Looking for things to do in Hanoi? We got you covered! In this article, I will share our top recommendations on the best things to do in this bustling city.
Hanoi and the rest of Vietnam will always be a special place for us as it is a destination we traveled extensively when the founders of this blog first met.
Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is the second biggest city in the country, next to Ho Chi Minh City. While Hanoi is located in the North, Ho Chi Minh is located in the South and used to be the former capital of Vietnam.
Hanoi is an interesting mix of the East and the West with noticeable traces of the communist influence as well as the French invasion. It is a favored destination for tourists.
In fact, TripAdvisor named Hanoi to be the 6th most popular destination in the World in 2021.
Vietnam was invaded by the Chinese for a long time, later by the French and also by the Americans in the 20th century. You can see the influence of each invading country on Hanoi today as well as the impact of the Communist influence.
If you’re looking for ideas on what to see and do while in this bustling city, here are a few of my top suggestions on the best things to do in Hanoi.
- Hanoi Things to Do Highlights
- 1. Visit the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
- 2. Attend a Vietnamese Cooking Class
- 3. Go on a Free Walking Tour
- 4. Watch a Water Puppet Theatre Performance
- 5. Street Food Trip Around Hanoi
- 6. Do an Overnight Tour to Ha Long Bay
- 7. Bike or Walk Around the Hoan Kiem Lake
- 8. Soak Up Some Culture in the Hanoi Opera House
- 9. Visit Ngoc Son Pagoda (Ngoc Son Temple)
- 10. Visit the Temple of Literature
- 11. Wander Around Hanoi Old Quarter
- 12. Shop at the Dong Xuan Market
- 13. Eat Some Bun Cha Hanoi
- 14. Visit the National Museum Of Vietnamese History or the Museum of Ethnology
- 15. Visit the Top Sights with a Local Professional Photographer
- 16. Sightsee Around the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
- 17. Visit West Lake
- More Local Experiences in Hanoi
- Popular Day Trips from Hanoi
- Top Recommendations for Where to Stay in Hanoi Vietnam
- How to Get Around Hanoi
- FAQ about Hanoi
Hanoi Things to Do Highlights
- Local Cooking Class– While visiting Hanoi start with a local cooking class. Vietnamese food is incredible, so why not learn to cook it!
- Food Tour with a Local– This HIGHLY rated tour is popular amongst travelers and for a good reason! Spend 3 hours walking around the best street eats in Hanoi Old Quarter.
- Visit Ninh Binh Dragon Mountain– This full day tour gives you a chance to visit these beautiful mountains from Hanoi- must do tour!
- Discover the best of Hanoi via Motorbike– As they say, the best way to see a city is through a local’s eyes. Hop on the back of an experienced motorbike driver and weave your way through Hanoi’s chaotic streets! This tour is highly recommended.
- Water Puppet Theatre Performance– Shown in most theatres in the city center, this amazing puppet show tells the tale of Hoan Kiem Lake and the giant tortoise.
- Street Food Tour– Another must while visiting Hanoi. To get to know the local culture explore the many streets filled with street vendors selling different dishes.
- Bike Around Hoan Kiem Lake– Located in the city center, this is a beautiful lake to bike around while visiting Hanoi. Start your day with a Vietnamese coffee to boost your energy and go exploring.
1. Visit the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
It is a UNESCO World Heritage site known as the citadel of Hanoi. The building was the center of ancient Hanoi. The ancient site was the political center for 13 centuries and served as the capital of Vietnam for 8 centuries.
The central flag tower of the citadel stands 40 meters tall. It is a symbol of Hanoi. The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is located in Ba Dinh and is open seven days a week from 8 am to 7:30 pm.
2. Attend a Vietnamese Cooking Class
Vietnamese food is amazing but trust me, learning how to cook it is even better. Joining a cooking class in Hanoi is something I definitely recommend doing and is one of our best. Most classes also incorporate market tours, allowing you a glimpse into the local life and culture.
If you’re interested to do this, we recommend booking a local cooking experience with Airbnb. Personally, whenever I miss Vietnam, I find myself trying to recreate those mouthwatering spring rolls and a bowl of Pho!
