This neo-gothic structure rising from Hanoi's Old Quarter's twisting streets was erected by the French in 1886 on the site of a former pagoda. Today St. Joseph's Cathedral, Hanoi's main Catholic church, holds services in Vietnamese and French which are packed and often overflow into the street. Stop for a coffee and a shoeshine at one of the cafes next door.
In the late 19th century many of the structures in this area of Hanoi were built in the service of St. Joseph's Cathedral. Note that the church's front doors are usually bolted shut; enter via the side door. Once inside you'll be bowled over by the stained glass windows and native and European decorations. Many of Vietnam's Catholics headed south after the communists took control of North Vietnam in 1954. Today, approximately 6 million Vietnamese are practising Catholics, and should you be inclined, attend a service at St. Joseph's, Hanoi's big cheese of churches.