Top 15 Things to Do in Hanoi, Vietnam

By on Published: March 1, 2021 | Last Updated: May 4, 2021 in Asia, VIETNAM with 0 Comments

Top 15 Things to Do in Hanoi

Enter the fascinating capital of Vietnam!

In a country that I already say is like a marmite land – you either love it or hate it (probs this will only make sense if you’re British, but take my word for it!), Hanoi is perhaps the icing on the divided cake.

Someone people think it’s one of the best cities going, others can’t wait to get out.

I’m not going to tell you which side of the fence I sit on just yet – you’ll have to read through this article and get to the end to see what I say about the matter, but I will say that, no matter how you feel about Hanoi in the end, you never know before you go.

Which is why go you must!

To experience the madness and the chaos and the noise and the colours and take it all in for yourself and see how you pull up the otherside!

So here, to give you a small taster, is my list of the best 15 things to do in Hanoi…

 

Vietnam, Hanoi, Lady on Motorbike


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#1 Wander the Old Quarter

Vietnam, Hanoi, Flower Seller

So first up on this list of the best things to do in Hanoi, it’s wander the Old Quarter.

Both the commercial and tourist hub of this city, and also the oldest part (clue is in the name guys), it’s great to find the centre of this city is both filled with heritage and genuine daily life.

Just wandering the streets here, getting lost amongst all the stalls, nearly run over by hundreds of scooters and trying all the food in sight is, par of the course!

 

#2 Snap St Joseph’s Cathedral

Vietnam, Hanoi, St Joseph Cathedral

One of the flagship buildings in Hanoi, where many residents are Christians, St Joseph’s Cathedral is definitely worth wandering by to snap and then head inside for.

It’s also got a nice little square out front, is great for people watching, and there’s also a lot of delicious local cheap eat spots around here and the nearby hospital too.

 

#3 Stroll Hoan Kiem Lake & Ngoc Son Temple

Vietnam, Hanoi, Lake

There’s a couple of good lakes in this city and coming in at number 3 on this list of the best things to do in Hanoi, strolling your way around Hoan Kiem Lake and to the Ngoc Son Temple that sits on an island in the middle, is definitely one of them.

Very close to the Old Quarter, it’s easy to walk here and then enjoy the street food and people watching opps all around this body of water.

 

#4 Head to the Dong Xuan Market

Vietnam, Hanoi Market, Bird Cage

And just at the other edge of the Old Quarter in Hanoi is the Dong Xuan Market – a sprawling indoor array of shops and stalls of every kind imaginable.

This is a great place to come shopping if that’s on your list of things to do in Hanoi as many things are offered at great wholesale rates.

Otherwise, the street of the Old Quarter also bustles with sellers, offering just about anything imaginable too!

 

#5 Pay Homage at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Vietnam, Hanoi, Flag

And heading west from the Dong Xuan market, you’ll come to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.

Also outside of the Old Quarter, this is nevertheless definitely a place you should make the journey to if you wish to see the resting place of Vietnam’s most famous leader.

A huge historic site, there’s a museum here too, as well as the iconic One Pillar Pagoda, the Presidential Palace and the Quan Thanh Temple, which are all located nearby.

 

#6 Visit the West Lake and Tran Quoc Pagoda

Vietnam, Hanoi, Temple

And all these attractions actually sit at the edge of the huge West Lake, which is a freshwater body that sits just north of Hanoi centre.

In the middle of the lake sits the 6th century Tran Quoc Pagoda and ancient Buddhist Temple that you shouldn’t miss either.

This whole place is very peaceful and a great spot to get away from the more hectic Hanoi vibes.

 

#7 Enjoy a Water Puppet Show

Vietnam, Hanoi, Water Puppet Theatre

Next up, it’s back to the centre of Hanoi we go for one of this city’s quintessential experiences – a water puppet show.

Famously performed at the Thang Long Theatre, this is a great spectacle for all the family and combines a traditional form of Northern Vietnamese theatre with accompanying music.

Most performances recount local fairytales, myths and legends, which would have been historically performed by farmers standing waist deep in flood water with large rods to operate the puppets.

 

#8 Try Egg Coffee

Vietnam, Hanoi Cafe, Egg Coffee

It’s a Vietnamese classic and perhaps most famous in Hanoi, yes the infamous egg coffee comes to be loved by many tourists thanks to its sweet flavour and almost gooey texture.

