Hanoi best things to do & travel guide

Hanoi is one of the oldest capitals in the world, where you can find well-preserved colonial buildings, ancient pagodas and unique museums in the center of the city. The city still has a lively atmosphere. From the early hours until late in the evening, the streets are swarming with moving motorcycles. There are a lot of things to do in Hanoi. You can hunt for delicious street food, visit colonial buildings and explore the local life. Not to mention the peaceful countryside is a short drive away, with lush forests, green mountains and traditional villages, not to mention the iconic Halong Bay.

5 reasons to visit Hanoi

  1. Explore the old city center; Hanoi Old Quarter.
  2. Walk around the Hoan Kiem lake.
  3. Visit one of the many museums about the Vietnam War.
  4. Enjoy a traditional water puppet show.
  5. Use Hanoi as a base to discover the north of Vietnam.

What is in this Hanoi travel guide

Book your local Hanoi experience

Practical information

Recommended days to stay

If you want to experience all the best things to do in Hanoi, you need to spend 3 to 4 days. But if you don’t have much time in Vietnam, it is recommended to go for 2 full days. Do not linger for too long, because there is so much more to see and do around the city, such as stunning countryside, mountains and islands. 

ATM's & money exchange

Hanoi has many ATM’s. Currency exchange is often the cheapest in gold and jewellery stores. The rates in these stores are often surprisingly fair, without extra costs.

Local events and holidays

  • Tet: Lunar New Year is the mega festival of Vietnam to celebrate with family members and to commemorate the dear deceased. The holiday lasts up to a week when many stores are closed.
  • Full Moon Festival: This festival, also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, starts on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, usually mid-September or early October. You will see things like singing and dragon dance.
  • Hanoi Pride: The annual Hanoi Pride festival is a colorful week full of parties, film screenings, lectures and a bicycle rally. It is held for a week between July and September.
  • Vietnam’s National Day: celebrated with a rally and fireworks in front of the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. There are also boat races on Lake Hoan Kiem.
  • Quang Trung Festival: Wrestling competitions, lion dances and human chess take place on the 5th day of the first lunar month.

Best time to visit

  • Best travel time: Fall (around September to November) and spring (March and April) are the two best seasons. Then the weather is pleasant with milder temperatures.
  • Winter: During this period (December to February) it is quite cold in Hanoi when temperatures can drop below 10 degrees.
  • Summer: It is very hot in Hanoi from May to August, with July as the hottest month. A lot of rain can fall.

25 best things to do in Hanoi

Discover the best things to do in Hanoi, Vietnam’s bustling capital, from exploring ancient temples and sampling street food delicacies to strolling through vibrant markets and enjoying scenic views of the city’s iconic landmarks.

1. Explore the Old Quarter on foot

Hanoi Old Quarter
Hanoi Old Quarter

The Old Quarter of Hanoi (Hanoi Old Quarter) is the most famous landmark in Hanoi. It is a fascinating part of the city where you can enjoy many beautiful examples of colonial architecture that is packed along narrow streets. Endless traffic of scooters, motorcycles, bicycles and cars zigzag around traders who sell fruit and souvenirs and narrow shops with delicious Vietnamese dishes.

Hanoi Old Quarter brings to life what many people imagine what Hanoi is. Exploring this area on foot is one of the best things to do in Hanoi. You can also rent bicycles or go through the streets with a cyclo.

2. Street food tour

street food tour in Hanoi
Vietnamese are the most proud of their food and it is being sold on each corner; both in restaurants and on the street (street food) You’ll see street food in Hanoi everywhere you look; stalls on the sidewalk along the side of the road with often plastic blue stools around where they sell local food. Every street food stall is specialized in a certain dish and everything is freshly made. Eating at one of the stalls is often very tasty and a great local experience.

