Even if you are not a history buff, like me (Kristina), you should still visit the Imperial Citadel in Hanoi. It’s a fascinating historic site that has just recently opened to the general public, complete with beautiful architecture, secret bunkers and peaceful surroundings.
So in between roaming the curving streets of the magical Old Quarter and drinking all the coffee there is to drink in Hanoi, you should make the effort to see some of the city’s beautiful historic sites. Especially the Imperial Citadel.
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long in Hanoi – a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010, just in time for Hanoi’s millennial anniversary, the Imperial Citadel is a fine example of the old Hanoi. Many archaeological finds in the nearby area showcase the long-lost former residence of Vietnamese monarchs.
The site has been an important military base for over 1300 years and served as one of the most important militant hubs during the Vietnamese (American) War.
During the war, a network of bunkers was dug underneath the Citadel. The most important section was constructed in 1967 and linked the Building D67 to the Dragon House. The D67 bunker was the main spot where the commanders made key decisions about the conduct of their troops in the War.
Excited about the overview of the Imperial Citadel we headed to explore it. We didn’t want our day to be too military heavy so we chose the Citadel over the Vietnamese Military History Museum. It just seemed more exciting, peaceful and much less crowded.
Exploring the Underground D67 Command Bunker
The D67 bunker was constructed in the northern part of palace foundations. It looks like an ordinary house from the outside, but it’s the inside of the building that is the most fascinating.
Think of it as the underground Churchill War Rooms in London, it’s equally captivating. The tunnel is a gripping place to see. As you descend downstairs into the secret 60 cm thick, soundproof walled rooms, the history comes back to life.
The Vietnamese Government has recognised the building and the bunker as part of Vietnam’s Outstanding Revolutionary Heritage.
Watch Charlie’s video to see the rooms where General Giap sheltered during heavy bombing in the Vietnam War (just over 4 minutes).
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Exploring the Grounds of the Imperial Citadel
Not only the Imperial Citadel is the heart of Vietnamese military affairs, but it’s also a beautiful site to visit. A promenade of cute bonsai trees lines the entrance into the Citadel. The trees are expertly manicured with little statues underneath the branches imitating the daily life of the Vietnamese or even the lost city of old Hanoi.
Only a few old architectural pieces remain on site. The first thing you see at the entrance is the Doan Mon Gate leading up to the royal palace. The palace was sadly been demolished by the French and instead, the Dragon House was built in its place.
The steps of Kinh Thiên Palace decorated with 15th century stone dragons and the Hậu Lâu (Princess’ Palace) still remain as well as the Old Gate of Hanoi.
The Old Gate seems to be a popular graduates photo session spot. On our arrival, we saw a number of what it seemed like college or university grads excitedly lining up to have a photo next to one of the city’s landmarks.
We had a particularly pleasant walk through the cloisters of the renovated building housing a wonderful photography exhibition of shots from around Vietnam. The exhibitions change regularly and it’s well worth a look, the photographs were beautiful.
Read More: Our Full Guide to Visiting Vietnam
Was it Worth Visiting the Imperial Citadel?
We really liked the peaceful stroll around the Imperial Citadel grounds and especially enjoyed exploring the secret D67 bunker. At only 30,000 VND ($ 1.34 USD) per person, we really recommend visiting the site.
Have you visited the Imperial Citadel and the secret bunkers? What did you like the most? Let us know in the comments below…