30 years ago you couldn’t visit Hanoi without being trailed by a government agent. The locals were too afraid to mingle with foreigners in case the government thought they were a spy. These days, the people in Hanoi are much friendlier and Vietnam is fast becoming a hotspot with plenty of things to do in Hanoi for visitors.
Hanoi is changing at a rapid pace and is a vibrant city with a younger demographic. Check out our list of places to visit in Hanoi and sample Hanoi itinerary.
- Things to do in Hanoi
- 1- Ride a cyclo through Hanoi’s Old Quarter
- 2- Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
- 3- Learn about history at Ho Chi Minh’s bunker
- 4- Explore the Temple of Literature
- 5- Attend a Thang Long Water Puppet show
- 6- Go shopping in Hanoi
- 7- Eat Hanoi street food
- 8- Learn to cross the street
- 9- Have a cocktail at the Hanoi Press Club
- 10- Do some tai chi at Hoan Kiem Lake
- 11- Visit the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
- 12- Attend a Cooking Class
- 13- Visit the Hanoi Flower Market
- 14- Enjoy Hanoi nightlife
- 15- See a show at the Hanoi Opera House
- Day trips from Hanoi
- Hanoi Itinerary
- Best area to stay in Hanoi
- How to get to Hanoi
Things to do in Hanoi
1- Ride a cyclo through Hanoi’s Old Quarter
When visiting Hanoi you must make time to wander around the old quarter.
Although Hanoi’s old quarter can be negotiated on foot, it’s more fun to ride through the narrow streets on a three-wheeled bicycle-powered rickshaw.
Elderly riders pedal many of these rickshaws and are experts at pointing out the best Hanoi attractions. Most riders may not speak a great deal of English but hiring them as your defacto Hanoi tour guide is a fun way to explore the city.
The old quarter is a chaotic maze of ancient merchant shophouses dating back nearly five hundred years.
Some of the tall skinny buildings have evolved from small market stalls that grew upwards and backwards.
Most date back to the 15th century and – as a result of strict street-frontage and inheritance taxes – are very narrow, only two meters wide.
Street names reflect a time when the area was divided up amongst the thirty-six artisan guilds and even today, many streets are still dedicated to those original crafts or their modern equivalents.
2- Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
To get a deeper look into Hanoi’s soul, it’s important to visit the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, an austere Hanoi must-see monument that houses the embalmed corpse of Ho Chi Minh, the late Vietnamese communist hero who died in 1969.
The monument is one of the top Hanoi tourist spots for the Vietnamese people.
It draws hordes of out-of-town Vietnamese who see this as a real honour to pay their respects to Uncle Ho each time they visit Vietnam’s capital.
Smartly attired army guards usher guests into the mausoleum, where stern-faced soldiers glare at anyone who whispers.
If you forget to remove your cap or sunglasses you’ll get a pretty stern dressing down.
3- Learn about history at Ho Chi Minh’s bunker
One of the top places to visit in Hanoi is Ho Chi Minh’s house, which is a modest, two-storey villa on the same grounds as the grander French colonial-style building that was the former Presidential Palace.
Ho was a man of simple tastes who refused to live in the luxurious home that was the former residence of the governors-general of French Indochina.
4- Explore the Temple of Literature
Another landmark in Hanoi is the Temple of Literature, which was founded in 1070 as a Confucian temple.
In 1076, the temple became Vietnam’s first university, the Quoc Tu Giam (or National University) where Vietnam’s mandarin class was educated.
The names of the graduates of the university are carved onto stone steles placed on top of stone turtles.
You’ll find that this Hanoi attraction is a popular stop on most organised tours.
5- Attend a Thang Long Water Puppet show
A tour of Hanoi’s old quarter should end at the Thang Long Water Puppet theatre, where musicians dressed in traditional Vietnamese costumes blow on bamboo flutes, pull on strangely shaped stringed instruments, and beat on bronze drums, gongs and xylophones.
Accompanying this strange cacophony of sounds is a water puppet performance where ducks, snakes and dragons flit above and below the water in a nimble water ballet.
Tales of dragons and kings, fishing villagers and old Vietnamese legends transcend language barriers as the submerged puppeteers control the puppets from behind the screen.
