Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam – the largest city by area and the second largest by population after Ho Chi Minh city. This beautiful city with great extent of history and stories was called Thang Long and was the capital of Imperial Vietnam from 1010 to 1802. The capital city was moved to Hue, in the middle of Vietnam and Thang Long was renamed as Hanoi in 1831 and became the capital city again in 1945.
There are 12 urban districts, 1 district-level town and 17 rural districts in Hanoi. The geographical area of the city was expanded about 10 years ago adding surrounding districts and towns in as Hanoi. However, the centre of Hanoi remains much the same and concentrated around Ba Dinh and Hoan Kiem districts.
I’m going to provide essential information as well as my personal insights that could help you figure out which area you should stay if you’re visiting Hanoi for a trip or if you’re planning on living here.
Hoan Kiem district is named after the Hoan Kiem lake in the centre of the district and is more prominently known as the Old Quarter (a.k.a Phố Cổ meaning old town in Vietnamese). This area is where many historical relics and museums are as well as the lake, which is closed as walking street during the weekends attracting not only foreign tourists, but also young and old local Vietnamese people.
This is by far the most popular choice for most travellers to stay because of ease of getting around and abundant options available in terms of hotels and restaurants catering for international crowd of all budgets.
However, for people living in Hanoi, this area’s housing and expenses are usually higher than all the other regions. And because of its well-preserved old and traditional buildings, there aren’t many modern houses or rooms that are satisfactory to foreigners.
Adjacent to Hoan Kiem district, Ba Dinh district is the most central area located right in the middle of all main urban areas in Hanoi. This area is also known as the “French Quarter” due to French influences that can easily be found in its buildings and architecture. Not only is it geographically the centre of Hanoi, it is also a political heart of the city because many embassy and government buildings can be found here.
As a traveller, Ba Dinh could be a second best option after Hoan Kiem because there are several top sights for tourists in the area such as Ho Chi Minh Complex and especially better if your hotel is located in the eastern half of the district because it is very close to the Old Quarter.
For living in Hanoi, Ba Dinh area is the centre of all, so it’s a great place to live in. However, the housing prices are also top because of its location advantage. My personal favourite is Truc Bach lake area (right between Tay Ho and Hoan Kiem districts) because of its very quiet neighbourhood and proximity to surrounding districts.
Tay Ho means West Lake, which is the largest lake in Hanoi allowing a fantastic view over this ocean-like horizon of lake view from its neighbourhoods. Quang An area within Tay Ho district is more well-known as the expat’s hub as quite a majority of expats choose to live here and there’s a great number of Western restaurants, bars and culture established in this area.
It may not be the best district for travellers who want to stay in the centre of all, but it certainly can be a great choice for those who don’t mind being a little away from the main crowd for bit of tranquility.
For expats looking for houses, this area always has something to offer from shared houses to private serviced apartments that are generally more up to the international standards and expectations of a decent house.
Dong Da district is a residential region and known for many famous universities residing within the district.
I would say that this district can be out of consideration for travellers as there aren’t much to do or see in this area.
For people looking for places to live, this place is a great option for those who need to commute to Ba Dinh or Hoan Kiem areas especially if you choose a place close to the two districts. It is also more affordable to live here than the two.
Hai Bà Trưng
Hai Ba Trung is where a great number of office buildings are located and like Dong Da, there’s a high density of population residing here.
This district is also not a place for tourists as there are not many hotels, but you might be able to find a local home in Airbnb, if you want a more local experience while in the city.
It is just below the Old Quarter, so is also another popular choice for people who need to commute to Hoan Kiem or Ba Dinh and want to live at a more reasonable price.
There are few great places to visit such as Vietnam Museum of Ethnology and Keangnam Landmark 72 (the tallest building in Hanoi) in this district. If you don’t mind a bit of a travel to the Old Quarter, there are some five star hotels where you could stay and explore a more local neighbourhood nearby.
Located on the left side of Ba Dinh and Dong Da districts, Cau Giay is a secondary expat hub after Tay Ho. The housing prices are not as high as Ba Dinh and Old Quarter and the proximity to other central districts appeal to many expats.
This district is located in the east side of Red river and it is not a top choice for travellers (at least not one that I’d recommend), but certainly can be a choice for some expats because it’s very close to the Old Quarter. The houses and rooms are much cheaper than many other central districts, but you might have to compromise certain expectations of a modern house.
Tu Liem can actually be divided in to the North (bắc) and South (nam) Tu Liem. Bac Tu Liem is more often referred to as My Dinh, where there’s a Korean Town and lots more tall buildings than most other districts.
Similar to Cau Giay district, there are few things you could do as a tourist here, but also not the best place in terms of having to commute back and forth from the Old Quarter or other tourist sights.
However, this area is a popular choice for expats especially Koreans because there’s a plenty of houses available for rent at a reasonable price and many Korean restaurants, services and facilities.