St. Joseph's Cathedral

At the heart of Hanoi stands a weathered neo-Gothic Roman Catholic church, a contrary sight in this predominantly Buddhist city.

St. Joseph Cathedral is a 19th-century neo-Gothic church built with the Notre Dame of Paris in mind. The church is a gathering place for the large Roman Catholic community of Hanoi and is also popular with tourists. Constructed when the French first occupied the city, St. Joseph Cathedral is a striking example of colonial architecture in Hanoi.

In order to build the church, the French demolished the ancient Bao Thien pagoda that had stood there for more than 800 years. The contrast between the two religious buildings was dramatic. St. Joseph Cathedral’s neo-Gothic cross, towers and nave are distinctly European. At 211 feet (64.5 meters) long and with bell towers reaching 103 feet (31.5 meters) high, it’s an imposing structure.

When you walk west from Lake Hoan Kiem to reach St. Joseph’s you’ll see the church’s faded exterior in the distance. The area around the cathedral is popular and its streets are lined with trees, hotels and boutique stores. Many visitors find this area a pleasant break from the more hectic Old Quarter.

You enter the church through the side door, not the main entrance. Inside, the original stained glass windows and religious murals maintain the traditional, European style of St. Joseph’s exterior. There are also traditional Vietnamese decorations adorning the aisles, walls and altar.

St. Joseph Cathedral is located just west of Lake Hoan Kiem, close to several bus routes and walkable from the Old Quarter. Entry to the church is free. Opening hours are known to fluctuate, and you’ll likely find the church closed at lunchtime. Services are held throughout the week and the church is often full.