The first time I came to Hanoi, it was the ridiculously cheap pints of fresh brew in Beer Street that made the biggest impression (I was a young backpacker!).
The next time, I paid attention to the main landmarks, learning more about the history and exploring parts of Vietnam’s heritage that you can only truly do by visiting a country.
The time after that, I decided the best things to do in Hanoi would be to hang out in different neighbourhoods and eat as much food as possible.
Every time I come, I see a new side of the city, yet each perspective doesn’t change my opinion – it just adds to it.
Part of the charm of Hanoi is that it is so many different things at once.
It is Vietnam’s capital city and it has all the pomp you might expect with that.
It has a deep and rich heritage that has been influenced over the years by cultures from across the world.
And it’s just a really fun place to hang out – less hectic than Ho Chi Minh City but always busy any time of the day or night.
Whether you just want to wander the streets and find all the hidden gems, or you want to tick off all the major landmarks, one of the nice things about visiting Hanoi is that you can do most of it quiet easily from the major hotels – even by foot.
Central Hanoi, which takes in the most interesting neighbourhoods, is relatively compact. If you want to venture a bit further afield, you won’t be disappointed because the local residential areas are also full of colour and activity.
I could spend days just looking at the shops, stopping at food stalls, and letting the chaos go on around me. And for many people, you will have a bit of time because Hanoi is often the city that itineraries start or end.
You might be interested in my day-by-day steps for the perfect two-week itinerary through Vietnam!
To help you plan your time here, I’ve put together all my favourite spots that I’ve found during my trips here.
I think these are the best things to do in Hanoi… but every time I come, I find even more, so I’ll be sure to keep it updated!
As much as we’d all love to have unlimited time in every city we visit, most of us have to stick to a rough schedule.
If that’s the case for you, these are the Hanoi highlights that will give you a quick overview of the city’s mix of culture, history, and scenery.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
One of the most important buildings in Hanoi is the mausoleum where the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh is displayed. He was the prime minister and president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) and played a key role in the early part of the Vietnam War.
Visitors are allowed to go into the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in the morning between 9 and 12 but – be warned – there is often a long wait.
There are also strict rules in place, including a dress code. You’ll also have to leave your camera at the security office before you’re allowed to go in.
It’s an eerie but quick experience once it’s your turn to enter. You have to continue walking the whole way through as you go around the body and can’t stop for a proper look. Guards will hurry you along if it looks like you’re about to pause.
Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum is enormous and hard to miss. Officially the address is 25 Hung Vuong, Dien Bien.
The mausoleum has quite strange opening hours so it’s worth paying attention and planning ahead.
From 1 April – 31 October, it is open from 0730 to 1030 on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and from 0730 – 1100 on Saturday and Sunday.
From 1 November to 31 March, it is open from 0800 to 1100 on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and from 0800 – 1130 on Saturday and Sunday.
Entrance to the mausoleum is free.
There is a dress code for visitors to the mausoleum. Make sure you’re not wearing shorts, tank tops or hats or you may be turned away.
Hoa Lo Prison
The Hoa Lo Prison was used by two different groups during its history. Firstly, by the French colonists who held Vietnamese people here as political prisoners, and then by the Vietnamese who held American prisoners of war.
The exhibitions on display at Hoa Lo Prison try to give the impression that the French treated the Vietnamese terribly but the Vietnamese looked after the Americans. I suggest you make up your own mind about the truth.
You’ll be able to see some of the holding cells and a few reconstructions of what life was like in Hoa Lo Prison over the years. Look out for the photos and flight suit of one-time US presidential hopeful John McCain, who was held captive here.
A warning: the museum can get busy because this is one of the most popular things to do in Hanoi, so try to come first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon when the tour groups are gone.
Hoa Lo Prison is at No. 1 Hoa Lo, Tran Hung Dao in the Hoan Kiem District.
Hoa Lo Prison is open every day from 0800 – 1700.
A standard ticket to Hoa Lo Prison costs 30,000 VND (US$1.30). A concession ticket costs 15,000 VND ($0.65). Admission is free for children under 15 years old.
