1. Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple
Hoan Kiem Lake is a lake in the center of Hanoi. It’s very scenic, there’s a temple on the lake and it’s the focal point of the city. I used the lake as a compass and to find my way back to my hotel in the Old Quarter.
Ngoc Son Temple or the Temple of Jade Mountain is the most visited temple in the city. It sits on an island on Hoan Kiem Lake.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Ngoc Son Temple
2. West Lake or Ho Tay
West Lake is a freshwater lake with a shore length of 17km. You will find many of the upscale hotels and beautiful villas surrounding West Lake. I didn’t spend much time around here but would be keen, as it’s becoming the more fashionable area of the city. Lots of new restaurants and boutiques can be found here along with the upscale hotels.
Fishing in West Lake
3. Wander Around The Old Quarter
If you’re not staying in the Old Quarter, you must wander around this ultimate maze of shops, restaurants, cafes, bars, temples, and people watch. You’ll get lost in the Old Quarter but that is the best way to explore it. The Old Quarter has been kicking around since the 13th century and since then, a guild was responsible for each street and they’ve somewhat kept that going. When you wander around you’ll notice that each street still specializes in a certain business like fashion trimmings, bamboo poles, or metal cages. If you get lost just make it back to Hoan Kiem Lake and use that as your compass.
“Ham Ca Map” – Hoan Kiem Lake
Vendor Shop in The Old Quarter
4. Eat Street Food
Eat all of it!!! If you love Vietnamese food you’ll be in heaven here. At first, I have to admit to sticking with Banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches) and Pho (noodle soup) but luckily my friend opened up my palate to new things like savory porridge with shredded pork and fish soups. If you don’t like it, remember it’s so cheap so you can always order something else. Food in Hanoi was amazing!
Banh mi – Vietnamese sandwiches
5. Drink Vietnamese Coffee
I love ca phe sua da or Vietnamese iced coffee. I drank around 2 or 3 a day. Probably not a good idea…I was so wired! Smoking is still allowed inside cafes and restaurants so if you have a strong aversion to smoke, many cafes will be quite smoky.
Vietnamese Iced Coffee
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Private Hanoi Street Food Tour
6. Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature is a stunning and well-preserved example of Vietnamese architecture. Originally founded in 1070, this temple is dedicated to Confucius and honors the country’s finest scholars. The first university was also established here.
Temple of Literatue
7. Hoa Lo aka the Hilton Hanoi
Hoa Lo was a prison used by the French colonists for political prisoners and then later used by Northern Vietnamese for prisoners of war during the Vietnam War. American POWs also dubbed it the Hanoi Hilton. The prison was demolished in the ’90s but the gatehouse remains as a museum.
Mai Son Centrale
Hoa Lo Prison
8. One Pillar Pagoda
The One Pillar Pagoda is a replica. History states that Emperor Ly Thai Tong built it in 1049. He did not have an heir and in a dream he met the Goddess of Mercy who gave him a male child. He then married a peasant girl and had a son and heir by her. He built this is gratitude for his male son. The pagoda is designed to resemble a lotus blossom, the symbol of purity, rising out of a sea of sorrow.
One Pillar Pagoda
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9. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum
Not sure if I really recommend going inside, I did but could have easily passed going. Try to see the changing of the guards if you can catch them.
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum holds the embalmed remains of Ho Chi Minh. Ho Chi Minh actually wanted to be cremated and his ashes spread around the country but the government gave him the Soviet leader protocol. They embalmed his body and placed it in a clear viewing case in a large building in a massive square. There is no photography inside and lots of guards watching you.
The Ho Chi Minh Museum contains mementos of Ho Chi Minh’s life including photos and documents relating to the overthrow of the French and the rise of communism. No photos allowed.
Ho Chi Minh Museum
10. French Quarter
The French Quarter is less hectic than its neighboring Old Quarter. My friend TB and I grabbed some pastries from a French patisserie and wandered around here. If you want to have a nice meal, check out the fancy hotels and have a meal at one of them.
11. Weekend Night Market
Starting around 7 pm on Friday through Sunday, the streets starting at Hang Dao going north shut down for the night market. I love any and all markets. Vendors set up and sell trinkets like phone covers and gadgets. It may not be what you’re looking for but it’s fun to people watch and snack around the market.
12. Brush up on your Bargaining
When you are in weekend Night Market, it is really fun things to do in Hanoi is bargaining. Unless you see a stickered price on the souvenir you’re eyeing up, the price is probably negotiable. Remember your poker face, keep a limit in your head and be prepared to walk away if needed. There are probably ten other stores around the block selling the exact same thing anyways.
