Hanoi is one of the top city to visit in Vietnam. It is an ancient city with an incredible food scene, temples, ancient citadels, and stunning wilderness just outside the city all offer fun-filled days in Vietnam’s capital.
Here below are almost everything you need to know about Hanoi, top things to do when you visit Hanoi, Vietnam
1) Go on a Free Walking Tour of the City
One of the best ways to get acquainted with any city in the world is to go on a walking tour.
Go on a half a day or a full-day tour, and take in some of the best sights around the city.
Being guided by a local student, these tours allow you to find the best attractions, restaurants, bars and hidden spots around the city, and really is one of the best things to do in Hanoi….
2) Wander Around the Old Quarter
The Old Quarter is one of the two most well-known districts in Hanoi (the other being the Ba Dinh District). The Old Quarter is a business centre and also a very prominent spot among tourists.
A typical scene in Hanoi streets are sidewalks teeming with bicycles and scooters while crowds of people scavenge markets and barter loudly with street vendors.
While exploring the Old Quarter you have no choice but to confront the traffic as a local would do and experience the history on the go.
Old Quarter is an interesting blend of ancient history (Hanoi celebrated a millennial birthday in 2010) and commercialism….
3) See the Ancient House and St Joseph’s Cathedral in the Old Quarter.
The best way to understand the difference between Vietnamese architecture and French colonialism is through these two buildings (luckily both situated in the same neighbourhood near Hoan Kiem Lake).
The house is made of two main blocks bound together by a square yard in the middle on the ground floor, and a small balcony on the 1st floor.
The yard is included at the centre of the building to moderate the air, providing the house with sunlight and cool air.
Today, you can come and see the Ancient House and see first-hand how Hanoian lived.
4) Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is the resting place of the revolution leader Ho Chi Minh, who was the President of the Communist Party of Vietnam.
It is located at the very same place where, in 1945, Ho Chi Minh read the Declaration of Independence and established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was inspired by Lenin’s Mausoleum (in Moscow) but with a Vietnamese twist. It incorporates elements that are tied to Vietnamese architecture like the sloping roof.
5) People Watch at Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake, adjacent to the French Quarter, got its name (Lake of the Restored Sword) from a legend.
In ancient times circulated a story that claimed the Heaven-sent Emperor Ly Thai To a sword with magical properties. He used that sword to banish the Chinese from Vietnam.
Following the end of the war, a giant golden turtle took the sword and escaped to the depths of Hoan Kiem Lake to return the sword to its divine owners thus earning its name, the Lake of the Restored Sword.
If you’re not amused by legends don’t fret because the Hoan Kiem Lake is special for other things as well.
6) Visit the Ngoc Son Pagoda
If the Hoan Kiem Lake itself isn’t enough to peak your interest, then make sure to visit the Ngoc Son Temple, a pagoda surrounded by the Hoan Kiem lake.
The pagoda was built in memorial of the 13th-century figure Tran Hung Dao, a brave military leader who fought against the Yuan Dynasty.
The island on which the pagoda is built is known as Jade Island and is accessible by the famous Rising Sun Bridge at the edge of the French Quarter.
The bridge is built out of wood and coloured red in a classical Vietnamese fashion.
7) Go Shopping at Dong Xuan Market
Established in the late 19th century, the Dong Xuan Market can be found in a four-story communist styled building on the edge of the Old Quarter.
Dong Xuan Market is the largest indoor market in Hanoi and one of the best things to do if you need to shop. What one can find there is truly astounding.
Whatever you’re looking for whether it’d be some fresh local produce, souvenirs or in need of a laptop – chances are some vendor tucked away has it.
8) Catch a Show at the Opera House
Like the St Joseph’s Cathedral, the Hanoi Opera House was modelled after one of Paris’s counterparts, the Palais Garnier.
The Hanoi Opera House follows the European style quite clearly. It has Italian marble floors, ceilings decorated with French murals and copper chandeliers.
The Hanoi Opera House is regarded as one of the most famous architectural and cultural landmarks in Hanoi.
9) Don’t Miss the Vietnamese Woman’s Museum
This cool modern museum just a short walk from the opera house offers a beautiful tribute to the women of Vietnam throughout history.
The museum is run by the Women’s Union of Vietnam.
The museum focuses on the position of Vietnamese women throughout history. From street merchants, mothers to entrepreneurs and scholars.
10) Visit the Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature is often regarded as one of the most visited tourist attractions.
In 1070 the Temple of Literature was made with the intention of serving as a university and was dedicated to Confucius and scholars.
Fortunately, the building is remarkably preserved and is an excellent example of traditional Vietnamese architecture.
