Top Religious Sites (Self Guided), Hanoi

For a thousand years Hanoi has been the capital of Vietnam as well as an important cultural center of the country. The city features amazing pagodas along with temples and churches. In spite of French domination, Hanoi preserved its amazing religious venues and to this day are a joy to see.
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Top Religious Sites Map

Guide Name: Top Religious Sites
Guide Location: Vietnam » Hanoi (See other walking tours in Hanoi)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 4 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 9.0 Km or 5.6 Miles
Author: HelenF
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Tran Quoc Pagoda
  • Quan Thanh Pagoda
  • Cua Bac Catholic Church
  • One Pillar Pagoda
  • Temple of Literature
  • Quan Su Pagoda
  • St Joseph Cathedral
  • Bach Ma Temple
  • Ngoc Son Temple
  • Ham Long Church
Tran Quoc Pagoda

1) Tran Quoc Pagoda (must see)

The Tran Quoc Pagoda, located on a small peninsula between the West Lake and Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi, is the oldest pagoda in Vietnam. It was constructed in the 6th Century, during the reign of Emperor Ly Nam De, who was also called the Khai Quoc ( National Founder).

The Tran Quoc pagoda is built in the tradition of the Indian Stupa. It is a tall, tower like structure where religious relics were placed for veneration. The architecture used for the pagoda itself and surrounding structures is in harmony with nature and adds to the natural setting without disturbing the scenery. The ancient pagoda underwent extensive restoration in 1815. It now has a triple gate, sitting room, an ancestor worship chamber and a garden tower. The ancient corridors, ten shrines and a belfry are carefully preserved. The pagoda has many statues including a lacquer and gold statue of the Buddha and many steles including a stele depicting the history of the Pagoda by Nguyen Xuan Chinh crafted in 1639. The Bodhi tree in the gardens, grafted from the original Bodhi tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment, was a gift from the Government of India during the visit of their first president in 1959.

The Tra Quoc Pagoda is a cultural symbol of Vietnamese Buddhism and remains a place of pilgrimage. International visitors are required to follow a strict dignified dress code and men and women are expected to cover their legs when visiting the temple.
Quan Thanh Pagoda

2) Quan Thanh Pagoda

Located on the shore of the Truc Bach lake in Hanoi is the Quan Thanh Pagoda, an 11th century Taoist temple dedicated to Tran Vu, a principal Taoist deity. The temple was built during the reign of King Li Thai To, between 1010 and 1028. Since then, the structure has undergone several renovations. The last restoration of the temple was in 1893.

Tran Vu was one of the four deities that protected Hanoi in each direction. The role of Tran Vu was to protect the north of the city. According to legend the deity helped King An Duong Vuong chase away demons during the construction of the Co Loa citadel. From the principal gate visitors can see the three door entrance of the temple with a bell tower and the figure of a tiger that is said to guard the pagoda. A large bronze statue of Tran Vu by master sculptor, Old Trong sits majestically within the shrine. A statue of Old Trong carved in his honor by grateful students is also found in the temple.

The Quan Thanh pagoda is a major tourist attraction in Hanoi. Locals visit the temple on the Lunar New Year and on the 1st and 15th of the Lunar month to pray for health, luck and happiness. Traditional martial arts classes are held near the temple.
Cua Bac Catholic Church

3) Cua Bac Catholic Church

The Cua Bac church is one of the three major churches in Hanoi. The church was established by the French colonial rulers in 1932. Cua Bac is called by the locals as the Queen of the Catholic Saints in honor of Virgin Mary, the queen of all saints.

The Cua Bac Church was built between 1925 and 1930 along the Phan Dingh Phung and Nguyen Bieu Streets. The church was built as part of the plan devised by French architect, Ernest Hebrard to redesign the city of Hanoi. The structure, called the Church of the Martyrs, was constructed in front of the northern gate of the Cua Bac citadel. The building was called the Cua Bac church because of its location. Hebrard designed the structure with a combination of European and Vietnamese styles. The ornamentation has a distinct art deco influence while the sloped tiled roofs are influenced by Vietnamese pagoda. The church also has the oriental influence of being in harmony with its natural surroundings.

In 2006, the church was the venue of a joint worship service consisting of both Catholics and Protestants along with a guest of honor, the American President, George W. Bush.
One Pillar Pagoda

4) One Pillar Pagoda (must see)

Located in the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex in Hanoi, this temple is dedicated to the Goddess of mercy and protector of children, Quan Am. The structure gets its name because the wooden temple is supported by a single pillar.

The temple was built in 1049 by King Ly Thai Tong who ruled from 1028 to 1054. According to legend, Quan Am came in a dream seated on a lotus and handed a male child to the childless emperor. Soon after, he married a peasant girl and a male child was born. The pagoda dedicated to Quan Am was built like a lotus rising from the water by the emperor after the birth of the child. The French forces destroyed the temple in 1954 during the First Indochina War. The temple was rebuilt in 1955 with a concrete pillar replacing the old stone pillar on which the original pagoda stood.

A flight of narrow steps lead to the small shrine where a gilded figure of Quan Am sits upon lotus blossoms. Locals worship at the temple for fertility and good health and the smell of incense permeates the building. Visitors are required to cover their legs before entering the temple. There is a small snack stand that sells refreshments for the convenience of visitors as they take in the beauty of the pagoda and its exquisite natural surroundings.
Temple of Literature

5) Temple of Literature (must see)

The Temple of Literature, dedicated to the Chinese Philosopher is one of Hanoi’s oldest structures. There are many temples of literature across Vietnam but the Hanoi temple is the oldest and the most important among them. It is also the venue of the country’s earliest university.