Temple of Literature
This beautiful temple in the Old Town of Hanoi was built in 1070 and is one of the most important religious sites in the city. It is laid out in five courtyards which you can walk through as you make your way from one end to the other.
The first part of the complex feels like a large shady garden while, at the other end, a two storey structure hold some of the most important altars and places of worship.
The Temple of Literature is seen as an important site for education and during the graduation season there will be hundreds of students posing for photos and waiting for blessings.
The Temple of Literature is easy to find on Quoc Tu Giang St.
The temple is open every day from 0800 – 1800. However, from about mid-April until mid-October, it opens slightly earlier at 0730.
An entrance ticket to the Temple of Literature costs 30,000 VND (US$1.30).
Hoan Kiem Lake
Located right in the centre of Hanoi, you’ll likely stumble upon Hoan Kiem Lake before you even set out to visit it.
Despite the infamous Hanoi traffic surrounding the lake, it still manages to be one of the more peaceful pockets of the city and makes for a gorgeous sunset spot.
Hoan Kiem Lake is home to Ngoc Son Temple, a Confucian place of worship connected to the main road by a little red bridge that’s well worth a visit.
At the other end of the water is the Turtle Tower (not named after me, sorry). It’s a symbol of Vietnam’s independence but unfortunately you can only admire this from afar.
Lotte Tower Observation Deck
For the best views in town, the Lotte Tower Observation Deck always comes out on top.
Although there’s never a bad time to visit (unless the fog is exceptionally thick, that is!), there’s something truly magical about taking in the city from 65 floors up after dark.
Open every day from 9 in the morning until midnight, the Lotte Tower is super easy to fit into your itinerary and boasts its own bar serving up tasty cocktails and local beers.
To save time, you can book your ticket in advance here. There’s even a professional photographer on-site if you want to really level up your experience.
To say Hanoi is steeped in history is probably a bit of an understatement. And the city’s eventful past has shaped it into the diverse capital that it is today.
To explore more about the heritage, there are a few places in Hanoi to visit that will take you through some of these important eras.
St Joseph’s Cathedral
As soon as you lay eyes on St Joseph’s Cathedral, it’ll likely strike you as pretty similar to Notre Dame in Paris, after which it was modelled.
Having spent decades as a colony of France, the influence of French architecture, customs, and religion is evident all over Hanoi. The stunning St Joseph’s Cathedral is among the best-preserved buildings from that time and one of the most spectacular examples of Gothic design outside of Europe.
The church is open every day of the week, but be sure to check the mass times before venturing inside.
With its bright yellow walls and pristine white columns, Hanoi’s Opera House is probably the most picturesque structure in the city, which is quite a bold statement to make in a place so enchanting!
This baroque-style theatre has been around for over 100 years and still hosts concerts, ballet, plays, and (of course) Vietnamese operas.
If your visit aligns with a show, you’ll find that tickets tend to be very affordable and also permit you to have a look around the interior.
The Opera House is only open during showtimes for ticket-holders, so you’ll only be able to explore inside if you’re planning to see a performance.
Ho Chi Minh’s Vestige
Ho Chi Minh’s Vestige is part of the mausoleum complex but you’ll need to pay to get in (the mausoleum itself is free).
You’ll be able to see the outside of the Presidential Palace but can’t go inside. What you can see are the offices in the smaller houses nearby where Ho Chi Minh used to work. There are also some of his belongings including some cars that he used.
The small lake and the gardens are pretty and you’ll be able to go inside a stilt house, which is where Ho Chi Minh apparently lived for most of his tenure, shunning the more opulent palace.
Although the vestige may not be worth a visit on its own, it makes sense to do it if you go to the mausoleum.
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
One of the other things to see in Hanoi is the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long. This ancient complex is one of Vietnam’s World Heritage Sites (the only one in Hanoi) but it is on the list more for its historical significance than for what you can see today.
For centuries there has been a centre if political power here but most of the old buildings have been destroyed or drastically remodelled.
The old gates and the steps to the old fortress are still there but most other buildings are modern.
