Discover Hanoi And The Best Things To Do
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Discover Hanoi And The Best Things To Do

As the country's capital, Hanoi is located in the northern part of Vietnam where historical significance and modernity coexist in harmony. We recommend staying in Hanoi for 3-5 days and the best time to visit is between November to April.

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Around Hanoi, there are plenty of museums, theaters and traditional arts. The city celebrates its heritage through various forms of expression, from water puppetry, a traditional performance art that dates back to the 11th century to contemporary art galleries. Several temples can be seen around Hanoi where the influence of three main religions of Vietnam, Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, are profoundly observed. 

What truly makes Hanoi special is its people. Whether you're navigating the markets, exploring hidden alleys, or enjoying a meal at a local restaurant, you'll find that the locals are eager to share their city with you and give you tips on how to experience the best of their city.

Things to do in Hanoi

1. Explore the Old Quarter

Wander through the narrow streets and observe the mix of French colonial architecture and traditional Vietnamese houses in the Old Quarter. There are several souvenir shops, cafes, street foods, temples and hotels around. We stayed in a hotel in the center of the Old Quarter and it is perfect for exploring as everything was within walking distance. To level up your experience, take an Old Quarter Food Tour.

2. Shop at a Night Market in the Old Quarter

One thing that surprised us in visiting Vietnam is the amount of shopping opportunities around. Some streets of the Old Quarter close in evenings for vendors to open their stalls - from street food, to paper cards, to designer clothing and electronics. Note that it is normal to bargain for deals.

Several designs of Pop-up cards are sold in Hanoi Night Market
Pop-up cards sold in Hanoi

3. Visit Hoan Kiem Lake

Hoan Kiem Lake, which translates to Lake of the Returned Sword is one of the highly visited spots in Hanoi. The serene lake is surrounded by a green area where you can find benches to enjoy the views. It is perfect for a stroll where you can admire the Turtle Tower in the middle or visit the Ngoc Son Temple.

Turtle Tower in a small island in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, Vietnam
Turtle Tower in Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi

4. Ngoc Son Temple

Located in the scenic Hoan Kiem Lake, Ngoc Son temple is a Confucian temple that can only be reached by a small bridge, named Huc. Several locals and tourists visit this spot everyday. Entrance fee is only 50,000 VND.

5. Tour the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex

This is an area dedicated to Ho Chi Minh, president of Vietnam from 1945 to 1969. In the mausoleum, pay respects to where Ho Chi Minh's body is rest. It is just a 5-min walk from the Museum and Presidential Palace. You can visit the mausoleum for free on your own or take a Half-day City Tour with a local guide.

Outside Ho Chi Min's Mausoleum are guards wearing white uniform, one of the things to see in Hanoi
Ho Chi Min's Mausoleum

6. Ho Chi Minh Museum

Within the same complex, visit the Ho Chi Minh Museum and learn more about the former ruler. Entrance fee is 40,000 VND and you will see several letters and memorabilia of Uncle Ho.

Several memorabilia of Uncle Ho and the Vietnam war are on display in Ho Chi Min Museum, one of the things to see in Hanoi
Ho Chi Minh Museum, Hanoi

7. One Pillar Pagoda

This iconic Buddhist temple is one of the city’s cultural gems, conveniently located within the gardens of the museum. This central complex is a great space to glimpse into history.

One Pillar Pagoda surrounded by a small pond, one of the things to see in Hanoi
One Pillar Pagoda, Hanoi

8. Presidential Palace

Another nearby spot in the complex is the Presidential Palace. With its French-inspired architecture and vibrant color makes it hard to miss. It costs only 40,000 VND per person to enter.

9. Discover the Temple of Literature

Admire the well-preserved architecture and serene gardens of the Temple of Literature, a beautiful complex dedicated to Confucius and scholars. Gain a deeper understanding of Vietnam's history and learn more about the history of Vietnam’s first university.

10. Experience a Water Puppet Show

This is not just a typical puppet show, the traditional performance at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre depicting historical tales and legends of Hanoi including how Hoan Kiem Lake was named. The water puppet show lasts about 50 minutes where you can enjoy a unique art form that dates back to the 11th century.

Performers gather at the end of Water Puppet Show in Hanoi
Water Puppet Show, Hanoi

11. Tour the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long

Another historical spot to add to the list is the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site where inside you can explore the ancient ruins and archaeological site. You can also visit the underground bunker used during the Vietnam War. Entrance is 70,000 VND.

12. Visit St. Joseph’s Cathedral

Admire the neo-Gothic architecture of St. Joseph’s cathedral, located in the heart of the Old Quarter. This church was built in 1884-1886 to resemble the Notre Dame de Paris and attracts both tourists and locals. The streets adjacent to the church are lined with cafes and restaurant.

St. Joseph Cathedral with neo-gothic architecture, one of the things to see in Hanoi, Vietnam
St. Joseph Cathedral, Hanoi

13. Eat Pho at a Local Stall

Try the famous Vietnamese noodle soup at a street-side eatery. Sample both beef (pho bo) and chicken (pho ga) varieties. You will see several dining spots by the streets where locals and tourists sit, dine and enjoy a good meal. Best of all, you'll have endless options for just $2 USD.

man eating Vietnamese noodles in the streets of Hanoi with locals in Vietnam

14. Visit the Hoa Lo Prison Museum

Learn about the history of the prison, also known as the “Hanoi Hilton.” See the exhibits detailing the experiences of prisoners during French colonial times and the Vietnam War. Entrance costs 50,000VND and an additional 50,000VND to get an audio tour. We highly recommend you avail the audio tour as inside Hoa Lo Prison Museum, there are several spots where you can play detailed accounts of Vietnamese political prisoners with facts about the displays. The displays include the guillotine room with the original equipment and the underground sewer where prisoners attempted to escape, among others.

