17 Things to Do in Hanoi
By Janet Benoir – October 20, 2023
Hanoi, the vibrant capital of Vietnam, offers a unique blend of Eastern and Western cultures due to its rich history of invasions and influences. This bustling city, located in the north, is the second largest in the country, after Ho Chi Minh City in the south.
You’ll encounter an array of experiences and attractions in Hanoi. From the ancient Imperial Citadel of Thang Long to the lively atmosphere of the Old Quarter, there’s something for everyone. Attend a captivating Water Puppet Theater performance or simply unwind as you stroll along the serene Hoan Kiem Lake. For those looking to immerse themselves in Vietnamese culture, why not try a cooking class or visit one of Hanoi’s museums? Your unforgettable journey in this remarkable city awaits.
Hanoi Old Quarter
The Hanoi Old Quarter, situated in Ba Dinh district, is a vibrant and bustling area where visitors can fully immerse themselves in Vietnamese culture. As you traverse the neighborhood, you’ll be captivated by the French colonial architecture that gives this area its distinct character. This tourist hotspot teems with narrow alleyways filled with street vendors offering delectable food and charming souvenirs.
Prepare to be enthralled by the lively atmosphere as you navigate through throngs of scooters, bicycles, cars, and street vendors. This authentic experience will offer insight into life in Hanoi, and don’t miss out on the chance to sample the exquisite street food.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake, also referred to as Turtle Lake, is situated in the heart of the city and serves as a popular gathering spot for both locals and tourists. For a fee of VND 20,000, you can visit the temple within the lake and cherish the captivating views of sunrise or sunset. Biking or taking a romantic stroll around the lake offers an enjoyable experience as you take in its picturesque surroundings.
In addition to exploring Hoan Kiem Lake, consider experiencing a bike tour that takes you through the city’s key attractions. As you embark on other adventures in Vietnam, be sure to review travel tips on must-see places, delectable foods, and suitable accommodations to make the most of your trip.
Ngoc Son Pagoda (Ngoc Son Temple)
While strolling around Hoan Kiem Lake, make sure to visit the Ngoc Son Pagoda. A bridge connects the lake’s shore to an island that houses this renowned temple. Ngoc Son Temple was established in memory of Tran Hung Dao, a valiant military commander who battled against the Yuan Dynasty. The temple bears immense historical importance, which attracts numerous visitors exploring the lake.
For those intrigued by such historical sites, it’s worth considering a visit to the Military History Museum while in Hanoi, Vietnam. The presence of Ngoc Son Pagoda and the One Pillar Pagoda depicts the rich heritage of Vietnamese temples and pagodas, making Hanoi an ideal destination to discover the beauty and history of these revered structures.
Water Puppet Theater Performance
In Hanoi, you can experience a unique and fascinating performance known as the water puppet show. The most renowned venue for these shows is the Thang Long Puppet Theater, which holds five performances daily. As you watch, the puppets will seamlessly dance and glide across the water’s surface, captivating you with their fluid movements.
Controlling the puppets from behind the scenes is a team of skilled puppet masters. During the performance, they’ll weave the story of Hoan Kiem Lake and the legendary giant tortoise. As you explore the culture of Hanoi, Vietnam, make sure to include this popular water puppet theater experience in your itinerary.
Hanoi Opera House
Inspired by the Paris Opera House, the Hanoi Opera House stands as the most stunning edifice in Hanoi, situated within the French Quarter. Constructed in 1911 during the French colonization of Hanoi, it was intended to provide entertainment for the French elite.
Following the departure of the French, the building fell into disrepair, but was later restored in 1997. Today, it hosts a range of performances, including Vietnamese opera, Asian dance, ballet, and musical concerts, with ticket prices ranging from VND 100,000 to VND 2,000,000.
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was once the heart of ancient Hanoi. As a political hub for 13 centuries, it also served as Vietnam’s capital for eight.
You can admire the central flag tower, standing 40 meters tall, as it symbolizes Hanoi. Located in Ba Dinh, you can visit the historic site daily from 8 am to 7:30 pm and be fascinated by the impressive facade of the complex.
Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature, situated in the heart of Hanoi, Vietnam, is a historic site that goes by another name: the Temple of Confucius. Established in 1070 during Emperor Lý Thánh Tông’s reign, it was initially devoted to Confucius, an esteemed Chinese philosopher and educator. As the years progressed, the temple evolved into Vietnam’s first university, providing a haven for scholars and intellectuals who wanted to delve into Confucian classics and gear up for civil service exams.
Nowadays, the Temple of Literature is treasured for its cultural and historical significance. Visitors from all corners of the globe come to marvel at its remarkable architecture, serene gardens, and its illustrious tradition of scholarship and learning. Over the past millennium, various structures have been added to the complex, resulting in a picturesque park teeming with pavilions, shrines, and lush gardens.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum stands prominently in Ba Dinh Square, Hanoi, Vietnam, as a testament to Vietnam’s revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh. The structure symbolizes the country’s quest for independence as well as its dedication to socialism. The commanding architecture and somber atmosphere emphasize Ho Chi Minh’s impact and honor the sacrifices made by those who sought Vietnam’s freedom.
In the vicinity of the Imperial Citadel, in the Ba Dinh area, you can pay a visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Ho Chi Minh, the first Communist leader of Vietnam, is highly regarded by locals, often called “Uncle Ho.” He led his country to victory over the French in 1954. The Mausoleum, modeled after Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow, allows visitors to view Ho Chi Minh’s preserved body in a glass case.