The Temple of Literature was founded by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong in 1070 a few years after the establishment of the city of Hanoi. The University established six years later admitted children from the royal family and students from the families of Mandarins. In 1484, Emperor Le Thanh Tong erected steles to record the achievements of students who were awarded doctorates by the university. It ceased to function in 1802 when it was shifted to a new venue.

The temple has five courtyards with boundary walls. Two courtyards have trees, some of which are over a hundred years old. One courtyard has a pond surrounded by sheltered pavilions and steles with details of students who earned doctorates at the university. The Courtyard of the Sage Sanctuary has a building called the Great House of Ceremonies. The house has a large red lacquer figure of Confucius. The last courtyard called the Thai Hoc has a two storey building honoring the founders of the university. There are two square structures on either side of the building to house a drum and a bell.

The Temple of Literature is open from Tuesdays to Sundays and visitors can find mementoes to take home at the souvenir and craft shops near the Great House of Ceremonies.
Quan Su Pagoda

6) Quan Su Pagoda

The Quan Su pagoda is the largest and most popular among pagodas in Hanoi. The temple is located in Quan Su Street and serves as the headquarters of the Buddhist Sangha of Vietnam.

The Quan Su Pagoda began as a small temple under a thatched roof where villagers from the An Tap village worshipped. A larger temple was built in the 15th century during the reign of the Le Dynasty. It was also called the Ambassador’s Pagoda. The Le emperors established a guest house for foreign envoys near the pagoda and since most of the ambassadors at the time were Buddhists, the temple was their place of worship. A famous monk who presided over the temple Thanh Phuong made extensive renovations to the building by adding corridors and painting the statues. A new bell was also made for the temple. The front half is dedicated to the Buddha while the back is in honor of Master Minh Khong of the Ly dynasty. The Tonkin Buddhist Association made the pagoda their headquarters in 1934.

The guest house for Ambassadors was subsequently closed down and only the temple remains. Locals pray for luck at the Quon Su Pagoda and visitors are welcome daily between 7.30 to 11.30 a.m. and 1.30 to 5.30 p.m.
St Joseph Cathedral

7) St Joseph Cathedral (must see)

The St Josephs Cathedral in Hanoi is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hanoi. It was built by the French colonial rulers in 1886.

The St. Joseph’s cathedral is the oldest church in Hanoi. It is referred to by the locals as Big Church. The building is located in Pho Nha Chung or Nha Chung Street near the Ho Hoan Kiem or the Lake of the Returned Sword. The French colonial rulers demolished the ancient Bao Thien Pagoda, an important place of worship by the local people to build the cathedral. The Bao Thien Pagoda was a 12th century temple constructed by the Ly dynasty. The cathedral was consecrated on Christmas Day in 1886. The neo- gothic style church was designed to resemble Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. There is a statue of Virgin Mary in front called Regina Pacis or the Queen of Peace. The towers have impressive stained glass windows and the play of light through the colored glass is a visual delight.

Mass is held twice a day at the cathedral and the church is crowded on Sundays and holidays. Visitors are welcome and can enter the church through a side door to view its magnificent interiors.
Bach Ma Temple

8) Bach Ma Temple

The Bach Ma Temple or the Temple of the White Horse is one of the oldest places of worship in Hanoi. The temple built in 1010 is dedicated to the patron saint of Hanoi, Long Do (Dragon’s Belly).

Bach Ma temple is located in the heart of the old quarter of Hanoi. When King Li Thai transferred his Capital from Hoa Lu to Thang Long (the old name of Hanoi), he decided to build a temple dedicated to Long Do. According to legend a white horse appeared and led the king to the location where the temple was subsequently built. The King began to construct the city walls from this site. Only a few parts of the old structure survive and the present building is the result of reconstruction in the 18th century. The temple has many relics including stone steles that record its history, royal ordinances and records of restorations from the Le to the Nguyen dynasties. A shrine to Confucius was added in 1839. The six sections of the temple include the altar, the square house, the great house of ceremony, the incense chamber, sanctuary and the meeting hall.

Visitors can pass through the old wooden doors of the temple and see some of the treasures within like the statue of the white horse that led the king to the site and a funeral palanquin made of red lacquer.
Ngoc Son Temple

9) Ngoc Son Temple

The Ncog Son temple stands on an island of the Hoan Kiem Lake. There was a temple at the location from the 14th century. The present structure was built in the 18th century. A three passage gate called the Tam Quan stands at one end of a red wooden bridge called The Huc (Rising Sun bridge). The Huc connects the Island with the mainland.

The Ncog Son temple is dedicated to many heroes. The main altar is dedicated to the hero Tran Hung Dao, who defeated and army of 300,000 invaders from the Chinese Yuan dynasty. Other altars are dedicated to La To, the patron saint of physicians, the scholar Van Xuong and Nguyen Van Sieu, a Confucian scholar who voluntarily restored the temple and its surroundings in 1864.

Nguyen Van Sieu added the Thap But, a 30 foot stone obelisk with a tip that resembles a paintbrush found to the left of the gates and Dai Nghien, a hollowed rock in the shape of a peach called the writing pad to the temple complex.

The temple has a pavilion in front of the altars and many souvenir shops for tourists. Elderly Vietnamese gather at the courtyard of the temple to play danh co tuong or Chinese Chess.
Ham Long Church

10) Ham Long Church

Ham Long Church, or Saint Antoine, is a Roman Catholic Church located in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. The church was built at the end of the 19th century, however the architecture appears much more modern. This is due to a major remodeling effort in 1934. The Church offers a spacious garden which is decorated with snow during Christmas.

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