13. Hop in a Cyclo
You’ll see these guys in the Old Quarter and around Hoam Kiem Lake in particular. If you fancy a rest for your weary feet and a bit of a novelty, hop in a cyclo (bicycle rickshaw) for a quick spin. Make sure to negotiate your ride first.
Cyclo around Hoan Kiem Lake
14. Marvel at the Madness of Traffic
The roads are crazy. You know it and I know it. Get an aerial view from Highland Coffee. Best time to go is half an hour before sunset. You’ll get some amazing slow-shutter photos of the traffic, a scenic view of the lake and enjoy the beauty of the changing sunset.
Sunset in Hanoi
15. Vietnam Military History Museum
The Vietnam Military History Museum Hanoi, also known as the Army Museum, houses an extensive collection of weaponry that was used throughout Vietnam’s war-filled history. Ideal for history buffs looking to know more about the country, there are plenty of authentic war relics, weapons, and detailed accounts by former soldiers who have fought against the French and American forces.
Vietnam Military History Museum
16. Buy a Souvenir That Will Last a Lifetime – Art!
I won’t lie… we were sucked in. In the Old Quarter you will see many galleries packed to the brim with stacks of paintings. For the most part, they are all reproductions, but this is why the price is so reasonable. If you find a piece you love, they’ll take it off the frame, roll it up and place it in a tube for shipping. All in all, our 5ft by 4ft painting cost $150 USD for the piece and $70 to ship. Perhaps we could have bargained more on the piece, but we were in love. Look at the skill that goes into them and be reasonable when you haggle.
Buy a Souvenir in Hanoi
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17. Take in a Water Puppet Show
While I didn’t see this in Hanoi (maybe 50 miles from Hanoi), it was quite the sight! Their masterful puppetry is timed to traditional music, and the puppets themselves are pieces of art. Where does the water come in? Well, their stage base is made of water, which they highlight with twists and turns, splashing around to great effect. It’s kitschy, but a great cultural experience nonetheless. Than Long Water Puppet Theatre is right off Hoam Kiem Lake.
Water Puppet Theatre
18. Learn How Women Do It All at the Women’s Museum
Let’s just say that the Vietnamese Women’s Museum blew my mind. What I didn’t realize going into it was how drastically different many of the minority cultures in Vietnam are. To have both patriarchal and matriarchal societies so close to one another was fascinating. Their marriage and birthing customs are completely different to the way in which I’ve grown up, with many women still not getting ultrasounds of their babies to this day. You will leave with huge respect for Vietnamese women who somehow, against all the odds, manage to do it all. Their men are extremely lucky.
Vietnamese Womens Museum Hanoi
19. Look Up, Way Up, At The Tran Quoc Pagoda
You’ll find this Buddhist temple on a little island off the road separating the West Lake. The scenery is not only stunning, but the peace and quiet is a stark contrast from the bustling traffic in centre of Hanoi. Remember that it’s a temple, so dress modestly.
Tran Quoc Pagoda
20. Explore the Mosaic Wall
We discovered the mosaic wall from our taxi, zipping along the Yen Phu major roadway. It was a patchwork quilt of ceramic tiles creating little scenes, both from history and some seemingly more modern day. To get up close to see this Guinness Book of World Record (for largest ceramic mosaic) sight, wander up Ly Thai To road from the top of Hoam Kiem Lake, only a short walk away.
21. Puku 24 Hour Cafe
We discovered the glorious Puku Cafe, open 24 hours a day. Is it the best food or coffee? Maybe not, but it’s OPEN! The atmosphere is pretty chill and it had plenty of plug ins for our laptops. The only weird thing was the pumping music at 5 a.m. (made for an interesting Skype call with my Mum), but I suppose the staff need to keep themselves awake somehow or other. It’s maybe a 10 minute walk from the train station, or you can talk one of the 50 million taxis waiting outside the train station.
- Location: 16 Tống Duy Tân, Cửa Nam, Hà Nội
22. Expand Your Understanding of Vietnamese War History
If you’ve read my blog, you all know that war tourism isn’t my thing. That said, traveling as a couple means compromises, and I don’t regret learning more about it. The Vietnam Military History in Hanoi is filled with artifacts and relics of war. To get the most out of it, I’d recommend either hiring a local guide or to get an audio tour. Without either of these things, many of the signs simply say what the artifact is (which you can see…) and the date it was used. Frighteningly, some of them say how many people they estimate were killed with this weapon. The exterior of the museum is where all the tourist photos happen. US helicopters, crashed planes, tanks and more will help you envision the scale of war.