Although I loved the Vietnamese coffee in general – it’s helluva strong and the café culture is on point – I was not a fan of the egg coffee… way too sweet for me!

If you do want to try it however, I can highly recommend Hidden Gem café, which is an absolutely fabulous place to get your caffeine fix in whatever form.

The Old Town Garden Café is also a nice option, as are E-Paso Café, Loading T Café and Cong Café.

 

#9 Marvel at the Opera House

And now we move to the grand side of Hanoi and its colonial past, care of the majestic Hanoi Opera House building.

A grand structure that dates from 1911, catch a performance here if you can, otherwise just marvel at its grand façade from the outside.

 

Vietnam, Hanoi, House

 

#10 Check out Some of the Museums

Another one of the top things to do in Hanoi if you’re looking for a culture fix is head to one or several of this city’s excellent museums… and there’s quite a lot to choose from.

From the Museum of Ethnology to the Vietnamese Women’s Museum, the Fine Arts Museum to the Military History Museum, take your pick from these favourites, or several others, depending on your interests.

 

#11 Eat at a Rooftop Restaurant

Vietnam, Hanoi, Old Quarter

Even though we’ve already got through 10 things to do in Hanoi, it’s now we come to really important one – something you literally cannot come to Vietnam and not do.

And that is eat!

And Hanoi is probably one of the best places to enjoy just that!

There’s absolutely loads of street food, which we’ll get on to, but honestly one of the quintessential things to do in this city is head out to a great restaurant and enjoy the rooftop views many of them have.

As a vegetarian, I am always keen to find some good veggie / vegan options when I travel and I’m delighted to say Hanoi did not disappoint!

Jalus Vegan Restaurant, Minh Chay Nha, Lantern Lounge and Hanoi Social Club were all favourites of mine, which vary in their authenticity and ambience but all delivered some great food!

 

#12 Enjoy a Food Tour

Vietnam, Hanoi, Street Food

Otherwise, if you really want to keep it local on the street food vibes and, let’s be honest you probably should, taking a food tour in Hanoi is an absolute must.

Whether walking, cycling or biking, there’s some great options around and here’s my pick of the bunch…

#1 Half-Day Hanoi Foodie Tour by Motorbike

#2 Ho Chi Minh City Food by Night: Private Motorbike Tour

#3 Hanoi Walking Street Food Tour & Cyclo

#4 Hanoi Street Food: Small-Group Walking Tour

#5 Hanoi: Guided Street Food Tour

#6 Hanoi Food on Foot: Walking Tour of Hanoi Old Quarter

 

Vietnam, Hanoi, Street Snacks

#13 Get to the Famous Train Street

It’s a tourist trap, but you can’t miss it.

Yes the famous train street in Hanoi, where a train literally hurtles down a narrow street, inches from people’s front doors is an absolute Hanoi classic and one you should certainly see.

Similar to the Maeklong Railway, just outside Bangkok in Thailand, timing your visit right to arrive before the spectacle begins is key to appreciating this feat of engineering!

 

#14 Day Trip to Ninh Binh

Vietnam, Phong Nha, Oxalis Start

And finally, as we near the end of this list, I couldn’t help but mention a couple of excellent day trips on this list of the best thing to do in Hanoi.

A great day trip that will take you out of the city to one of Vietnam’s most picturesque areas, heading on a highly-rated organised day trip to see the temples, caves and lakes of the Ninh Binh area is a must –  it’s definitely one of the top places to visit in Vietnam.

 

#15 Day Trip to Halong Bay

Vietnam, Lan Ha Bay, Flags

And then last but not least, if you come to Hanoi, you can’t miss the opportunity to visit one of the wonders of the world, Halong Bay.

If you’re pushed for time, then a great option is to enjoy a day trip out here – of course it won’t give you the full experience of staying overnight and cruising, but it’s better than nothing and it’s certainly better for your budget!

This top rated day tour comes highly recommended, otherwise if you want to do it yourself on a budget, check out this article I wrote for the full lowdown on how.

 

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How to Get to Hanoi

Vietnam, Hanoi, Man with Fish

Hanoi has one of Vietnam’s main international airports, so if you’re coming from overseas, flying straight into Hanoi is totally possible.

