Hoan Kiem Lake Hanoi - What to See & Do

Hoan Kiem Lake Hanoi - What to See & Do

Sword Lake in Hanoi

Rachel Tran Rachel Tran | Published Sep 28, 2019

Located right in the center of the capital of Vietnam, Hoan Kiem Lake Hanoi is famous for its peaceful beauty, its cultural as well as historical values.

Many beautiful words are used to describe the beauty of the lake such as picturesque, magnificent, dreamy, mysterious,… Its unique beauty attracts a lot of tourists each year, not only Vietnamese but also many foreigners. That’s why Hoan Kiem lake is always one of the top choices when choosing the places to visit in Hanoi.

If you have the plan to visit Hoan Kiem Lake Hanoi, Vietnam, let’s stick with this post and find out about its history and what to do there.

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

History and Legend

Hoan Kiem lake, also known as “Sword Lake,” is a freshwater lake in the center of Hanoi. The legend about the name of the lake is known by all the Vietnamese people. Since they were small, they all learn about the story in their school about the most revered heroes, a giant turtle, and a magic sword.

Hoan Kiem Lake in late spring
Hoan Kiem Lake in late spring – a peaceful corner of Hanoi

According to the tale, a long time ago, Le Loi is the King of Vietnam. One time, when he visited his friend, he came across a shining bar that his friend caught it in an attempt of fishing. The King asked for the bar and brought it to his home before turning it into the sword that had two words on it “Thuan Thien” (it means: harmonious with heaven).

He believed that it was a heaven-sent sword, used it in the battle against the occupying Ming army and he gained the victory. He later had a chance to go boating on the lake, but the leisured trip was interrupted. There was a large golden turtle rising above water and asking him to return the sword to the Dragon King. The King gave the sword back to the turtle without any hesitation. To commemorate this event, he decided to change the former name Luc Thuy (meaning “Green water”) into Hoan Kiem lake (meaning the lake of the Returned Sword).

The lake is not only special in her history but also some characteristics that you might not find anywhere else in Vietnam. The water of the lake has different colors depending on the reflection of the sky, it could be green, dark or light.

Hoan Kiem Lake Hanoi is also the home of tortoises. If you are lucky, you will have a chance to see these giant animals rising out of the water, taking a sunbath. 

What to See around Hoan Kiem Lake

There are so many activities happening around Hoan Kiem lake which make it crowded and busy all day, especially during the weekends. Let’s rock it like the locals, and find out what to see and where to visit around Hoan Kiem Lake!

1. Ngoc Son Temple

Ngoc Son temple - Hoan Kiem Lake
Ngoc Son temple – a splendid symbol of the Buddhist architecture

Located in the center of the lake, you can easily find the Ngoc Son temple by looking from any side of the lake. The name of the temple means “Temple of the Jade Mountain.”

Built in 18th century in the Jade Island, it is dedicated to Tran Hung Dao, a war hero who defeated 300,000 Mongolian soldiers invading Vietnam in the 13th century. In the temple, you can find the alters, some artifacts and a 250 kg preserved specimen of a giant turtle.

2. The Huc Bridge

The Huc Bridge - Hoan Kiem Lake
The flag-lined bright red The Huc Bridge

The bridge is a beautiful construction which was built to connect the Ngoc Son Temple and the lake bank. It was constructed by fine wood and stand out by its bright red color.

The Huc Bridge is a famous tourist attraction in Hanoi, a symbol of the Buddhist architecture and well-known as “the bridge where light is absorbed.” Visitors can feel its different elegant beauty and sophisticated architecture at any time of the day.

3. Turtle Tower

Turtle tower - Hoan Kiem Lake
Turtle Tower – a significant landmark of Hoan Kiem lake

Turtle tower is a significant landmark in the center of Hoan Kiem lake. Standing for almost 150 years, it used to be a resting place when the King went fishing and now the pride of the people of Hanoi.

During the French occupation, the revolutionary flag of Vietnam was hung on the top of the tower which always reminded the Vietnamese people to rise up and fight against the invaders. Though not built in a specific type of Vietnamese style, it is the symbol of the patriotism and also the unity of the Vietnamese.

