Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is the second biggest city in the country. It 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 8th most popular destination in the World in 2016. 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.
- 1 Things to do in Hanoi
- 1.1 Visit the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
- 1.2 Attend a Cooking Class
- 1.3 Go on a Free Walking Tour
- 1.4 Watch a Water Puppet Theatre Performance
- 1.5 Food Trip Around Hanoi
- 1.6 Sightsee Around the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
- 1.7 Bike or Walk Around the Hoan Kiem Lake
- 1.8 Soak Up Some Culture in the Hanoi Opera House
- 1.9 Visit Ngoc Son Pagoda
- 1.10 Visit the Temple of Literature
- 1.11 Wander Around Hanoi Old Quarter
- 1.12 Shop at the Dong Xuan Market
- 1.13 Eat Some Bun Cha Hanoi
- 2 Popular Day Trips from Hanoi
- 3 Trending Day Trips in Hanoi
- 4 Adventure in You Recommendations: Where to Stay in Hanoi
- 5 How to Get Around Hanoi
- 6 Is Hanoi Safe?
Things to do in Hanoi
Visit the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and 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. It is located in Ba Dinh and is open seven days a week from 8 am to 7:30 pm.
Attend a 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, you can check Cookly, a website that has cooking classes which you can easily book online. Personally, whenever I miss Vietnam, I find myself trying to recreate those mouthwatering spring rolls and a bowl of Pho!
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, 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.
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.
Food Trip Around Hanoi
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!
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 mausoleum is closed on Mondays and on Fridays.
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, 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.
Soak Up Some Culture in the Hanoi Opera House
The 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.
Visit Ngoc Son Pagoda
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.
This particular pagoda 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.
Visit the Temple of Literature
It 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.
Wander Around Hanoi Old Quarter
Undoubtedly, the Old Quarter in Hanoi is where you can soak in the Vietnamese culture. Here 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.
The streets are packed with scooters, bicycles, and cars. 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 Town
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, you can buy souvenirs, fashion apparel, printed T-shirts at the best prices. It is open every day until 7 pm.
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.
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.
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.
Trending Day Trips in Hanoi
Adventure in You Recommendations: Where to Stay in Hanoi
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 a few of our top picks and recommendations on the Best Places to Stay in Vietnam
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 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.
We recommend downloading the Skyscanner App and 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. Use the widget below to reserve and book your seat in advance.
Is Hanoi Safe?
Generally speaking, Hanoi is pretty safe. It might see overwhelming at first due to the number of motorcycles and cars. As a woman, I feel safe walking the streets at night as there is always so many people around. As long as you keep your wits with you, you should be fine.