Hanoi is a historic capital that boasts of numerous colonial buildings, ancient pagodas, and distinctive museums in its city center. Despite its age, the city maintains its vibrant ambiance, with hordes of motorcycles filling the streets from dawn till dusk. Hanoi offers plenty of activities to do, such as indulging in delectable street food, touring colonial structures, and discovering local culture. Additionally, the countryside is easily accessible and provides a tranquil escape with luscious forests, verdant mountains, traditional hamlets.
Recommended days to stay: In order to fully enjoy Hanoi’s top activities, it is suggested to allocate 3-4 days. However, if your schedule in Vietnam is tight, it’s better to plan for a 2-day trip. It’s advisable not to stay longer as there are plenty of other places worth exploring nearby the city, such as breathtaking countryside, mountains and islands.
ATM’s & money exchange: There are numerous ATM machines in Hanoi. Gold and jewelry stores commonly offer the most economical currency exchange rates, which are usually quite reasonable and without any additional fees.
Local events and holidays: Tet: The Lunar New Year is a significant celebration in Vietnam where families gather to rejoice and honor their deceased loved ones. The festivity usually lasts for about a week, during which numerous stores shut down.
Full Moon Festival: The Mid-Autumn Festival, which is also referred to as this festival, commences on the 15th day of the eighth month based on the lunar calendar, usually falling in mid-September or early October. The festivities involve performances such as singing and a dragon dance.
Vietnam’s National Day: The occasion was marked with a gathering and pyrotechnic display in the vicinity of the Ho Chi Minh memorial, as well as competitions involving boats on Lake Hoan Kiem.
Best time to visit Hanoi
The best time to visit Hanoi is during the spring (from March to April) and autumn (from September to November) when the weather is mild and comfortable. These seasons offer pleasant temperatures, clear skies, and less humidity, which makes it ideal for exploring the city’s attractions and enjoying outdoor activities. Additionally, during these months, Hanoi holds vibrant festivals and events, offering visitors a unique cultural experience.
Best things to do in Hanoi
Walk to explore the Old Quarter
Exploring the old quarter on foot is a captivating experience. The narrow and winding streets are filled with a rich history, colorful buildings, and bustling market stalls. Wandering through the old quarter allows you to soak in the authentic atmosphere and immerse yourself in the local culture. You can discover hidden gems, such as charming cafes, traditional shops, and ancient temples. Taking your time to explore on foot gives you the chance to appreciate the intricate architectural details and get a true sense of the old quarter’s character.
The Hanoi Old Quarter is a vivid representation of what many people visualize when they think of Hanoi. One of the most enjoyable activities to do in Hanoi is to explore this region on foot. Alternatively, you may rent bicycles or ride through the streets on a cyclo.
Street food tour
Hanoi street food tours offer a unique culinary experience, showcasing the city’s vibrant food scene. From the bustling Old Quarter to the hidden alleys, these tours take you on a gastronomic adventure. Sample iconic dishes such as pho, banh mi, and bun cha, each bursting with flavors and aromas. Engage with local vendors and learn about the history and cultural significance of the dishes. Indulge in a variety of street snacks and desserts, while immersing yourself in the lively atmosphere of Hanoi’s street food culture.
Water puppet show
The Hanoi water puppet show is a traditional Vietnamese art form that dates back to the 11th century. It is performed in a pool of water and combines music, puppetry, and storytelling. The puppets are controlled by puppeteers standing waist-deep in water, hidden behind a bamboo curtain. The storylines often depict traditional Vietnamese legends and folklore, accompanied by live music played on traditional instruments. The show is a unique and captivating cultural experience that should not be missed when visiting Hanoi.
Drink Bia Hoi Hanoi
Bia hoi Hanoi is a popular, low-alcohol beer in Vietnam, known for its fresh and light taste. It is commonly enjoyed by locals and tourists alike, especially in Hanoi’s bustling Old Quarter. The beer is typically served from small, local breweries and consumed quickly to maintain its freshness. Bia hoi is a cultural experience in itself, as it is often enjoyed while socializing with friends or watching the vibrant street life of Hanoi. Overall, drinking bia hoi Hanoi is a must-try for beer enthusiasts looking for a unique and authentic Vietnamese experience.
