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11 Best Things to Do in Hanoi

A couple sat at a cafe on Train street in Hanoi

11 Best Things to Do in Hanoi

Vietnam’s capital city, Hanoi, is a place of cultural richness, stunning natural beauty, old-world architecture, and exciting opportunities for adventure. So, it’ll come as no surprise that we’d class it as a must-visit destination in Asia. In this guide we’ll show you the very best things to do in Hanoi from its bustling markets and iconic landmarks to its amazing food. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing getaway or a fun-filled trip, there’s something for everyone.

A couple walking along train tracks, holding hands

Things to Do in Hanoi

Hanoi is a popular tourist destination, welcoming over 10 million visitors a year. It’s located in Northern Vietnam and is second only to the former capital, Ho Chi Minh City, in terms of size. While Vietnamese is the official language, English is widely spoken in the big cities here, which is always helpful.

There are two main seasons in Vietnam, the wet season from April to October and the dry season from November to March. Not only is the rainfall high during the wet season, but it can also get very hot. So, the best time to visit is by far the dry season.

Hanoi has great transport links, with the largest airport in the north as well as busy sleeper train services if you’re coming from the south. But more on this later in the post, for now, let’s jump into the list…

11 Best Things to Do in Hanoi

1. Old Quarter

A red and gold traditional Vietnamese temple

Hanoi’s Old Quarter is a bustling and vibrant part of the city, making it the busiest tourist spot around. The narrow streets are full of life, and it’s the perfect place to experience Vietnam’s traditional culture.

You’ll find dozens of stalls selling delicious street food, local trinkets, and handmade souvenirs. A great way to get your bearings and learn some local knowledge is to take a guided tour. But be sure to explore in your own time as well, you never know what you might discover.

2. Hoan Kiem Lake

A girl sat on the age of Hanoi's Lake at sunset

Hoan Kiem Lake, sometimes called ‘Sword Lake’ is Hanoi’s largest and most picturesque lake, and it’s right in the heart of the city.

It’s an important historical and cultural area, shrouded in legend. The old tale tells of a golden turtle god that possessed a magic sword, which was used to defeat the invading Ming army. We’re not sure the golden turtle god existed, but you can definitely see real turtles swimming around or basking on the edge of the lake!

One of the highlights of the lake is Ngoc Son Temple on an island in the lake, accessible by a beautiful red bridge. Also keep an eye out for Thap Rua, or ‘Turtle Tower’, on another island in the middle of the lake.

The lakes serves as a gathering place for locals and if you get here early, you’ll see them practicing martial arts like Tai-Chi.

3. Train Street

Train Street is probably the most photographed spot in the whole of Hanoi. It’s a narrow street lined with colorful cafes and shops, just wide enough for the train tracks that run through the middle.

Over the years it’s certainly got more touristy, but that doesn’t stop it from being a unique, must-see landmark.

There never seems to be reliable information on the times that the train passes, so sit and enjoy a coffee while you wait. When the commotion starts, get to the side and breathe in as the train whizzes right by!

4. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

A visit to the tomb of revolutionary President Ho Chi Minh is one of the best things to do in Hanoi. The mausoleum looks like something you’d expect to see in Russia, which is no surprise as it was inspired by Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow.

As if the building weren’t impressive enough, inside you can see the embalmed body of ‘Uncle Ho’ in a glass case. The museum also contains some of his personal items and other artifacts depicting his life and work.

5. Find the Best Banh Mi

Someone holding a banh mi - a Vietnamese baguette sandwich

Have you even been to Hanoi if you haven’t eaten too many Banh Mi? We don’t think so! The French introduced the baguette to the region, but Vietnam took it to the next level by combining it with their delicious local ingredients.

The typical Banh Mi is pork sausage, coriander, chilies and pickled veggies like carrot, onion, and radish, all in a fresh baked bread roll. The good news for vegetarians and vegans is there’s delicious non-meat options too, like egg or tofu.

