The best things to do in Ha Noi

Hanoi is one of the oldest capitals in the world, where you can find well-preserved colonial buildings, ancient pagodas, and unique museums in the center of the city. The city still has a lively atmosphere. From the early hours until late in the evening, the streets are swarming with moving motorcycles. There are a lot of things to do in Hanoi. You can hunt for delicious street food, visit colonial buildings and explore the local life. Not to mention the peaceful countryside is a short drive away, with lush forests, green mountains, and traditional villages, not to mention the iconic Halong Bay.
5 reasons to visit Hanoi

  1. Explore the old city center; Hanoi Old Quarter.
  2. Walk around Hoan Kiem lake.
  3. Visit one of the many museums about the Vietnam War.
  4. Enjoy a traditional water puppet show.
  5. Use Hanoi as a base to discover the north of Vietnam.

Practical information

Recommended days to stay

If you want to experience all the best things to do in Hanoi, you need to spend 3 to 4 days. But if you don’t have much time in Vietnam, it is recommended to go for 2 full days. Do not linger for too long, because there is so much more to see and do around the city, such as stunning countryside, mountains, and islands.

ATMs & money exchange

Hanoi has many ATMs. Currency exchange is often the cheapest in gold and jewelry stores. The rates in these stores are often surprisingly fair, without extra costs.

Local events and holidays

  • Tet: Lunar New Year is the mega festival of Vietnam to celebrate with family members and to commemorate the dear deceased. The holiday lasts up to a week when many stores are closed.
  • Full Moon Festival: This festival, also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, starts on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, usually mid-September or early October. You will see things like singing and dragon dance.
  • Hanoi Pride: The annual Hanoi Pride festival is a colorful week full of parties, film screenings, lectures, and a bicycle rally. It is held for a week between July and September.
  • Vietnam’s National Day: is celebrated with a rally and fireworks in front of the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. There are also boat races on Lake Hoan Kiem.
  • Quang Trung Festival: Wrestling competitions, lion dances, and human chess take place on the 5th day of the first lunar month.

Best time to visit

  • Best travel time: Fall (around September to November) and spring (March and April) are the two best seasons. Then the weather is pleasant with milder temperatures.
  • Winter: During this period (December to February) it is quite cold in Hanoi when temperatures can drop below 10 degrees.
  • Summer: It is very hot in Hanoi from May to August, with July as the hottest month. A lot of rain can fall.

15 best things to do in Hanoi

1. Hanoi Old Quarter

The Old Quarter of Hanoi (Hanoi Old Quarter) is the most famous landmark in Hanoi. It is a fascinating part of the city where you can enjoy many beautiful examples of colonial architecture that is packed along narrow streets. Endless traffic of scooters, motorcycles, bicycles, and cars zigzag around traders who sell fruit and souvenirs and narrow shops with delicious Vietnamese dishes. Hanoi Old Quarter brings to life what many people imagine Hanoi is. Exploring this area on foot is one of the best things to do in Hanoi. You can also rent bicycles or go through the streets with a cyclo.

2. Street food tour

Vietnamese are the proudest of their food and it is sold on each corner; both in restaurants and on the street (street food) You’ll see street food in Hanoi everywhere you look; stalls on the sidewalk along the side of the road often plastic blue stools around where they sell local food. Every street food stall is specialized in a certain dish and everything is freshly made. Eating at one of the stalls is often very tasty and a great local experience.

Tip: You can go exploring yourself, but a much nicer way is by a Hanoi street food tour. A guide takes you to the best local spots that you would never discover yourself. It explains what you eat and you can try out the best and most unique food. Extra benefits are that you will eat at safe hygienic places and besides the food, the guide can tell and show you more about the local culture too.

3. Water puppet show

The old art form of the water puppet show in Hanoi is certainly one of the nicest things to see. There are several theaters where you can enjoy this uniquely Vietnamese take on Asian puppetry tradition. The original and generally regarded as the best theater in the city is the Thang Long Puppet Theater. Dolls dance and glide elegantly across the stage of water, controlled by a whole group of dolls of masters hiding behind a screen.

4. Nightlife

The nightlife in Hanoi is one of the best in the country. The best way to go out is the Bia Hoi street stalls. Here you can drink the cheapest beer in the world, often from as little as 30 cents! What makes it really fun is not the price, but the unique experience, where you sit around a low stool in the street together with the locals and other travelers to exchange stories and drink beer.