One of the top activities to enjoy in Hanoi is to drink Bia Hoi, which is considered as the most affordable beer worldwide. Although its flavor may not suit everyone’s taste, what makes it special is the distinct experience of sitting on tiny stools along with the locals on the road, completely immersing oneself in the lively ambiance and blending into the local customs.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake is a historic and scenic freshwater lake located in the heart of Hanoi, Vietnam. It is surrounded by beautifully manicured gardens and lush greenery. The lake holds significant cultural and historical importance as it is associated with a legend of a dragon and a magical sword. The charming red bridge, known as Huc Bridge, connects the lake to the Ngoc Son Temple, further enhancing its cultural significance. Hoan Kiem Lake is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike, offering a serene and peaceful atmosphere amidst the bustling city.
During the times of sunrise and sunset, this location experiences a surge in activity as it attracts a lot of joggers, couples looking to enjoy the serene view of the lake, and older individuals engaging in activities such as Tai Chi and line dancing.
Long Bien Bridge & Market
The Long Bien Bridge in Hanoi, Vietnam is a historic structure that spans the Red River and connects the city with the neighboring province. It was constructed between 1899 and 1902 by the French during their colonial rule. The bridge is an iconic landmark and symbolizes the resilience of the Vietnamese people, as it has survived bombings during the Vietnam War. Long Bien Bridge is a popular tourist attraction, offering stunning views of the river and the cityscape. It is also a vibrant and busy market, where locals and visitors can find a wide array of fresh produce, local products, and street food.
Visit Hoa Lo Prison Museum
Hoa Lo Prison Museum, located in Hanoi, Vietnam, is a historic site that offers visitors a glimpse into the country’s tumultuous past. The prison was originally built by the French colonialists in the late 1800s to detain political prisoners. It then became infamous during the Vietnam War, housing American POWs, earning it the nickname “Hanoi Hilton.” Today, the museum showcases the brutal conditions endured by prisoners through exhibits, photographs, and preserved artifacts. Visitors can explore the cells, read the personal stories of inmates, and gain a deeper understanding of Vietnam’s struggle for independence.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is serves as the final resting place of the revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh. The building is a monumental granite structure, designed in a simple and impressive style. Visitors are required to adhere to a strict dress code, which includes covering their shoulders and knees and avoiding flashy clothing. Inside the mausoleum, Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body is displayed in a glass case, allowing visitors to pay their respects to the leader. The mausoleum is considered a significant historical site in Vietnam and attracts thousands of visitors each year.
For those who have an interest in the history and culture of Vietnam, it is essential to visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. This building contains the well-preserved body of Ho Chi Minh, a highly revered revolutionary leader of Vietnam. By visiting this mausoleum, one can pay tribute to this important personality and gain a distinctive experience.
Hanoi train street
Hanoi Train Street is a popular tourist attraction located in the heart of Hanoi. It is a narrow alleyway that is famously known for its close proximity to the operating train tracks. Tourists can witness the unique experience of having a train pass by just inches away from them, as they stand on the side of the tracks. The atmosphere is vibrant, with locals selling food and beverages along the tracks, creating a lively street market. Photographers and adventure enthusiasts are drawn to this location to capture stunning shots of the bustling scene as the train whizzes by, making it an unforgettable experience for visitors. However, it is important to exercise caution and be aware of the train timetable to ensure safety while visiting Hanoi Train Street.
Take a cyclo tour of the city
In Hanoi, a cyclo tour is a unique and popular way to explore the city. The tour begins in the historical Old Quarter, where you can experience the bustling streets and colorful markets. The cyclo driver will navigate through narrow lanes and take you to prominent attractions such as Hoan Kiem Lake, where you can learn about the legend of the mystical turtle. Along the way, you’ll pass by beautiful French colonial buildings and ancient temples like the Temple of Literature. The tour ends with a leisurely ride around the tranquil West Lake, providing a serene escape from the city’s hectic pace.
