From visiting the Temple of Literature to sitting under the very same tree where Buddha got enlightened, this is our list of the best things to do in Hanoi, Vietnam.
The capital of Vietnam, Hanoi is also one of the most ancient capitals in the world. Its history is rich, devastating, and full of legends.
This French-colonial city is a cultural mix of Eastern and Western influences that are mirrored in the style of many architectural gems in Hanoi.
Check out our complete travel guide on what you need to know when you travel to Vietnam.
Some of these gems that travellers can discover are remarkably preserved colonial buildings, unique museums, the world’s largest mosaic, and ancient pagodas.
While its traffic is hectic and fast-paced, you’ll be happy to know that it’s a great place to explore on foot.
This mystical city is also known for its cuisine, silk, buzzing nightlife as well as cultural diversity. Its home to a large community made up of Chinese, French and Russian influences. There are also lots of places to learn about the interesting Vietnamese history.
To get away from the chaos of the always-buzzing city life you’re a short drive away to its tranquil countryside where you’ll be surrounded by lush parks, mountains, and traditional villages.
If you’re in luck and you’re getting to discover Hanoi for the first time, here are some of our choices on things to do in Hanoi.
From eating incredible street food, to learning about history and the Vietnam War, to seeing temples and pagodas, let’s get into all the cool things to do in Hanoi.
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.
There are a bunch of different variations of these Hanoi tours, so whether you’re interested in the French Quarter, the Ho Chi Minh Complex, Vietnamese history, or just finding the best street food in the city, these guys have you covered.
Note that while the tours are free, donations are expected for guides that do a great job. This is definitely one of the best things to do in Hanoi.
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.
Packed with French colonial architecture, traditional Vietnamese architecture, pagodas and Buddhist temples you’ll want to get lost in its streets. The streets of Old Quarter carry names of the business that were set up over 1,000 years ago.
Most of these businesses were craft shops. But today a lot of them turned into something more commercial and modern.
Even now you can still find shops owned by the same families for centuries, selling original Vietnamese handcrafted products.
Expect to see lots of cafes, restaurants, boutiques, art galleries and bars even in this historical area.
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.
On the other hand, Saint Joseph Cathedral is a hybrid of Vietnamese and Western architectural style
Saint Joseph Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral done in a Neo-Gothic style. It was built around 120 years ago.
The cathedral was constructed and completed in 1886 after the French army conquered Hanoi.
The architecture of the cathedral clearly follows the rules of the Gothic style and design of the Paris Cathedral.
The appearance of the cathedral, the doors, the stained glass windows and the religious paintings all follow a clear Western style.
But the interior is decorated in a Vietnamese way, with dominating colours of yellow and red.
READ MORE: Plan your stay in Hanoi with this great 3-day itinerary!
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.
The exterior of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is made of grey granite while the interior is black, grey and red polished stone. All of the material used for construction was acquired from all over Vietnam.
Fauna from different regions of Vietnam surrounds the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum.
The embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh is located in the central hall of the mausoleum, protected at all times by a military guard.
In addition to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, learn more at the Ho Chi Minh Museum.
The two attractions are within a short walk of each other. At the Ho Chi Minh Museum, you can see documents, films, and objects about the famous leader.
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 Vietnam 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.
This is the only lake in Vietnam that is home to an iconic tortoise.
The tortoise is considered a sacred animal so the lake itself is a holy place. If you’re in luck you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of these majestic animals.
It was long thought they had become instinct until one crawled out of the lake a few years ago.
The Hoan Kiem Lake is very popular among Hanoians as a gathering place for families, nature lovers, and hangouts.
If you want to spend time as the local residents do, make sure to show up at 6 am and practise Tai Chi with them.
The best time to visit the Hoan Kiem Lake is from Fridays to Sundays because the nearby traffic is banned from 7 PM to midnight turning it into a peaceful oasis.
When you’re finished exploring Hanoi, make sure you visit the beautiful village of Mai Chau.
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.
The pagoda and lake are probably the most famous places to visit in Hanoi. It’s one of those places where you just come to lay down, relax and enjoy the blissful quiet.
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.
Like other markets in Southeast Asia, Dong Xuan Market has a market section specifically for meat, seafood, vegetables, and flowers from all across Vietnam. You’ll find some of the best street food in Hanoi here.
If you’re not into testing the different flavours of Vietnam head up to the upper floors.