3. Water puppet show

Thang Long water puppet theatre
Water Puppet show in Hanoi

The old art form of the water puppet show in Hanoi is certainly one of the nicest things to see. There are several theaters where you can enjoy this unique Vietnamese take on Asian puppetry tradition. The original and generally regarded as the best theater in the city is the Thang Long Puppet Theater. Dolls dance and glide elegantly across the stage of water, controlled by a whole group of dolls of masters hiding behind a screen.

4. Drink Bia Hoi - the cheapest beer in the world

Bia Hoi junction
Weekend Night Market in Hanoi

One of the best things to do in Hanoi is indulging in Bia Hoi, the world’s cheapest beer. While the taste may not appeal to everyone, the true allure lies in the unique experience of sitting on small stools amidst locals on the street, immersing yourself in the vibrant atmosphere and becoming a part of the local culture.

5. Long Bien Bridge & Market

Long Bien Bridge
Long Bien market

Long Bien Bridge is an iconic structure spanning the Red River in Hanoi, Vietnam. Built during the French colonial era, the bridge played a vital role in both the Indochina War and the Vietnam War. Today, it is a popular spot to stroll across, take in the views of the river and city, and experience the bustling Long Bien market located nearby. At the market, you can immerse yourselve in the vibrant local culture and sample a variety of delicious street foods.

6. Hoan Kiem Lake

Hoan Kiem at night
Hoan Kiem Lake sunset in Hanoi

Hoan Kiem Lake is a central point in Hanoi and is a popular meeting place for locals and tourists all day long. Ngoc Son Temple is located on a small island in the middle of the lake and is connected by a bridge and forms a beautiful backdrop for a few photos.

Around sunrise and sunset this area becomes especially busy with joggers, couples enjoying the relaxing view of the lake, and elderly people practicing Tai Chi and line dancing.

7. Walk around the Hoa Lo Prison Museum

Hoa Lu prison museum in Hanoi
Ho Chi Minh museum

A visit to the Hoa Lo Prison Museum is one of the best things to do in Hanoi as it provides a glimpse into the darker side of Vietnam’s history. The prison, also known as the “Hanoi Hilton,” was used to hold political prisoners during the French colonial period and later American prisoners of war during the Vietnam War. You can see the original cells and artifacts from the prison’s past, as well as learn about the stories of the prisoners held there.

 

8. Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Visiting the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a must for anyone interested in Vietnamese history and culture. The mausoleum houses the preserved body of Vietnam’s beloved revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh, and offers a unique opportunity to pay respect to one of the most important figures in Vietnamese history.

9. Hanoi train street

Hanoi Train Street
Hanoi Train Street

Another great thing to do in Hanoi is a visiting Hanoi Train Street. The photos and videos are world famous, in which shop owners, café owners and residents, as if it were the most normal thing in the world, put away their things to let a train pass through the narrow, busy street.

Due to safety regulations, many coffee shops along the train street had to close, but you can still visit this unique railroad track through the residential area. Just keep in mind that there are real trains on this track. 

10. Visit the St. Joseph's Cathedral

St. Joseph's Cathedral, Hanoi
St. Joseph's Cathedral in Hanoi

St. Joseph’s Cathedral is a beautiful Gothic-style church in the heart of Hanoi. The architecture is striking, with its tall spires and stained glass windows. Visitors can admire the intricate details of the cathedral’s interior and attend Mass with the local congregation.

11. Walk around the West Lake and Tran Quoc Pagoda

West Lake Hanoi
Tran Quoc Pagoda sunset in Hanoi

Walking around the West Lake and visiting the Tran Quoc Pagoda is one of the best things to do in Hanoi as it provides a peaceful and scenic escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. The Tran Quoc Pagoda is the oldest temple in Hanoi and features a stunning seven-story pagoda and many intricate statues and carvings. Additionally, the West Lake area has many great restaurants and cafes where you can relax and enjoy the serene surroundings.