If you are looking for a place with more class, then visit a show at the Hanoi Opera House. If you want to have a drink with more comfort than the stools on the street, there are fortunately hundreds of bars, as well as rooftop bars and clubs where you can dance. There is something for everyone.

5. Markets

Another place where you can soak up culture is the markets in Hanoi. There are many types of markets in the city. Some specialize in, for example, clothing, food, or flowers. It is a place where the locals come together to trade. The markets are often quite busy and not always neat, so it is not for every traveler. But if you can look around it, it does promise a unique experience.

There is a great atmosphere around the weekend night market in the center and it is a good place to grab some tasty street food. But for a more local experience, you can visit the flower market in Hanoi very early in the morning, the Long Bien market for wholesale, or the huge Dong Xuan Market.

6. Hoan Kiem Lake

Hoan Kiem Lake is a central point in Hanoi and is a popular meeting place for locals and tourists all day long. Ngoc Son Temple is located on a small island in the middle of the lake and is connected by a bridge and forms a beautiful backdrop for a few photos.

Around sunrise and sunset, this area becomes especially busy with joggers, couples enjoying the relaxing view of the lake, and elderly people practicing Tai Chi and line dancing.

7. Visit a museum

The museums in Hanoi are of high quality and there are enough to visit. Hoa Lo Prison Museum is the remains of an old prison used during the French colonial era and the Vietnam War. The Ho Chi Minh museum shows the life of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam’s greatest leader. Vietnamese Women’s Museum shows the many ethnic minorities of Vietnam and a tough exhibition about the role of women in wartime. Other good museums in Hanoi are the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology and the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum.

8. Mausoleum

There are countless historical buildings in Hanoi you can visit; so many that this list could be a top 50 things to do in Hanoi. But instead, we combined the few main highlights

9. Hanoi train street

Another great thing to do in Hanoi is visiting Hanoi Train Street. The photos and videos are world famous, in which shop owners, café owners, and residents as if it were the most normal thing in the world, put away their things to let a train pass through the narrow, busy street.

Due to safety regulations, many coffee shops along the train street had to close, but you can still visit this unique railroad track through the residential area. Just keep in mind that there are real trains on this track.

10. Westlake

West Lake (also known as Ho Tay Tay Ho) is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Hanoi and can also be considered an iconic place in the capital city of Vietnam. Having a serene and tranquil beauty, West Lake Hanoi would definitely be a proper choice for those who are tired of the hustle and bustle of modern life.

Being there, tourists (or even locals) looking for respite can totally be satisfied as West Lake offers a harmonious combination of poetic lake, solemn historic areas, amazing activities, and unforgettable food.

 11. Temples of Hanoi

The Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature was built in 1070 under Emperor Ly Thanh Tong’s reign, in honor of Confucius, his followers, and Chu Van An, a prominent figure in Vietnamese education. In 1076, it became Vietnam’s first university, initially serving noble family members and later becoming more egalitarian with admissions, opening to talented students, irrespective of background.

The Temple of Literature is a rare example of well-preserved traditional Vietnamese architecture—made almost entirely of wood and tiles. It is one of Hanoi’s most picturesque tourist attractions and is depicted on the 100,000 Vietnamese Dong note.

The temple is divided into five courtyards, each decorated with century-old trees that have witnessed the ups and downs of Hanoi’s history. Within the premises, you will find pagodas, altars, ponds, gardens, and tombstones. Stelae erected atop turtle statues depict the names, places of birth, and achievements of exceptional scholars.

If you visit the temple at the beginning of the year or in May, essentially during exam season, you will see numerous students coming just to rub the heads of turtles—an act believed to bring them luck to pass their exams. They also crowd around the altars, praying for luck. After exam season, you will find many students taking their graduation photos here.

Tran Quoc Pagoda

Tran Quoc Pagoda, set on an islet within West Lake is one of the oldest pagodas in the whole of Vietnam—built during the reign of Emperor Ly Nam De (541–547AD). Surrounded by lush greenery, this pagoda was a favorite among the kings and royal families for festivals, full moons, and Tet festivals.

The main stupa of the pagoda is made up of 11 levels and stands at about 50 feet tall (15 meters). On the top are a nine-story lotus and a gemstone. Surrounding the stupa are incense-burning houses, a Buddhist shrine, and a museum, housing many priceless antiques that are hundreds and some even a thousand or so years old.

As a place of worship, you are advised to dress conservatively out of respect for the monks and locals.

