Hoi An Ancient Town – How To Best Experience Hoi An’s UNESCO World Heritage Centre
Ochre coloured buildings, blue shutters, lantern-lit streets and boats are the quintessential image of Hoi An’s Ancient Town. But where exactly does it start and end, and what does it encompass?
This is the ultimate lowdown on everything you need to know about Hoi An’s Ancient Town. We look at everything – its history, best time to visit, activities, bars and sights.
Hoi An Ancient Town – Past and Present
Described as a living museum of history and culture, the Old Town is a wondrous throwback to its glorious past. Built in the sixteenth century, Hoi An was an important trading port for the Chinese, Japanese, Indians and Europeans. But due to political shifts and change of rulers, the city was abandoned by the early nineteenth century. However, its buildings remained intact, and it’s this preservation that led to it being recognised as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1999.
A Day in the Old Town
The Old Town stirs to life at sunrise, its yellow-hued walls bathed golden in the morning light. The streets are still, the perfect time to calmly wander its alleys, admiring the finely crafted architecture that bears legacy to a cosmopolitan past.
It’s easy to imagine yourself stepping back in time…until you get to the riverside, where the early morning market trading is in full hustle, as food stall vendors clamour for the freshest produce.
After that, stores start opening between 8 am and 9 am, and tourists slowly start trickling in. So the town is busiest around 11 am, then rapidly empties out around noon as locals head off for a siesta, and sensible tourists retreat to a shaded escape.
However mid-afternoon can be quite chaotic, depending on the season, as you’ll jostle for space on the narrow streets along with large tour groups, cyclists, cyclo riders and sometimes motorcyclists.
But as the sun goes down, the streets get busier but feel less frenetic. Instead, the Old Town feels like a gentle exhale. Buildings glow in the light of the multi-coloured lanterns that string the skyline, and boats row merrily down the river.
When To Visit Hoi An’s Ancient Town
March and April
March and April have the benefit of falling into an abyss of stability, climate- and activities-wise. Tet has passed so you won’t find yourself surrounded by shut businesses and also the tour operators and classes will be functioning regularly.
Tourism levels at this time are above average but are still nowhere near the peak in July and August.
The weather in Hoi An is still mild compared to the annual peak. Good for those coming from cooler temperatures. Rainfall during this time is also at its lowest point out of the year, making this a great time to plan for outdoor activities in the surrounding area.
The hottest months have passed, and the temperatures are slowly but finally moving down towards a more tolerable range. Another welcomed reduction is in the form of tourists, as the flocks of people visiting the city in August have moved on as well. Therefore this helps in bringing prices back to a more moderate point for travellers.
September also brings the chance to witness the Mid Autumn Festival at the end of the month. But even if you’re here before this time, you can still see sessions of young people practicing in the evenings for the upcoming event.
See our full article here for more information on the best time to visit Hoi An.
Full Moon Lantern Festival
This is a special time to find yourself in Hoi An. The Lantern Festival takes place on the 14th day of every lunar month. The Old Town is aglow with colourful lanterns as well as lively gatherings and ceremonies.
Best Time Of Day to Visit the Old Town
Early mornings are the best time to explore, offering respite from the heat and the crowds.
Siesta time from noon until 2 pm is pretty quiet if you have the energy to be out at the hottest time of the day.
Evenings are simply magical. The Old Town comes alive with the night market, and the streets are lit with lanterns. However it can get busy though!
The Area of Hoi An’s Ancient Town
Distance: 4km (2.5-mile) walk
The Old Town comprises of 1,107 timber-framed buildings, including homes, stores, pagodas and religious buildings. All arranged side-by-side in tight rows on narrow pedestrian streets. By UNESCO decree, more than 800 historic buildings in Hoi An have been preserved. Therefore much of the Old Town looks as it did several centuries ago.
For instance the original street plan is still in place. There are two main roads – Bach Dang running parallel to the Thu Bon River, and Tran Phu running parallel to Bach Dang. A grid of streets and alleys set at right angles to them. Therefore the layout makes it extremely easy to navigate the area.
Hidden Hint: Hoi An is one of the few wheelchair-friendly towns in the country.
But the designated Old Town area isn’t clear when you’re physically walking the streets in Hoi An. So it’s not obvious where the Old Town begins or ends, or which streets are included. However, signs mounted in various locations around the town indicate the area and it is also shown on many town maps or brochures from the ticket stalls. Above all, one of the biggest indicators of being in the designated areas is the lack of motorbikes. For instance from 8:30 a.m. – 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. – 9 p.m. (extended to 9:30 p.m. in summer) scooters and motorbikes are prohibited through the streets of the Old Town.
Officially, the Old Town demarcation starts a bit further down from the new Central Market building on Tran Phu.
Getting Around the Old Town
Travelling by bicycle or walking is the best way to explore the Old Town area. The streets are cordoned off with large, movable signs to prevent vehicles from entering due to heavy foot traffic at these times.
