Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is a city that seamlessly blends a millennium of history, a rich cultural heritage, and a vibrant street life. For those pondering things to do in Hanoi, exploring the Old Quarter with its labyrinth of ancient streets, bustling markets, and French colonial architecture, and visiting the Hoan Kiem Lake, a central focal point with its iconic red bridge and Ngoc Son Temple, are top activities.
The city’s Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, a monumental marble edifice, serves as the final resting place of the revered national leader, and is a site of pilgrimage for many Vietnamese. Nearby, the Temple of Literature, founded in 1070 and dedicated to Confucius, stands as a symbol of Hanoi’s commitment to education and literature.
Beyond its historical and cultural landmarks, Hanoi is renowned for its street food, offering an array of delectable dishes from pho to banh mi. For those seeking the best places to visit in Vietnam, Hanoi’s blend of old-world charm, culinary delights, and lively atmosphere makes it a must-visit destination.
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Attractions & Things to Do in Hanoi, Vietnam
1. Old Quarter
The Old Quarter of Hanoi is a bustling neighborhood, a maze of streets dating back to the 13th century. Vendors sell everything from local food to handicrafts amidst French colonial architecture, while motorcycles zip through the narrow lanes.
Travel Tip: Try a walking tour to fully appreciate the area’s history and don’t miss tasting the street food, especially the phở or local coffee.
2. Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake is a central feature of Hanoi, a serene spot where locals and tourists alike come to relax. The lake is surrounded by public benches, ornate temples, and a vibrant scene of morning exercise routines.
Travel Tip: Early morning or late evening walks can be very pleasant, and visiting Ngoc Son Temple on a small island in the lake is a must-do.
3. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
This mausoleum is the final resting place of Ho Chi Minh, the most iconic and revered leader in Vietnam. The site is a place of pilgrimage for many Vietnamese.
Travel Tip: Dress conservatively out of respect when visiting, and check ahead for closure times, as the mausoleum is not open every day.
4. Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature is dedicated to Confucius and also houses the Imperial Academy, Vietnam’s first national university. The temple offers a glimpse into the country’s educational heritage.
Travel Tip: Visit during the Lunar New Year when students come to seek blessings for their studies, making the atmosphere particularly festive.
5. Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
Water puppetry is a tradition that dates back to the 11th century, and the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is one of the best places to experience this unique Vietnamese art form.
Travel Tip: It’s advisable to buy tickets in advance as shows can sell out, especially in the high tourist season.
6. Hanoi Opera House
Modeled on the Palais Garnier in Paris, the Hanoi Opera House is an architectural landmark and a venue for a variety of cultural performances.
Travel Tip: Even if you don’t plan to see a performance, it’s worth visiting for a photo op and to admire the building’s French colonial design.
7. Vietnamese Women’s Museum
The museum is dedicated to the role of women in Vietnamese society and culture. Featuring exhibits on family life, fashion, and women’s cultural contributions, it’s both educational and enlightening.
Travel Tip: Allocate a few hours to fully explore the museum and don’t miss the gift shop for unique souvenirs made by local women’s cooperatives.
8. Hanoi Street Food Tour
A street food tour in Hanoi is not just about tasting the food but also about understanding the local culture and traditions behind the dishes.
Travel Tip: Go with an empty stomach and an open mind; also, street food tours are best experienced with a local guide who can explain the intricacies of the food.
9. One Pillar Pagoda
This historic Buddhist temple is famous for its unique lotus-shaped design, perched on a single pillar. It was originally built in the 11th century and reconstructed after being destroyed in the 1950s.
Travel Tip: Combine your visit with a trip to the nearby Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum for an efficient use of time.
10. West Lake
West Lake is Hanoi’s largest lake, with many temples, pagodas, and gardens along its shore, making it a popular place for recreation and relaxation.
Travel Tip: Rent a bicycle and cycle around the lake to enjoy its peaceful surroundings and stop at any of the numerous cafés or restaurants for a view over the water.
11. Tran Quoc Pagoda
Tran Quoc Pagoda, the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi, is located on a small island in West Lake. Its tranquil setting and beautiful architecture, reflecting the significance of Buddhism in Vietnamese culture, make it a popular spot for visitors.
Travel Tip: Visit at sunset for a stunning view as the sun dips behind the pagoda, casting beautiful reflections on the lake.
12. Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a fascinating piece of Vietnam’s history, with remnants dating back over a thousand years during the Ly Viet Dynasty. The site offers insights into Hanoi’s military and political history.
Travel Tip: Bring a hat and water when exploring the expansive grounds, as shade can be scarce.
13. Hanoi Railway Street
Hanoi’s Railway Street is a residential street split by a railway track, where daily life unfolds meters away from passing trains. It’s become a unique attraction for adventurous travelers.
Travel Tip: Be aware of train schedules and always heed local warnings for safety; the best time for photos is when there are no trains due.
14. Dong Xuan Market
As the largest market in Hanoi, Dong Xuan Market offers everything from clothes and souvenirs to household goods and street food. The bustling atmosphere provides a glimpse into the local way of life.
Travel Tip: This is a great place to practice your bargaining skills, but be respectful and know when to agree on a fair price.
15. Hanoi’s French Quarter
The French Quarter of Hanoi exudes a distinctly European charm with its wide boulevards, French colonial buildings, and luxury shops.
Travel Tip: Take a leisurely stroll in the evening when the buildings are beautifully lit and the temperature is cooler.
16. Long Bien Bridge
Designed by Gustave Eiffel, the same architect behind the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty, Long Bien Bridge offers panoramic views of the Red River and Hanoi’s skyline.
Travel Tip: For a memorable experience, walk or cycle across the bridge at dawn when the fruit and vegetable market on the bridge’s side is in full swing.
17. National Museum of Vietnamese History
This museum houses an excellent collection of artifacts illustrating the complexities of Vietnam’s history, from ancient times, through colonialism, to modern-day events.
Travel Tip: Consider a guided tour to better understand the context behind the exhibits, as English explanations can be limited.
18. Ba Vi National Park
Just outside Hanoi, Ba Vi National Park is a nature reserve with a diverse range of flora and fauna, offering a peaceful retreat and some of the best hiking near the city.
Travel Tip: Stay overnight or visit as part of an organized tour to fully enjoy the park’s natural beauty and ensure you don’t rush your visit.
19. Bat Trang Ceramic Village
Located just outside Hanoi, Bat Trang is a traditional ceramic village, where visitors can see artisans at work and try their hand at making pottery.
Travel Tip: Participate in a pottery-making workshop and take home a piece of handmade pottery as a unique and personal souvenir.
20. Perfume Pagoda
The Perfume Pagoda is a vast complex of Buddhist temples and shrines built into the limestone Huong Tich mountains. It’s one of the most important religious sites in Vietnam.
Travel Tip: The journey to the pagoda involves a boat trip and a cable car ride; visit during the week to avoid the weekend rush of pilgrims and tourists.
FAQ About Things to Do in Hanoi, Vietnam
What are the must-visit historical sites in Hanoi?
The must-visit historical sites in Hanoi include the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, and the Temple of Literature, which offers a glimpse into Vietnam’s rich history.
Can I watch a traditional water puppet show in Hanoi?
Yes, you can enjoy a traditional water puppet show at Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, which is a unique art form originating from northern Vietnam.
What are the best activities for families in Hanoi?
Families in Hanoi can visit the Hanoi Zoo, take a cyclo tour around the Old Quarter, or spend time at the Ho Tay Water Park for some fun-filled activities suitable for all ages.
Where can I experience Hanoi’s street food culture?
The Old Quarter is the heart of Hanoi’s street food culture, where you can sample local delicacies like Pho, Banh Mi, and various street snacks at every corner.
Is there a place to enjoy green spaces in Hanoi?
Certainly! Hoan Kiem Lake provides a peaceful green space in the city center, perfect for morning exercises, leisurely walks, and enjoying the tranquil scenery.
Can I visit any traditional markets in Hanoi?
Dong Xuan Market is the largest traditional market in Hanoi, offering a variety of goods from clothes and souvenirs to local foods and spices.
What are the best areas for shopping in Hanoi?
For shopping, the Old Quarter’s narrow streets are lined with boutiques and shops selling silk, handicrafts, and art, while Trang Tien Plaza and Vincom Center offer more upscale shopping experiences.
Are there any cultural performances or shows to see in Hanoi?
You can catch a show at the Hanoi Opera House for an evening of cultural performance, or visit the Ca Tru Thang Long club for a traditional Ca Tru singing performance, a UNESCO recognized art form.