The 12 best things to do in Hanoi

Hanoi is Vietnam's bustling capital. It's a must-visit destination on your Vietnam trip, boasting a plethora of sights and experiences. Among the oldest capitals globally, Hanoi embodies a vibrant blend of old and new. From modern boutiques and delightful eateries to centuries-old temples and vibrant markets, this city has it all. Navigating the chaotic traffic here can be quite a challenge, making crossing the streets an adventure in itself. Hanoi offers the perfect mix of vibrancy, culture, and history!

How to get to Hanoi?

There are various ways to reach Hanoi, depending on the route you opt for.

From abroad

From North America, the United Kingdom, and Europe, there are various flight options available to Hanoi. Using Skyscanner, you can easily compare all available options and book tickets. Most flights typically include layovers. Flight tickets range between $500 and $1200, depending on the airline you choose.

From another place in Vietnam

During your travels, you might need to journey from another destination in Vietnam to Hanoi. There are various modes of transportation available, such as trains or buses, for intercity travel in Vietnam. Using 12GO Asia, you can obtain a clear overview of the locations from which you can travel to Hanoi and the available modes of transport. Booking tickets through 12GO Asia is a straightforward process.

Domestic flight

Taking a domestic flight is a swift means to travel between places in Vietnam. Vietnam spans a considerable distance, and traveling from Hanoi in the north to Ho Chi Minh City in the south would take nearly 30 hours by car. For these long distances, domestic flights serve as a great alternative when buses or trains aren't feasible. Skyscanner provides an easy platform to compare and book various flight tickets.

What to do in Hanoi?

There are so many remarkable attractions and enjoyable activities in Hanoi. You can easily spend a few days here and have a great time.

1. Visit the old city center

The old city center of Hanoi is known as the Hanoi Old Quarter. Here, you'll find French architecture, narrow alleys, cozy restaurants, and a lot of traffic. It sometimes feels like you're in France. The buildings in this style originated during the colonial occupation by the French, who restructured Vietnamese cities according to European styles. The streets in the Old Quarter are a bit chaotic because cars, scooters, and bicycles drive alongside each other, and there are many street vendors with their stalls partially on the road. Strolling relaxedly through the city isn't really an option, but it's a fun challenge to cross the streets. It's better not to just rush across the road but to walk gradually, so the traffic can adjust to you.

A tip is to walk through the Old Quarter on weekends. The streets are closed to cars and scooters during the Weekend Night Market. The traffic gives way to stalls where you can buy delicious local snacks and drinks. You'll also find a lot of live music on the streets, and many people hang out by Hoan Kiem Lake. The evenings are very lively in the city!

We mentioned it briefly, but the Hoan Kiem Lake is also located in the old city center. This is a place where locals gather and where you can relax by the water. In the middle of the lake, you'll find the Ngoc Son Temple, which you can access via a red bridge. It's also nice to take a look here!

2. Pay a visit to St. Joseph’s Cathedral

The St. Joseph’s Cathedral is a striking sight in Hanoi. Situated in the Old Quarter near Hoan Kiem Lake, the cathedral was constructed in 1887 by the French, clearly influenced by French architecture. Its aim was to replicate the style of Notre Dame in Paris. The bricks used in building the church were imported from France. The cathedral looks very impressive, and it's definitely worth taking a moment to visit.

3. Have a meal at Train Street

Visiting Hanoi's Train Street is one of the most iconic activities in the city and shouldn't be missed during your visit! Train Street is a narrow alley where trains pass by closely to houses, restaurants, and shops. Along Train Street, there are various restaurants where you can eat and experience how close the train comes by. Several times a day, a train passes through Train Street, so make sure you're seated well and avoid being hit by the train!

There are different spots where you can eat and drink along Train Street. We dined here in the evening. You can easily walk onto the tracks and choose a restaurant. It's also less crowded compared to some other places. The train passed by us at 7:10 PM, 7:20 PM, and 7:50 PM.

4. Kom meer te weten over Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh is a significant figure in Vietnam's history. He played a pivotal role in the struggle for Vietnam's independence against French colonization. Following the defeat of the French, Vietnam was divided into North and South. Ho Chi Minh became the leader of North Vietnam and unified the country. He is regarded as a hero by many Vietnamese.

In Hanoi, you can visit Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum where the late president lies in state. The mausoleum, built with Russian assistance, stands on the spot where Ho Chi Minh declared independence on September 2, 1945. It's open on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. From April to October, it's open from 7:30 AM to 10:30 AM, and from November to March, it's open from 8:00 AM to 11:00 AM. There are strict rules inside the mausoleum: you must surrender bags and cameras at the entrance, no photography, no loud talking, and no laughing. Also, appropriate attire is required: long pants, covered shoulders, and closed-toe shoes. The mausoleum is situated in Ba Dinh Square, a large square with security checks before entry. The Ba Dinh Square is used for official processions.

Adjacent to the mausoleum is the Ho Chi Minh Museum, offering deeper insights into Ho Chi Minh's influence in Vietnam. For a small fee, you can learn more here. Often, students in the museum offer free guided tours. If you're interested in delving further into Ho Chi Minh's life, you can also visit the Presidential Palace. Audio tours are available around the palace grounds.

We visited the museum and the Presidential Palace, finding it incredibly worthwhile. It offers a different perspective on Vietnam and Hanoi. Understanding more about a country's history intrigues us as it often influences contemporary life. Unfortunately, we ran out of time to visit the mausoleum.

5. Admire the street art

In Hanoi, you'll find beautiful art in various places. In the Old Quarter, there are murals depicting the past and present of Hanoi. These murals are so well done that they appear three-dimensional.