When you visit the Temple of Literature you will find an abundance of literature, turtle steles as well as the Well of Heavenly Clarity.
This temple is a tribute to education and literature. This place has seen thousands and thousands of Vietnam’s finest scholars.
11) Learn About the Hoa Lo Prison Museum (The Hanoi Hilton)
One of the best examples of the gruesome past of Vietnam’s history, the Hoa Lo Prison Museum (AKA “Hanoi Hilton”) will make you experience a range of emotions from disgust, sorrow to outrage at how something like this was allowed to happen.
The museum displays and educates on the sufferings of the Vietnamese revolutionaries who were confined under the occupying French government during the early 20th century.
What you see is only a glimpse into the prison, as most of the prison complex was demolished in the 1990s to make way for the Hanoi Towers.
It is peculiar to have a prison built in the centre of the city. The idea of the French colonial administrators was to make an example of the Vietnamese fighters for independence.
12) Appreciate the Works in the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum
This fantastic Fine Arts Museum houses some of the most remarkable art.
The museum consists of two buildings that interestingly enough were once the French Ministry of Information.
Inside the museum, you can find Matisse, Degas, Monet to a lot of local artists covering their often harrowing past.
This is the place to visit to truly appreciate and understand the entire history of Vietnamese fine arts.
13) Eat All of the Food…Seriously
You can’t be researching things to do in Hanoi without thinking about what kind of food you’re going to eat. Well, it’s easy – all of it!
Vietnamese food is known for being quite simple in terms of ingredients, and that is one of its charms. The simplicity of the meal and the quality of its ingredients is what makes the dishes exceptional.
Vietnamese food relies on a delicate balance of salty, sweet, sour and hot flavours.
It’s almost impossible to walk a block in Hanoi without detecting the smell of street food from the vendor’s DIY stands.
Try the Goi Cuon, a spring roll packed with greens, some type of minced meat (shrimp, crab or pork) and coriander. Usually, it’s served with a bowl of lettuce, peanut sauce, and mint.
If you have a sweet tooth as we do, definitely try the fried bananas, dessert soup or caramel pudding.
14) Brush Up on Ethnic History at the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology acts as a keeper of the said cultural diversity of different ethnic groups in Vietnam.
Many of those communities are working together with the museum. They’ve collected work, are involved in the preparation process of the exhibitions for the purpose of preserving cultural heritage and displaying it in a rightful and authentic way.
15) Find a Rooftop Bar
One of the best ways to see the capital of Vietnam is to find a rooftop bar for a drink. The rush of traffic packed Hanoi can be overwhelming even to locals who are accustomed to the fast pace of the city.
The city becomes even more vibrant at night, full of neon colours and Hanoi’s traffic leaving trail lights.
Whether you’re searching for a romantic vibe or to hang out with friends, the best way to enjoy Hanoi’s mesmerizing night landscape is from above.
Hanoi has a lot of rooftop bars, and most of them offer the same type of atmosphere. Imagine a lounge, with modern music in the background, amazing cocktails and a 360-degree view of all Hanoi.
Have a drink at a rooftop cafe and watch Hanoi from above.
16) Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of The Imperial City of Thang Long
The Imperial City of Thang Long is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for good reason. One of 8 world heritage sites in Vietnam, Thang Long is a temple complex at the center of Hanoi.
First built in the 11th Century, the Imperial City of Thang Long has been expanded over time until it was eventually abandoned when the capital of Vietnam was moved to Hue in 1810.
Many of the original parts of the Thang Long temple complex were in disarray and it was not until recently that the areas of the imperial citadel have been excavated.
17) Get Social and Drink Bia Hoi on the Street
Ahh yes, bia hoi. One of our favourites when talking about what to do in Hanoi.
If you’re a beer enthusiast, you’ll be thrilled with Vietnam’s beer culture.
Let us start off with the fact that Vietnam is the perfect place for a pub crawl. Bia Hoi is an insight into the beer scene of Vietnam.
Bia Hoi is known as a street beer. Vietnam boasts as having a unique drinking culture that can only be found in the northern cities of Vietnam.
It’s a daily ritual starting from 4 PM where locals (and tourists) sit on plastic furniture on street corners and drink home-brewed beer.
18) Visit One Pillar Pagoda
Vietnamese sure enjoy their legends. One of the more popular ones is the One Pillar Pagoda.
According to the tale an heirless Emperor had a dream in which he met a goddess of sorts name Avalokiteshvara which gifted him with a baby boy that was resting on a lotus flower.