There is a large archaeological dig happening that will hopefully find some interesting artefacts. I think the highlight of visiting the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is the war rooms and bunkers at the back of the complex that were used during the Vietnam War.
The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long takes up an entire enormous block. Officially the address is 9 Hoang Dieu, Dien Bien.
The citadel is open Tuesday – Sunday from 0800 – 1700. It is closed on Mondays.
A ticket to the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long costs 30,000 VND (US$1.30). Admission is free for children under 15 years old.
Wandering through the different neighbourhoods of Hanoi is my absolute favourite thing to do every time I visit. The sights, the smells, the sounds – argh, it’s all just so amazing!
For first-timers, these are the main Hanoi neighbourhoods where you’ll find a variety of things to see.
Just north of Hoan Kiem Lake lies Hanoi’s Old Quarter, a vibrant melting pot of Vietnamese, Chinese, and French culture where busy streets, flavourful street food, and hundreds of motorbikes are all guaranteed.
You could spend hours getting lost and strolling between the jam-packed roads, but make sure to keep an eye out for some of the most beloved spots in the neighbourhood, including the infamous Beer Street, Bach Ma Temple, and the Memorial House.
Bach Ma Temple is a fascinating piece of history, dating back over 1,000 years. Believed to be Hanoi’s oldest temple, Bach Ma was built to honour Vietnam’s longest-serving emperor, King Ly and is open to visit between 9:30 – 17:00 every day.
Just a short walk away is The Memorial House of Ho Chi Minh, a small but hugely significant building where the revered former President of Vietnam wrote the country’s Declaration of Independence in 1945. (It’s open every day between 8:30 – 11:30 and 13:30 – 16:30.)
You’ll get a lot more old of the Old Quarter if a local shows you around, so I would recommend one of these great tours:
Anyone with an interest in architecture will be in their element in the French Quarter of Hanoi, an upscale neighbourhood bursting with beautiful colonial buildings and a bunch of fascinating museums.
I’ve already mentioned the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long and the Temple Of Literature, which are found here.
But beyond that, another iconic landmark that calls the French Quarter home is Hanoi’s most luxurious lodging, the Hanoi Metropole Hotel, which happens to be built at the site of a bunker from the Vietnam War.
You’ll also find some lovely cafes here that may well remind you of Paris, so I recommend stopping for a coffee and a pastry to have the full French Quarter experience.
A much more laidback neighbourhood than both the Old and French Quarters, the West Lake area is an ideal place to base yourself if you’d prefer to dip in and out of the hustle and bustle.
The distance around the lake is about 17 kilometres and it’s a popular recreation spot for locals (with some lovely walks for visitors too!).
The reason I’m recommending West Lake as one of the things to do in Hanoi is because it shows you a quieter part of the city that still has some really important landmarks.
The most important is the gorgeous and serene Tran Quoc Pagoda, a Buddhist temple set on the lake that’s free to enter every day of the week. But there’s also Quan Thanh Temple, Thien Nien Pagoda, and Vong Thi Pagoda.
Considering the tumultuous past that Hanoi has gone through, it’s no surprise that an impressive number of museums are scattered throughout the city.
With exhibitions detailing everything from the Vietnam War to the evolution of local art, there’s a little bit of everything to be explored.
Vietnam Military History Museum
Near the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is the Vietnam Military History Museum, a collection of old military equipment used by the Vietnamese as well as items captured from the French and Americans. It’s easy to spot because of the tanks and planes in the outside areas around the main buildings.
These large bits of hardware are the highlight of the museum and you can go right up to them and look in. The exhibitions inside the museum are quite basic and are probably of more interest to a military history buff than the average tourist.
The Vietnam Military History Museum has information and displays from older conflicts as well as the more recent ones that most people are familiar with.
The Vietnam Military History Museum is at No.157, Doi Can Street in the Ba Dinh District.
The museum is open from Tuesday – Saturday from 0800 – 1130 and 1300 – 1630.
Vietnam Fine Arts Museum
This art gallery is often overlooked by tourists but it is actually very good with an excellent collection of work from Vietnamese artists. It has displays of historical art periods as well as a decent selection of modern art.