3. Go on a Free Walking Tour
One of my favorite things to do in a city is to go on a walking tour as it allows me to see the area and understand its overall layout. If you’re looking for an introduction to Hanoi, Vietnam, I recommend you go on a free walking tour which is usually led by a local.
Hanoi Free Walking Tours is a student-run organization, providing you insight on their local traditions and culture. Another company that offers these free tours in Hanoi is Hanoi free local tours.
Insider Tip: If you prefer to go on a small group walking tour, we recommend this night street food walking tour! Alternatively, the Highlights of Hanoi Tour takes you around some of the best places all over the city and comes highly recommended.
4. Watch a Water Puppet Theatre Performance
There are several theaters in Hanoi, where tourists can watch this uniquely Vietnamese performance. The most famous theater that showcases a water puppet performance is the Thang Long Puppet Theatre that has five shows a day.
Here, puppets dance and slide over the liquid stage. The puppets are controlled by a group of puppet masters hiding behind the scenes. Most shows tell the tale of Hoan Kiem Lake and the giant tortoise.
The water puppet theatre is a popular activity to do when in Hanoi, Vietnam for those who want to see a little culture.
5. Street Food Trip Around Hanoi
When you’re not shopping and wandering around the weekend night market, hands down, one of the best things to do in Hanoi is to eat!
Filled to the brim with street food stalls and night markets, Hanoi is a foodie’s dream destination. While the many types of dishes can be daunting initially, our advice is to just try as much as you can.
If you’re not that adventurous, here’s a full guide on what to eat in Vietnam to help you navigate your way around the dishes. Alternatively, you can also go on a food tour while in Hanoi as it is one of the best places to do so!
We have found the best food tours below on two popular providers for you to check out.
Are you vegetarian? Click here to view the best vegetarian street food tour.
6. Do an Overnight Tour to Ha Long Bay
Although touristic this is doing a tour of the famous Hạ Long Bay is a must do for every visit in Hanoi! With over 15000 limestone islands jutting out of the bay you will be greeted by an extraordinary scene. Did I mention it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site?
The founders of this blog (Adventure In You), Tom and Anna, have both done trips to Halong Bay and loved their experience. Ha long Bay is a must when in Vietnam. This particular all-inclusive tour includes meals, kayaking, and more.
If you’re looking for a slightly more budget friendly option, check out this Halong Bay Tour.
7. Bike or Walk Around the Hoan Kiem Lake
The Hoan Kiem Lake is also known as the Turtle Lake is located in the center of the city and it is a popular hangout place for locals and tourists.
They charge VND 20,000 to visit the temple in Hoàn Kiếm Lake, but it is worth it. It is a wonderful spot to watch the sunrise or the sunset from. You can opt to bike around or take a romantic stroll with your significant other and enjoy the views of the lake.
Similarly, you can also opt to take a bike tour around the city which takes you around all the best spots.
8. Soak Up Some Culture in the Hanoi Opera House
The Hanoi opera house was modeled after the Paris Opera House and it is the most beautiful building in Hanoi. The opera is located in the French Quarter. It was built in 1911 during the French invasion of Hanoi and it was created to entertain the French elite at the time.
The building went into decline after the French left Hanoi. It was renovated again in 1997. A ticket costs anything between VND 100,000 – VND 2,000,000 and it showcases Vietnamese Opera Performances as well as Asian dance and ballet performances and musical concerts.
You can check tickets here.
9. Visit Ngoc Son Pagoda (Ngoc Son Temple)
Another great place to visit while you’re walking around Hoan Kiem Lake is Ngon Soc Pagoda. From the lake, you can find a bridge leads to an island which is home to the famous pagoda.
Ngoc Son Temple was built in memorial Tran Hung Dao, a brave military leader who fought against the Yuan Dynasty. It holds a large historical significance which is why a lot of people frequent the place when visiting the lake.
If you’re interested in these types of things, a visit to the Military History Museum could also be an option when visiting Hanoi, Vietnam.
10. Visit the Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature is a beautiful temple complex in the center of Hanoi that was built to be the center of learning dedicated to Chinese age and Confucius.
In the last 1000 years, many buildings were added and today it is a beautiful park filled with pavilions, shrines and a rich garden. Graduating doctors always visit the Temple of Literature after their graduation. The temple is open every day except Monday until 4:30 pm.