6. Water Puppet Show – Thang Long

Here’s one to divide the crowd, we’ve heard such mixed feelings about the Water Puppet Show, but we loved it!

This art form is a tradition dating back to at least the 11th century when it would have been performed in the region’s rice paddies. But now, you can watch it from the comfort of a theatre seat.

The traditional music is performed live by a talented orchestra and really gives the show an authentic feel.

7. Try an Egg Coffee

If you haven’t had one before, you need to try this iconic Vietnamese speciality. This is another one that’ll divide a room! Some people swear by it and end up craving them when they leave Vietnam, others can’t stomach one.

It’s so widespread in the city, you can get one at almost any café but a fun place to go is The Note Coffee just on the northwest side of the lake.

Great views, rude post-it notes on the walls, and egg coffee. What more could you want?

8. Hanoi’s Beer Street – World’s Cheapest Beer?

Ta Hien Street, more commonly referred to as ‘Beer Street’, is located near the Old Quarter. The street is known for its unique atmosphere and nightlife.

The sidewalks are lined with bars and restaurants, mostly furnished with tiny plastic chairs. Many places are open all night or at least until the early hours.

Thousands of tourists descend on this street each night for the lively atmosphere and super cheap, locally brewed beer. The variety of food, drinks, and lively music that you’ll find on Beer Street is all part of what makes it such a popular destination.

9. Night Market

A panoramic shot of Hanoi at night from a viewpoint

There are many night markets dotted around Hanoi, but the biggest and best is the one along Hang Dao Street in the Old Quarter (near Hoan Kiem Lake). It’s one of the busiest and most vibrant places in the city.

The first thing to do is to try the delicious local street food. You’ll find all sorts of Vietnamese bites here like traditional spring rolls, Pho (noodle soup), banh mi, and various sweet desserts.

After you’ve filled up, explore the 3km of stalls selling just about everything. You can find clothing and accessories, handcrafted items, carvings, and jewelry.

If you’re shopping for some gifts or souvenirs, be sure to barter for a good price.

10. St. Joseph’s Cathedral

A large cathedral dwarfing a couple stood in the foreground

The Cathedral on Nha Chung Street near the Old Quarter is one of the most popular tourist landmarks in Hanoi.

It’s a Roman Catholic church which was built by the French in the late 1800’s during the colonial era. This striking example of neo-gothic architecture stands out among the traditional Vietnamese surroundings.

If you’ve ever visited the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, you may have noticed the resemblance. The architects mirrored the Parisian style with the twin bell towers.

11. Lotte Observation Deck

Lotte Observation Deck is found on the rooftop of the Lotte Center Hanoi. It’s the third-tallest building in all of Vietnam. And it offers stunning 360-degree views of the city’s skyline, including Hanoi’s iconic landmarks, the Red River, and the surrounding areas.

There’s a high-speed elevator to the top, known as the Sky Elevator. One of the highlights at the top is the Love Photo Zone which has a glass floor suspended over a 250m drop straight down to the street!

Where to Stay in Hanoi

A girl sat at the edge of Hanoi's lake

If you’re looking for a budget stay, then look no further than the Old Quarter. There are countless hotels and hostels in and around the area. You’ll find some particularly cheap places to the west of Hoan Kiem Lake, where you can get a dorm bed for under $10.

For a higher budget, the French quarter is one of the nicer areas to stay with the bigger chains and larger, luxury hotels.

How to Get to Hanoi

Hanoi has a major airport with tons of international routes, and it’s a great place to start a North to South trip of this gem of a country.

If you’re already in Vietnam, you can get a sleeper train from the South. Trains run from the big cities of Hue, Da Nang, Nha Trang, and Ho Chi Minh City.

Getting Around Hanoi

Unlike most places in Asia, renting a motorbike or scooter in Hanoi is probably not a great idea. We’ve rarely seen anywhere as busy as this and can be difficult even for experienced riders.

Luckily getting around on foot is the best way to see the city. For the more distant trips, the taxis aren’t overly expensive, or you can get a motorbike taxi.

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