Forget Rome, Melbourne and San Francisco — the café culture in Hanoi surpasses them all.
Nowhere else in Asia — perhaps in the world — will you find such an extraordinary selection of fascinating cafes, from decades-old dives serving up the delicious local brew to elegant new establishments crafting artisan cappuccinos.
Vietnamese café culture is one of the more palatable remnants of French colonialism, but the Vietnamese have since made it their own. When visiting Hanoi, exploring the cafes is as important as visiting the tourist sights and indulging in the glorious street food.
Here are ten of the best cafes in Hanoi from Hanoi Hideaway — a coffee shop blog that explores the caffeinated heartbeat of this fascinating city.
Facing the imposing neo-gothic St Joseph’s Cathedral, with its ramshackle balcony taking advantage of the view, Hanoi House serves up some of the best traditional Vietnamese coffee in the Old Quarter. Inside, this one-room café is stunningly decorated, with interesting art works throughout and mind-boggling Art Deco floor tiles.
After taking in the whimsical wedding cake Opera House, Hanoi’s most precious colonial structure, take a few steps north to the dark and enigmatic Tadioto. A centre of contemporary artistic activities, Tadioto was founded and is managed by Nguyen Quy Duc, one of Hanoi’s more outspoken supporters of the arts.
Overlooking one of Hoan Kiem Lake’s loveliest verdant corners, L’etage has a stunning balcony from where you can make out the Turtle Tower and Ngoc Son Temple, both of which rest delicately on islands in the lake. L’etage makes a mean egg coffee, where egg white sweetened with condensed milk is substituted for fresh milk. The fresh juices are good too.
Tucked down an Old Quarter alley and housed within an old French terraced house, Shot has a photography theme (hence the name) along with regular performances of live music in the evening. The cafe has a vast selection of interesting drinks and one of the most inventive menus in the city. Try the cheesecake coffee for a jolt of caffeine and sugar in equal measure.
Loading T is situated in one of the Old Quarter’s most striking colonial townhouses, which was compartmentalised by the government in 1954 to accommodate 17 different families. The house still exists like that today, but some of the sections have been converted from living spaces into boutique shops and this cafe. As well as superb egg coffee, Loading T also serves delicious local coffee flavoured with cinnamon.
To Chim Xanh is Vietnamese for ‘Bluebird’s Nest’ and is sandwiched in between several low-rise apartment blocks. The rooftop terrace affords a front-row seat into the lives of the residents and their fascinatingly cluttered living spaces, as you munch on one of the delicious cakes that are baked downstairs. To Chim Xanh is just a short walk from the Hanoi Citadel and Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. It’s a must see on this list of ten of the best cafes in Hanoi.
Hopper Koffie’s excellent espressos have made this cute café popular with locals and expats alike. The location — on a small Island accessible by two bridges, with a lovely view over Truc Bach Lake — only adds to the appeal.
Offering spectacular views across the expansive West Lake, Café Nhac Xua is also a pleasant lakeside walk from Tran Quoc Pagoda, one of Hanoi’s most important Buddhist temples. Café Nhac Xua (‘Old Music Café’) started out as a speaker repair shop and the owner would occasionally put out some chairs and serve tea while his customers waited for their speakers to be fixed. The atmosphere, along with the music, was so good that people started coming even if they had no speakers to fix, and so the cafe was born.
Located out towards the western suburbs, Café Nha San is ideally located for a coffee stop before or after visiting the Museum of Ethnology. It is fitting then that the cafe is housed in a phenomenal stilt house, originally build by the Muong ethnic group, around 100km south of Hanoi. Another hot spot for artistic activities, Nha San has regular music performances and even the odd exhibition.
When the weather is good, head to Museum Garden. The café itself is rather uninspiring, although there is an excellent selection of wonderfully prepared fruit drinks. The reason to come is the setting: a manicured garden littered with various historical artefacts and overlooked by Hanoi’s most interesting hybrid structure, the Museum of History.
This post was provided by Hanoi Hideaway and edited by The Big Bus tour and travel guide.
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