Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, located on the banks of Red River, is one of the ancient capitals of the world. Tourists can spot the age-old colonial architecture, ancient pagodas, old citadels, and some attractive museums. These buildings are proof of the rich cultural history of Hanoi, which people have preserved and embraced over the years. Hanoi best-explored on-foot, also the traffic is fast paced and hectic. Hanoi has delectable Vietnamese cuisine, flamboyant nightlife, serene mountains, and traditional villages. It is also famous for its silk and handicrafts. Also, the cultural remains of its invaders like the French, Chinese and Russians can still be witnessed here.
Did you know: Hanoi is made up of two words ‘Ha’ meaning River and ‘Noi’ means Inner. Together, it makes Rivers Inner as it is situated between the Red River and Nhue River.
Whether you are travelling alone, or with your family or as couples, Hanoi has everything for you. If you are a foodie, adventure lover, party animal, shopaholic, or cultural traveller, Hanoi will not disappoint you.
Top 12 things to do in Hanoi
- Hanoi Old Quarter
- Dong Xuan Market
- Hanoi Opera House
- Temple of Literature
- Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
- Water Puppet Theatre
- Ba Vi National Park
- Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son
- Perfume Pagoda
- Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
- Hanoi’s Nightlife
- Street Food Tour
1. Wander around Hanoi Old Quarter
A perfect place to soak in the Vietnamese culture. It is the busiest tourist attraction, and here you will find the French colonial architecture that made Hanoi so special. This is how it transformed into the historic heart and commercial hub of the city with lots and lots of attractions. The Old Quarter has several narrow streets with brick houses instead of skyscrapers giving you a retro vibe.
On these streets, there are multiple restaurants, small bars, and a wide variety of street food options. Here you will find French remains, Buddhist temples and ancient pagodas giving you a sense of preservation of its history even today. Thus, roaming here is undoubtedly the best things to do in Hanoi.
Recommendation: Relax here in a bar with “Beer Hoi” which is a cheap beer costing 20 cents. Not the best beer in the world, but a perfect taste to gel with the local lifestyle. As they say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”
2. How about some Shopping at Dong Xuan Market?
If you are up for shopping in Hanoi, then there is no better place than this. Dong Xuan Market is a Soviet-style four-storey building on the edge of The Old Quarters. This sprawling complex has the finest collection of apparels, fashion, souvenirs, local dishes etc. at the best prices in the city. Be it printed T-shirts to budget-friendly shades or branded denim to local handicrafts, handbags and other souvenirs; this place has it all.
All this is bifurcated in different sections on different floors. Anything and everything that you could think of buying, you will find here, except an Airbus 320. All this makes shopping at Dong Xuan Market necessary things to do in Hanoi.
- Timings: 6 AM – 7 PM
3. Enjoy a show at Hanoi Opera House
How about a soothing show of opera singing in Hanoi? Hanoi opera house chases the European style as evident from its Italian marble floor, ceilings with French murals and copper chandeliers. It is a centre for interesting art shows, scintillating ballet dance performances and some amazing live concerts. It was built in 1911 based on the Paris Opera House is unarguably one of the most impressive buildings in Hanoi.
A pass for this opera house would cost you somewhere around VND 10,000-20,000 (₹300-600). Thus, to spend an entertaining evening, this opera house is one of the best places to visit in Hanoi.
Did you know: This opera house during the French invasion was made for entertaining the elite French population of that time
4. Visit the Temple of Literature in Hanoi
A charming temple complex in the centre of the city, Temple of Literature is one of the most favoured tourist destinations in Hanoi. This building, like many other architectures of Hanoi, is remarkably preserved becoming a quintessential Vietnamese architecture. As of today, it is a beautiful park with ornate pavilions, shrines and a garden.
The layout of the temple is similar to the birthplace of Confucius, a tribute to that legend. Graduating doctors always visit here after they graduate. This temple is also printed on the rear side of the official banknote of Vietnam. Paying a visit in this highly revered temple is one of the not to be missed things to do in Hanoi.
Did you know: In 1070, it was established to serve as a University and was dedicated to the Chinese scholar Confucius
5. Explore the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
This is the mausoleum of the revolutionary leader of Ho Chi Minh, the President of the Communist Party of Vietnam. The Russian touch can be observed here, as it is inspired by Lenin’s mausoleum in Moscow. But here, it has a pure Vietnam feel in the likes of a sloping roof. Visitors can see the preserved body of the iconic Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh in a glass case here. You just need to follow certain protocols here (dress code, remain silent and walk in straight lines). Paying a visit to this historically rich tourist attraction is one of the ultimate things to do in Hanoi.
Did you know: This is the same place where the Declaration of Independence was read by Ho Chi Minh in 1945 and established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. This mausoleum also remains closed on Monday and Friday
6. Watch the Water Puppet Show
This theatre is quite famous for its water puppetry show that is backed by some soothing live music. It is an ancient art form having origins in the 11th Century. These shows portray short sketches or they showcase some of the legends of Vietnam. In the plays, puppets slide and dance on the liquid stage. These puppets are controlled by their masters from behind the stage displaying the art of perfection.
