St Joseph’s Cathedral Hanoi, Vietnam

If you want to visit a tourist attraction in Hanoi different from others which allows you to witness an outstanding architecture, Saint Joseph’s Cathedral will be the most suitable one for you.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral, often referred to as the “Big Church” by locals, is one of the first architectural structures built by the French colonialists during the expansion period in Indochina, and it remains intact in Hanoi after two fierce wars.

Despite the devastating battles that destroyed much of Hanoi, St. Joseph’s Cathedral has remained in good condition. Today, it stands as a historical landmark in Hanoi, preserving the charm of old Hanoi and leaving a lasting impression on visitors with its antique beauty amidst the bustling capital.

If you’re looking to visit a unique architectural attraction in Hanoi that differs from other tourist spots, St. Joseph’s Cathedral, or the “Big Church,” is the perfect place for you.

Location: 40 Nha Chung Street, Hang Trong Ward, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi

Opening Hours:
For exterior visits: Anytime
For interior visits: Visitors can only enter during scheduled public ceremonies as listed below
Weekdays: 5:30 AM and 6:15 PM
Saturdays: 6:00 PM
Sundays: 5:00 AM, 7:00 AM, 9:00 AM, 11:00 AM, 4:00 PM, 6:00 PM, and 8:00 PM
A special ceremony takes place on the 19th of March each year.
Dress code: Formal attire; and casual clothing for exterior visits
Admission Fee: Free

History of St. Joseph’s Cathedral

1. Construction

St. Joseph’s Cathedral is believed to have been built on the site of Bao Thien Pagoda near Hoan Kiem Lake. Bao Thien Pagoda was the largest and most sacred temple, serving as the center of Buddhism in Vietnamese history during the Ly and Tran dynasties.

During the Le-Nguyen period, although Buddhism was not as widespread as in previous dynasties, this was still a place where Buddhist ceremonies were held to pray for peace and prosperity for the nation. Until the end of the Nguyen dynasty, some parts of the pagoda were demolished to make way for a market. When the French colonialists arrived in Hanoi, they completely dismantled the pagoda to construct the cathedral.

First, St. Joseph’s Cathedral was initially constructed with wood. The construction of St. Joseph’s Cathedral took place from 1884 to 1887, during which it was rebuilt using bricks and cement. The cathedral is believed to resemble a small replica of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, with many characteristic features of Neo-Gothic architecture.

2. French Colonial Era

During the French colonial period, Catholicism was widely propagated, and St. Joseph’s Cathedral became the center of Catholicism in Northern Vietnam. At that time, daily and weekly ceremonies were held in the cathedral. The cathedral served not only as a welcoming place for thousands of Catholics in the North but also as a hiding and support location for Vietnamese revolutionary soldiers.

3. Post-French Colonial Era

After the French colonialists withdrew from Northern Vietnam in 1954, the cathedral was closed and placed under the control of the government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. It wasn’t until Christmas in 1990 that it was reopened for Catholic celebrations.

Did you know: St. Joseph’s Cathedral is the oldest church in Hanoi, established by the French in 1886.

Architecture and Structure

1. Exterior

The cathedral exudes an antique and serene beauty amidst the bustling heart of Hanoi. It has a length of 64.5 meters and a width of 20.5 meters. The facade includes two square bell towers standing at 31.5 meters tall and a large clock that resembles the one at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. At the top is a stone crucifix. In front of the cathedral, there is a bronze statue of the Virgin Mary, surrounded by iron railings, flowers, and trees. The exterior walls of the cathedral are constructed with bricks and plaster. Over time, the cathedral has borne witness to intense battles and has been marked by the passage of history.

2. Interior

St Joseph’s Cathedral is a typical structure of Gothic architecture in Vietnam, which became very popular in Europe from the middle of the eighteenth century. St Joseph’s Cathedral was designed with colorful tall glass windows and high domes, around are pictures about Jesus Christ.

In the center stands a 2-meter tall statue of Saint Joseph made of fired clay. Below this, there are long brown wooden benches arranged in rows leading to the entrance, reserved for Catholic worshipers during religious ceremonies.

What to See and Do at St. Joseph’s Cathedral

1. Attend a Service

If you’re not a Catholic and curious about how a Catholic service is conducted, visit St. Joseph’s Cathedral on the weekend for a fascinating experience. All weekend ceremonies at this cathedral are grand and solemn. Priests read and explain the scriptures, perform baptisms, and administer the sacraments for the Catholic congregants.

2. Christmas at St. Joseph’s Cathedral

During the Christmas season, the cathedral is beautifully decorated and becomes a popular attraction for both non-Catholics and young people in Hanoi. Additionally, many entertainment activities are organized at the cathedral, making it suitable for families, friends, or couples to participate in.

3. Check-In at St. Joseph’s Cathedral

St. Joseph’s Cathedral, with its European charm, has become an excellent photography spot in Hanoi as a whole and the Old Quarter area in particular. Nowadays, many couples choose the cathedral for their wedding photos, and students select this place for their graduation pictures.

4. Specialty Lemon Tea at St. Joseph’s Cathedral

It would be a shame to miss the specialty lemon tea when visiting St. Joseph’s Cathedral. With just a cup of lemon tea, sitting on the sidewalk under the cool shade of trees, you can gather with friends, savor some street food, and admire the beauty of the cathedral.

Getting to St. Joseph’s Cathedral

The cathedral is located right in the center of Hanoi, at the intersection of Nha Chung Street, Ly Quoc Su Street, and Nha Xa Street, making it very easy to reach. You can get to St. Joseph’s Cathedral by bus, motorbike, or on foot.

If you’re taking the bus, several bus routes pass by the cathedral, such as bus numbers 9, 14, 34, 33, and more. The cathedral is also close to Hoan Kiem Lake, just a 5 to 10-minute walk from the Ly Thai To statue.

Tips for Visiting St. Joseph’s Cathedral

Be sure to have a camera or smartphone with you if you want to take a few photos there.
If you’re visiting during the summer, remember to use sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, or an umbrella (as Hanoi summers often have sudden showers in the afternoon or at night) and insect repellent.
There are many Western-style restaurants, traditional Vietnamese eateries, and street food around the cathedral, so you don’t need to bring your own food.
It’s best to visit the cathedral during special occasions like Christmas, weekends, or during certain Catholic holidays.
For interior visits: Eating and drinking are not allowed.
Please be respectful and avoid causing disturbances while inside.

The cathedral hosts Catholic religious services and is also open to visitors who want to explore its interior and learn about its history. It’s a significant cultural and religious site, and it’s worth visiting for its architectural beauty and historical importance.