Hoan Kiem Lake Hanoi – What to See & Do

Hoan Kiem Lake stands as a revered relic with a storied history intertwined with the city of Hanoi. Serving as a symbol of the capital, it is an essential destination for visitors seeking to immerse themselves in the cultural fabric of Hanoi.


In Hanoi, amidst a plethora of beautiful sights, the quintessential charm of ancient, tranquil Hanoi is perhaps most vividly captured at Hoan Kiem Lake, an iconic symbol of the city. Here, tourists can leisurely stroll around the lake, taking in its serene beauty while exploring the nearby Old Quarter. Amidst the narrow streets and bustling markets of the Old Quarter, visitors have the chance to discover the unique facets of Vietnamese architecture, cuisine, and lifestyle, immersing themselves in the distinct culture of Hanoi.

1. About Hoan Kiem Lake in Vietnam

Hoan Kiem Lake in Vietnam
Hoan Kiem Lake in Vietnam

Hoan Kiem Lake, also known as Ho Guom Hanoi, is a natural freshwater lake nestled in the heart of Hanoi. Historically, the lake has been referred to by different names, including Luc Thuy Lake (Emerald Lake) due to its perennially green waters, and Thuy Quan Lake (Naval Lake) as it was utilized for naval exercises.

However, around the 15th century, the lake was renamed Hoan Kiem Lake, which translates to Sword Lake, owing to its association with the legendary tale of King Le Thai To (1385 – 1433). According to the legend, King Le Thai To returned a magical sword to a divine turtle residing in the lake, thus solidifying its current name and significance in Vietnamese folklore and culture.

Hoan Kiem Lake, this iconic body of water, serves as a central hub, intersecting with many well-known streets in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, such as Hang Dao, Luong Van Can, and Hang Ngang. Its prime location makes it an incredibly convenient destination for tourists visiting the city.

Visitors can enjoy leisurely strolls around the lake, taking in its serene ambiance while also exploring nearby famous landmarks. Additionally, being in close proximity to the Old Quarter allows tourists to immerse themselves in the unique culture and vibrant atmosphere of this historic district, offering a truly authentic Hanoi experience.

1.1. Location

Location: Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi
Area: 12 ha
Shore length: 1.75km
Length: 700m

Hoan Kiem Lake is accessible through various transportation options, catering to different preferences and budgets. For those seeking convenience, taxis or motorbikes offer a direct route to the lake. Public transport, particularly buses, provides a more economical choice, with several routes stopping near the lake, making it accessible for visitors from farther distances.

Alternatively, renting a bike can offer flexibility and a more immersive experience, allowing tourists to explore the city at their own pace. However, it’s advisable to inquire about rental prices and thoroughly inspect the vehicle before proceeding. By considering these options, visitors can choose the transportation method that best suits their needs while ensuring a hassle-free journey to Hoan Kiem Lake.

1.2. What makes Hoan Kiem Lake one of Hanoi’s most beloved tourist attractions?

one of Hanoi's most beloved tourist attractions
one of Hanoi’s most beloved tourist attractions

The French colonial era left a significant mark on Hoan Kiem Lake and its surroundings, shaping the landscape and architecture. Today, remnants of French colonial architecture stand as a testament to Vietnam’s complex history.

The enigmatic turtle residing in the lake adds to its allure, sparking curiosity among visitors about its legendary connection. The lake’s association with the walking street of Hanoi makes it a vibrant hub of activity, especially on weekend nights, with bustling markets, dining options, and entertainment for all to enjoy.

2. Hoan Kiem Lake’S legend: The story of a magical sword

The legend of Hoan Kiem Lake, dating back to the 15th century, recounts a tale of courage, divine intervention, and mystical creatures. During a time of oppression and foreign invasion, the Sea God bestowed a magical sword upon King Le, empowering him to defend Vietnam and restore peace. After the king’s victory, while boating on the lake, a divine turtle emerged, demanding the return of the sword. Honouring the creature’s request, the king returned the sword, and the turtle vanished beneath the water. In recognition of this extraordinary event, Luc Thuy Lake was renamed Hoan Kiem Lake.

To this day, the legend of the turtle and the sword remains an unsolved mystery, captivating the imagination of locals and visitors alike, and adding to the allure of Hoan Kiem Lake as a symbol of resilience and spiritual significance in Vietnamese culture.

3. What to see in Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi?

At and around Hoan Kiem Lake, numerous famous landmarks beckon not only tourists but also locals. Some of these include:

3.1. Ngoc Son Temple:

Ngoc Son Temple
Ngoc Son Temple

Situated on a small island in the northern part of the lake, Ngoc Son Temple is a picturesque temple dedicated to various deities, including Tran Hung Dao, a revered Vietnamese general.

