A Perfect Day in Hanoi

A perfect day in Hanoi begins in the early glow of morning and finishes as the city winds down in the wee small hours. In the quiet post-dawn period, watch graceful tai chi moves at the peaceful shores of Hoan Kiem Lake. Then pack your perfect day with an itinerary that includes storied architecture, street food favorites, classy lounge bars, and a night of Hanoi’s best live music to round off proceedings.

Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Hang Trong, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi, Vietnam
A couple of blocks west of the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, Hoan Kiem Lake—meaning Lake of the Restored Sword—is one of Hanoi’s anchors. It contains a number of sites worth visiting, like Ngoc Soc Temple and the picturesque, red-lacquered Huc Bridge. The greatest fun here is people watching, from men and women jogging round the perimeter to retired folks doing tai chi or dancing. Many locals come to socialize or just take a few moments to escape the city’s chaotic roads and traffic. Visit in the morning as the city is waking up and the air remains blissfully cool. Photo by Binder.donedat/Flickr.
13 Lò Đúc, Ngô Thì Nhậm, Hai Bà Trưng, Hà Nội, Vietnam
You’ll need some sustenance for a busy day, so after observing the early morning action at Hoan Kiem Lake, head to nearby Pho Thin for a warming bowl of Vietnam’s de facto national dish. Hanoians like their beef noodle soup fairly austere and unsullied, but this venue is known for stir-frying its tender strips of beef in garlic before adding the meat to the broth.
55 Bát Sứ, Hàng Bồ, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Situated to the south and east of Lake Hoan Kiem, the French Quarter has a different feel from the rest of Hanoi—one characterized by a profusion of space. The French began shaping this part of the city in the late 1800s (in part by knocking down Vietnamese buildings and monuments), and by the early 20th century had firmly established their imprint. Today, the district retains the broad avenues, wide sidewalks, and colonial architecture from the era of French rule. Highlights include the Sofitel Legend Metropole, with its distinctive white facade and green shutters, and the iconic Hanoi Opera House, modeled on the Palais Garnier in Paris.
15 Phố Ngô Quyền, Tràng Tiền, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội 010000, Vietnam
A 1901 landmark in Hanoi’s French Quarter, the colonial-style Sofitel Legend Metropole has long been a celebrity magnet, welcoming presidents, ambassadors, and literary and cinematic royalty into its marble lobby. Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene both wrote books here (The Gentleman in the Parlour and The Quiet American, respectively); Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard celebrated their honeymoon at the property; and Jane Fonda and Joan Baez took to the bomb shelter beneath the hotel during air raids (book the complementary Path of History Tour, held every day at 5 and 6 p.m., for a chance to see where they hid out).

The 364 guest rooms are divided between two wings: The historic Metropole section has decor shaped by French architecture and Vietnamese culture (think wood floors, louver windows, bird-cage lampshades, and porcelain light fixtures); the newer wing, opened in 1996 just across the traffic circle from the Opera House, has a strong Neoclassical edge with rooms in dramatic red, black, and white. With its green awning, filigree ironwork, and outdoor wood-deck seating, La Terrasse has the feel of a Parisian café, while Le Beaulieu restaurant serves classic French fare and a decadent Sunday brunch. Spices Garden showcases Vietnamese flavors, and three drinking dens—sleek Angelina, gentlemanly Le Club Bar, and poolside Bamboo Bar—appeal to every kind of spirits lover. Between the central courtyard garden and the pool sit the SoFit gym and Le Spa, with eight rooms for soothing East-meets-West treatments.
2 Tràng Tiền
Minh’s jazz club is owned by one of Hanoi‘s most famous jazz musicians, Quyen Van Minh. Live jazz, performed by local and foreign musicians, including Minh’s son, is the big draw here.
5 Từ Hoa Công Chúa, Quảng An, Tây Hồ, Hà Nội 10000, Vietnam
Known locally as Ho Tay and situated just northwest of the Old Quarter, the city’s largest lake is the backdrop to this whitewashed hotel, whose layout fittingly mimics the shape of the open lotus flowers that line its shores. The main building houses about half the rooms, most of the lounges and restaurants, and a bright atrium lobby with an elegant 23-foot crystal chandelier for a focal point. Lit at night by torches, a hedge-trimmed walkway leads to a small island where you’ll find the Sunset Bar (no surprises on the name), as well as three pavilions with additional rooms built on the lake. Accommodations start at a generous 460 square feet and feature contemporary furnishings, marble and wood floors, stone wall accents, and Vietnamese timber shutters, as well as roomy soaking tubs, padded leather headboards, and private balconies with views of the lake or Hanoi’s skyline.
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