23. Have A Massage
You can easily find a spa to have a massage in Hanoi. Pampering is available at four or five-star hotels. Most spas here serve Vietnamese, Swedish, and Thai massages besides the common therapies like facial mask, body wraps, or oil treatments. Some of the most outstanding spas in Hanoi are:
- Anam-QT Spa Hanoi located at 26-28 Le Thai To Street with the opening hours from 10 a.m to 10 p.m local time. This spa offers many kinds of massage. It offers both hair care and body treatments from professional and experienced therapists. Telephone number: +844 3928 6116
- Bellissima Salon and Spa located at 45B Hang Bun St with the opening hours from 9 a.m to 10 p.m local time. Its popular treatments are lava stones, facial masks, and collagen facials.
Having a massage is also one of the top Hanoi activities to help tourists relax after travelling hours.
Anam – QT Spa Hanoi
24. Enjoy Trang Tien Ice-Cream
Trang Tien ice-cream is one of the most popular foods in Hanoi. Everyone who ever tries eating it will love it. That is the reason why Trang Tien ice-cream shops are always crowded with children and adults, Vietnamese citizens and foreign tourists. If you come to this city, do not miss the chance to enjoy Trang Tien ice-cream, one of the best indoor and outdoor activities in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Ice-cream in Trang Tien
25. Visit Thang Long Royal Citadel (Hoàng Thành Thăng Long)
Thang Long Royal Citadel was constructed in the 11th century with typical Vietnamese architecture for many centuries. Visiting this place helps you partially know about the life of Vietnamese people during a long period of time in the past. All excavated ceramics displayed them. Many of them are very beautiful and unique. Visiting Thang Long Royal Citadel is one among many Hanoi activities that impress travelers.
Thang Long Royal Citadel
26. Visit Bat Trang Pottery Village
Visiting Bat Trang Pottery Village is one of the top 25 Hanoi activities that attract many travelers. Bat Trang Pottery Village is where people produce ceramics. If you have know about Vietnam, you may not be surprised that Bat Trang’s vases, bowls, dishes and many other kinds of ceramic products have been exported worldwide.When you come here, you can see many models of pottery made from clay. You can take photos, and even have some pottery-making experiences. You can make your own product like a cup, a bowl, a vase, or anything you like, then the people there will burn it for you. When the burn process is completed, you can take your product home. It is quite interesting.
Making ceramic products by hand
JUST COME HERE! What’s more, you can also make ceramic by yourself!
27. Visit Vietnam Museum Of Ethnology (Bảo Tàng Dân Tộc Học)
By visiting this largest museum in Hanoi, you will have a chance to play some folk games like bamboo dancing or stilt walking, which are typical of Vietnamese culture. Going inside the museum, you will be able to learn about daily life activities of Vietnamese ethnic people. There are also houses on stilts, the model houses of some ethnic groups, where you can discover more about their life. Visiting Vietnam Museum Of Ethnology is one of the best Hanoi activities.
Vietnam Museum Of Ethnology
28. Wander In Ba Vi National Park
Wandering in Ba Vi National Park is one way to take your soul to the nature. Right here, you can climb mountains, take photos, visit temples, and even relax in spas nearby. Walking in this park is the wish of many Vietnamese people and foreign tourists. This is considered one of the best outdoor activities in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Ba Vi National Park
Ba Vi, Hanoi
29. Visit Perfume Pagoda (Chùa Hương)
Perfume Pagoda is one of the most special pagodas in Hanoi. When you come here, you will see temples, streams, tropical plants, and mountains. This pagoda is in Huong Son commune, My Duc district. Visiting Perfume Pagoda is one among the top 25 Hanoi activities you should know.
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30. See Animals At Thu Le Zoo (Vườn Thú Thủ Lệ)
If you love animals, you should go to Thu Le Zoo on Kim Ma Street. Right here, you can see a variety of animals with nearly a hundred species, including monkeys, crocodile, elephants, tigers, birds, and many more.
Thu Le Zoo
31. Entertain In Bao Son Heaven Park (Thiên Đường Bảo Sơn)
Bao Son Heaven is the biggest part in the north of Vietnam. It has a variety of sea animals and rare species. This park offers many types of entertainment, recalling Vietnamese traditional cultures. Entertaining in Bao Son Heaven Park will help you feel really relaxing.