The Vietnam Fine Arts Museum is considered to be the most important art gallery in the country and it would be easy to spend a couple of hours looking at all of the pieces.
It could do with a bit more information on the best way to explore the building because the entrances to some of the rooms are not that clear.
The Vietnam Fine Arts Museum is at 66 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street in the Ba Dình District.
The Vietnam Fine Arts Museum is open every day from 0830 – 1700.
A standard ticket to the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum costs 40,000 VND (US$1.75). For children between the age of 6 and 16, a ticket costs 10,000 VND (US$0.45) and admission is free for children under 6 years old.
Museum of Ethnology
The Museum of Ethnology is a little way out of the main parts of Hanoi and you’ll probably need to organise a taxi or some other transportation to get there.
Although it has a good reputation and is well organised, all the information can be a little overwhelming. It is essentially a museum about the different ethnic groups in Vietnam but it can be hard to take it all in.
It is much better to visit if you know which areas of the country you are planning to visit (or have visited), so it makes a bit more sense.
The main building of the Museum of Ethnology has lots of displays and information while the outside areas has reconstructions of traditional buildings used by the various ethnic groups.
The Museum of Ethnology is on Nguyễn Văn Huyên Road, near the intersection with Nguyễn Khánh Toàn Road.
The Museum of Ethnology is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 0830 – 1730. It is closed on Mondays. It is also closed on Chinese New Year’s Day.
A standard ticket to the Museum of Ethnology costs 40,000 VND (US$1.75). There is no concession price but admission is free for children under 6 years old.
Vietnam National Museum of History
For a deep dive into the ups and downs of the country from prehistoric times right up until the conclusion of the Vietnam War, the Vietnam National Museum of History is the only show in town.
The museum is broken up into two distinct sections in two different buildings, one detailing pre-19th century Vietnam and another focusing on the events that occurred from the 1800s onwards. These buildings are located just a short stroll from one another.
Stop by any day except Monday between 8 AM and 12 PM and 1.30 PM – 5 PM.
Vietnamese Women’s Museum
This four-storey museum is dedicated to uncovering the role of women in Vietnamese culture, exploring everything from the jobs typically performed by women to the traditions for marriage and childrearing in both urban and rural parts of the country.
Women play a huge role in Vietnamese society, and the exhibits here give an insight into how this has evolved over time through wars, conflicts, and social change.
The Vietnamese Women’s Museum is open from 8 AM until 5 PM daily.
If there’s one thing that Vietnam has in spades, it’s culture – and some of the best things to do in Hanoi explore the different facets of life in the country.
As you’ll discover, it’s all been greatly impacted by various ethnic groups, coexisting religious faiths, and a sizeable amount of foreign influence!
I don’t think there’s any place better to soak up the customs and traditions of Hanoi than at one of the many local markets.
First up is the largest marketplace in Hanoi, the Dong Xuan Market, where you can pretty much get your hands on everything and anything, from clothing and accessories to souvenirs and local produce. Basically, if you can’t find it at the Dong Xuan Market, it probably doesn’t exist.
Just as bustling but perhaps more colourful is the Quang Ba Flower Market, which supplies the floral decorations for much of the city.
But my go-to is always the Weekend Night Market. Here, you’ll find a selection of goods that rivals the Dong Xuan Market, but the night market’s lively atmosphere always wins for me.
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
For a super quirky but very worthwhile experience, head to the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, which is every bit as kooky as it sounds.
You’ll discover another aspect of Vietnamese culture through this humorous water puppet show, which uses these figurines to tell the story of life in rural communities through traditional music and a short play.
The Thang Long Theatre runs several shows every afternoon and evening. If you want, you can book a ticket in advance here.
Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural
Hanoi’s concrete system of dikes was transformed into the world’s largest ceramic mosaic over 15 years ago and today stands as a colourful and picture-perfect representation of Vietnamese culture and society.
Hundreds of local and international artists, craftsmen, and volunteers worked together to create this 6.5 km-long masterpiece.