Getting to Hoi An’s Ancient Town
Since Hoi An does not have an airport or train station, many travellers arrive via the nearest city, Da Nang.
Whether you’re day tripping or staying in Hoi An, and whether you’re arriving via vehicle, bicycle or using your legs, there are only a few entry points into the Old Town.
East End of Hoi An: Tran Phu Street
Tran Phu is the main arterial road that takes you straight into the Old Town, soon after you pass the Central Market. Walking along this road, you’ll find the Quan Cong Temple, Assembly House, and right at the end, the Japanese Bridge.
Address: 05-07 Hoàng Diệu
Bebe Tailor is the designated drop-off spot for shuttle services. For instance opposite Bebe, you’ll find the Tourist Information Centre, Heritage Attraction ticket booth, Hoi An Impressions Theme Park ticket counter, a local products store, and public restrooms.
West End: Nguyen Du Street
Royal Hoi An, Mgallery By Sofitel
Address: 39 Đào Duy Từ
At the other end of the Old Town, the Royal Hoi An is commonly used as a drop-off spot by many services. The Thu Bon River runs right behind the hotel;
Follow Nguyen Du Street and then Cong Nu Ngoc Hoa Street. You’ll soon find yourself entering right into the heart of the Old Town.
Hoi An Ancient Town Tickets
To walk within the Old Town area, it’s expected that all visitors carry an Ancient Town entrance ticket. This ticket allows you to explore Hoi An’s old town and its numerous well-maintained heritage buildings.
The entrance ticket costs only 120,000 VND (5 USD) per person, which is a relatively low cost to visit the Old Town and its monuments. The fees go towards the maintenance and preservation of the city. Technically, the ticket is mandatory for entry to the Old Town; however, enforcement is inconsistent, and it is unlikely you will be asked to purchase one unless you are accompanied by a tour guide.
The ticket allows you walking access to all the streets within the Old Town district, and admission to a number of historic buildings also referred to as sightseeing places. These include heritage buildings, as well as museums and theatrical performance. Each ticket allows you entrance to five sightseeing places. If you wish to visit more than five, you will need to purchase additional tickets. See our complete Hoi An Old Town ticket guide for info on where to buy tickets.
Hoi An Ancient Town – What to See and Do
A visit to Old Town is incomplete without an understanding of its majestic cultural history. Walk into private family homes that have stood for centuries, take a moment to reflect on history in a museum, and another moment of silence in the religious temples. Delight in the folkloric traditions at the performance theatre, and learn how to paint a theatre mask.
At night, a lantern boat ride on the Thu Bon river is a must, while a cyclo tour is an indulgent experience during the day.
Hoi An Ancient Town’s Historic Buildings
There a number of old houses in Hoi An, which are private family residences that have been well-preserved through the centuries and are now open to share with the public. Hoi An has four museums that display a range of artefacts detailing the rich history of the region.
In previous centuries, communal houses were used in Hoi An as administrative centres and meeting places, as well as places of worship. Cultural activities were also held at communal houses, sometimes including people from neighbouring villages, making them important hubs of communication. The architecture and artefacts within the communal houses tell the story of cultural exchange and commercial business trading in the area.
This article provides a full overview of all the historic sites in the Old Town. We’ve highlighted our top picks below.
Old House of Đức An
Address: 129 Tran Phu – Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., daily
The current owner is a direct descendant of the founding family who built the house in the 1850s. Through the decades it has operated as a bookshop, a medicinal dispensary and a central meeting point for various political groups.
Hidden Hint: Duc An’s is the least touristy of all the family homes, with the added bonus of a direct family member being on site.
Hoi An Museum
Address: 10B Tran Hung Dao Street – Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily
The Hoi An museum is home to artefacts from the past 2,000 years. Organised into three areas: history and culture, revolutionary history, and Hoi An’s ascent from hardship.
Hidden Hint: We recommend you make it to the Hoi An Museum. It has the best all-encompassing collection, and the 360-degree view from the top floor over Hoi An is stunning.
Quan Công Temple & Quan Am Pagoda
Address: 24 Tran Phu
Built in 1653, the temple was built as a place of worship where merchants could pay their respects to their ancestors, and pray for luck. Above all the building has been kept in amazing condition over the centuries and looks very much it would have originally looked.
Hoi An Traditional Art Performance Theatre
Address: 39 Nguyen Thai Hoc – Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., daily – Showtimes: 10:15 a.m., 3:15 p.m., 4:15 p.m.
This small theatre holds live performances three times a day, showcasing a range of traditional folk dance and music.
Hidden Hint: If you enter from 66 Bach Dang, you can see where traditional theatre masks are created and painted, or try your hand at painting a mask for an extra fee.
Read our in-depth article on craft workshops here.
This bridge is one of the most popular attractions in Hoi An and also known as Cau Chua Pagoda. Originally constructed in the 1590s, the bridge is a lovely example of traditional Japanese architecture. Built to connect the Japanese and Chinese quarters of the city.