National Museum Of Vietnamese History
Delve into the depth of Vietnamese history by visiting the National Museum of Vietnamese History. Designed in traditional Vietnamese architecture, the museum boasts a vast collection of over 200,000 pieces spanning from the Stone Age to the Vietnam War and the Vietnamese Revolution. As you explore, you will gain an insightful introduction to the vast history of this fascinating country.
Apart from the National Museum of Vietnamese History, enrich your knowledge of Vietnam’s past by visiting other museums such as the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology and the Hoa Lo Prison Museum. The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology focuses on the numerous ethnic groups in the country, while the Hoa Lo Prison Museum, once known to Americans as the Hanoi Hilton, narrates the stories of US prisoners during the Vietnam War.
Dong Xuan Market
Dong Xuan Market, situated in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, offers an energetic shopping experience with its narrow alleys and lively stalls. Here, you can find a diverse array of items, ranging from clothing and accessories to household goods, electronics, and traditional Vietnamese handicrafts. This variety appeals to tourists and locals alike who are in search of both inexpensive souvenirs and high-quality products.
As you navigate the bustling atmosphere, you’ll truly experience the essence of Hanoi’s vibrant street culture. Be aware that the ground floor houses a local fish market, which might not be suitable for sensitive noses. The upper floors of Dong Xuan Market present an opportunity to purchase souvenirs, fashionable apparel, and printed T-shirts at unbeatable prices.
Vietnamese Cooking Class
The joy of Vietnamese cuisine goes beyond just eating it; learning to prepare these delicious dishes is a fulfilling activity. Enrolling in a cooking class in Hanoi offers a unique opportunity to delve deeper into the local cooking techniques. To make the experience even more immersive, many of these classes include market tours, letting you see firsthand the cultural aspects of the food.
To make the most of your time in Hanoi, consider signing up for a highly-rated local cooking class where you’ll be taught how to prepare mouthwatering spring rolls and a comforting bowl of Pho.
While exploring Hanoi’s diverse culinary scene, you should not miss out on a plate of Bun Cha. This dish is so well-loved that even former US President Obama has enjoyed it at a modest local eatery.
Savor the flavors of Bun Cha Hanoi with its tender grilled meat, sweet and tangy broth, and generous servings of fresh herbs. From personal experience, Bun Cha Huong Lien in Hanoi is the top spot for this delightful meal. Make your visit to Hanoi truly complete by indulging in this favorite Vietnamese dish.
In the northwest of Hanoi, Vietnam, lies West Lake, the city’s largest freshwater lake. Its peaceful surroundings make it a popular spot for strolling and exercising.
Besides being a tranquil retreat, West Lake also offers numerous cafes, restaurants, and hotels. While you’re there, make sure to visit Tran Quoc Pagoda, the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi, nestled near the lake’s southeast shore.
Trang An and Tam Coc
When visiting Hanoi, take a day trip to explore Trang An and Tam Coc. These two scenic areas offer stunning landscapes filled with limestone cliffs, serene rivers, and lush greenery. At Trang An, you can enjoy a boat ride through picturesque waterways surrounded by towering karst formations. Expect to witness a variety of temples and caves hidden among the cliffs during your journey.
On the other hand, Tam Coc features a similar landscape, often dubbed as “Halong Bay on Land.” Row along the gentle Ngo Dong River, weaving between limestone karsts and passing through three natural caves. Along the way, observe the locals working in the surrounding rice paddies. Both Trang An and Tam Coc provide a serene and unforgettable experience to enrich your visit to Hanoi.
While visiting Vietnam, don’t miss the opportunity to explore Ninh Binh, a picturesque province known for its stunning landscapes and rich history. To fully experience the beauty of Ninh Binh, you should consider taking a boat tour along the Tam Coc River, which will allow you to witness the breathtaking karst formations and lush rice paddies.
In the second part of your Ninh Binh exploration, immerse yourself in the region’s spiritual side by visiting Bai Dinh Pagoda, one of Vietnam’s most significant Buddhist pilgrimage sites. Hiking enthusiasts will enjoy a journey to the peak of Mua Cave Mountain, where you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. As you explore Ninh Binh, remember to take the time to appreciate the local cuisine, which features unique flavors such as goat meat and mountain snails.
Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay, situated in the northern part of Vietnam, holds the title as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and stands as one of the country’s prime tourist attractions. Renowned for its breathtaking natural beauty, over 1,600 uniquely-shaped limestone islands and islets adorn the landscape, surrounded by pristine emerald waters.
Embarking on a tour of the magnificent Ha Long Bay is an essential experience when visiting Hanoi. Adventure enthusiasts, Tom and Anna, highly recommend the all-inclusive tour which offers meals, kayaking, and more. Alternatively, for a more budget-conscious choice, consider exploring this Ha Long Bay Tour.
Ba Vi National Park
Ba Vi National Park is a must-visit destination when you’re in Hanoi. Just about 60 kilometers from the city, it offers you a chance to immerse yourself in the beauty of nature. You’ll be amazed by the lush forests, diverse flora and fauna, and the stunning views from the mountain peaks.
To make the most out of your visit, plan to spend a day or two exploring the park’s walking trails, monuments, and picnic areas. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the breathtaking scenery, especially from the park’s highest point, the King Peak. You’re sure to return home with wonderful memories of your time at Ba Vi National Park.