12. Take a cyclo tour of the city

Hanoi cyclo tour
tourist riding a cyclo in Hanoi Old Quarter Vietnam

Taking a cyclo tour in Hanoi is a great way to explore the city’s sights and sounds. Visitors can expect to see landmarks such as Hoan Kiem Lake, the Old Quarter, and the French Quarter, while also experiencing the bustling street life and local culture up close. It’s a unique and memorable way to discover Hanoi’s charms.

12. See the ancient Temple of Literature

Temple of Literature
Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature is a well-preserved example of traditional Vietnamese architecture and design, making it a must-visit for anyone interested in history and culture. As the site of Vietnam’s first university, the temple also holds great significance for the country’s educational and intellectual history. Visitors can enjoy peaceful gardens, intricate pagodas, and learn about the country’s ancient scholars and their academic pursuits.

13. Explore Imperial City of Thang Long

Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long in Hanoi

Exploring the Imperial City of Thang Long is a must-do in Hanoi because it offers a glimpse into the country’s rich history and culture. The UNESCO World Heritage Site features centuries-old structures, including the imposing Hanoi Flag Tower and the breathtakingly beautiful Doan Mon Gate. You can stroll through the vast courtyards and gardens, admire ancient relics and artifacts, and learn about the dynasties that once ruled over the region.

14. Stilt house & Presidential palace

Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House
Presidential palace

The Stilt House and Presidential Palace in Hanoi offer a glimpse into Vietnam’s political history. You can see where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked, and explore the grounds that were once the residence of the French Governor-General.

15. Cycling in Hanoi

cycling in Hanoi
Hanoi biking tour

Cycling in Hanoi is a great way to explore the city and experience the local life. Although the traffic might seem intimidating at first, it is completely safe with a guide who can lead you through the best routes and help you navigate the streets. Cycling allows you to see more than just the Old Quarter and provides an authentic glimpse into the daily lives of Hanoians.

 

16. Visit traditional villages

making pottery in Bat Trang Ceramic Village

There are several traditional villages surrounding Hanoi that offer a glimpse into rural Vietnamese life and crafts. Bat Trang is known for its ceramic pottery, Van Phuc for silk weaving, and Dong Ho for woodblock printing. You can experience the traditional production techniques and purchase handmade goods directly from the artisans.

17. See the One Pillar Pagoda

One Pillar Pagoda
One Pillar Pagoda

The One Pillar Pagoda is a national symbol of Vietnam. It has been depicted on Vietnamese currency, and it is recognized as one of the country’s most iconic cultural and religious landmarks. You can explore the pagoda’s peaceful grounds and learn about its cultural significance in Vietnamese history.

18. Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural

Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural
Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural

The Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural is a 4-kilometer long artwork located in the heart of Hanoi. It is made up of thousands of ceramic pieces and depicts scenes from Vietnamese history and culture.

19. Shop at the Dong Xuan Market

Dong Xuan Market
Dong Xuan Market

Shopping at the Dong Xuan Market is one of the best things to do in Hanoi because it offers a truly authentic experience of Vietnamese local life and culture. The market is a bustling hub of activity where you can find a wide range of goods such as souvenirs, clothing, accessories, and food. It’s also an excellent place to practice your bargaining skills and score some great deals.

20. Visit the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology

Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi
Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi

The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is a museum that showcases the cultural diversity of Vietnam’s 54 ethnic groups. It features both indoor and outdoor exhibitions, as well as educational programs and research facilities.

21. Wake up early for the Quang Ba Flower Market

Quang Ba flower market
Quang Ba flower market

The Quang Ba Flower Market is a bustling market that comes to life before dawn with the colors and fragrances of flowers and fresh produce. Waking up early to visit the market gives a unique insight into the local culture and daily life in Hanoi.

22. Enjoy the sunset of a rooftop bar

Lighthouse Sky Bar in Hanoi
Terraço Sky Bar in Hanoi

Enjoying the sunset of a rooftop bar in Hanoi is one of the best things to do in Hanoi as it offers a stunning panoramic view of the city’s skyline and an opportunity to relax while enjoying a drink. It’s a great way to end the day after a day of exploring the city and taking in the sights and sounds of Hanoi.