Another interesting sight is the Ceramic Mosaic Mural Road. Along the Red River stands a dyke, and its wall is adorned with mosaic art. This decorated wall stretches for 6.5 kilometers and was created to celebrate the city's millennium.

6. Admire the Hanoi Opera House

The Hanoi Opera House is a must-see, especially for enthusiasts of French architecture. Built in 1911, this yellow-colored building stands out in the cityscape. Apart from opera performances, the venue hosts other events like concerts and plays. Access to the opera house is only granted to the audience attending a scheduled performance. Around the opera house, you can immerse yourself in local life. It's enjoyable to stroll through the nearby parks where you might catch locals playing Jianzi, a Chinese sport involving keeping a shuttlecock in the air using your feet.

7. Have a cup of Egg Coffee and eat a Banh Mi sandwich

When you're in Hanoi, you can't miss trying Egg Coffee and a Banh Mi sandwich. Egg coffee features a layer of coffee topped with a mixture of egg yolk, condensed milk, and sugar. In Hanoi, you'll find numerous cafes that prepare delightful egg coffees. This coffee originated in the 1940s when access to fresh milk was limited, and an alternative method was sought to create a foam layer on the coffee.

A Banh Mi sandwich is another must-try during your visit to Hanoi. Originating from the French colonization period, Banh Mi is influenced by French cuisine. It consists of a French baguette locally filled with ingredients. It often contains grilled pork, beef, or chicken with lettuce, cucumber, tomato, fresh herbs, and spicy chili sauce. You can find these sandwiches on every street corner, often costing just a little over 1 dollar.

8. Visit the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre

The Water Puppet Theatre is a remarkable performance showcasing traditional art forms from Vietnamese culture. Wooden puppets are maneuvered over a water surface using sticks and hidden underwater strings, creating the illusion of the puppets dancing on water. Adorned in vibrant costumes, the puppets perform while live Vietnamese music plays in the background. The Water Puppet Theatre dates back to the 12th century when rice fields were flooded during the rainy season.

One popular theater to enjoy a Water Puppet performance is the Thang Long Theatre. We've been to this theater and found it to be an enjoyable show worth experiencing. You can buy tickets at the door, but to secure your spot, you might consider purchasing tickets through the link below.

9. Visit the Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature, also known as 'Van Mieu,' is a temple situated in the heart of the city. This temple was once a university, constructed in 1070, and is one of the oldest temples in Vietnam. Dedicated to scholarship and literature, it continues to attract many scholars and researchers interested in delving deeper into Vietnamese culture and society.

10. Have a drink at Our Story

During our travels, we enjoy visiting less touristy spots, especially places that contribute positively to society. One such project we appreciate is Our Story.

This initiative focuses on young people in Hanoi who have autism and/or intellectual disabilities. Many of these youths still attend primary school, but afterward, there are limited options available to them. Our Story assists these individuals by providing education and teaching new skills. They receive English lessons, computer training, and social skills coaching. Additionally, they learn to shop for vegetables and fruits in the market and prepare meals. Our Story aims to help these young people find further opportunities. For instance, some with autism secure jobs in the field of ICT. The project is exceptional because there's minimal support available in Hanoi for children and youths with disabilities.

Our Story is always seeking new volunteers. You can find their contact details and more information on their Facebook page. Also, Our Story has a cozy little coffee shop called Thảnh thơi Coffee, where you can enjoy a drink. This setup allows the youths to learn how to work in a bar. It's a great way to experience a different part of the city while supporting an incredible project!

11. Take a day trip to Halong Bay

Halong Bay is one of the most popular destinations in Vietnam. It's renowned for its stunning limestone rocks and islands in the crystal-clear water, creating an impressive landscape that earned its place on UNESCO's World Heritage List. You can book various cruises to explore this breathtaking scenery.

According to a local legend, Halong Bay was formed from the descent of a dragon into the Gulf of Tonkin. The dragon protected the Vietnamese people from an invasion and spat out fire, jewels, and jade. These fell into the water, transforming into the limestone rocks and islands visible in the bay today. This prevented the enemy ships from advancing further. The word 'Halong' means 'where the dragon descended.' The rock formations of Halong Bay are approximately 500 million years old!

How to get there?
Halong Bay is about a 2.5-hour drive from Hanoi. The easiest way is to book an organized tour from Hanoi, offering various options such as day tours or multi-day tours.

12. Pay a visit to Tran Quoc Pagoda

The Tran Quoc Pagoda is a Buddhist temple situated on the Ho Tay Lake. The temple is over 1500 years old and stands as an important cultural and religious monument. The pagoda features a tall tower and numerous statues of Buddhist saints.

How to get around?

You can easily get around in Hanoi. The easiest option is to book accommodation in the Old Quarter. From there, you can walk to most attractions. You can also easily arrange a taxi or motorbike taxi using Grab. Additionally, there are many cyclos available in Hanoi. These are bicycle taxis where one or two people can sit in the front and be pedaled around the city.

What is the best time to visit Hanoi?

The best time to visit Hanoi is during spring (March and April) and autumn (September and October) as it's dry with pleasant temperatures. Winters in Hanoi can be quite cold, while summers tend to be warm and humid.

Do you want to read more about Vietnam?

See all our articles with the best tips to discover all beautiful places in Vietnam.

Do you want to read more about Vietnam?

See all our articles with the best tips to discover all beautiful places in Vietnam.

About the authors

How nice that you are on our website and that you have read this article! We are Mirte and Matthew, two Dutch adventurers with a passion for traveling, discovering cultures, and gaining new experiences. We've translated our love for the world into this website. We hope our articles inspire you to go on adventures! You can learn more about us through the button below.
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