Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam – one of 8 the hot spots in the world by Trip Advisor reviews. Visiting this city, you will find an interesting mix of the East and the West with communist influence as well as the French invasion that’s brimming with energy and culture. Follow our post to find out the best things to do in Hanoi, including must-do and unique things that will blow your mind while in this bustling city.
1. Walk around Hoan Kiem Lake and visit 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
2. Enjoy a cup of coffee at West Lake or Ho Tay
West Lake is a freshwater lake with a perimeter 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 love to do so the next time. It is definitely becoming the more fashionable area of the city. Lots of new restaurants and boutiques can be found here along with the upscale hotels.
3. Wander Around The Old Quarter
If you’re not staying in Hanoi 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.
|Read more: How to explore Hanoi Old Quarter within 24h|
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.
4. Try the delicious Hanoi 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 these, remember it’s so cheap so you can always order something else. Food in Hanoi was amazing! You can check more on the Anthony Bourdain Restaurant List
|More in Hanoi Street Food and Where to Find Them|
5. Try 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.
Enjoying coffee in a Hanoi cafe is also one of the famous Hanoi rainy day activities to do. Don’t forget to try this out if you have the chance.
Vietnamese Iced Coffee
|Recommended tour: Private Hanoi Street Food Tour|
6. Visit 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 Literature
7. History Lesson at Hoa Lo or 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 a prince was born soon after. He built this pagoda in the shape of a blooming lotus to pay gratitude toward the Goddess. The pagoda is designed to resemble a lotus blossom, the symbol of purity, rising out of a sea of sorrow.
One Pillar Pagoda
|See tour on Viator: Private Hanoi Classic City Tour|
9. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum
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. Vintage Vibe at French Quarter
The French Quarter is less hectic than its neighboring Old Quarter. We 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. Explore the 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. A night market is my favorite thing to do at night in Hanoi. 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.
When you are at a weekend Night Market, it is really fun to try 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.
12. 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
13. Buy a Souvenirs as gifts to your friends and loved ones
I won’t lie… we were sucked in. As you wander around Hanoi 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 efforts that were invested in making these beautiful things and be reasonable when you haggle. Remember to support local craftsmanship.
Buy a Souvenir in Hanoi
|Recommended Hanoi Tour: Hanoi Full Day Private Tour – $70/pax|
14. Watch a Water Puppet Show
While I didn’t see this in Hanoi (maybe 50 miles from Hanoi), it was quite the sight! The masterful puppetry movements are timed to traditional music, and the puppets themselves are pieces of art.
You would properly ask 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 Hoan Kiem Lake.
Water Puppet Theatre
15. 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 from 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.
Vietnamese Women’s Museum Hanoi
16. Enjoy the peaceful atmosphere at 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
17. Have A Massage in Hanoi
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 beside the common therapies like a facial mask, body wraps, or oil treatments. You can check out some of the most outstanding spas in Hanoi. Having a massage is also one of the top things to do in Hanoi to help you relax after traveling hours.
Anam – QT Spa Hanoi
18. Visit Bat Trang Pottery Village
Visiting Bat Trang Pottery Village is one of the top things to do in Hanoi that attract many travelers., especially if you are going with kids, your kids will love it. Bat Trang Pottery Village is where people produce ceramics. If you’ve already known 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
What’s more, you can also make ceramic by yourself!
|Have a look at Bat Trang Private Cycling Tour|
19. 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 things to do in Hanoi.
Vietnam Museum Of Ethnology
20. 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 fragrance 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
21. Visit St. Joseph’s Cathedral (Nhà Thờ Lớn)
The church is a beautiful piece of Hanoi’s French Quarter. 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
22. Try La Vong Grilled Fish (Chả Cá Lã Vọng)
La Vong grilled fish is one of the most delicious foods in Hanoi, listed as one of the dishes you have to try before you die by CNN. Having lunch at Chả Cá street is one of the top 17 things to do in Hanoi, Vietnam that foreign tourists should not miss.
- Location: Cha Ca Street, Hoan Kiem district
Cha Ca La Vong
23. Photo Tour at 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.
24. Watch The Quintessence Of Tonkin Show:
You will experience six aspects of the cultural Quintessence of Tonkin: Poetry, Buddhism, Nostalgia, Music & Painting, Joy & Festivities.
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.
Day trips from Hanoi:
Ba Vi National Park
Wandering in Ba Vi National Park is one way to return to 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
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 thing to do in Hanoi you should know.
|>>> See our tour: Perfume Pagoda Full day Private Tour|
Halong – Ninh Binh
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.
|Recommended the best tour in 2020: Hanoi- Halong- Ninh Binh Tour 4 days|
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