23.Visit the Women's Museum

Vietnam Women's Museum
Vietnam Women's Museum

The Women’s Museum in Hanoi showcases the role and contribution of Vietnamese women in society, history, and culture through a diverse range of exhibits and displays, making it a unique and informative attraction to visit in the city.

24.Explore Ninh Binh in a day

Mua Cave in Ninh Binh
Trang An boat tour

A day tour from Hanoi to Ninh Binh is a popular option for those who want to escape the city and experience the beautiful countryside. You can choose to take the Tam Coc or Trang An boat trip to enjoy the scenic karst landscape. Mua Cave viewpoint is also a nice spot to enjoy the panoramic view of the region. For a more immersive experience, you can also cycle around the countryside.

However, if you have the time, it is recommended to stay in Ninh Binh for at least 2 days or longer to fully explore the area.

25. Take a day trip to the Perfume Pagoda

Perfume Pagoda
cable car at Perfume Pagoda

A day trip to the Perfume Pagoda from Hanoi is definitely worth it if you want to explore the scenic countryside and experience a unique religious and cultural attraction. You’ll have the opportunity to take a boat ride along the scenic waterway and hike up to the hillside pagoda complex.

 

Best hotels & hostels in Hanoi

Hoan Kiem (the Old Quarter) – The historic soul of the city, it is clear why most tourists choose to stay here. Temples, old gates and traditional shops create a busy neighborhood that will stimulate all your senses! From luxury hotels to backpacker hostels, there is something for everyone here. Hoan Kiem is the best area to stay in Hanoi if you want a convenient and cultural experience in the center.

In addition, tour operators and bus companies often include a pick up from this part of the town. If you stay outside the city center, you might first need to travel a bit to catch a bus.

Budget hotels & hostels

  • Central Backpackers Hostel – Old Quarter
  • Old Quarter View Hanoi Hostel:
  • Cocoon Inn
  • Luxury Backpackers

Mid range hotel

  • Hanoi Golden Moment Hotel
  • New Vision Palace hotel
  • The Hanoian Hotel
  • Hanoi Graceful Hotel

High end hotel & resort

  • Hanoi La Siesta Hotel Trendy
  • The Chi Boutique Hotel
  • Hanoi Bonsella Hotel
  • Tirant Hotel

Food & drinking

Restaurants

Deciphering Hanoi’s street food scene can be astonishing, but it is worth keeping up and diving into. The city’s best food comes from the dozens of vendors that line the city’s sidewalks with smoking charcoal burners, tiny plastic stools and queues of locals.

Local restaurants

  1. Hong Hoai’s Restaurant
  2. Hoang’s Restaurant
  3. Green Farm Restaurant
  4. Bun Cha Ta
  5. Banh Mi 25
  6. Bun Bo Nam Bo
  7. New Day Restaurant

Fine dining

  1. Madam Yen Restaurant
  2. The Gourmet Corner Restaurant
  3. Cau Go Vietnamese Cuisine Restaurant
  4. Essence Restaurant
  5. Ngon Villa Restaurant

Nightlife

There is is a lot to do at night in Hanoi. You can join the locals with a beer on the street, go clubbing, chill in a bar or enjoy a impressive performance in the Opera House.

  1. Bia Hoi Junction
  2. Hanoi Opera House
  3. Dragonfly
  4. Legend Beer
  5. \Water Puppet Theatre
  6. Hoan Kiem Lake
  7. Craft Beer Pub
  8. Weekend Night Market
  9. Hero Club Hanoi
  10. Savage

How to get there

Hanoi is a major transportation hub in the north of Vietnam. Hanoi connects with international flights, domestic flights, trains from the south and bus connections to every town in the north and central Vietnam.

Flights to Hanoi

Hanoi has fewer direct international flights than Ho Chi Minh City. Read all about flights to Vietnam here.

