St. Joseph’s Cathedral is a famous historical site that is always included in any Hanoi travel itinerary. It is one of the first architectural works built by the French colonial government in Indochina. Despite fierce wars devastating nearly all of Hanoi, St Joseph’s Cathedral still miraculously stands intact. It is now packed with hundreds of locals and tourists coming every day to explore its unique architecture and long-lasting history.
1. St Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi: How to get there?
St. Joseph’s Cathedral lies in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, at the intersection of Nha Chung, Ly Quoc Su, and Nha Tho Streets. Close to Hoan Kiem Lake, the church features twin bell towers and stained windows.
It is quite easy to reach St. Joseph’s Cathedral. From Hoan Kiem Lake, head to Hang Gai Street and keep going until you see Ly Quoc Su Street on the left. Walk along Ly Quoc Su Street to the end and you will see the Cathedral.
There are many means of transportation for you to get to St. Joseph’s Cathedral. You may take a cyclo or a taxi, or ride your own motorbike or bicycle. Alternatively, you can take a bus that stops nearby and then walk to the cathedral.
- Buses No. 9, 14, and 36 stop at Hoan Kiem Lake
- Buses No. 1 stop on Trieu Quoc Dat Street
- Buses No. 2 stop on Trang Thi Street
2. The long history of St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Vietnam
St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi, which was built during the French colonial period, is a typical example of colonial architectural works in the capital of Vietnam.
At the grounds of St. Joseph’s Cathedral before it was built, there used to be a Buddhist pagoda named Bao Thien. This pagoda was the biggest and most sacred during the Ly-Tran Dynasties. At the end of the 18th century, some parts of the pagoda were destroyed to set up a market. Then, the cathedral was constructed at the site, initially of wood. It was reconstructed with baked clay in 1884, and on the Christmas of 1888, its construction was finished.
During the French colonial period, Catholicism was widely spread, and St Joseph’s Cathedral became the center of Catholicism in Northern Vietnam. There were daily and weekly ceremonies organized in the cathedral at that time. It served as a religious destination for thousands of Catholics in the Northern region as well as a hiding spot for Vietnamese revolutionary soldiers.
In 1954, after the retreat of French colonists from Northern Vietnam, the cathedral was closed and put under the administration of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam government. It was not until Christmas in 1990 that the cathedral was opened again for the Catholics.
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3. The impressive architecture of St. Joseph’s Cathedral
The cathedral has an ancient and peaceful beauty in the bustling Hanoi. It is 64.5 meters in length and 20.5 meters in width. The facade is made up of two square bell towers with a height of 31.5 meters and a big clock, which resembles the famous Notre-Dame in Paris. In front of the cathedral, there is a copper statue of Mother Maria, and the surroundings are decorated with iron gates, flowers, and trees.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral is a classic work of Gothic architecture in Vietnam. Its design features colorful tall glass windows and high domes, and there are pictures of Jesus Christ all around.
In addition to the Gothic style, the cathedral’s architecture also has some features of the Vietnamese style. The frame of the building is made of baked clay bricks, red tiles, and pasteboard walls. Worship altars are also decorated with red and golden gilded wood, a common element in traditional Vietnamese temples.
4. Top 5 experiences to put on your travel list to Hanoi’s Cathedral
There are lots of things to do during your visit to St. Joseph’s Cathedral, some of which are:
4.1. Attend the mass of St. Joseph’s Cathedral
Attending a mass is an interesting experience that you should try once, especially if you are not a Catholic. Here, you will see the priest read and explain the bible, and organize baptisms and absolutions for Catholics.
The cathedral is open to the public for free every day, except from 8 to 11 am and 1 to 5 pm on Sundays. Meanwhile, it is open for religious ceremonies at 5:30 am and 6:15 pm from Mondays to Fridays, 5:30 am and 6 pm on Saturdays. For mass ceremonies, it is open many times during the day, at 5 am, 7 am, 9 am, 11 am, 4 pm, 6 pm, and 8 pm.
4.2. Capture beautiful photos in front of the cathedral
St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Vietnam is one of the most outstanding works of French colonial architecture in Hanoi. Therefore, you should definitely take stunning pictures and capture memorable moments here. With just a quick search on social networks like Facebook, Instagram, Zalo, and Tiktok, you will find many photos shot here.
4.3. Enjoy street foods and gossip with your besties
The area around St. Joseph’s Cathedral is among the best places to try street foods in Hanoi. It will be ideal for a relaxing weekend to take a seat on the sidewalk, admire the beauty of the church, and enjoy various dishes and drinks, such as lemon tea, grilled fermented pork rolls, dumplings, etc.
4.4. Celebrate Christmas with the locals in the cathedral
St. Joseph’s Cathedral will don a colorful coat at Christmas. Bright lights, a big Christmas tree in the square, and various flowers and Christmas wreaths on the cathedral doors together help to warm up the winter atmosphere. Whether you are a Catholic or not, you should stop by the cathedral to immerse yourself in the festive ambiance and make some wishes for yourself and your loved ones.
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4.5. Visit other famous attractions nearby
From St. Joseph’s Cathedral, you can also discover other Hanoi attractions in the surrounding area to get an authentic feel of Hanoi.
Located on a small islet on Hoan Kiem Lake, the temple is a popular religious destination for international visitors and Vietnamese people who come to pray for good fortune. Here, there are various unique architectural works that date back a long time ago, such as the Moon Contemplation Pavilion (Dac Nguyet) and the Pavilion Against Waves (Dinh Tran Ba).
Displaying a collection of famous artifacts, punishment tools, and torture methods used in the French colonial period, Hoa Lo Prison is the most vivid illustration of those horrific crimes in history. It also honors the indomitable spirit of fallen Vietnamese patriots.
- Khue Van Cac (Pavilion of Constellation)
Built in 1805, Khue Van Cac was originally used as a place to review the essays from students who passed the examinations. Today, it is another symbol of Hanoi, with its image featured on the back of the 100,000 Vietnamese Dong banknote.
The Pen Tower was made of stones, its top built to resemble a brush. Since its construction, the Pen Tower has become a sacred symbol associated with literature and examinations. Students often come here to pray for good luck in their studies.
Ta Hien is a small street lying in the Old Quarter, near Hoan Kiem Lake. Embracing both old and modern Hanoi’s features, it is drawing lots of foreign visitors and locals coming to enjoy the vibe. Ta Hien is well-known for its beer, especially in the summer. Here, you can also find a variety of street foods such as Nem chua, Vietnamese bread, Vietnamese noodles, etc.
On your journey to visit St. Joseph’s Cathedral, you should also take time to visit other tourist attractions in Hanoi, such as the Old Quarter, Long Bien Bridge, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, and especially VinKE & Vinpearl Aquarium Times City if you travel with children.
Located in Vincom Mega Mall Times City, which is only 6 kilometers away from the Old Quarter, Vinpearl Aquarium and VinKE are wonderful places for a family outing, especially for children. As one of the largest and most modern aquarium systems in Vietnam, Vinpearl Aquarium opens the door to a colorful underwater world. Meanwhile, VinKE offers kids a large playground where they can have fun and learn about their dream jobs at the same time.
>>> Book tickets of VinKE & Vinpearl Aquarium to have loads of fun with your family and friends!
If you want to explore the charm of Hanoi along with its heroic history, you should not miss out on St. Joseph’s Cathedral. Standing right in the heart of the city, it has seen numerous events over the last few centuries. This magnificent architectural work has endured fierce wars and continues to stand as a gem of Hanoi French colonial architecture.