One Pillar Pagoda

One Pillar Pagoda was once known as Dien Huu Pagoda, which literally translates to “long-lasting happiness and good luck.” This iconic temple was built by Emperor Ly Thai Tong in 1049 as a tribute to Buddha. The legend goes that childless Emperor Ly Thai Tong had a dream one night in which the enlightened being Avalokiteshvara gave him a baby son resting on a lotus flower. As a tribute, he built the pagoda to resemble this lotus flower, and also placed a shrine to Goddess Quan Am, the Goddess of Mercy, following the birth of his son.

This square-shaped wooden pagoda is built on a single stone pillar—thus resembling a blossoming lotus flower. Over the years, the pagoda has been renovated and restored several times over the Dynasties of Tran, late Le, and Nguyen. The last restoration was after the French Union forces destroyed the pagoda in 1954, before withdrawing from Vietnam after the First Indochina War.

Ngoc Son Temple

Ngoc Son Temple is probably Hanoi’s most visited temple due to its central location and easy accessibility. It is built on Ngoc Son Islet, located in the most beautiful lake of the city: Hoan Kiem Lake. The islet is connected by a gorgeous scarlet-painted bridge of classical Vietnamese style. The lake, and the bridge connecting to the temple, make an extremely photogenic sight.

Ngoc Son Temple was built on the lake during the 19th century, dedicated to Van Xuong, an important figure in Vietnamese literary and intellectual circles, La To, patron saint of physicians, and Tran Hung Dao, the national hero who led the Vietnamese people to victory over Mongolians in the 13th century.

Perfume Pagoda

It is believed that the Perfume Pagoda was built in the 15th century, although legend says that parts may have been around for about 2000 years. It is a series of Buddhist temples built into a mountain range in a maze of alleyways carved into the limestone rock, with rich forests, caves, and flowing streams with tropical plants scattered everywhere.

There are many pagodas around, each with a different shrine. Those of interest are Vong Temple, Thuyet Kinh Cave, and Thien Son Pagoda. Getting to the complex is a journey in itself. The Perfume Pagoda is located 37 miles (60 kilometers) south of Hanoi, in the Son Mountains. First is a two-hour journey on road, and then you must take a boat ride through a narrow flowing stream fringed by rice fields, temples, and grass, to the foot of the mountains. To get to the Perfume Pagoda, it is an uphill walk of about an hour, and things can get slippery, so make sure you wear proper footwear!

12. Cyclo ride

Ignoring the gaggles (for want of a better collective noun) of cyclos carrying tour groups, which clog up streets all over Hoan Kiem district, I’m a fan of cyclo rides and think it’s worth taking a cyclo for an hour or so at the start of a visit to Hanoi. Some will say walking is better, but I think the perspective you get from a cyclo ride is worth seeing — plus it’s far easier to look around and take photos if you’re not watching where you’re walking the whole time. Of course, if you want to explore and investigate the back alleys and stop off here and there, that’s not possible on a cyclo, but an introductory ride will help you get your bearings.

13. Imperial City of Thang Long

As one of the oldest cities in the world, Hanoi certainly has its own way to stand out from fellow Southeast Asian cities. Its rich culture is reflected on one of the most ancient historical sites: the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long. In this article, we will walk you through the best architectural and cultural patterns of this phenomenal site, which earned it the title of UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.

14. Stilt house & Presidential palace

The living and working place of one of the most famous and important political characters in Vietnam history, President Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House, aka Uncle Ho’s stilt house is a must-visit place for tourists upon visiting Hanoi.

With simple design with peaceful and fresh air at this place, visitors can know more about the greatness and simplicity of the man who lived there.

15. Long Bien bridge

Best hotels & hostels in Hanoi

Hoan Kiem (the Old Quarter) – The historic soul of the city, it is clear why most tourists choose to stay here. Temples, old gates, and traditional shops create a busy neighborhood that will stimulate all your senses! From luxury hotels to backpacker hostels, there is something for everyone here. Hoan Kiem is the best area to stay in Hanoi if you want a convenient and cultural experience in the center.
In addition, tour operators and bus companies often include a pick-up from this part of the town. If you stay outside the city center, you might first need to travel a bit to catch a bus.

Food & Drinking

Restaurants

Deciphering Hanoi’s street food scene can be astonishing, but it is worth keeping up and diving into. The city’s best food comes from the dozens of vendors that line the city’s sidewalks with smoking charcoal burners, tiny plastic stools, and queues of locals.

