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.

15 best things to do in Hanoi

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1. Hanoi Old Quarter

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

Son Tra motorbike trip
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. Nightlife

Bia Hoi junction
Nightlife in Hanoi

The nightlife in Hanoi is one of the best in the country. The best way to go out are the Bia Hoi street stalls. Here you can drink the cheapest beer in the world, often from as little as 30 cents! What makes it really fun is not the price, but the unique experience, where you sit around a low stool in the street together with the locals and other travelers to exchange stories and drink beer.

If you are looking for a place with more class, then visit a show at the Hanoi Opera House. If you want to have a drink with more comfort than the stools on the street, there are fortunately hundreds of bars, as well as rooftop bars and clubs where you can dance. There is something for everyone.

5. Markets

Quang Ba flower market
Weekend Night Market in Hanoi

Another place where you can soak up culture are the markets in Hanoi. There are many types of markets in the city. Some specialize in, for example, clothing, food or flowers. It is a place where the locals come together to trade. The markets are often quite busy and not always neat, so it is not for every traveler. But if you can look around it, it does promise a unique experience.

There is a great atmosphere around the weekend night market in the center and it is a good place to grab some tasty street food. But for a more local experience, you can visit the flower market in Hanoi very early in the morning, Long Bien market for wholesale or the huge Dong Xuan Market.

6. Hoan Kiem Lake

Hoan Kiem at night
Hoan Kiem Lake 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. Visit a museum

Hoa Lu prison museum in Hanoi
Ho Chi Minh museum

The museums in Hanoi are of high-quality and there are enough to visit. Hoa Lo Prison Museum are the remains of an old prison used during the French colonial era and the Vietnam War. The Ho Chi Minh museum shows the life of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam’s greatest leader. Vietnamese Women’s Museum shows about the many ethnic minorities of Vietnam and a tough exhibition about the role of women in wartime. Other good museums in Hanoi are Vietnam Museum of Ethnology and Vietnam Fine Arts Museum.

8. Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

There are countless of historial buildings in Hanoi you can visit; so many that this list could be a top 50 things to do in Hanoi. But instead, we combined the few main highlight

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. Westlake & temple

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11. Temples of Hanoi

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12. Cyclo ride

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13. Imperial City of Thang Long

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14. Stilt house & Presidential palace

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15. Cycling in Hanoi

16. Long Bien bridge

17. Using Hanoi as a base

tours Ninh Binh
Ha Giang loop Tham Ma Pass

What makes the city so amazing are not only the things to do in Hanoi, but also outside of the city. It is the perfect base to explore the rest of north Vietnam, because no mater where you want to go in the north, there is always a bus going from Hanoi. 

You can make a day trip to for example the perfume pagoda, Halong Bay or Ninh Binh. But also if you want to stay longer in these places, or want to go by train to Sapa, visit the mountains of Ha Giang, you will always start in Hanoi and end up back in Hanoi.

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.

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