11. Wander Around Hanoi Old Quarter
Undoubtedly, the Old Quarter in Hanoi is where you can soak in the Vietnamese culture. While walking around the Old Quarter, you will have the chance to observe French colonial architecture that made this city so special.
The Old Quarter is located in the Ba Dinh district. It is near the business area and it is the busiest tourist attraction where you can find small streets with many street vendors, selling food and souvenirs on the street.
In the Old Quarter, expect the streets are packed with scooters, bicycles, cars and of course street vendors. It is truly a local experience that will give you an idea of what it is like to live in Hanoi. Here you can try some tasty street food as well. Listed below are a few of the tours we recommend.
Recommended Tours in the Old Quarter
Hanoi Food on Foot– This walking food tour takes you around the best places in Hanoi’s Old Quarter (Hoan Kiem district) where you can sample loads of local dishes.
Another tour we can recommend is the Hanoi Walking and Cyclo Tour– This tour takes you around Hanoi Old Quarter by cyclo, allowing you to really get a feel of the local culture. During this tour, a local guide will show you where to find the best markets and cafes.
There is lots to see in the Hoan Kiem district (Old Quarter), so enjoy yourself.
12. Shop at the Dong Xuan Market
Visit the Dong Xuan Market to buy anything and everything you can imagine. It is housed in a four-story Soviet-style building. On the ground floor, you can see a fish market, where you can see all sorts of species.
It is only recommended to those who do not have sensitive noses as the aroma can get quite intimidating. On the other floors of Dong Xuan Market, you can buy souvenirs, fashion apparel, printed T-shirts at the best prices. It is open every day until 7 pm.
13. Eat Some Bun Cha Hanoi
While Hanoi is home to a wide range of fantastic Vietnamese food, a personal favorite that is considered a must to while in Hanoi is to eat a plate of Bun Cha Hanoi.
This place is so popular that even former US President Obama has eaten a meal at this humble eatery. In case you don’t know, Bun Cha Hanoi is a delicious plate of grilled meat served with this sweet and tangy broth and heaps of fresh herbs.
Editor’s Note: Bun Cha Hanoi is one of my favorite Vietnamese meals and this place, Bun Cha Huong Lien, Hanoi is THE best place to get it. In my opinion, no visit to Hanoi is complete without a bun cha meal.
14. Visit the National Museum Of Vietnamese History or the Museum of Ethnology
The Vietnamese history is important to learn about and there is no better way of doing that than visiting this museum. The museum has five different sections designed in traditional Vietnamese architecture, going back as far as the stone age, all the way to the Vietnam war and the Vietnamese Revolution.
In total there are more than 200,000 different pieces in the museum. Although you won’t see them all during your first visit, you will still a great introduction to the overall history. This is a must for the travellers interested in history and culture, along with the Hoa Lo Prison Museum.
The Hoa Lo Prison was used for the U.S. prisoners during the Vietnam War and was known amongst Americans as the Hanoi Hilton.
If you’re looking for other interesting museums to visit, the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology focuses solely on ethnic groups and has a lot of interesting information. Visiting these museums is a great way to learn about the rich Vietnamese history.
15. Visit the Top Sights with a Local Professional Photographer
This is something a little different! Have you ever thought about visiting the top sights in Hanoi Vietnam with a local friendly photographer, who not only explains each sight but captures the moment perfectly for you?
With this experience you can visit top sights such as:
- Hanoi French Quarter
- St. Joseph’s Cathedral (Church of Hanoi)
- Hanoi Old Quarters
- Temple of Literature
- Long Bien Bridge
- Hanoi Train Street
I’ve done this a few times in different locations and it’s a really fun, unique experience.
16. Sightsee Around the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Near the Imperial Citadel in the Ba Dinh area, you can also visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Ho Chi Minh was the first Communist leader of Vietnam. He defeated the French in 1954. He is a well-respected leader and the locals often refer to him as “Uncle Ho”.
Modeled after Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow, visitors can see Ho Chi Minh’s preserved body in a glass case. Take note that the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum is closed on Mondays and on Fridays.
If you want to know more about Ho Chi Minh’s life, you can also check out the Ho Chi Minh Museum! Visiting these places gives you great insight into Hanoi Vietnam and what life was truly like back then.