Visit Temple of Literature
The ancient Temple of Literature is a beautiful historical site dating back to the 11th century. It is dedicated to Confucius and is one of the country’s most important educational and cultural institutions. The temple includes five courtyards, each representing different stages of education. The main attraction is the Temple of Literature itself, a stunning structure featuring traditional Vietnamese architecture with ornate decorations and intricate details. Visitors can wander through the peaceful gardens and learn about the rich history and significance of education in Vietnamese culture.
Explore Imperial City of Thang Long
The Imperial City of Thang Long is a UNESCO World Heritage Sitem, it was the political and cultural center of the country for over a thousand years, serving as the capital of several dynasties. The citadel was built in the 11th century by the Ly dynasty and was subsequently expanded and renovated by other rulers. It is a remarkable example of the architectural and cultural evolution of Vietnam, blending elements of Chinese and Southeast Asian influences. Visitors can explore the royal palace, various temples, and archaeological relics within the complex, offering a glimpse into Vietnam’s rich history and heritage.
Cycling in Hanoi
Cycling in Hanoi is an exhilarating experience filled with vibrant sights and sounds. As you pedal through the bustling city, you’ll witness a unique blend of ancient architecture, modern skyscrapers, and lively markets. The narrow streets, filled with motorbikes and street vendors, require skill and vigilance to navigate. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself dodging chickens, bicycles loaded with goods, or even street performers! Despite the chaotic traffic, cycling in Hanoi allows you to fully immerse yourself in the vibrant energy and culture of this captivating city.
Visit traditional villages
Hanoi offers visitors the chance to explore several traditional villages near its vicinity. One of the most famous villages is Bat Trang, known for its ceramics and pottery. Visitors can witness the making process of beautiful bowls, plates, and vases, and even try their hand at creating their own pieces. Another village worth visiting is Duong Lam, known for its well-preserved ancient houses that date back several centuries. The village gives visitors a glimpse into rural life and showcases the traditional architecture of Vietnam. The peaceful village of Van Phuc is renowned for its silk-weaving industry, where visitors can observe skilled craftsmen and purchase high-quality silk products. Finally, the village of Dong Ho is famous for its traditional folk paintings, featuring vibrant colors and intricate designs. Here, visitors can witness the process of creating these unique artworks and even bring home a piece of this cultural heritage.
See the One Pillar Pagoda
The one pillar pagoda, also known as Chùa Một Cột in Vietnamese, is a historic Buddhist temple located in Hanoi. It is a symbol of the city and one of the most iconic landmarks in the country.
Built in 1049 during the reign of Emperor Lý Thái Tông, the pagoda is composed of a single wooden pillar rising on a stone pedestal, resembling a lotus blooming from the water.
The pagoda has a unique architectural style, influenced by the Buddhist philosophy of Zen Buddhism. It is designed to represent a pure and simple beauty that emanates peace and tranquility.
Surrounded by lush gardens and a tranquil pond, the pagoda provides a serene atmosphere for visitors to explore and admire its architectural beauty.
It is a popular destination for both locals and tourists who seek spiritual solace and wish to experience the rich cultural heritage of Vietnam.
Shopping at Dong Xuan market
Dong Xuan Market is a bustling and vibrant market located in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. It is the largest indoor market in Hanoi, offering a wide range of products and goods. Visitors can find everything from clothing, accessories, souvenirs, electronics, and household items to fresh produce and local cuisine. Bargaining is a common practice at the market, so visitors should be prepared to negotiate for the best prices. It’s a must-visit destination for those seeking an authentic shopping experience in Hanoi.
Top hotels in Hanoi
Hoan Kiem, also known as the Old Quarter, is considered the heart and soul of the city due to its historical significance. It is no wonder that most tourists prefer to stay in this area. The neighborhood is bustling with traditional shops, temples, and ancient gates, providing a lively atmosphere that will engage all your senses. Whether you are looking for high-end hotels or budget-friendly hostels, there are accommodations suitable for everyone here. For those seeking a cultural and convenient experience at the center of Hanoi, Hoan Kiem is the perfect place to stay.