Unless you’re keen on a long walk, you likely won’t get to see the entirety of the aptly named Ceramic Road, but be sure to set aside a little of your time to visit this vivid display of history for yourself.
Whether you’re a first-timer or a returning visitor, Hanoi is brimming with so much to see and do that you always have something new to discover.
I’ve rounded up some of the best excursions out there for newbies, foodies, and those hoping to get a little off the beaten path.
General city tour
Hanoi is large and hectic and you’ll likely be a bit overwhelmed at first.
To get your bearings, I recommend an introduction to the city from a local’s perspective. The great thing about hopping on a tour is that you’ll check off many of your bucket list sights in just a few hours, leaving more time for other kinds of exploring.
Spend a morning or afternoon discovering the likes of the Tran Quoc Pagoda, the Temple of Literature, and St. Joseph’s Cathedral with this half-day tour, which also happens to include a cup of egg coffee (which I’ll talk more about later).
Or there are some really good options I would recommend here:
Anyone who has their eye on a more local experience will love this cycling tour, which combines classic spots like the Old Quarter and Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum with more secluded locations like Banana Island.
Your guide will ensure you’re as safe as can be when you hit the streets of Hanoi on your bike, and you’ll finish up with some tasty local dishes.
For a similar experience without having to brave the inner city traffic, this four-hour outing will take you to a mix of must-see sights like Hoa Lo Prison and Train Street, as well as less-visited gems like the Hang Buom Culture and Arts Center.
And, actually, there are quite a few really good hidden gems tours in Hanoi (which shows you how much there is to discover!), so I would also recommend these ones:
Hanoi is a mecca for all the dining enthusiasts out there, but with so many street food carts, local eateries, and quaint cafés to choose from, it can be a challenge to figure out where you’ll find the best bun cha, pho, and banh mi.
This walking food tour is a fantastic introduction to Vietnamese food, as your guide takes you to all the best haunts in the Old Quarter. Once you get an idea of the dining scene here, it’ll make the rest of your stay much more rewarding.
There are also some fantastic options here that I would suggest having a look at:
One of the most enjoyable ways to do a food tour (and the way I did it last time), is on the back of a motorbike like on this excellent tour will have you touring the city like a local as you indulge in the tastiest eats around.
Food and drink
The food and drink scene in Northern Vietnam is often hailed as one of the best in Southeast Asia, and I’d have to agree! From the can’t-miss dishes to the city’s favourite beer, I’ve put together my top culinary experiences.
Vietnam is home to a plethora of amazing food options, but some of the most beloved dishes you’ll find here in Hanoi include:
- Bun cha: Although it’s enjoyed in pretty much every corner of the country, bun cha originates in the North and consists of vermicelli noodles, pork meatballs in a cold broth, and fresh veggies.
- Pho: One of the quintessential dishes of Northern Vietnam is pho, a steaming bowl of broth filled with tender beef, rice noodles, coriander, and green onions.
- Fresh spring rolls: Think classic spring rolls before they’re deep-fried! These rolls are traditionally dipped in peanut sauce and are filled with crunchy carrots, cucumber, rice noodles, and pork or prawns.
Definitely look out for some places to try each of these (there are lots of them!).
One place that is always popular is Bún Chả Hương Liên because it’s where Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain ate together for Parts Unknown. The prices have gone up because of the crowds, but the food’s the same.
You’ll find Bún Chả Hương Liên at 24 P. Lê Văn Hưu, Phan Chu Trinh, just south of the French Quarter.
Put your own kitchen skills to the test and join a cooking class where you’ll learn how to craft some of the country’s most iconic dishes from scratch.
The likes of pho, bun cha, and fried spring rolls are all on the menu as part of this cooking class, where you’ll pay a visit to a local market to pick up your ingredients before preparing and sampling your own take on these local favourites.
Your expert chef and guide will be on hand to show you the ropes, so don’t worry if you’re somewhat of a novice when it comes to cooking.
There is also this vegan cooking class if you don’t want to make food with meat.
The coffee in Hanoi is almost as renowned as the food and is served at nearly any hour of the day from hundreds of quaint cafés dotted around the city.