Cẩm Phô Communal House / Cẩm Phô Temple
Address: 52 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai
Built over 200 years ago and restored in 1817 this communal house is built in the shape of a Chinese character.
Hidden Hint: Cam Pho is quieter than the other communal buildings, providing some respite from the crowds at other sites.
Activities in Hoi An Ancient Town
You can’t miss them—from the moment you enter the Old Town, it will be literally seconds before you see your first cyclo. The three-wheeled taxi (basically a pram for adults) often referred to as the lazy option of seeing the town.
Cost: Starting at 200,000 VND (8.70 USD) for 20 minutes
If you’re looking for an organised cyclo tour, have a look at Hidden’s guide to day tours
Lantern Boat Ride
It’s the best way to escape the buzzing streets at night, especially during festivals. In addition it’s a great option if you are with your special someone and want to experience one of Hoi An’s most romantic activities.
Cost: 100,000 VND (4.40 USD) per person for 30 minutes, depending on boat and group size, duration, and season
Where to find them: The majority of boats surround the lantern bridge. When walking along the riverside, the boat rower will find you!
Where to Eat and Drink in Hoi An Ancient Town
Hoi An has earned a well-deserved reputation as Vietnam’s food capital. From traditional local food to trendy, world-renowned fusion food, it has it all.
But to experience the best of local cuisine, the Central Market is your best option. Learn how to navigate this market here. The night market, while not technically in the Old Town, is just a stone’s throw across, and is perfect for the more culinary adventurous. For instance think skewered frogs legs. But for the classic banh mi, our choices are Banh Mi Phuong and Banh Mi Queen. If you’re after a refined dining atmosphere, you won’t go wrong with Chef Duc’s Mango eateries.
Banh Mi Phuong
Address: 2b Phan Chu Trinh – Hours: 6:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. Daily – Cost: 20,000 VND – 40,000 VND (85c USD – 1.70 USD)
Anthony Bourdain wasn’t wrong when he said that this is one of the best banh mi in Hoi An. The endless queue and 5000+ reviews are testaments to their ongoing popularity.
Madam Khanh – The Banh Mi Queen
Address: 115 Tran Cao Van – Opening Hours: 7 a.m – 7 p.m. Daily – Cost: 20,000 VND (0.85c USD)
One of Hoi An powerhouses of banh mi, Madam Khanh – The Banh Mi Queen, has been constructing banh mi gems for over 30 years and has been selling street food for over 50.
Address: 111 Nguyen Thai Hoc – Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Daily
Vietnamese chef and owner Duc grew up in Vietnam and is also well-travelled, hence creating a fantastic fusion menu of an international standard. Read our article dedicated to Mango Rooms here.
Nightlife and Views at Hoi An Ancient Town
The Old Town is a popular spot to enjoy everything from fancy cocktails along the riverside and listening to some chilled live music to drinking the cheapest beer in the world, 8,000 VND (0.35 USD), and dancing all night in backpacker-friendly bars. The best part-most have awesome views.
Hidden Hint: Keep in mind that nightlife in Hoi An starts at 7 p.m. and things get a bit quiet at 11 p.m. If you go out after 10 p.m., only be a few late night options are available.
Our faves are the hidden rooftop bars that help you escape the mayhem. So you can take in the beauty of the river and city across the ancient roofs. For the complete lowdown on Hoi An’s best bars, head here.
Address: 130 Tran Phu – Opening hours: 8 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.
On its open-air rooftop, you’ll find yourself literally in the heart of Old Town, surrounded by historic clay roofs.
The Deck Hoi An
Address: 39 Dao Duy Tu Street – Opening hours: 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. – Happy Hours: 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm 2 for 1 cocktail
A great place to enjoy a little luxury and panoramic views of the Old Town and Thu Bon River.
Address 15 Thoai Ngoc Hau, An Hoi – Opening hours: Live music: 8:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. Open mic or live DJ: 11:00 p.m. – 4:00 a.m.
Guests are welcome on stage to play or sing with the band, creating an incredible live-jamming atmosphere.
Address: 88 Nguyen Thai Hoc – Opening hours: 10 a.m. to 12 a.m.
Dive Bar is a popular late-night option among travellers and expats in the Old Town. One of the few Ancient Town bars opens late.
The Old Town is certainly captivating, imbued with a rich heritage and nighttime magical charm. Hence Hoi An’s listing on CNN’s Most Romantic City list.
Above all, for a small town, it packs a mighty punch! There really is so much to see and do, and we’ve just touched the surface. For a comprehensive immersion into the Old Town experience, meander around our site for more details on tailors, leather stores, lanterns and all things shopping.
But, if you want the all-inclusive experience, Hidden recommends spending at least 2-3 days discovering the wonders of Old Town. But if you’re short on time, the splendour of this ancient port can be seen in a day.
So visit the museum, a temple and a family home, stroll the streets, relax by the riverside, shop, and have a drink with a view.