3.2. The Huc Bridge:

The Huc Bridge
The Huc Bridge

Also known as the Morning Sunlight Bridge, this iconic red wooden bridge connects the shore to Ngoc Son Temple and offers stunning views of the lake.

3.3. Pen Tower (Thap But):

Located on a small islet in the lake, the Pen Tower is a symbol of Hanoi. It was built in the 19th century and originally used to store writing brushes and scrolls.

3.4. Turtle Tower (Thap Rua):

Perched on a small island in the lake’s southern reaches, Turtle Tower is an iconic landmark of Hanoi. It’s often illuminated at night, creating a magical ambiance.

3.5. Hanoi Opera House:

Situated near the southeastern corner of the lake, the Hanoi Opera House is a stunning architectural masterpiece and a prominent venue for cultural performances.

These landmarks, among others, contribute to the cultural richness and charm of Hoan Kiem Lake, making it a must-visit destination in Hanoi.

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4. Other touristy destinations near Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi

4.1. Hoan Kiem Lake Walking Street

Hoan Kiem Lake Walking Street
Hoan Kiem Lake Walking Street

The Hoan Kiem Lake Walking Street area comes alive from 7 pm on Friday to 11:59 pm on Sunday every week, spanning across most of the Old Quarter streets surrounding the lake. While there are no modern games or services, this area entices visitors with traditional activities that epitomize the national identity and cultural essence of Vietnam. Groups of people engage in traditional Vietnamese games such as mancala, tug of war, and shuttlecock kicking, fostering a sense of community and camaraderie among participants, particularly attracting young people.

Furthermore, along the streets of the walking street area, visitors will encounter various artists performing diverse genres of music, ranging from lively Latin American tunes to pop music, and traditional performances. This dynamic atmosphere adds to the vibrancy of the area, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in the rich cultural tapestry of Vietnam.

Additionally, as mentioned earlier, while strolling around Hoan Kiem Lake, visitors can also indulge in shopping, photography, dining, and other leisure activities, making it a truly enchanting destination for locals and tourists alike.

4.2. Hanoi Opera House

Hanoi Opera House
Hanoi Opera House

Located at No. 1, Trang Tien Street, Hoan Kiem District, the Hanoi Opera House stands as an architectural gem constructed by the French between 1901 and 1911, during Vietnam’s colonial era. Originally intended as a venue for presenting opulent classical art performances, such as opera, chamber music, and drama, it primarily catered to French officials, elites, and a select group of Vietnamese affluent individuals.

The exterior of the opera house exudes a distinct European charm, adorned with intricate decorations and classical motifs that reflect its colonial heritage. Upon entering the main hall, visitors are greeted by an overwhelming sense of grandeur. The entire space is adorned with imported white stones from Italy, while plush red carpets line the aisles, evoking the ambiance of a British royal palace. The ceiling and walls are adorned with an array of vintage-style chandeliers, crafted from copper or gold plating, adding to the venue’s magnificence and allure.

4.3. Thang Long Water Puppet Theater

Water puppetry is a cherished traditional art form unique to Vietnam, where performers manipulate puppets on the water to enact captivating scenes. While puppetry itself is widespread globally, water puppetry remains exclusive to Vietnam. Established in 1969, the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater, situated near Hoan Kiem Lake, has undergone its share of challenges and triumphs. There were periods when the theater faced considerable difficulties due to waning interest in water puppetry.

However, thanks to the dedication of passionate artisans committed to preserving this cultural heritage, the theater underwent a significant revival in 1990. Recognizing the importance of revitalizing this traditional art form, the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater made substantial investments in restoring and showcasing water puppetry to both domestic and international audiences. Today, visiting the theater and experiencing water puppet shows have become integral components of most tours in Hanoi.

As a result, the theater remains open year-round, offering performances that continue to enchant audiences with the timeless charm and cultural significance of water puppetry.

5. How to get to Hanoi Sword Lake?

Reaching the captivating destination of Hanoi Sword Lake offers multiple convenient and enchanting transportation options:

  • By Bus: Hanoi boasts a well-connected bus network, making it easy to reach Hanoi Sword Lake via public transport. Simply locate a bus route that passes by the lake and hop on board.
  • By Taxi: Taxis are readily available throughout Hanoi and offer a convenient way to reach Hoan Kiem Lake. You can easily flag down a taxi on the street or head to designated taxi stands in the city.
  • By Cyclo (Xich Lo): For a unique and immersive experience, consider taking a cyclo, a traditional three-wheeled bicycle taxi commonly found in Hanoi. Sit back and enjoy a leisurely ride while soaking in the sights and sounds of the city.
  • On Foot or by Bicycle: If you’re staying in Hanoi Old Quarter or nearby areas, walking or cycling to Hanoi Sword Lake can be a delightful option. The lake is centrally located, making it easily accessible by foot or bike. Take a leisurely stroll or bike ride and enjoy the scenic surroundings as you make your way to the lake.

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