The hidden cafes of Hà Nội

May 09, 2024 - 08:15

Be charmed by Hà Nội's hidden coffee spots, where you can escape the chaos of the city and enjoy a journey of discovery into a world of elegance tucked away from the bustling streets.

By Kiều Trinh

In the middle of Hà Nội's bustling streets, renowned for their high energy, heavy traffic and noisy commerce, you can find hidden charms for a little piece of peace, if you are prepared to explore. Among the labyrinthine network of narrow, bustling lanes, explorers can uncover serene spots tucked away in tranquil corners – hidden cafes offering a sanctuary from the city's frenetic pace.

Located in the centre of the vibrant but hectic Old Quarter in Hà Nội, Nắng Cafe embodies this secret worth sharing and a place to relax.

To discover such hidden treasures requires more than just a keen eye. Visitors to the city will need to rely on modern tools like Google Maps and yet, even armed with technology, finding these elusive spots remains a challenge, their obscurity adding to their allure.

Just arrived in Hà Nội and using his mobile to find good destinations, Luis Silva from Brazil recounted the thrill of stumbling upon such hidden gems. He said: “We came here through an unthinkably small alley and it is funny because we didn’t see any sign up there. I just asked for the lady and she said ‘Oh, just right there, in the alley’, so we came here. It was a big surprise. The balcony has an amazing view of the chaotic transit. We just amazing to see how busy the traffic is. ” 

The entrance to this tranquil oasis can easily go unnoticed by visitors, as it is concealed among the goods on sale at a retail store located at the corner of the intersection between Đồng Xuân Street and Hàng Chiếu Street. And if you are lucky enough to find the exact entrance and squeeze past the piles of wares and the grumpy shopkeeper, you will also wonder where this tiny one-person passage will lead.

Only a few people would even be prepared to head down this narrow alleyway set between two street shops, but your reward will be a lovely cafe. Photo Minh Phương/VNS

Guided by word of mouth, the two young Swedish visitors , Elin Anderson and Siri Dobers, echo this sentiment, relishing the sense of discovery as they navigate through narrow passages to find their hidden retreat. “It’s nice when you come along the street and then walk in the hidden alley. It’s really hard to find, so we went to the wrong place at first, and then we found it!” Elin Anderson said.

“It feels mysterious, and then coming up to this, it’s nice with the flowers, the lanterns and the great view to old streets of Hà Nội. We love this calming atmosphere in the middle of the chaotic city,” Siri said.

Owned by Phạm Thùy Dương, the cafe exudes a homely ambience carefully crafted to emulate the warmth of a typical Hanoian household. Despite its humble facade, this hidden nostalgic haven attracts mainly foreign visitors, drawn by its authentic charm and unique locale.

“My idea is that this café will be like the home of a typical Hanoian family, " Dương said. "Before coming here, our foreign guests often thought that my cafe would be very formal or fancy, but I just want something authentic, simple so that guests can feel the most authentic features of the Old Quarter.” 



The view overlooking the busy old Quarter of Nắng Cafe is a welcome respite from the heavy traffic and offers a real room with a view for guests. Photo Minh Phương/ VNS


Nắng Cafe is just one facet of Hanoi's vibrant cafe culture. Tucked away in old neighbourhoods, these hidden gems serve as perfect hideaways for escape-seekers. From retro-themed spaces to minimalist hideouts, each cafe tells a unique story, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in the city's rich tapestry.

Nhữ Duy Ngọc, owner of the Lách cafe at 36 Hạ Hồi street, recalled how he himself discovered the place while exploring the city and decided it was THE place to start a business. He said: “I accidentally discovered this place and I found the atmosphere here so peaceful, suitable for young people who love quiet spaces. It suits my taste and the preferences of young people today.” 

The café is named Lách (meaning squeeze through) because the entrance is so tricky to find. Guests have to weave through narrow alleys and climb several stairs to reach the café. “My customers are often amazed because the space up here is completely different from the space below - an old communal housing area, classical French architecture, while up here is quite new and strange,” Ngọc said.

These hidden coffee spots cater to a diverse clientele, from dynamic young artists to curious travellers seeking refuge from the chaos outside. Phan Minh and Ngọc Phú, drawn by the allure of these tucked-away cafes, savour not only the distinctive flavours of the drinks, but also the unique ambience.


Wriggling through the narrow lanes, guests can choose many cosy corners to give peace a chance away from the city's frantic pace. Photo: Lách Cafe

“We often seek out hidden coffee spots because it's a trend now, "Phan Minh said. "I find it enjoyable because these cafes usually have unique spaces with their own distinct character. This café is beautifully decorated, with various corners and spaces, suitable for everyone's needs, whether it's for chatting with friends or working.”

His friend, Ngọc Phú, agreed: “This cafe is tucked away in a tiny alley, resembling the old architecture of Hanoi. It has its own unique charm totally different from the larger cafes of previous trends.”

For many, the allure of these hidden coffee spots lies in their physical spaces and the sense of community they foster. As patrons sip on their beverages, conversations flow freely, friendships form and memories are made.

Whether you're a local seeking solace or a traveller craving some authentic experiences, Hà Nội's hidden coffee spots beckon. VNS