4. The Historic St. Joseph’s Cathedral

St Josephs Cathedral near Hoan Kiem Lake
St. Joseph’s Cathedral – a little Notre Dame de Paris in the heart of Hanoi

In the west side of the lake, the St. Joseph’s Cathedral is a historical building which was built back in 1886. For over 100 years, it is still one of the biggest churches in Hanoi where many local Vietnamese Catholics come and pray.

The church is open to the public. But before you go, please remember to be appropriately dressed and do not take pictures inside the church. After visiting the church, it would be great if you have time sitting in a café near there and enjoy the view of the church.

Further reading:

What to Do around Hoan Kiem Lake?

As a focal point of Vietnamese as well as Hanoi people’s lives, Hoan Kiem Lake, also known as Restored Sword Lake, has a lot to offer both locals and tourists.

At this site, people may simply be walking with their dogs, sitting on benches to chit chat with each other, wandering the Walking street around here, etc. The list goes endless since there is always something to see and do in Hoan Kiem Lake.

Here are some suggestions of what to do around / near Hoan Kiem Lake:

1. Walking, Running and Biking

Biking around Hoan Kiem Lake
Biking around the lake admire a different beauty of Hanoi

Walking (and running as well) around Hoan Kiem Lake is a wonderful experience. In the morning, grab a chance to admire the sunrise by getting up early and go to the lake. You will be amazed at the pace of life here.

In the afternoon, come here to glimpse the sunset, contemplate beautiful landscapes around, listening to music and tasting local food.

Besides, do not skip visiting the Walking street in Hanoi that operates officially every weekend, starts from 7 pm on Friday to 12 pm on Sunday in the area around Hoan Kiem Lake and the famous Old Quarter. Runners, including locals and foreigners, both the elderly and the young, often wear a headphone plus with sunglasses.

Alternatively, you are a fan of biking, do not hesitate to rent a bike and ride around the lake in the early morning, and watch the Vietnamese locals do Tai Chi.

2. Doing Exercise and Dancing

Doing morning exercise at Hoan Kiem Lake
People from all walks of life partaking in their exercise at Returned Sword Lake

Hoan Kiem Lake is an ideal spot to enjoy dancing while breathing in the fresh air. Also, you can enjoy the bustling atmosphere here with some types of music using for the exercises.

3. Watching Water Puppet Show in Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre

Water puppet show
Watching water puppet show

The 1-hour show is taken place in Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre which comprises 17 short sketches with the use of traditional puppets.

Shows are played by a Vietnamese orchestra who accompanies stories, and musicians playing songs using wooden bells, drums, bamboo flutes, cymbals, and horns.

Puppet performances start with a prelude by the clown Teu, which is a funny-looking puppet featuring sprouting hair. While watching this performance, you will be curious about the secret to how Vietnamese puppeteers make the puppets move flawlessly whilst seeming blind from the screen. This theatre is really a magnet for both Vietnamese locals and foreign tourists who want to understand more about this legendary traditional form of art of Vietnam.

How to Get to Hoan Kiem Lake

If you want to get to Hoan Kiem lake from Noi Bai Airport, there are several means of transportation for you: shuttle bus, public bus, and taxi (Grab). 

  • Shuttle bus: It is recommended to take a shuttle bus and then continue by taxi or walk to your accommodation. The shuttle buses have more stops which can drop you off within walking distance. 
  • Public bus: This is another choice for those who want to travel like a local and also save money. You can easily find the public bus on the right side of the terminal exit. And it will take you around 1 hour to get nearer to Hoan Kiem Lake. First, you need to catch bus number 17 and then change to Express 86 in Long Bien station.
  • Taxi at the airport: If you go with a group, the best choice would be flagging a taxi at the airport. The taxi could drive you directly to your accommodation in Hanoi. And without any stops, you can save time for your trip. You should use Grab for booking online or Klook. 

Located in the heart of Hanoi city, Hoan Kiem lake shows the Vietnamese culture and the lifestyle of Hanoian most clearly. It is truly a must when traveling to Hanoi. Let’s visit it on the nearest day and make your memories about Vietnam here.


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