As always, I use Skyscanner to find the best flight deals.

If you’re coming from elsewhere in Southeast Asia, especially a neighbouring country such as Laos, you can also use buses to get to Hanoi – which run regularly from Luang Prabang, although they do take a long time!

When I’m trying to compare and book buses across Southeast Asia, I always use 12Go, who offer secure and easy booking in English.

If you’re arriving into Hanoi from Vietnam, you can also use 12Go to book your bus here too.

 

When to Visit HanoiVietnam, Hanoi, Cafe

As I’ve spoken about in many of my posts about Vietnam, including this one on the 15 things to know before you travel Vietnam, this country has a vast range of temperatures and climates due to its long, narrow shape.

The change between the south of the country and the north, in particular, is quite substantial and when it’s the best time to visit one end, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a great time to visit the other.

In general however, the shoulder seasons of Spring and Autumn are the best time to visit Hanoi and the north of Vietnam. These generally include the months of March and April as well as September and November.

 

How Long to Spend in Hanoi

Vietnam, Hanoi, Motorbike

It might sound strange, but I honestly think 2 days is more than enough to see Hanoi.

This isn’t really a city with huge amounts of sights, so the main thing to do here is to really absorb the ambiance, wander its streets and take in the sights, sounds, smells and tastes.

As such, I really think 2 nights in this city is another to get a good flavour and, as there’s so many places to explore in Vietnam and you’re likely to be quite short on time, keeping it short and sweet in Hanoi makes sense!

 

Where to Stay in Hanoi

Vietnam, Hanoi, Temple Offerings

There’s no question in my mind, you really should stay in the Old Quarter in Hanoi.

This is the epicentre of the city and although it’s where most tourists base themselves, it’s still incredibly genuine and authentic – the best place to get amongst Hanoi in all her glory.

When it comes to budget travel accommodation, I really recommend Hanoi Culture Hostel, which has a superb location in the Old Quarter, is a lovely modern and clean hostel, which even boasts an indoor pool!

If you’re looking for something more private, but still reasonably priced, then I highly suggest checking out rental properties in Hanoi.

VRBO are my go-to website for booking apartments, houses around the world, and this 3 bedroom modern property in Hanoi is perfect for families and groups who want a relaxed and comfortable stay.

 

Top 5 Packing Items for Vietnam

Vietnam, Hanoi, Food Stall

#1 Lonely Planet Guidebook – The Vietnam Lonely Planet is excellent and very helpful for any trip to this country with lots of top tips and recommended places to eat.

#2 Walking Shoes – There’s likely to be a lot of walking in Vietnam especially around those temples and cities! As such, I advise packing a pair of good runners, like these New Balance trainers, which were perfect for my time here.

#3 European & British Power Adapters – Vietnam has a mix of power outlets, but generally opts for a mix of the European and British ones, so make sure you come prepared with a Skross world adapter.

#4 Camera and Lens – I love my Sony A6000 mirrorless camera, which was ideal for capturing the colour, chaos, cuisine and charm of Vietnam.

#5 Travel Scarf – A great multi-purpose travel item that can be used to safely store valuables, as well as cover your shoulders while you explore many of Vietnam’s top sights, a travel scarf is a must for me!

 

Best Travel Insurance for Vietnam

Vietnam, Hanoi, Old Quarter Seller

I’d never consider travelling to Vietnam without proper coverage and always recommend travel insurance from World Nomads who I’ve used throughout my time in this country and beyond.

I love that they cover a wide range of adventure activities – which is definitely needed for a country like Vietnam – as well as their great customer service and the fact that you can easily claim or extend your coverage while you’re still abroad, online.

And if you’re looking for travel insurance with Covid-19 cover, then look no further than Safetywing’s great Nomad Insurance policies. These guys have you covered!

 

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So there you have it, my list of the 15 top things to do in Hanoi, as well as some useful travel tips for this city as well.

Are you planning to visit Hanoi, or perhaps you’ve already been?

If so, tell me, did you love or hate this city?

I have to say… I think I much preferred Ho Chi Minh City myself!!

 

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About the Author: Creator of Big World Small Pockets, Stephanie Parker is a budget travel addict! Originally from Jersey in the Channel Islands, Stephanie backpacks the world collecting tips, advice and stories, to share with a smile .

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