Budget hotels & hostels
- Old Quarter View Hanoi Hostel:
- Central Backpackers Hostel – Old Quarter
- Cocoon Inn
- Luxury Backpackers
Mid range hotel
- New Vision Palace hotel
- Hanoi Golden Moment Hotel
- Hanoi Graceful Hotel
- The Hanoian Hotel
High end hotel & resort
- Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi
- Hanoi La Siesta Hotel Trendy
- Hanoi Bonsella Hotel
- Tirant Hotel
Food & drinking
Exploring the street food culture of Hanoi can be both amazing and rewarding, despite its complexity. The most delicious food in the city is offered by numerous street vendors who set up their charcoal burners, plastic stools, and attract long lines of locals along the sidewalks.
- Green Farm Restaurant
- Hong Hoai’s Restaurant
- Bun Cha Ta
- Bun Bo Nam Bo
- New Day Restaurant
- The Gourmet Corner Restaurant
- Madam Yen Restaurant
- Cau Go Vietnamese Cuisine Restaurant
- Ngon Villa Restaurant
- Essence Restaurant
There are numerous evening activities available in Hanoi. You have the option of socializing with the locals while having a beer on the street, going to a nightclub, relaxing in a bar, or witnessing a spectacular performance at the Opera House.
- Bia Hoi Junction
- Hanoi Opera House
- Legend Beer
- Water Puppet Theatre
- Hoan Kiem Lake
- Craft Beer Pub
- Weekend Night Market
- Hero Club Hanoi
How to get there
Hanoi serves as a significant transportation center located in the northern region of Vietnam. It facilitates both international and domestic flights, and also offers railway connections from the southern part of the country along with bus services connecting all towns in the central and northern regions of Vietnam.
Flights to Hanoi
There are numerous flights available to Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, from various international and domestic destinations.
Many major airlines, such as Vietnam Airlines, AirAsia, and Thai Airways, offer direct flights to Hanoi from cities around the world.
Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport is the main gateway to the city, located about 45 kilometers from the city center. It offers various transportation options, including taxis, shuttles, and public buses, to conveniently reach the bustling streets of Hanoi.
Train to Hanoi
The train journey to Hanoi is an exciting and scenic experience. The train departs from a bustling station in the heart of the city. You have the option to purchase train tickets that will transport you to Ho Chi Minh City in the south or Sapa in the north, which even crosses the border into China. As the train chugs along, it passes through picturesque countryside and rural villages, offering glimpses of traditional Vietnamese life. The journey takes approximately 10 hours, allowing ample time to relax and enjoy the passing landscape. Upon arrival in Hanoi, passengers are greeted by the city’s vibrant atmosphere and rich history, ready to explore all that this bustling capital has to offer.
Buses to Hanoi
Hanoi possesses four main bus stations, which are efficiently structured with ticket counters, fixed costs, and predetermined timetables. It is simpler to arrange bookings through a travel agency. Hanoi provides buses that transport to various places across Vietnam, including Sapa, Da Nang, Dalat, Hue, Ninh Binh, Cao Bang, and Ha Giang. Additionally, there exist numerous unrestricted-ticket bus tours throughout Vietnam that commence or terminate in Hanoi.
Most hotels and travel agents offer the option to reserve tourist minibuses. Halong Bay and Sapa are among the frequently visited areas. While the prices for these services may be 30% to 40% more expensive than regular public buses, they do provide hotel pick up services as an added benefit.
How to get around
Getting around in Hanoi can be a bit challenging due to traffic congestion and lack of clear signage. However, here are some popular modes of transportation to navigate the city:
Walking: Hanoi’s Old Quarter and many popular attractions are easily accessible on foot. Walking allows you to explore the narrow streets, local markets, and soak in the city’s charm.
Motorbike taxi (Xe Om): Xe Om drivers are available throughout the city and can take you around quickly. Negotiate the fare before getting on the bike to avoid any confusion.
Taxi: Taxis are abundant in Hanoi, and several reputable companies such as Mai Linh and Vinasun are trustworthy. Ensure the meter is running, or agree on a fixed price before starting the journey.
Grab: Grab is a popular ride-hailing app in Vietnam. Download the app and book a ride with a car or motorbike taxi. It’s a safe, convenient, and sometimes cheaper option than regular taxis.