Seeing a puppet show should go on your list of things to do in Hanoi at night.
6- Go shopping in Hanoi
Make some time on your Hanoi itinerary to go shopping in Hanoi. In the old quarter, there are streets with silverwork shops, bamboo shops and shoe stores.
One street has nothing but cramped shop-front kiosks selling silk clothing packed up high to the rafters.
Another street has rows of funeral and festival shops full of bright red banners and incense sticks.
Women hawkers wearing traditional wide-brimmed hats balance heavy shoulder-carriers filled with vegetables or bread.
After a day of sightseeing around Hanoi, a fun thing to do in Hanoi at night is to hit the shops.
7- Eat Hanoi street food
You won’t have trouble finding a Hanoi restaurant that dishes up fresh, tasty and inexpensive Vietnamese food.
One of the fun things to do in Hanoi is to eat at a roadside coffee shop as local cafes are good places to meet the locals and people watch.
You’ll see locals squatting on low plastic seats by the side of the road, helping themselves to piles of steaming rice, fresh vegetables and bubbling noodle soups.
It’s easy enough to walk around and sample fresh tasty food on your own. Here’s a Hanoi food guide with a list of good places to eat.
Another great way to learn a bit more about local food is to join a Hanoi street food walking tour where a local Hanoi guide will explain the various dishes.
8- Learn to cross the street
The roads in Hanoi are quite an attraction. Pedestrians navigate the city streets on foot, walking in a trance while motorbikes and cars veer around them.
Join them if you dare! If you’re too chicken, a Hanoi tour guide can be a great help when crossing the streets on foot.
The motorbikes carry an assortment of riders – girls in traditional flowing ao dai dress, families wearing face masks and even a man with his two pet Alsatians – all of which add to Hanoi’s character.
9- Have a cocktail at the Hanoi Press Club
The Hanoi Press Club is another charming throwback from the colonial era with interiors reminiscent of the 1920’s.
It’s easy to imagine Hanoi’s French colonial masters lounging around in comfortable armchairs, cigars in hand.
These days, it serves as an upmarket lunch destination for expatriates and visitors. It’s a good spot to check out when planning a trip to Vietnam.
10- Do some tai chi at Hoan Kiem Lake
One of the top things to do in Hanoi if you’re an early riser is to join the locals for a jog, a walk or some tai chi around Hoan Kiem Lake.
Wedged between Hanoi’s busiest commercial streets, Hoan Kiem Lake provides a venue for joggers and tai chi practitioners during the early hours of the morning.
At this early hour the Ngoc Son Pagoda, which is situated on an islet linked to the shore by an arched bridge on the lake’s northeastern corner takes on an air of tranquillity that was common before the onslaught of motorbikes invaded the city.
11- Visit the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is a UNESCO World Heritage site that was the political hub of ancient Hanoi and the capital of Vietnam for eight centuries.
Built in the 11th century, by the rulers of the Ly Viet Dynasty, the site has palaces, roads and other structures.
There’s also an archaeological dig on the site. It’s one of the Hanoi sightseeing places where you can learn a bit more about history at your own pace.
12- Attend a Cooking Class
Learning to make your own spring rolls or Vietnamese pho is one of the things to do in Hanoi that you’ll remember long after your trip.
Discovering the delights of Vietnamese food (and Hanoi food, in particular, is full of flavour).
Most Hanoi cooking classes also include a market tour where you’ll get to find out first hand where to buy fresh local ingredients.
13- Visit the Hanoi Flower Market
If you’re keen on photography, one of the best Hanoi sights to photograph is the Hanoi Flower Market.
The ocean of flower sellers and colourful flowers at the Quang An Flower market is a fabulous sight.
The atmosphere is vibrant and it’s a snippet of life in Hanoi that is charged with energy.
14- Enjoy Hanoi nightlife
As the Hanoi population is skewed towards a younger generation, there are lots of cool Hanoi nightlife spots. Hanoi is a 24-hour city, where shops, bars, pubs and restaurants are open late at night.
Drink locally brewed beer in a roadside cafe at Bia Hoi Corner in the Old Quarter while perched on a low plastic stool. That’s the way the locals do it!
For more sophisticated Hanoi night life, go bar hopping on Ta Hien Street, