Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is famous for centuries-old architecture and rich culture with the influence from Southeast Asia, China, and France. With more than 1000 years of civilization, from Thang Long time to present, It has always been the largest cultural center of the country with a lot of material and non-material relics. This is the land producing many legends, folk songs, proverbs, heroes and folk festival. What makes Hanoi especial is its diverse culture and various cultural activities, which makes it a famous and beloved destination for tourists when coming to Vietnam. If you’re still wondering what is worth doing in this place or confused because of fragmented information, this article is what you need. In order to help you have the best and unforgettable experiences in the city, this article will suggest you the best things to do when visiting Hanoi. So now let’s explore it with us!
I. EXPLORING THE LIFESTYLE OF HANOIANS
1. Having a walk around Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam
Hoan Kiem Lake is a famous icon of Hanoi, which is about 500 meters from the center of Old Quarter. This is a favorite place of the locals as well as tourists because it gives the tranquil and comfortable feel in the bustling city. In the morning, the locals come here to do morning exercise and jog. In the evening, the lake is brightening up with colorful lights and becomes an attractive spot with a lot of activities. What is more, Hoan Kiem Lake is at its best from Friday to Sunday night because all traffics are banned at that time so that you can leisurely walk around the lake and enjoy the beauty of Hanoi.
Best time to visit: From 7 PM – 10 PM Saturday and Sunday
2. Admiring St Joseph’s Cathedral, Hanoi, Vietnam
St Joseph’s Cathedral was built with the neo-Gothic style in the 19th century. The cathedral has a lot of imitation of the Notre Dame de Paris. This is a religious place of many Catholics in Hanoi and also a tourist attraction to many domestic and foreign visitors. Built in the French colonial period, the Cathedral is a typical colonial-style architecture in Hanoi.
3. Enjoying Trang Tien ice cream, Hanoi, Vietnam
This ice cream brand was founded in 1958 and has the name Trang Tien Ice Cream because it is made and sold at Trang Tien Street. The delicious and perfect taste of the ice cream will make you want more. Additionally, what can be better than walking around Hanoi Old Quarter with a corn of ice cream?
4. Chilling at a Hanoi coffee shop
Coffee shop is not only where you enjoy coffee but also the getaways from the hustle and bustle of the daily life. In Hanoi, it is not too difficult to find a coffee shop at its every street and alley. If you are finding a place to work or you are interested in observing and watching the day passing by, you should choose some famous and kind of “mainstream” coffee shops, which are located right at some streets like The Coffee House, Cong Cafe, etc. But if you prefer more personal space, alongside with unique decoration, those deep into the alleys are definitely your ideal places. Music, or sometimes live music, is followed, as well.
Here are some highly-recommended coffee shops in Hanoi:
No. 39 Dien Bien Phu Street, Dien Bien Ward, Ba Dinh District
No. 101 Hoang Cau Street, O Cho Dua Ward, Dong Da District
No. 54 Hang Dieu Street, Cua Dong Ward, Hoan Kiem District
No. 35A Nguyen Huu Huan Street, Ly Thai To Ward, Hoan Kiem District
No. 101 Tran Huy Lieu Street, Giang Vo Ward, Ba Dinh District
The Coffee House
56A Ba Trieu Street, Tran Hung Dao Ward, Hoan Kiem District
No. 259 Kim Ma Street, Kim Ma Ward, Ba Dinh District
No. 68 Hoang Cau Street, O Cho Dua Ward, Dong Da District
No. 160 Nguyen Khanh Toan Street, Quan Hoa Ward, Cau Giay District
No. 122 Bui Thi Xuan Street, Bui Thi Xuan Ward, Hai Ba Trung District
Tranquil Books & Coffee
No. 18B Nguyen Bieu Street, Quan Thanh Ward, Ba Dinh District
No. 5 Nguyen Quang Bich Street, Cua Dong Ward, Hoan Kiem District
Cu Xa Cafe
2nd Floor, Khuong Thuong Collective Quarter, Ton That Tung Street, Kim Lien Ward, Dong Da District
The Little Plan Cafe
No. 11 Phu Doan Street, Hang Bong Ward, Hoan Kiem District
Xofa cafe & Bistro
No. 14 Tong Duy Tan Street, Hang Bong Ward, Hoan Kiem District
5. Attending a cooking class
As mentioned above, Vietnamese cuisine is really surprising and it is such a pity not to try those delicious dishes when you come to Vietnam. However, learning to cook Vietnamese dishes may even seem more interesting, especially when you are a cooking lover. Recently, it is becoming increasingly familiar and there are many cooking courses offered to tourists, especially foreigners. Most classes involve market tours in order to bring you the experience to explore the Vietnamese local life.
Here are some highly-recommended cooking classes in Hanoi for you to choose:
Address: No. 294 Kim Ma Street, Kim Ma Ward, Ba Dinh District
Tel: (+84) 1645 508 508
Hanoi Cooking Centre
Address: No. 44 Chau Long Street, Truc Bach Ward, Ba Dinh District
Tel: (+84) 243 715 0088
Apron Up Cooking Class
Address: 3rd Floor, No. 66 Bat Su Street, Hang Bo Ward, Hoan Kiem District
Tel: (84) 942 606 486
6. Enjoying tea with friends
Tea has been a familiar piece of Hanoi culture. Normally, it is served in both hot and iced tea, but iced tea is more popular. Besides, lemon tea is a good choice in case you prefer something sweeter. Snacks like sunflower seeds and peanut candy are also available on the menu.
The area around Hoan Kiem Lake and St. Joseph’s Cathedral where you can admire the great views and talk with friends, tasting every sip of your tea, is the most famous and ideal for this kind of drink. It is not too difficult to come across a group of friends talking together over some lemon tea and sunflower seeds on a summer night, or some elderly men sitting in a narrow side of the pavement, sipping their hot tea on a typical Hanoi cold day. Those simple things make this city “Hanoi” in its own way.
7. Making friends with the locals
Many travelers are interested in making friends with the people they met on the journey. As a matter of fact, meeting the locals helps you understand deeply the culture of the place, as well as provide you authentic and memorable experiences. Hence, do not hesitate in talking to a girl you met at a pub or a coffee shop, the guide or the host family. Traveling is not greater than ever.
8. Making yourself at home at a Hanoi homestay
Homestay has become a popular choice of accommodation for travelers because of their convenience, low price, and warm space the hosts bring up. As a tourist city, there are a number of homestays in Hanoi, which offer a wide range of service levels for you to choose from. It is absolutely great to have a meal and talk with the hosts and acknowledge the ordinary life with those very local friends or else, chilling in the well-decorated room in a Hanoi cold day is really worth your while. Recently, many people in Hanoi choose this kind of accommodation as their ideal getaways to relax on weekends.
Here are some highly-recommended homestays in Hanoi:
Address: No. 4/9 Hong Ha Street, Hoan Kiem District
Tel: (+84) 944 191 409
Address: Alley 121, Da La Street, Truong Dinh Street, Hai Ba Trung District
Tel: (+84) 1279 293 109
Facebook: Ca Homestay
9. Hopping on a cyclo tour around Hanoi
Cyclo, as you may not know, is called Vietnamese “bicycle taxi”. Although it is faster and more convenient to travel by other means of transports, taking a cyclo tour around Hanoi may be an unforgettable experience when you are in Hanoi. A typical tour usually lasts 1 hour, providing you a ride around the Old Quarter of Hanoi or other must-sees like Hanoi Opera House, Hanoi Citadel, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, etc, as well as the close-up views of Hanoi and stories by the rider. You can easily find many riders in the area of The Old Quarter and make a deal with them to arrange a tour. However, it is our advice that you should book a tour from some operator in order not to be over-charged.
This is the highly-recommended cyclo tour operator in Hanoi:
Hanoi cyclo tours
Address: No. 52A Long Bien 1 Street, Ngoc Lam Ward, Long Bien District
No. 74 Hang Bac Street, Hang Bac Ward, Hoan Kiem District
Tel: (+84) 243 993 1368
Price: from VND 220,000/person (there are discounts if you travel in a team)
10. Immersing yourself in an art gallery
Vietnam is home to a huge number of artworks, most of which bear the distinct features of Asian culture. Visiting Hanoi – the land of Vietnamese traditional values – art spaces like galleries should not be missed. Here are some highly-recommended art galleries in Hanoi:
Nguyen Art Gallery
Address: No. 31 Van Mieu Street, Van Mieu Ward, Dong Da District
Tel: (+84) 243 747 6001
Opening hours: 08:30 – 18:30, Monday to Saturday
Address: A4703 (Floor 47), Keangnam Hanoi Tower A, Duong Dinh Nghe Street, Nam Tu Liem Ward, Tu Liem District
Tel: +84 24 6252 3111
Green Palm Gallery
Address: 15 Trang Tien Street, Trang Tien Ward, Hoan Kiem District
39 Hang Gai Street, Hang Gai Ward, Hoan Kiem District
Tel: (+84) 243 9364 757
Opening hours: 08:00 – 20:00, Monday to Sunday
11. Taking photos with the Ao dai
Ao dai – the national costume of Vietnam – is a highlight in Vietnamese fashion, which follows both traditional and temporary styles, symbolizing for Vietnamese feminine beauty. Traveling to Hanoi, you can easily get yourself a set of Ao dai by buying or renting to take beautiful photos. Hoan Kiem Lake, Long Bien Bridge and some attractions of Hanoi are the ideal places to capture your moments.
12. Buying gifts for family and friends
Hanoi is a really huge shopping mall. Once you travel to this city, you will be immersed of not only the wide range of specialties but also the local cultures here. It is quite obvious that everyone who travels loves to buy gifts for their family and friends after their trip. You will have the chance of wandering in some crowded streets of Hanoi Old Quarter, getting inside local markets to find suitable gifts for the ones you love. Price is dependent on the things you want to buy
13. Buying Flowers From A Peddler
Hanoi is well-known for the “12 flower seasons”. Every time in Hanoi, you can easily find a peddler riding a bicycle selling cut-fresh flowers. It could be the lotus or a bunch of tiny daisies. That could be such a sweet gift for your girlfriend or your wife.
14. Learning to bargain in a local market
Bargaining is truly a part of Vietnamese culture that you can easily see when going to markets. Though some local people consider it as a way of entertainment, we think that it is a necessary skill for foreign travelers when coming to Vietnam in order not to be overcharged. You should bargain each price in the markets, but remember to do it with politeness and humor. Walking away and acting as if you do not want that object anymore is a tool of bargaining. However, sometimes do not expect anyone to accept your price. It is just a shopping experience.
15. Having a motorbike tour to Ba Vi National park
Today, many young Hanoians travel to Ba Vi National Park on weekend to take their soul to nature. In Ba Vi, you can climb the mountains, take photos, visit some famous sites, and even relax in beautiful and convenient villas. It is such a great experience to travel by motorbike from Hanoi to Ba Vi National Park due to its adventurous but exciting journey.
16. Having a massage in a spa
Massage is a way to relax after traveling hours. In Hanoi, there are many spas offering Vietnamese, Thai and Swedish massages. It is fairly easy to find one!
Here are some highly-recommended spas in Hanoi:
Hanoi La Belle Spa
Address: No. 92 Nguyen Huu Huan Street, Hang Bac Ward, Hoan Kiem District
Tel: (+84) 978 392 399
Opening hours: 09:00 – 23:00
Address: No. 68 Ma May Street, Hang Buom Ward, Hoan Kiem District
Tel: (+84) 243 926 2464
Opening hours: 09:00 – 23:00
Address: No. 299 Au Co Street, Nhat Tan Ward, Tay Ho District
Tel: (+84) 243 996 8866
Opening hours: 10:00 – 21:00
17. Attending a Hanoi street food tour
Hanoi is famous for not only a number of tourist sites but also for its unique cuisine, especially those sold by the vendors. Once you travel to this city, do not miss the chance to join a Hanoi street food tour because you will have the chance to enjoy tasty dishes of Hanoi. This kind of tour may include local travel guide or not. Some try-worthy specialties are Bun dau mam tom (rice vermicelli with tofu and shrimp paste), Bun Cha (Kebab rice vermicelli, Bun thang (Rice vermicelli with pork, chicken and eggs), Bun Oc (Snail rice vermicelli), Banh Duc (Vietnamese plain rice flan), Quay nong (Vietnamese cruller), etc. Normally, these dishes are affordable, thus, try to taste as many as possible.
Check our guide about Hanoi Street Food Tour
18. Enjoy the view from Long Bien Bridge, Hanoi, Vietnam
Built in the late nineteenth century and completed in the twentieth century, Long Bien Bridge has witnessed many attacks ravaging the capital Hanoi of the French empire. The bridge also contributes to the people and our army transporting weapons and food for the war. Until now, the bridge has been renovated many times but still retains the original features. The bridge is just over 2.3 km long so visitors can walk or go by bike to enjoy the view of the Red River, watch the barges floating underneath.
19. Take photos at O Quan Chuong, Hanoi, Vietnam
This is one of the gates of Hanoi capital which still remains until now. As time goes by, the gate stands still with time, witnesses many important historical events of the country as well as the ups and downs of Ha Thanh people.
II. PAYING A VISIT TO FAMOUS DESTINATIONS AROUND HANOI, VIETNAM
20. Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam
You should take a moment to visit Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam, the first university in Vietnam, where there are many interesting things for you to explore. Temple of Literature was built in October 1070, by King Ly Thanh Tong. In 1076, King Ly Nhan Tong founded the Quoc Tu Giam, next to the Temple of Literature. This is the first university in Vietnam. Initially, the school was dedicated to the children from the royal family. Later, in 1253, King Tran Thai Tong acquired all the ordinary children with excellent academic qualities.
21. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hanoi, Vietnam
This is the final resting place of the greatest father of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh President, who devoted his whole life to Vietnamese. The construction of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum started on August 29, 1975. The mausoleum consists of three floors with the height of 21.6 meters and the width of 41.2 meters. Around the mausoleum are gardens where over 250 plant species from all parts of the country.
22. Ngoc Son Temple, Hanoi, Vietnam
Ngoc Son Temple is located on a small island in Hoan Kiem Lake. To reach Ngoc Son Temple, you have to cross the red The Huc Bridge. Coming to the temple, you can learn about the history of Hanoi associated with the Hoan Kiem Lake and view the entire Hoan Kiem Lake with Turtle Tower. This is a tourist destination cannot be missed when traveling Hanoi Old Quarter.
23. Hanoi Opera House, Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi Opera House (in France: Opéra de Hanoï) is an opera house in central Hanoi, Vietnam. It was built by the French colonial government from 1901 to 1911. This is a famous and typical colonial architecture in Hanoi, attracting a lot of tourists.
24. Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, Hanoi, Vietnam
Thang Long Royal Citadel is a historical relic of the ancient Thang Long Citadel, dating from the pre-Thang Long period (VII century) through the Dinh-Le Dynasty. This is a massive architectural work, built and developed under the Ly, Tran, Le dynasty and then became the most important monument in the system of relics of Vietnam. Thang Long Citadel was recognized by UNESCO as the world’s cultural heritage.
25. Bach Ma Temple, Hanoi, Vietnam
Bach Ma White Horse Temple is considered to be the oldest temple in Hanoi, located right in the center of Ol Quarter. It was formally built by King Ly Thai To in the 11th century to honor a white horse that helped him choose the right place to construct his city walls.
Note: Dress politely and do not make much noise when visiting the temple
26. Ma May Old House, Hanoi, Vietnam
As one of the old houses of Hanoi, 87 Ma May House reflects the living space and typical Hanoi ancient architecture. Today, this place becomes an interesting tourist destination in the Old Quarter for the locals as well as international tourists. Besides cultural activities such as Ca Tru singing in the evening, this place also displays many Vietnamese traditional handicrafts.
27. Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi, Vietnam
Hoa Lo Prison, formerly known as Maison Centrale while the Vietnamese name is Hanoi Prison, is an old prison located on Hoa Lo Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi. This prison was built in 1896 by the French in that area with the purpose of capturing political prisoners. and patriotic anti-colonialists. Visiting the prison, you can learn a lot about the colonial period in Vietnam.
28. Hanoi Flag Tower, Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi Flag Tower built in the early 19th century is one of a few remaining pre-war relics. Today, it becomes an important symbol of the nation. On the top of Hanoi flag tower, the national flag flutters every day. Visitors can walk down up the stairs leading up to the flagpole to admire the military museum and Lenin park below, then visit the museum nearby to learn more about the military history of Vietnam.
Opening hours: 7:00 – 9:00
29. One Pillar Pagoda, Hanoi, Vietnam
One Pillar Pagoda is one of the 2 most iconic temples of Vietnam. Built in the Ly dynasty, the temple resembles a lotus blossom, which is a symbol of purity in Buddhism. The temple is made of wood, situated on a single stone pillar, which makes its name. One Pillar Pagoda is a unique architectural symbol of Hanoi.
Address: Chua Mot Cot Street, Doi Can Ward, Ba Dinh District
30. Tran Quoc Pagoda, Hanoi, Vietnam
Tran Quoc Pagoda is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Hanoi. Situated on a small island on West Lake, Hanoi, the pagoda is famous for its history and becomes the icon of Hanoi today. Not only a place of worship, Tran Quoc Pagoda also attracts visitors for its cultural background and symbolic architecture.
31. Cua Bac Church, Hanoi, Vietnam
Cua Bac Church, which is built in 1932, is a lovely site for walking located under the shades of big trees in Phan Dinh Phung Street. The church’s architecture is a perfect combination of French and Vietnamese features. Today, besides St. Joseph’s Cathedral and Ham Long Church, Cua Bac is a major church of Hanoi.
Address: No. 56 Phan Dinh Phung Street, Quan Thanh Ward, Ba Dinh District
32. Dong Xuan Market, Hanoi, Vietnam
Dong Xuan Market is one of the largest markets in Hanoi. Here you have the opportunity to visit and shopping with many items ranging from household items to clothes. You can also buy souvenirs and enjoy local street food at this market. It will definitely be a brand new experience for you.
Opening hours: 7:00 – 19:00
33. The Ceramic Mosaic Mural, Hanoi, Vietnam
If you are into exploring the artistic side of this city, Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural should be on your bucket list of must-go places in Hanoi. After being continued to build for the Millennial Anniversary of Hanoi, This ceramic mosaic mural has an amazing length, zipping along Yen Phu major roadway and is listed in Guinness Book of World Record as the largest ceramic mosaic.
34. West Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam
West Lake is one of the famous destinations in Hanoi capital, where many historical and cultural relics associated with the development of Hanoi. The beauty of West Lake is a romantic, poetic charm in colorful paintings of Hanoi. You can truly find the peace when walking around the lake.
Read the next part of this article:
Best 63 Things To Do In Hanoi, Vietnam (Part 2) – 2018 Travel Guide