Hanoi is the city where the old meets the new, where traditions mingle with the modern lifestyle. In the same street, you might catch sight of antique houses tucked away under the base of contemporary skyscrapers, or vendors selling commoner’s treats in front of luxury restaurants. Visitors from around the globe flock here to experience, and to seek to capture that essence of the thousand-year-old culture. We will introduce our Top 6 best places to take pictures in Hanoi so you can capture what this bustling city has to offer.
Jade Island on Hoan Kiem Lake
Situated in the heart of Hanoi, Hoan Kiem Lake, or Sword Lake is arguably the most popular tourist attraction site of the city. The name “Hoan Kiem Lake” (meaning “Lake of the Returned Sword”) refers to the legend of Emperor Le Loi giving the magic sword back to the Golden Turtle God after his victorious revolt against the Ming Dynasty.
The famous Turtle Tower in the center of Hoan Kiem Lake
Getting to Hoan Kiem Lake is rather easy since it’s very popular. Simply book a car, and the driver will take you right there. If you own a motor driver's license, it’ll be more fun to travel independently with a rented motorbike in Hanoi. However, make sure you learn at least the basics of Vietnamese Traffic Laws or check out our in-depth guide on Getting around in Hanoi.
Hoan Kiem Lake is breathtakingly beautiful all year around. The plentiful green trees densely surround the lake, offering shaded spots where you can escape from the busy winding streets to sit back, relax, and observe the local way of life. Remember to visit Ngoc Son Temple, built on Jade Island, and is only accessible by Huc Bridge - the scarlet symbol of classical Vietnamese bridge design. Guarding the temple are two tall towers decorated with Chinese writings.
The iconic The Huc Bridge leads to Ngoc Son Temple
We highly recommend you visit at dawn and dusk to experience the beauty of Hoan Kiem Lake fully. The sun during these times is less harsh but gently kisses the green foliage, creating the golden frames for you to capture. Moreover, you can avoid heavy traffic in rush hours. One note is that the area around Hoan Kiem Lake and the Old Quarter will be converted into walking streets during weekends. Therefore, if you’re not familiar with the fast pace of Hanoian traffic, this will make your visit much more pleasant.
See more fun Things to do around the Hoan Kiem Lake
Completed in 1886 by the French, St. Joseph’s Cathedral is the oldest church in Hanoi and a remnant of the French Colonial Architecture. Now, the cathedral serves as a place for ceremonial events, a gathering spot for young locals and a tourist attraction.
The front of St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi
St. Joseph’s Cathedral is located on 40 Nha Chung street, at the junction with Nha Tho street. From Hoan Kiem Lake, you can easily walk to the cathedral.
Russian tourist visits the Cathedral
The architecture of St. Joseph’s Cathedral is Gothic Revival (Neo-Gothic), which resembles that of the famous Notre Dame de Paris. Time and harsh weather conditions have stained the exterior stone slabs to a shade of dark gray and give the church a nostalgic feeling.
You’re welcome to visit the outside of St. Joseph’s Cathedral at any time, but only at the following times for ceremonial practices can you see the inside:
Emerged as the new "hip" destination for young photo geeks, Phung Hung rail street features not only a fresco art wall but also a stunning railway located above the main road. And with the Hanoi’s decision to close makeshift coffee shops along the iconic Train street from October 10th, this remains as one of the few places where you can admire or take pictures of a train passing by.
Phung Hung Rail street is located near the Old Quarter, which makes maneuvering from the city center an easy task.
Phung Hung Rail street is charmingly rustic and has found its way into poetry and photography, especially after Ashit Desal, a photographer, surprised the world with his discovery of the site. Locals here still live in antique houses with a lifestyle that has hardly changed for decades. Everything seems to take you to Hanoi of the old days.
We suggest that you visit Phung Hung Rail street in the afternoon to capture the best possible frames. Also, remember to come half an hour before the train arrives, so that you have time for taking pictures of the rail and the beautiful background.
Unfortunately, the entrance to the railway is temporarily blocked by the authority since it fails to meet the safety standards. However, you can still capture beautiful moments with the paintings on the main road. Just head to the end of Phung Hung street, and you shall find them.
Wild vines on Phung Hung Railway
The next location for taking the best photos in Hanoi is another part of Hanoi’s railway system, the iconic Long Bien Bridge. This cantilever wonder was built across the Red River to connect the Hoan Kiem District with Long Bien District. Finished in 1902, it was one of the four greatest bridges of that period and has stood the test of time despite wars and numerous airstrikes. Nowadays, the bridge becomes a symbol of the city’s resilience and a must-see destination for photographers.
Long Bien Bridge attracts young locals
Upon visiting Phung Hung Rail street, you can follow the railway to get to Long Bien Bridge, which sits next to Long Bien Train Station. Here, you can park your vehicles in front of the station and walk to the bridge.
Long Bien Station
The middle railway of Long Bien Bridge
Hanoians believe that the best site to observe the sunrise or sunset is on Long Bien Bridge, where the Sun just slightly touches the green alluvial patches on the Red River.
Writings on the bridge
A keen foreign photographer
Coming up next on our list is a famous place for local photographers that not many foreigners know about, the Red River Bank Flower Park.
Portrait taken in Red River Bank Flower Park
Red River Bank Flower Park is located at the end of an alley on 264 Au Co street, next to the Red River Bank. You can follow Yen Phu street from Long Bien Station, go straight ahead until you reach Au Co street. Here, it will cost you 50,000 VND for the entrance fee and another 10,000 VND the parking fee.
Red River Bank Flower Park is dedicated to portrait photographers or people who love “selfies”. The park features various species of flowers and changes its layout following the season. Therefore, you can pay a visit all year round for many times but never get bored.
The last location on our Top 6 places to take pictures in Hanoi is West Lake, the largest freshwater lake in the city. It is known for the breathtaking scenery of the city skyline, temples, as well as the vibrant culinary scene and luxury hotels.
The captivating sunset on West Lake
Located to the west of Hanoi, West Lake is a 15-minute drive away from the downtown area. This high volume of water grants the lake with fresh air and a tranquil atmosphere, perfect to take a break from all the fumes and noises of the city center just a few kilometers away.
Late afternoon is the perfect time to visit West Lake. You’ll meet people unwinding after a long day at work, students enjoying their treats from the street-side vendors, or maybe, just the best sunset you’ve ever seen.
Find top-rated hotels in the West Lake area:
Be polite: ask locals beforehand if you want to take portraits of them. They might understand, and you’ll get a friendlier smile.
Wear sunscreen and bug spray: Hanoi’s weather may be harsh, and there are bugs flying around in certain areas. So make sure to protect yourself.
Safety first: You shouldn’t risk an arm and a leg trying to capture the fantastic pictures. Secure your belongings when taking pictures on the streets and crowded areas.
Hanoi is a city where long-standing history lives among the bustling pace of urban life. These features combine harmoniously to create an identity that’s uniquely Hanoian. We hope this blog can help you to somewhat comprehend the culture of this great city by observing and capturing unforgettable moments.
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© Written by Dũng Trần for itourvn.com