Recommended time: 3-5 hours
Explore the Old Quarter via Coffee
Hanoi is famous for its exquisitely decored coffee-houses that serve weird, delicious, experimental coffees (e.g. coconut coffee, yogurt coffee, egg coffee).
One of our favourite ways to explore the Old Quarter is to do a cafe-crawl on foot, sampling delicious coffee and opportunisticially shopping along the way.
In this article, we guide you through a DIY walking trip where you will visit gorgeous coffee houses and try tasty (and strange!) coffees. You will also see iconic landmarks such as St. Joseph’s Cathedral and the Lý Thái Tổ monument. The tour includes:
- try 3 bizarre and delicious coffees,
- pass the Lý Thái Tổ monument and St. Joseph’s Cathedral,
- walk along the famous Hoàn Kiếm lake,
- get lunch at the must-see #1 Spring Roll restaurant in Hanoi,
- have plenty of opportunities for shopping for handicrafts and souvenirs.
Start at Cafe Lam on 91 Nguyễn Hữu Huân
Stop #1 Cafe Lam – Traditional Vietnamese Coffee + Art
Start the DIY tour at Cafe Lam to experience a high-quality, traditional Vietnamese coffee, just the way locals like it.
The cafe has an eclectic collection of local art. These were acquired during the “Subsidy era”, when artists would pay for coffee by trading their art-pieces. To this day, many Vietnamese artists visit Cafe Lam as a celebration of their craft.
- original Vietnamese art collection
- beloved local-style cafe
- buy a bag of coffee to take home!
Stop #2 – Coconut Coffee at Cộng Cà Phê
Directions: From Cafe Lam: Leave Cafe Lam and head north 1 block along Nguyễn Hữu Huân. Go left on Hàng Thùng Street. Proceed 350m to 116 Cầu Gỗ. You’ll know that you are close when the street opens up the Old Quarter’s busiest and high-tourism round-about on the northern-tip of Turtle Lake.
Cộng Cà Phê is an iconic (and ironic) local franchise that either celebrates or satirizes Vietnam’s “Subsidy Period” with socialist-chic decor and 1970’s memorabilia.
Consider the ironic decadence of their signature coffee-beverage: a rich coconut-cream coffee that would have been unimaginable 20 years ago except among the elite Socialist rulers. The drink is simply a must for anyone visiting Hanoi.
Unlike the smalls portions at traditional cafes, Cộng Cà Phê will serve big tourist-sized portions.
- delicious coconut coffee
- explore three-stories of socialist-themed artifacts, kitch, and photographs
- balconies with a lake-view
- good wifi
Stop #3 – Yogurt Coffee at the Hanoi Coffee House
Directions: From 116 Cầu Gỗ, head South towards the Lake. For a longer leisurely stroll, head East (i.e., left) along the lake-side promenade, completely circumnavigating the lake’s southern-tip — along the way, you will pass the iconic Lý Thái Tổ statue. End at Nhà Thờ street (notice the Starbucks).
Head West on Nha Tho street towards St. Joseph’s Cathedral, then turn right (North) on Nhà Chung. The entrance to Hanoi Coffee House is hidden within a few meters of tiny alley way at the intersection of Ấu Triệu and Lý Quốc Sư. Go up the first flight of narrow stairs to a saloon-style entrance (you are on-track if you thing “this can’t be it!”)
We love everything about the Hanoi Coffee House. The yogurt coffee is surprisingly awesome (our favourite). The interior decor is dark and mysterious and hints of a magical, medieval chamber. The hideous alleyway and stairs that lead up to the hidden cafe is quintessentially Vietnamese, where residential and commercial mix in unexpected ways.
If you are lucky, you may get a balcony-seat and gaze at the gorgeous St. Joseph’s Cathedral, a Gothic-Revivalist church from the 1800s. Around the cafe and church are many boutique fashion stores and eclectic restaurants. Many are have hidden entrances, so have fun exploring.
- Yogurt Coffee
- Dark, soothing ambiance
- Plenty of artisanal clothing shops in the vicinity of the cafe
- St. Joseph’s Cathedral
Break for Lunch: Famous Bún Nem
Head North along Lý Quốc Sư: there are many options for an authentic and delicious lunch. We detail our favourite dishes and restaurants in the sister-post DIY Food Tour of Hanoi.
If you haven’t found something within a block, a great option is Bún Cha Dac Kim at 1 Hàng Mành : Hanoi’s most popular spring-roll establishment and a must-see destination. Ask for Bun Nem — vegetarian options should also available.
Eating Bún Nem can be confusing, so make sure to read our instructions on how to eat Bun Nem here.
Price: ~120k Dong for two.
Stop #4 – Egg Coffee at Cafe Phố Cổ
DIRECTIONS from St. Joseph’s Cathedral – Make your way to Hàng Gai street by heading north along any north-south street from St. Joseph’s Cathedral (e.g. Lý Quốc Sư). Or, just head back to Hoàn Kiếm lake, turn left to walk north along the lake on Lê Thái Tổ street until you hit either Lương Văn Can street or Hàng Gai street, or the central traffic circle on the northern tip of Hoàn Kiếm lake.
Access to Cafe Phố cổ is a bit tricky: the entrance is a narrow hall-way that runs through a tiny tourist shops on the south side of Hàng Gai street, next to Domino’s pizza.
You’ll know it if you’ve found it: the narrow hallway opens up to a small courtyard of an old traditional house, with lots of beautiful decorations and apathetic staff busily carrying egg coffee.
It may sound disgusting, but egg coffee is a delicious beverage beloved by locals and tourists alike. You can enjoy a wondrous roof-top table with great views of the downtown skyline and Hoàn Kiếm lake. Listen for small Green Herons flying among the trees.
Part of the thrill of Cafe Phố cổ is the traditional house in which it resides. The court-yard is replete with old ornate furniture, shrines, and multi-level ramparts. It showcases the Chinese-influence on Northern Vietnam and makes it one of the most elegant coffee houses.
The origins of the egg coffee date back to WWII, in which there was a shortage of milk. The cafe-owner used whipped eggs as an alternative to milk and it quickly grew in popularity.
- Egg coffee
- Beautiful views of the lake and skyline
- Interesting decor, traditional old Chinese house
Bonus: Nola Cafe
Nola Cafe isn’t renown for exotic coffee, but it is one of our favourite hang-out spots, so we added it here as a noteworthy establishment.
I wish I could live at Nola Cafe. The cafe sprawls within a traditional house with a labyrinthine interior full of interesting art-works, hidden nooks, and comfortable couches — it is super-fun to explore. The coffee and food are good too, but this is a place to visit, study, read, let the mind expand.
Explore Hanoi via its food…
Hanoi has interesting coffee, but even better food. Be sure to check-out our maps and guide for a DIY Food-Tour in Hanoi – Best Dishes and Where to go