Nightlife

There is a lot to do at night in Hanoi. You can join the locals with a beer on the street, go clubbing, chill in a bar or enjoy an impressive performance in the Opera House.

  1. Bia Hoi Junction
  2. Hanoi Opera House
  3. Dragonfly
  4. Legend Beer
  5. Water Puppet Theatre
  6. Hoan Kiem Lake
  7. Craft Beer Pub
  8. Weekend Night Market
  9. Hero Club Hanoi
  10. Savage
Hanoi is a major transportation hub in the north of Vietnam. Hanoi connects with international flights, domestic flights, trains from the south, and bus connections to every town in the north and central Vietnam.

Flights to Hanoi

Hanoi has fewer direct international flights than Ho Chi Minh City.
Jetstar Airways, VietJet Air, and Vietnam Airlines connect Hanoi with destinations throughout Vietnam. Popular routes are Hanoi to Dalat, Da Nang, Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Nha Trang, and Phu Quoc, all daily flights.

Buses to Hanoi

Hanoi has four major bus stations. They are fairly well organized, with ticket offices, fixed prices, and schedules. It is often easier to book through a travel agent. From Hanoi, there are buses to everywhere in Vietnam such as Sapa, Da Nang, Dalat, Hue, and Ninh Binh. Cao Bang and Ha Giang. Many open-ticket bus tours through Vietnam start or end in Hanoi.
Tourist minibusses can be booked at most hotels and travel agents. Popular destinations are Halong Bay and Sapa. Prices are usually about 30% to 40% higher than those of the regular public bus but include a hotel pick-up service.

Trains to Hanoi

The train station is in the center. You can buy tickets for trains that can take you all the way south to Ho Chi Minh City, or north to Sapa and across the border to China.
Hanoi’s taxis have meters, but not all drivers want to use them. The problem with taking a taxi is that they cannot all speak English well. The most reliable taxis are Hanoi Taxi, Mai Linh Taxi, and Taxi CP. A good alternative is to use the Grab taxi app.
Metro: Hanoi is working hard to build a metro network. It is expected that the first connections can be used by 2021.
Cyclo is Hanoi’s bicycle taxi. Passengers drive in the front cabin, while the driver is behind the passenger. Cyclo cabins are made for two passengers and are ideal for exploring short distances in the center of Hanoi.
Xe Om is a Hanoi motorbike taxi. You will find them, especially on street corners. The best way to use a Xe Om is with the Grab app.

Itinerary 2 days in Hanoi

Looking for great things to do in Hanoi in 2 days? The below itinerary gives you a short indication of what you can see and do per day.

Day 1

  • Explore Old Quarter (by cyclo optionally)
  • Walk around Hoan Kiem Lake
  • Watch a water puppet show
  • Enjoy street food (by food tour)
  • Have a beer at Bia Hoi Junction

Day 2

  • Walk to Hanoi Cathedral
  • Visit Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton)
  • Walk around the Temple of Literature
  • Visit Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
  • Visit the Imperial Citadel
  • Watch a show at Hanoi Opera House

More tips for traveling in Hanoi

Where to go next?

As mentioned last in our list of best things to do in Hanoi, the city is a great base to explore the whole north of Vietnam. Wherever you want to go, there is always a bus from this city. The most famous destinations that travelers go to are Sapa, for trekking through the terraced rice fields, Halong Bay, for a cruise through the beautiful bay, and Ninh Binh, for boat and bicycle rides through the rice fields. The destinations you can go to Mai Chau, for rice paddies and ethnic minority villages, and Ha Giang, with Southeast Asia’s most impressive mountains.

Hanoi with kids

Hanoi is not the most child-friendly city in the country, with heavy traffic and narrow sidewalks used as parking spaces for scooters and motorcycles. It is certainly a place that will leave a huge impression and that children will never forget.
if you are in Hanoi with kids, we recommend visiting some of the museums, going around the lake by cyclo, and definitely doing a street food tour.

Language

You can easily get along with English in the city. In most hotels and restaurants it is spoken nicely or at least the basis you need to order or check-in. Menus and signs for tourists are also often available in English

How to dress

Hanoi is used to tourists and is not that conservative when it comes to clothing. If you plan to visit temples in the city, make sure you are properly dressed. This means that you do not wear a short skirt or shirt.
In the summer it gets very hot and there is regular rainfall. In winter it is dry, but it can get quite cold. Keep this in mind with what kind of clothing you are bringing.

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