While Vietnamese coffee is much-loved amongst locals and combines strong drip coffee with sweet condensed milk, it’s the creamy egg coffee that really puts this city’s coffee culture on the map.
This dessert-like drink is heavenly and made up of rich coffee, condensed milk, sugar, and, most importantly, egg yolks. Don’t let the name turn you off, as it certainly doesn’t take like eggs.
Translating directly to ‘fresh beer,’ you’ll usually find endless bars along Hanoi’s lively nightlife hub, Beer Street, serving pints of Bia Hoi for as little as 8,000 Vietnamese dong – around 30 US cents!
Due to its fast-expiring nature, Bia Hoi is generally brewed and sent straight to bars throughout Hanoi every day of the week, which is also why this beer is exceptionally cheap and widely available.
Bia Hoi is super easy to find, too; simply keep an eye out for any bar selling beer right from the keg.
Although Hanoi in itself has so much to offer to visitors, it’s also an excellent base for exploring the rest of North Vietnam.
Day tours and local transport can take you to a number of jaw-dropping nearby locations almost every day.
Also known as Huong Pagoda, this majestic Buddhist temple is only reachable by boat and is nestled into dramatic limestone mountains.
To get to the Perfume Pagoda from Hanoi, you’ll need to make a 1.5-hour drive to Ben Duc village, hop on an hour-long bamboo boat trip, and make the short hike to the temple complex.
Unless you plan to take on the city’s chaotic roads, it’s easiest to join a full-day tour like this one, which will also relieve the stress of arranging each of the above steps.
Just south of Hanoi and easily reachable on the train, Ninh Binh makes for a fantastic day trip (although I would recommend staying for a night or two if you have the time). The main attraction here is the Trang An landscape, which has been dubbed ‘the inland Ha Long Bay’.
Large limestone karst peaks create steep vertical cliffs covered in plants. Unlike a traditional mountain range connected in a long undulating stretch, most of these peaks stand in isolation, with rice paddies or lakes between them.
The landscape here has been designated as a World Heritage Site and I think the best way to see it is on a boat ride through Trang An. A nearby area called Tam Coc also offers something very similar.
There are some fun tours from Hanoi that will take the hassle out of the logistics, and any of these ones are great:
As charming as Hanoi is, getting out of the centre to spots like Mai Chau will give you a chance to see another side of Vietnam beyond its hectic cities.
Mai Chau is filled with lush green landscapes, rice paddies, and small villages, placing it among the most tranquil and scenic areas in Northern Vietnam. Best of all, it’s only around three hours from Hanoi.
If you have time on your hands, spending a few days at Mai Chau will be an incredible experience, but there are also plenty of one-day tours for anyone on a strict schedule that will ensure you see the best of the region’s scenery and unique culture.
Ha Long Bay
And then there’s the jewel in the crown – Ha Long Bay – which really is a destination in itself. A day trip is a bit of a rush because transport takes at least a couple of hours each way, but it is possible if you’re short of time.
Forget about all the boats and the tourists here, because this is one of the world’s great natural wonders. Enormous limestone karsts covered with green rise up from the water creating a seemingly endless collection of enormous stone sculptures.
If you land on some of the islands, you’ll be able to explore the jungle and the caves. Some cruises offer kayaking, which lets you get close to these beautiful formations, and the colours at sunrise and sunset are remarkable.
If you want to visit independently, I’ve got some tips on choosing the best Ha Long Bay cruise.
To help you choose, though, I would recommend any of these overnight tours from Hanoi:
If you really want to do it just as a day trip, then this tour from Hanoi is probably your best option.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN HANOI
You’ll find most of the hotels around the Old Quarter or French Quarter, which puts you right in the centre of the action!
For a budget hostel in Hanoi, I would recommend Luxury Backpackers, which has great beds.
There are also lots of quite similar cheap hotels. A comfortable option is Golden Moon Suite Hotel.
For a really trendy hotel, you should try The Chi Boutique Hotel.
And if you want to really splurge, I think the nicest luxury hotel in the city is the Sofitel Legend Metropole.