17. Visit West Lake
Located in the northwest of the city is West Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Hanoi, Vietnam. The area surrounding West Lake is very peaceful and it’s very common for you to find locals walking around the area, exercising.
West Lake is also home to many cafes, restaurants, and even hotels. From West Lake, you can visit Tran Quoc Pagoda. Tran Quoc Pagoda is the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi and is located near the southeast shore of West Lake.
More Local Experiences in Hanoi
Looking for more things to do in Hanoi during your time there? Check out these local Airbnb experiences in the area that we recommend.
Popular Day Trips from Hanoi
If you’re not a city person, Hanoi can be a tad bit overwhelming which is why we’re recommending a few day trips which you can easily reach if you need to escape. Ninh Binh is a particular favorite and is well recommended.
Visit the Ba Vi National Park
This national park is a beautiful nature reserve 58 km’s away from Downtown Hanoi. It is an ideal place to go hiking on the hills and escape from the bustling city. The three-peak mountain in the National Park are often covered by the clouds.
A diverse range of jungle plants and animals can be discovered in the national park. In the forest floors, you can find natural hot springs which you can visit.
At the peak of the tallest mountain, there is a temple from the 11th century. From this place, you can see stunning views of its surrounding landscape.
Explore Ninh Binh
Last but not least, hop on a motorbike and explore the Ninh Binh area independently. It is best to come here for at least two days, so you can have enough time to see as much as you can. You will see some of the most beautiful nature of Northern-Vietnam.
You can take a boat ride to explore the Trang An complex, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here is a recommended Airbnb experience.
Trang An and Tam Coc
Trang An is 7 kms away from Ninh Binh. There are many temples, valleys, and caves to be discovered in the area. You can also take a boat ride in the Tam Coc rice fields. Adventurous tourists can bike through the rice fields if they prefer. Find a hotel in Tam Coc to stay overnight for an authentic Vietnamese countryside experience.
Hanoi is an interesting city that has many diverse sites to visit. It has a long, fascinating history, many tasteful dishes to try, and great cultural performances to see.
It’s an ideal destination for solo travelers as well as couples or families. Hanoi is also a great base to do trips to the nearby Perfume Pagoda, Halong Bay or Sapa in Northern Vietnam.
Top Recommendations for Where to Stay in Hanoi Vietnam
If you’re looking for where to stay in Hanoi Vietnam, you’re in luck as it is home to a varied amount of affordable hostels and hotels. Hanoi has heaps of accommodation choices. From budget hostels (that are usually heaps of fun) to mid-range hotels, there is no shortage of places to stay.
Here are our suggestions for hostels and hotels in Hanoi.
To check reviews and see more options, check out our full list of where to stay in Hanoi article to help you find the perfect base while exploring this city!
How to Get Around Hanoi
Hanoi is the motorcycle capital and watching the chaotic symphony of cars, bikes, motorbikes, and sometimes even livestock is one of the best things to do while sitting in a nearby cafe. From Hanoi, there are heaps of ways to get around to help you travel around the rest of Vietnam.
If you want to get around the city, motorcycle taxis are popular and very cheap. You can flag these down pretty easy or ask your hotel to call you one. Taxis such as Mai Linh Taxi, are metered and are a safe way to get around Hanoi Vietnam.
We recommend using Bookaway or 12Go website to view bus, boat, and train schedules ahead of time. We’ve used these websites all over Asia and it saves us the hassle of lining up in travel agencies or bus stations.
FAQ about Hanoi
Generally speaking, Hanoi is pretty safe. It might seem overwhelming at first due to the number of motorcycles and cars. As a woman, I feel safe walking the streets at night as there are always so many people around. As long as you keep your wits with you, you should be fine.
They are both different but I personally prefer Hanoi. I found the city easier to get around and it had more to see. It’s full of traditional authentic Vietnamese food and you can easily take popular day trips to locations around the city, such as the famous Halong Bay.
Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam and has a population of 5,067,000 (as of 2022). It is known for its history, traditional Vietnamese food and traditional Vietnamese architecture.
Yes. If you want to try the local Vietnamese street food, understand their history, while experiencing the culture of Vietnam, then a visit to Hanoi is a must!
3 Days. With 3 days you can visit the main places, try the incredible street food and still have time to enjoy the experience.