St Joseph’s Cathedral Hanoi’s Iconic Neo-Gothic Cathedral

St Joseph’s Cathedral, also known as the Big Church or Nhà thờ Lớn, is one of the most famous landmarks in Hanoi, Vietnam. With its distinctive neo-Gothic architecture, St. Joseph’s Cathedral stands out amidst the ancient streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

The cathedral was built by French colonists in the late 19th century on the grounds of Bao Thien, an ancient Buddhist pagoda. Despite its colonial origins, St. Joseph’s Cathedral today is a popular attraction and religious site for locals and tourists alike.

Where is St Joseph’s Cathedral?

St. Joseph’s Cathedral is located right in the heart of Hanoi Old Quarter, near scenic Hoan Kiem Lake.

Exact Location

The cathedral sits at the intersection of Nha Chung Street, Ly Quoc Su Street, and Nha Tho Street. The streets surrounding the cathedral comprise Hanoi’s historic commercial center, with shops, cafes, and Hanoi restaurants lining the narrow roads.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral map:


There are several convenient ways to reach the cathedral:

  • Cyclo – Take a traditional cyclo ride through Hanoi’s winding streets to arrive right at the cathedral entrance. Cyclos can be found around Hoan Kiem Lake.
  • Taxi – Taxis are inexpensive and plentiful in Hanoi. Provide the driver with the name “Nhà thờ Lớn” to get to the cathedral.
  • Motorbike – Exploring by motorbike allows flexibility to stop at sights along the way. Obey traffic rules and wear a helmet when riding.
  • Bicycle – Pedaling through Hanoi’s Old Quarter by bike provides an up-close experience. Beware of traffic as you ride.
  • Bus – Take bus

Introducing St Joseph’s Cathedral Hanoi

St Joseph's Cathedral
St Joseph’s Cathedral

St. Joseph’s Cathedral has a long, storied past. Here are some key facts about this historic church:


Originally built on the site of Bao Thien pagoda, which dates back to the 11th century Ly Dynasty. Bao Thien was Hanoi’s largest and most scared Buddhist pagoda for centuries. Constructed first with wood in 1886, becoming one of the first Gothic churches built by the French colonial government in Indochina. Rebuilt with brick materials in 1884 after the wooden structure deteriorated. Closed in 1954 after the French army’s retreat from Vietnam. Reopened and returned to the Catholic Church in 1990.


St Joseph's Cathedral Architecture
St Joseph’s Cathedral Architecture

Neo-Gothic style with two distinctive square bell towers 41.5 meters high. Façade features a big clock, high arches, stained glass windows, and a copper statue of Mother Mary holding Jesus atop the apex. Colorful glass windows with religious imagery filter in natural light. High domed ceilings with ornate chandeliers give the interior an airy, majestic ambiance. Blends Gothic architecture with Vietnamese elements like spired towers, red tiles, and wooden altars lacquered in gold. Brick materials create ventilation and withstand Hanoi’s hot, humid climate.


Main cathedral for the Archdiocese of Hanoi, holding regular Sunday mass and ceremonies like baptisms and funerals. Center of Catholicism in Northern Vietnam, becoming especially significant after the Virgin Mary appeared in La Vang in the 18th century. Popular site for weddings between Catholics, Protestants, and even non-religious couples due to its beauty and symbolic stature in Hanoi.

Explore St Joseph’s Cathedral

From its impressive architecture to religious artifacts, there is much to take in during a visit to St. Joseph’s Cathedral.

Interior Finishes

Stepping inside the cathedral, visitors are immersed in sacred ambiance. Ornate chandeliers hang from the ceiling, while arched vaults span above the nave and aisles. Golden lacquer altars and polished wooden pews fill the space.

Religious Imagery

St Joseph's Cathedral Religious Imagery
St Joseph’s Cathedral Religious Imagery

Inside the cathedral, glimpses of religious figures and scenes are visible throughout. Paintings depicting the Apostles fringe the nave’s colonnade. A massive painting of the Assumption of Mary, the Virgin rising to heaven, adorns the altar. Stained glass renders images of Jesus’s life.

Mosaics and Sculptures

Mosaics of Jesus Christ and church fathers beautify the cathedral’s vaulted ceiling. A Pietà sculpture of Mary cradling Jesus’s body after crucifixion captivates viewers. Busts of saints and a statue of Joseph holding infant Jesus enhance the prayerful setting.

Belfries and Clock

St Joseph's Cathedral Belfries and Clock
St Joseph’s Cathedral Belfries and Clock

Visitors can climb up the Northern steeple to see the immense bell and gaze over bustling Hanoi. The cathedral’s central clock remains a meeting point for locals. Chimes ring out melodiously from the towers during mass.

Exterior Details

Stepping outside, one can admire the cathedral’s French Gothic architecture. Tall spires taper elegantly to pointed tips. Flying buttresses support towering walls, while gargoyles jut out menacingly from façade ledges.