Emperor Ly Thai wanted the pagoda to be built as the lotus blossom and that’s why it was built on a single pillar. The lotus blossom also symbolizes enlightenment in Buddhism.
Present-day, the wooden pagoda is supported by a concrete pillar as a replacement for the original one. The original wooden pillar was destroyed by the French.
19) Enjoy Some Peace and Quiet at West Lake
West Lake, Lake of Mist or Ho Tay, is Hanoi’s largest lake. It is 15 km in circumference and is surrounded by upper-class suburbs as well as the Tay Ho ex-pat district.
It is a very popular destination as it makes for a nice change from the hectic pace of the Old Quarter.
The lake offers an opportunity to visit the temple that is off the beaten path or to enjoy a cup of coffee or a refreshing beer whilst admiring the lake.
You can navigate around the lake by bicycle and rest at one of the street-side restaurants.
20) Visit Tran Quoc Pagoda
Tran Quoc Pagoda is the oldest pagoda in Hanoi tracing all the way back to the 6th century.
The Buddhist shrine has undergone changes throughout the years.
21) See A Water Puppet Show
One of the things that are not to be missed when in Hanoi is a Water Puppet Show.
The water puppet is an ancient art form that dates all the way back to the 11th century.
Back when the rice paddy fields got flooded the villagers would draw entertainment from the dire situation.
They would stand in the water and attach puppets on fishing rods and had them perform over the water’s surface.
Today’s shows are performed at a contemporary theatre within a pool of water as the stage for the water puppets. The puppets are controlled by eight puppeteers hiding behind a bamboo screen.
22) Take a Cooking Class
If you followed our previous advice which is ‘Eat All of the Food’ then you’re already mesmerised by the authentic Vietnamese food!
If you wish to take a slice of Vietnam back home with you so you could reawaken your fantastic trip’s memories with the help of food then take a cooking class!
The good news is that Vietnamese cuisine is simple. You don’t need to be a chef extraordinaire to prepare your favourite Vietnamese dishes, but you do need the tips to make them as authentic and flavorful as the real deal.
23) Make Your Own Pottery at Bat Trang Ceramic Village
A traditional village of Hanoi, Bat Trang is an attraction for the locals and tourists!
At stores at Bat Trang you will see ceramic products displayed in different shapes, styles, and colours.
Usually, they’re produced by family businesses and the prices are reasonable.
This place is famous in Vietnam and it’s not unusual to have people coming from surrounding regions just so they’d buy their favourite ceramic products.
24) Wander the Themed Streets of Hanoi
The themed streets of the capital of Vietnam are often referred to as “the 36 streets of Hanoi.”
Nowadays, most of these 36 streets are in the Old Quarter and have kept the names that reflect the specialized businesses they once housed.
The Old Quarter is the heart of Hanoi’s history and is recognized by its labyrinth of ancient streets buzzing with commerce.
The street names carry the name of the trade they’re known for such as Silk Street, Blacksmith Street, Herbal Medicine Street, Sugar Street, Dried Fish Street, Bamboo Street, etc. These streets have a 1,000-year-old history.
In the past, the craftsmen who came to Hanoi from villages formed guilds among other artisans specializing in the same trade.
Each of the guilds had its own street in the Old Quarter where its members lived, built workshops and sold their trades. So if you were in dire need of some material for a dress you’d head on to Silk Street etc.
25) Check Out the 4-Kilometre Mosaic Wall
Another thing Hanoi can be proud of is having the world’s largest ceramic mosaic built from ceramic tesserae.
The wall was built with the 1000th anniversary of Hanoi in October 2010. The whole idea was born because of Nguyen Thu Thuy.
This journalist’s imagination managed to transform a boring wall into a loud and colourful mosaic that deservedly won her the Hanoi Architecture Contest.
The theme is ‘History through pictures’. With a rich history and folk art that can be traced back to the Stone Age, it was a logical blend of the two.
The preparations started in 2007 and artists from not only Vietnam but all over the world contributed to making this idea a reality.
The decorative patterns used to represent a visual history of the country throughout different eras.
The mosaic wall runs along the road of Au Co, Nghi Tam, Yen Phu, Tran Nhat Duat, Tran Quang Khai, Tran Khanh Du and terminates at the pier of the Long Bien Bridge in Hanoi
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To do these list, you need to have 2 days. We recommend spending three days in Hanoi to truly get a good feel for the city, especially if you’re a first time visitor. You can try some other things if you have time as:
- Drink coffee at Train street
- Go to visit perfum pagoda
- Book a day tour to Trang An, Ninh Binh
- Visit Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum
Bookmark this list for your next vacation to Hanoi. Leave us your comment what do you think?