Most of these shows tell the tale of giant Tortoise or Hoan Kiem Lake. It is an ideal cultural place for visitors, no matter from which country or religion they belong to. If you are in Hanoi then attending this water puppet show should be on the top of your things to do in Hanoi.
7. Ba Vi National Park
Another stunning beauty in the outskirts of Hanoi, a 2-hour drive from the capital city. Ba Vi National Park is a natural reserve famous for its three-peaked mountain that remains covered with clouds. This is surely heaven on earth owing to the scenic beauty it has to offer. It has a wide range of jungle flora and fauna and an 11th-century temple at the summit of the tallest mountain.
The view from the top of the countryside is just bliss. There are natural hot springs as well on the forest floor. Ba Vi National Park is an ideal escape from the bustling city. This is a good place for hiking as well. This is a perfect Hanoi tourist attraction.
8. Soak in the beauty of Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake or Turtle Lake as it is famously known as a central sparkling feature of Hanoi. And, thus a popular hangout spot all day for tourists as well as locals. At the centre of the lake is the Ngoc Son Temple which is connected by a bridge. An ideal background to click some pictures for your social media. It is also the best location to watch the sunrise or see the sun setting.
This place is very calm and gives you a relaxed vibe, there are no cars or motorbikes allowed here. Thus, Hoan Kiem Lake is one of the best things to do in Hanoi at night.
Recommendation- Try and visit this place at night, that is the time when the bridge gets illuminated by lights showcasing the true colours of the place
- Entry fee: There is an entry fee of VND 20,000 (₹60)
Further Read: 15 Best International Trips Under 50000 Rupees
9. Perfume Pagoda
A quite intriguing temple complex that was built in the 15th century. Located in the Son Mountains, 60 km to the south of Hanoi. It is a complex of Buddhist temples. Before reaching here, the journey itself is amazing and an experience in itself, you have to rise a boat to reach here. For people searching for an authentic locavore appeal, Perfume Pagoda should not be missed out.
The place is beautiful on its way up, the view from the top is breathtaking. Here, you will find many street food hawkers and shops to buy some Vietnamese souvenirs. The entry to this Pagoda resembles an open dragon’s mouth which is embellished in Chinese. In a nutshell, a perfect place for sightseeing in Hanoi.
10. Visit the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
Known as the Citadel of Hanoi, this citadel is UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2010. Standing 40 metres high, the most recognizable feature of this citadel is the Central Flag Tower and often used as a symbol of Hanoi. This place served as the political centre for 13 centuries and the capital of Vietnam for eight centuries. Located in Ba Dinh, the timings to visit here are from 8 in the morning to 7:30 in the evening.
Albeit the infrastructure has become old but it still is the nicest place to explore in Hanoi. This citadel is rather an intriguing relic of Vietnam’s history signifying its cultural importance. You must not miss out on this historical wonder.
11. Experience Hanoi’s Nightlife
Being a part of the Hanoi’s larger than life nightlife is one of the most enjoyable experiences of Vietnam. Hanoi is incredibly vivacious post-sunset and remains bustling till midnight after which all the nightlife spots are closed. Hanoi’s nightlife is heaven for a beer connoisseur. The three main areas to target for an amazing evening are Old Quarters, West Lake and Hoan Kiem Lake area.
There are many small bars here, you can get your beer to sit on a corner and just enjoy the view. In good places, you will get many types of craft beers, live music, imported beers, shisha, cocktails and what not. Hanoi’s nightlife spots despite closing early can give their Asian counterparts a run for their money. Thus, one of the best things to do in Hanoi at night.
- Where to go: Dragonfly, Craft Beer Pub, Standing Bar, 88 Lounge, Hanoi Rock City
Recommendation: Do try the famous street beer, Bia Hoi. It is a freshly prepared home brewed beer without any preservatives
12. Food Trip around Hanoi
If there is one thing that people love about Vietnam or rather Asia, it is their street food. Hanoi’s street food can beat the best in the business hands down. A street food tour will give you a chance to get to know about the local dishes in Vietnamese cuisine. There are myriad night markets hosting umpteen street hawkers serving some really delectable local dishes.
The food here is made of simple ingredients and is a perfect balance of sweet, sour, salty flavours. There is hardly any street in Hanoi which you pass and your nose doesn’t get the smell of food. Hanoi is thus a paradise for food addicts and street food tour is one of the charming Hanoi’s points of interest.
- Must Try: Goi Cuon, Fried Bananas, Dessert Soup, Caramel Pudding
Where to stay in Hanoi
Just like the street food, the accommodation options are also immense in Hanoi in all price ranges. If you are low on budget then prefer staying in Vietnam Backpackers Hostel in Downtown, Central Backpackers Hostel in the Old Quarter, and Nexy Hostel. In mid-range, you can stay in the Conifer Boutique Hotel or Hanoi La Siesta. If you want a swankiest hotel then go to O’Gallery Majestic Hotel and Spa or Hotel de I’Opera.
So, this is what we have for you in this edition of Things to do in Hanoi. There are many more things to do here, but we have handpicked the best things based on travellers’ reviews, historical and cultural significance, ease of travel, uniqueness etc. We hope you will make a judicious call based on this bird’s eye view of Hanoi’s attractions in this blog.