The vibrant yet ancient capital, Hanoi is situated on the banks of the stunning Red River. This spectacular French-colonial city is a combination of a buzzing city centre and a tranquil countryside. From French-colonial architecture and exquisite museums to beautiful parks, vibrant villages and majestic mountains, there’s plenty to see and do here, and the friendly multi-cultural community is the cherry on the top.
Population: 7.7 million
Vibe: Frenetic, electric, & hectic - with winding avenues, yelling hawkers, speeding scooters, steaming street food, hidden temples, and piping hot coffee.
Known As: The current capital of Vietnam and previously the capital of communist North Vietnam (from 1954 - 1976).
Must Do: Take a wander through Hanoi's Old City and see the marriage of Vietnamese and French culture and architecture - just allow yourself to get lost. Adventures await!
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
Explore the Old Quarter
Most visitors centre their time around Hanoi’s Old Quarter, which has most of the tourist sites and the backpacker districts, but still retains an air of the ‘authentic’ Hanoi. Traditionally, the 36 streets and guilds of the Old Quarter were named after what the artisans sold there, so that you now encounter avenues whose names translate to ‘Jam Street,’ ‘Silver Street,’ ‘Noodle Street,’ etc. Though not all of the old-fashioned industries remain, you can still go for a wander and distinctly see where ‘Baking Supplies’ Street ends and ‘LED Lighting’ Street begins. Because of these old guilds, Hanoi’s Old Quarter lends itself beautifully to long, exploratory walks. If you get hungry, there’s always a woman in a conical hat walking down the street with street snacks piled high in a bamboo basket. It’s just that picturesque!
Hoan Kiem lake
One of Hanoi’s most famous sites is the Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Restored Sword). Legend has it that Emperor Ly Thai To was given a magical sword which he used to protect Vietnam from China. After the battle a giant golden turtle took the sword back to the bottom of the lake to return it to the Dragon King. Keep an eye out for the large soft-shell turtles which can be found in the lake and if you're taking an early morning stroll, you'll see local residents practising t’ai chi on the shore. Cross the Huc bridge to Jade Island to see the Ngoc Son Temple suspended over Hoan Kiem lake.
Water Puppet Theatre
After sightseeing, make sure you attend a Water Puppet Theatre show by Hoan Kiem lake, as the performances in Hanoi are rated as the best in the country. This unique, Vietnamese form of entertainment goes back to the 11th century and comes from a time where people in flooded villages would make the best of their situation by creating entertaining shows with puppets and making them dance on the water.
Street Food Tour
Several companies offer street food tours so if you're a bit of a foodie this will be right up your alley! It's a great way to try new foods you wouldn't usually try or didn't even know existed! Ha Food Tours is a locally run company that know all the best spots to indulge.
Experience the sights, smells and tastes of Hanoi on the back of a motorcycle with a Driver Guide, or ride your own. It's a great way to see more of the city than just the regular tourist sites. Hanoi Backstreet tours even do a half day motorbike tour combined with a food tour! Get riding!
Dong Xuan Market
If you're in need of a new pair of sunglasses, a knock-off Hugo Boss shirt or a few souvenirs to take home, you're sure to find it in one of the shops over several floors at the Dong Xuan Market. It's open every day from 6am - 7pm.
Weekend Night Market
In the heart of the Old Quarter, running down Hang Dao you'll find the night market every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night from 7pm. Here you'll find all sorts of clothes, knock off electronics and souvenirs.
The French Quarter
Wander the tree-lined streets around the elegant French Quarter and admire the beautiful architecture. This is a popular spot for wedding photos and you're likely to see a few bridal parties celebrating their big day. The centre piece of the French Quarter is the Hanoi Opera House.
The Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature is a beautiful, garden filled university where ambitious young scholars crammed from as early as 1070 AD, just a half hour walk west of Hoan Kiem Lake.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
At Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum you can pay your respects to an embalmed Ho Chi Minh along with throngs of other residents. Ho Chi Minh is revered as Vietnam's greatest leader.
While technically not in Hanoi, it would be amiss to not mention Halong Bay as the tours out to Halong Bay begin in Hanoi. If you're in Hanoi don't miss the chance to get out to Halong Bay. You'll be blown away by over 2000 stunning rock formations rising up out of the blue water, peppered with traditional junk boats. Kayak the lagoons, explore hidden caves, relax on beautiful beaches and try your hand at squid fishing. There are many tours to choose from but it's important to remember when it comes to Halong Bay tours, what you pay for is what you get. V Spirit offer good quality and a good value experience.
EATING AND DRINKING
Hanoi specialises in the curious ‘egg coffee,’ known in Vietnamese as ca phe trung and in English as ‘heart attack deluxe.’ It's a mix of coffee with condensed milk and a deliciously frothed egg cream - and so worth it! The best place to get egg coffee according to the locals, is a tiny cafe called Dinh Coffee. The entrance is right opposite Hoan Kiem Lake however you wouldn't know it. Enter a dark corridor at 13Dinh Tien Hoang, between two shops, walk down the corridor and up the stairs on your right to the second floor. Here you'll find locals and a few savvy tourists enjoying some of the most delicious egg coffee around! Try it!
And don’t forget the nightlife at the end of the day - Hanoi doesn’t shy from Vietnam’s tradition of fresh brewed beer, known as bia hoi, available most places very cheap! Plot up on a tiny plastic seat on Bia Hoi Corner (at the intersection of Luong Ngoc Quyen and Ta Hien Streets in the Old Quarter) and enjoy a drink with tourists and locals alike.
Travel tip for beer enthusiasts: The "bia hoi" is brewed and delivered to bars daily. Every region has its own blend, so taste your way through the country with some Vietnamese beers.
Vietnam has also progressed into the world of craft beer with Pasteur Street Brewing Company popping up next to St Joseph's cathedral in Hanoi and at other destinations around Vietnam.
If you're more of a dessert person than a beer drinker, the locals rave about Trang Tien Ice Cream, just set back from Hoan Kiem Lake. They serve Vietnamese style ice cream which might be a little different to what you're used to at home, but definitely worth a try!
WHERE STRAY STAYS
Cocoon Inn Hostel
Freestyle Tours (Shared)
Old Quarter , 116-118, 118 Hàng Buồm,
Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội 100000, Vietnam
View in Google Maps
Centrally located in the Old Quarter, this clean, modern hostel offers comfy beds and individual lamp and plug sockets with privacy curtains and key card lockers. They have great common spaces and facilities such as a roof terrace, a bar, coffee house and minimart on site. They offer walking tours, movie nights and the friendly staff are always happy to help.
Hanoi Legend Hotel
Freestyle Tours (Twin, triple and quadruple rooms)
47 Luong Ngoc Quyen Street
View in Google Maps
Tel: +84 98 258 8680
Buzzing scooters, vibrant temples, winding alleyways and a veritable army of food hawkers criss-crossing the streets make Hanoi one of Vietnam’s most energetic cities.