- Opening hours:8 a.m – 5 p.m
- Location: An Khanh commune, Hoai Duc district
Bao Son Heaven Park
32. Buy Flowers From A Peddler
In Hanoi, you can easily find a peddler who is selling beautiful bunches of flowers on streets. If you go with your girlfriend or your wife, buy her a bunch of flowers there. She will be very happy that way.
Flowers on the street
33. Ride A Motorbike On Phan Dinh Phung Street
Phan Dinh Phung Street is one of the most peaceful and romantic places in Hanoi. In spite of sunny, rainy, or windy weather, riding a motorbike in the shadows of big trees in this street will make you feel relaxed. You can even walk on the pavement here to watch yellow leaves falling and compose a poem about nature or love. It is quite peaceful.
Phan Dinh Phung Street
34. Drink Beer On Ta Hiện Street
In the afternoons when the sun has set, many people in Hanoi gather at beer halls to drink beer and chat. There are also tables on the pavements for clients who want to watch the traffic while enjoying beer. Drinking beer on the pavement helps cool your body after long hours of traveling.
Ta Hien Street
35. Watch Lotus In West Lake (Hồ Tây)
In summer, young people in Hanoi often get up early and go to West Lake to enjoy the slight wind, watch sunrise and beautiful lotuses. The odor of lotuses, the pink and white colors of lotuses mixed with the green color of leaves making such a great picture in the lake that many girls and women often come here to take photos for their albums.
- Location:Tay Ho district
Lotus in West Lake
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36. Visit St. Joseph’s Cathedral (Nhà Thờ Lớn)
Because of the beautiful architecture of Saint Joseph’s Cathedral, people in Hanoi and foreign tourists often hang out with their friends here. If you come to this big church, you will also see some grooms and brides taking their wedding photos happily.
- Location: 40 Nha Chung street, Hoan Kiem district
St. Joseph’s Cathedral
37. Eat La Vong Grilled Fish (Chả Cá Lã Vọng)
La Vong grilled fish is one of the most delicious foods in Hanoi. Having lunch at Chả Cá street is one of the top 35 things to do in Hanoi, Vietnam that foreign tourists should not miss.
- Location: Cha Ca Street, Hoan Kiem district
Cha Ca La Vong
38. See Long Bien Bridge
Long Bien Bridge, which goes over the Red River and connects two parts of Hanoi, has an interesting history. The bridge was built when France occupied Indochina. It used to be one among the longest bridges in this area with special architecture.
- Location: Long Bien district
Long Bien Bridge
39. Visit Snake Village
Snake Village – Set just 10 minutes outside of Hanoi, Snake Village is an absolute must. Eat a beating heart straight out of a Cobra, all in the spirit of Vietnamese tradition. Not for the faint hearted however, an experience which can not be missed.
Festival in Snake Village
40. Watch The Quintessence Of Tonkin Show:
You will experience six aspects of the cultural Quintessence of Tonkin: Poetry, Buddhism, Nostalgia, Music & Painting, Joy & Festivities.
The Performers in Quintessence of Tokin
Not only opening up the cultural space of the northern delta with people’s daily life activities, the play also shows the audience the best of the water puppetry art with the story of the venerable monk Tu Dao Hanh and the history of the ancient Thang Long royal palace.
- Location: Thay Pagoda
41. See AO Show:
The name ‘A O’ derives from ‘Lang Pho’, which means ‘village and city’. The show depicts the charming beauty and cultural richness of Vietnamese life in the countryside, in contrast with the nation’s racing urbanization. The show is a unique mix of bamboo cirque, acrobatic acts, contemporary dance, and theatrical visual art. The live music echoes Vietnamese Southern work songs. All in all, this beautiful blend of genres creates a unique stage language, which well captures the essence of Vietnam’s fascinating culture.
Day trips from Hanoi:
If you are in Hanoi long enough, I recommend adding on a Ha Long Bay or Tam Coc (Ha Long Bay on land) tour. I did a day tour for both. I would recommend doing an overnight on a really upscale boat for Ha Long Bay (I have heard boats with rats on them, etc). Ha Long Bay is too far for a day trip looking back at my experience but if that’s all the time you have, then go for it. Tam Coc is not as far and much more manageable. I did a cycle tour through a village and then we sat on little boats and floated along the river.
Trang An, Ninh Binh
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