Public bus: Hanoi has an extensive bus network that reaches all parts of the city. However, the buses can be crowded, and the routes can be confusing if you’re not familiar with Vietnamese. It’s best to research the routes beforehand or ask locals for assistance.
Cyclo: Cyclos are three-wheeled rickshaws that offer a leisurely way to explore the city. Negotiate a reasonable price upfront and agree on the duration of the ride.
Electric bus: Hanoi’s Hop-on Hop-off electric bus service is a convenient way to visit major attractions. These buses follow a fixed route, and you can get on and off at any stop for a specified duration.
As always, be cautious of your belongings, traffic, and negotiate fares in advance to avoid any misunderstandings.
Suggested Itinerary 2 days in Hanoi
– Morning: Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum to pay respects to the country’s former leader. Explore the surrounding complex, including the One Pillar Pagoda and Ho Chi Minh Museum.
– Afternoon: Head to the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s first university. Take a stroll through the peaceful gardens and learn about the country’s Confucian past.
– Evening: Experience the bustling atmosphere of the Old Quarter. Wander through the narrow streets, browse through the local shops and markets, and sample delicious street food.
– Morning: Start the day with a visit to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, where you can learn about the country’s diverse ethnic groups through exhibitions of traditional costumes, artifacts, and more.
– Afternoon: Take a leisurely walk around Hoan Kiem Lake, located in the heart of Hanoi. Visit Ngoc Son Temple situated on an island in the lake and enjoy the serene surroundings.
– Evening: Attend a traditional water puppet show at Thang Long Water Puppet Theater. This unique form of entertainment showcases Vietnamese folklore and is a must-see cultural experience.
Note: This itinerary provides a general outline of activities in Hanoi. Depending on your interests, you can also consider visiting other attractions such as the Dong Xuan Market, the Hoa Lo Prison Museum, or taking a day trip to the famous Perfume Pagoda.
More tips for traveling in Hanoi
Sure, here are some more tips for traveling in Hanoi:
1. Bargain in markets: When shopping at the local markets such as Dong Xuan Market or Night Market, bargaining is a common practice. Don’t be afraid to negotiate for a better price, as it is expected.
2. Watch out for street scams: Like any tourist destination, Hanoi has its share of scammers. Be cautious of offers that seem too good to be true, such as overly cheap tours or deals. Also, keep an eye on your belongings and be wary of distractions, as pickpocketing can happen in crowded areas.
3. Try the local street food: Hanoi is known for its delicious street food, so don’t miss the opportunity to try dishes like pho (Vietnamese noodle soup), banh mi (Vietnamese baguette sandwich), or bun cha (grilled pork with vermicelli). Be adventurous and explore the local eateries for an authentic culinary experience.
4. Be mindful of traffic: Hanoi’s streets can be hectic and chaotic, especially during rush hour. Always look both ways before crossing the road, even at zebra crossings. The traffic might seem overwhelming at first, but try to move slowly and steadily when crossing the road.
5. Visit the temples and pagodas: Hanoi is rich in religious heritage, so take the time to visit some of the temples and pagodas. The Hoan Kiem Lake area is home to Ngoc Son Temple, and the Tran Quoc Pagoda is also worth a visit. Remember to dress modestly and be respectful when inside these places of worship.
6. Explore the Old Quarter: The Old Quarter is the heart and soul of Hanoi. Take a stroll through the narrow, bustling streets filled with shops, cafes, and unique architecture. Don’t forget to check out historic landmarks like the St. Joseph’s Cathedral and the Bach Ma Temple.
7. Learn a few basic Vietnamese phrases: Although many locals in Hanoi can speak English, learning a few basic Vietnamese phrases like “hello” (xin chào), “thank you” (cám ơn), and “goodbye” (tạm biệt) can go a long way in building rapport and showing respect to the locals.
8. Don’t miss a water puppet show: Water puppetry is a traditional art form that originated in the Red River Delta region of Vietnam. Catch a water puppet show in Hanoi to witness the unique combination of music, puppetry, and storytelling.
Remember to always research and plan ahead, respect the local customs, and have a sense of adventure to make the most out of your trip to Hanoi.