Jetstar Airways, VietJet Air and Vietnam Airlines connect Hanoi with destinations throughout Vietnam. Popular routes are Hanoi to Dalat, Da Nang, Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Nha Trang and Phu Quoc, all daily flights. Read more about booking domestic flights in Vietnam here.

Buses to Hanoi

Hanoi has four major bus stations. They are fairly well organized, with ticket offices, fixed prices and schedules. It is often easier to book through a travel agent. From Hanoi there are buses to everywhere in Vietnam such as Sapa, Da Nang, Dalat, Hue, Ninh Binh. Cao Bang and Ha Giang. Many open-ticket bus tours through Vietnam start or end in Hanoi.

Tourist minibuses can be booked at most hotels and travel agents. Popular destinations are Halong Bay and Sapa. Prices are usually about 30% to 40% higher than those of the regular public bus, but include a hotel pick up service.

Trains to Hanoi

The train station is in the center. You can buy tickets for trains that can take you all the way south to Ho Chi Minh City, or north to Sapa and across the border to China.

How to get around

Hanoi’s taxis have meters, but not all drivers want to use them. The problem with taking a taxi is that they cannot all speak English well. The most reliable taxis are: Hanoi Taxi, Mai Linh Taxi and Taxi CP. A good alternative is to use the Grab taxi app.

Metro: Hanoi is working hard to build a metro network. It is expected that the first connections can be used by 2021.

Cyclo are Hanoi’s bicycle taxis. Passengers drive in the front cabin, while the driver is behind the passenger. Cyclo cabins are made for two passengers and are ideal for exploring short distances in the center of Hanoi.

Xe Om are Hanoi motorbike taxis. You will find them especially on street corners. The best way to use an Xe Om is with the Grab app.

Itinerary 2 days in Hanoi

Looking for great things to do in Hanoi in 2 days? The below itinerary gives you in a short indication what you can see and do per day.

Day 1

  • Explore Old Quarter (by cyclo optionally)
  • Walk around Hoan Kiem Lake
  • Watch a water puppet show
  • Enjoy street food (by food tour)
  • Have a beer at Bia Hoi Junction

Day 2

  • Walk to Hanoi Cathedral
  • Visit Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton)
  • Walk around Temple of Literature
  • Visit Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
  • Visit the Imperial Citadel
  • Watch a show at Hanoi Opera House

More tips for traveling in Hanoi

Where to go next?

As mentioned last in our list of best things to do in Hanoi, the city is a great base to explore the whole north of Vietnam. Wherever you want to go, there is always a bus from this city. The most famous destinations that travelers go to are Sapa, for trekking through the terraced rice fields, Halong Bay, for a cruise through the beautiful bay and Ninh Binh, for boat and bicycle rides through the rice fields. The destinations you can go to are Mai Chau, for rice paddies and ethnic minority villages, and Ha Giang, with Southeast Asia’s most impressive mountains.

Hanoi with kids

Hanoi is not the most child-friendly city in the country, with heavy traffic and narrow sidewalks used as parking spaces for scooters and motorcycles. It is certainly a place that will leave a huge impression and that children will never forget.

if you are in Hanoi with kids, we recommend visiting some of the museums, go around the lake by cyclo and defitnly do a street food tour.

Language

You can easily get along with English in the city. In most hotels and restaurants it is spoken nicely or at least the basis you need to order or check in. Menus and signs for tourists are also often available in English.

How to dress

Hanoi is used to tourists and not that conservative when it comes to clothing. If you plan to visit temples in the city, make sure you are properly dressed. This means that you do not wear a short skirt or shirt.

In the summer it gets very hot and there is regular rainfall. In winter it is dry, but it can get quite cold. Keep this in mind with what kind of clothing you are bringing.

Tours in Hanoi you may like

Local Hanoi coffee tour
Hanoi – Sapa – Halong 5 days
From $270.00
Local Hanoi beer tour – Taste craft beer & experience local nightlife
Hanoi – Sapa – Halong – Saigon – Mekong Delta 7 days
From $565.00
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