Front of Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi, Vietnam, one of the cities for digital nomads
Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi, Vietnam

15. Enjoy a Spa Experience in Hanoi

If you feel tired after all the exploration or simply seeking to unwind, why not take a relaxing massage? There are several spa experiences and different duration of the massage making sure it fits your needs and schedule. There are several spots in Hanoi to for you to choose from - Rice Spa , Orient Spa, La Spa and Urban Oasis Spa to name a few.

16. Try a Specialty Coffee in a Rooftop Café

If you haven't heard, Vietnam's coffee game is on a different level. You'll find specialty coffee such as egg coffee and coconut coffee in any café and at an affordable price. There's endless spots around town, but we found this amazing spot while walking in the Old Quarter where you can sit overlooking the busy traffic of Hanoi.

Cafe with a view of the busy street in Hanoi

17. Explore the VinKE & Vinpearl Aquarium Times City

Located in the Times City complex, VinKE & Vinpearl Aquarium has the perfect blend of education and entertainment, making it an ideal destination for families and curious travelers. VinKE, short for "Kids Edutainment," is a place where children can engage in a variety of interactive activities designed to both entertain and educate.

Adjacent to VinKE, the Vinpearl Aquarium is one of the largest aquariums in Vietnam and houses a diverse array of marine life, from colorful coral reefs to exotic sea creatures. The aquarium hosts must-see events such as the fish-feeding and the mermaid show. Check out their website for details.

18. Visit VinWonders Water Park

Just outside of city center is VinWonders Water Park, offering a fun-filled experience with exhilarating water slides, wave pools, and a range of water-based attractions.

19. See the Passing Train in the Iconic Train Street

One of the most Instagrammable spots in Hanoi is the train street. Access the street here and take a seat at any of the cafes and restaurants to experience the thrill and get some memorable shots. Just a heads up, there may be security ensuring that you get 'invited' in a café to visit here and the owner takes responsibility of your safety.

Man standing in the middle of Train Street with cafes with colorful lanterns in Hanoi, Vietnam

20. Day trip to Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay is a UNESECO World Heritage Site and is truly one of the must-see spots when visiting Vietnam. If you are staying in Hanoi, you can visit Ha Long Bay as a day trip, take an overnight cruise, experience an overnight deluxe cruise or you can choose to stay in Ha Long Bay for a few days.

21. Explore West Lake (Ho Tay)

A perfect escape from the busy city. You can rent a bike and cycle around the largest lake in Hanoi. You can also visit the Tran Quoc Pagoda, the oldest Buddhist temple in the city.

Where to stay in Hanoi

Old Quarter

For a truly immersive experience, stay in the Old Quarter. It's filled with narrow streets, colonial architecture, and an abundance of cafes and street food stalls. This area is perfect for those who love to be in the midst of action.

Our recommendations:

Old Quarter streets at night filled with people and brightly-lit restaurants at night
Hanoi Old Quarter at night

French Quarter

For a more upscale stay, the French Quarter offers luxury hotels, fine dining restaurants, and wide boulevards lined with trees and French colonial buildings. The French Quarter is located just south of the Old Quarter.

Our recommendations:

  • Hotel De Rond - Beautifully decorated rooms with luxurious vibe, free breakfast.
  • Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi - A historical luxurious hotel French décor with heated pool, spa services, fitness center, cocktail bar and restaurant.
  • Golden time hostel - Spacious singe rooms, close to attractions, no breakfast.

Tay Ho (West Lake)

This area is popular among expats and offers a quieter, more relaxed atmosphere with beautiful views of West Lake. It’s perfect for those who enjoy a mix of local and international dining options.

Our recommendations:

How to get to Hanoi

The easiest way to reach Hanoi is by flying into Noi Bai International Airport (HAN). It’s about 45 minutes from the city center, and you can get there by taxi, bus, or the more affordable ride-sharing services like Grab.

Several travelers visit Hanoi from within Vietnam, and take a train. The Reunification Express offers scenic rides from major cities like Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang to Hanoi.

A City of Contrasts

Hanoi is a city of contrasts, where the old meets the new at every turn. Modern skyscrapers rise above ancient temples, and traditional markets operate alongside upscale boutiques. This juxtaposition creates a dynamic environment that is both charming and exhilarating. The city’s energy is palpable, yet there are countless moments of quiet reflection to be found.

Final Thoughts

And that's a wrap! Visiting Hanoi is more than just a trip; it's an immersion into a vibrant, living history. The city captivates with its blend of past and present, its delicious food and its cultural depth. Embrace the journey, and let Hanoi’s unique charm leave an indelible mark on your heart.

Before you head to Southeast Asia, make sure you have these top helpful apps and remember these tips when traveling.

If you are heading further south in Vietnam, make sure you visit Da Nang and Hoi An.

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