melia Hanoi is a member of the Great Hotels of the World and occupies a central location right in the heart of Hanoi’s business, government and diplomatic district. Heads of states such as Spain’s Queen Sofia, HR Princess Anne of the UK and members of the Brunei Royal family have stayed here. The hotel has a heliport on its roof, so guests can arrive in style. All rooms have luxurious bathrooms, minibar and satellite TV. The hotel also has the largest ballroom in Vietnam, with an impressive capacity for up to 1,200 guests. There are two restaurants including El Patio that serves international cuisine during the day and the Asian-inspired El Oriental restaurant. The hotel is within walking distance of Hanoi landmarks such as the Grand Cathedral, the Grand Opera House, Hoan Kiem Lake and the Temple of Literature.
84 Tran Tong, Hanoi (00 84 4 822 3535)
A luxurious hotel with well-appointed rooms with standard five-star facilities, the Nikko Hanoi is Japanese-owned and retains a distinctly Japanese – rather minimalist – feel. The sushi bar Benkay is excellent. Other facilities include a business centre, health club and outdoor swimming pool.
15 Ngo Quyen, Hanoi (00 84 4 826 6919)
Despite fierce competition from new luxury rivals, the Metropole remains the most prestigious address in Hanoi. Opened in 1901, past guests include Charlie Chaplin, Jane Fonda and Jacques Chirac. Though rooms in the new award-winning Opera Wing exude international-class luxury, they lack the old-world charm of the original building, with its wooden floorboards, period furniture and bamboo wall coverings. There are 363 rooms and suites, and in-house facilities include a business centre, hair salon, small outdoor swimming pool, and a fitness centre. A spa will open soon. Spices Garden serves upmarket Vietnamese fare, while Le Beaulieu is one of the finest French brasseries in town. The hotel is a seriously luxurious experience.
4 Ba Trieu, Hanoi (00 84 4 934 1256)
A very smart hotel – formerly known as Thuy Nga – with 40 elegantly decorated rooms and a great location near to Hoan Kiem Lake. All mod cons and reasonable prices make this a good budget option.
22 Ta Hien, Hang Buom (00 84 4 3935 2485)
In the heart of the Old Quarter, a few steps from Dong Xuan market and some of the city’s best street life and shopping (silks, crafts, food – including excellent dried fruits), is the latest addition to a chain that has flourished by providing well-designed, well-run, mid-range hotels. Essence Hanoi’s public and private spaces all follow the same theme: white walls, muted fabrics and dark wood, and all 30 rooms have complimentary-use laptops and free Wi-Fi. The upper floors are brightest and quietest for those seeking respite from the lively and at times chaotic Old Quarter location. The hotel’s Essence Café serves an excellent pho (noodle soup).
HOTEL DE L’OPERA
29 Trang Tien Street, Hoan Kiem District (00 84 4 6282 5555)
Part of Accor’s M Gallery, a collection of hotels with personality, this one is modern and bold, especially in its high ceilings, picture windows and splashes of bright colour. The ground-floor Bentley boutique announces that this is the heart of uptown, on what is the Fifth Avenue of Hanoi – but it’s also a short walk from the central lake and the Old Quarter. The 107 rooms have lots of colour and texture – mosaic tiles in bathrooms, red-velvet headboards, purple throws on the fabulously big beds – and attract businessmen and younger creatives alike.