Attend mass at St Joseph’s Cathedral

Attend mass at St Joseph's Cathedral
Attend mass at St Joseph’s Cathedral

In addition to sightseeing, visitors can participate in Catholic mass at St. Joseph’s Cathedral. Here are tips for attending:

Mass Times

  • Weekdays – 5:30 am and 5:00 pm
  • Saturdays – 5:30 am and 6:00 pm
  • Sundays – Last mass begins at 9:30 am. Earlier mass times vary.

Check the cathedral entrance or ask clergy for the exact Sunday mass schedule, as times change weekly.

What to Expect

  • Services follow the order of the Catholic mass and are spoken in Vietnamese.
  • Hymns are sung in Vietnamese and Latin by the choir in a soaring, reverent chorus.
  • Incense burns, infusing ceremonies with holy smoke.
  • Strict dress code requires covered knees and shoulders out of respect.


  • Kneel when others do, maintain silence when appropriate. Avoid communion unless Catholic.
  • Greet those nearby with “Pacem” (Peace) and responses like “In nomine Patris” (In the name of the Father).
  • Join in simple hymns. Stand and sit accordingly. Appreciate the solemn rituals.

Take photos at St Joseph’s Cathedral

Take photos
Take photos

With its photogenic architecture and vibrant details, St. Joseph’s Cathedral provides many beautiful photo opportunities.

Façade: Capture the rose window, spires, and statues decorating the cathedral’s imposing façade. Try different angles, like standing across the street for the whole view or focusing on details up close. Go at different times to play with lighting.

Interior: Inside, take wide shots of the nave leading to the altar bathed in colored light from stained glass. Kneel in a pew to photograph the brilliant chandeliers hanging above.

Local Life: For cultural shots, photograph locals praying, attending mass, or chatting outside the cathedral. Capture an old woman selling flowers or a cyclo driver waiting for customers in the streets nearby.

Black and White: Switch the camera to monochrome mode and find striking contrasts to frame in black and white. Dark arches against the light façade make dramatic silhouettes.

Be Respectful: Always be respectful when photographing people and religious ceremonies inside the cathedral. Ask permission, use discretion, and avoid interrupting services.

Places to eat near St Joseph’s Cathedral

Places to eat
Places to eat

After exploring the cathedral, Old Quarter eateries offer a perfect chance to sample Vietnamese cuisine.

Local Eats

For authentic Hanoian specialties, head to eateries on Hang Bac Street behind the cathedral:

  • Bun Cha Hanoi – Serving bun cha, grilled pork with vermicelli noodles. Outdoor seating lets you take in street scenes.
  • Banh Cuon Gia Truyen – Famous for banh cuon, steamed rice rolls with minced pork and mushrooms. Bustling, narrow restaurant open early until sold out.


Unwind at a cafe near the cathedral sipping Vietnamese coffee:

  • Cafe Pho Co – Historic cafe with courtyard views of the cathedral’s towers. Offers coffee and classic sweets like che Ba Mau.
  • Cong Cafe – Trendy, multi-level cafe fusing modern and colonial decor. Great spot for coconut ice cream, smoothies, and people watching.

Street Eats

Grab snacks from the Old Quarter’s street vendors:

  • Egg coffee – Sweet Vietnamese egg coffee drink from makeshift carts.
  • Banh Tom – Crispy shrimp fritters served in a paper cone.
  • Fresh fruit – Mangoes, dragonfruit, rambutan – sold by mobile fruit vendors.

Attractions near St Joseph’s Cathedral

Attractions near St Joseph's Cathedral
Attractions near St Joseph’s Cathedral

After visiting the cathedral, spend time exploring other top attractions close by in Hanoi’s Old Quarter:

Ngoc Son Temple: Resting on Hoan Kiem Lake, this scenic Buddhist temple honors Vietnam’s historic cultural figures. Accessible by the iconic red Huc Bridge. Features gardens, temples, and souvenir shops.

Hoa Lo Prison: Historic prison used by French colonists to jail Vietnamese dissidents. Offers a glimpse at Vietnam’s struggle for independence. Displays stark cells, restraints, and guillotine relics.

Khue Van Cac: Ancient Chinese pavilion overlooking Hoan Kiem Lake. Graceful curved architecture with yellow ceramic roof tiles.

Pen Tower: Miniature Eiffel Tower replica in Pen Square. Vibrant shopping and night market location.

Ta Hien Street: Lively street in Old Quarter renowned for nightlife. Bustling bars, pubs, and restaurants. Come evening, it transforms into a party hub crowded with locals and tourists.


With its enduring elegance, fascinating history, and central location, St. Joseph’s Cathedral is undoubtedly a must-see when visiting Hanoi. Wandering the cathedral and streets of the atmospheric Old Quarter offers an authentic glimpse into Vietnamese culture, architecture, faith, and daily life. From religious ceremonies to street eats, the area around St. Joseph’s Cathedral provides diverse experiences and memories.