You will be able to find handbags, fabrics, handicrafts all of which is being sold at wholesale prices!
Dong Xuan market is a Hanoi must-see!
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.
Today, the opera house has a strong cultural influence and is a centre for art shows, dance performances, and concerts.
Want to see it all in a day? Check out this awesome guided day-tour of Hanoi on Klook! Use the code “NMDSKLK” to get $5 off your first booking.
This cool modern museum just a short walk from the opera house offers a beautiful tribute to the women of Vietnamese 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.
The narratives focus on their role in society, the obstacles they overcame as society changed, and an abundance of information on everyday life, such as marriage, motherhood, fashion, and life-changing rituals.
One of the most interesting exhibits focuses on the position women played in the Vietnam War.
The museum has displayed a lot of information about all of its exhibits in French and in English. Historic relics which include Taoist books (among other impressive collected artifacts) give an in-depth insight into a better understanding of the women of Vietnam.
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.
The Temple of Literature is a tribute to education. This place has seen thousands and thousands of Vietnam’s finest scholars.
The most acclaimed prize for the most successful scholars was to have their names engraved onto a stone stele on top of the stone turtles.
Today students visit the Temple of Literature and pray for good grades.
READ MORE: Don’t miss out on taking a trip to Sapa for some trekking during your time in Northern Vietnam!
One of the best examples of the gruesome past of Vietnamese 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.
Almost all exhibits show the prison’s use up to the Vietnamese upraise against France for independence. The museum also houses the most gruesome relic, the French guillotine on the Vietnamese rebels.
Visitors from the United States will also recall the prison’s use during the Vietnam War.
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.
Fortunately, most of the exhibits have English explanations.
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.
Tasting a new cuisine is more than just that, it’s also a part of the cultural heritage. There’s no better way to explore Vietnamese food than with the help of a local!
Vietnam is very culturally diverse.
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.
The collaboration between communities and the museum staff has made the museum closer to people’s lives and raised the awareness of protecting the Vietnamese culture and heritage.
The popularity and vibrancy of the Museum is largely due to the contribution and involvement of communities.
The Museum’s vast collection of Vietnam’s ethnic minorities showcases tribal art, artifacts, and objects used in everyday life.
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.
The Imperial Citadel 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 Citadel 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.
Today you can visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Thang Long on any day but Monday for VND 30,000.
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.
So if you were wondering how the world’s cheapest and freshest beer tastes like then don’t miss your opportunity to get a pint!
Remember: it’s considered the freshest beer because it is made without preservatives. In order not to get spoiled it must be consumed on the day of production.
Because of this Hanoi and its surrounding areas are the only places you can find Bia Hoi!
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.
Another folk’s tale claims that the bo tree behind the pagoda is the same tree underneath Buddha became enlightened.
The legend and interesting history of the pagoda had made it one of the main Hanoi attractions.
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.
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.
Today it’s located on an islet within West Lake but originally it was placed on banks of Red River but due to river’s encroachment, it was relocated in the 17th century.
Because of the lush fauna surrounding the pagoda, it makes for one most photographed sights in Hanoi.
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.
The shows are usually short sketches or they play out some of the Vietnam legends such as the legend of the Restored Sword of King Le and the giant tortoise.
The live music plays a vital part in the show with singers yelling out words of encouragement to the water puppets.
This is something specific to the Vietnamese culture, a highlight not to be missed!
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.
There are many different classes on offer, you can learn about the village, pagoda vegetarian, seafood, monsoon, pho and bun cha. A lot of those cooking classes even have a market tour!
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.
There is a wide array of choices, from daily items as pots, plates, and cups they also sell interior decorations, religious items, jewellery, etc.
You can apply for one of the ceramic workshops and create a handmade ceramic product of your own! Don’t worry you’ll be guided through the process by the shopkeeper.
After you create your own ceramic product (cup, pot, and bowls are easiest to make) it takes an hour to dry and then you can decorate it with available colours.
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.
As we mentioned before, the original layout of the streets still exists. Many of them still specialized in the original crafts they were named after while some transgressed in more modern merchandise.
Another thing Hanoi can be proud of is having the world’s largest ceramic mosaic built from ceramic tesserae.
The wall was built on 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.
[box] That’s it for our amazing list of the best things to do in Hanoi! What would you add? Leave a comment below and let us know![/box]
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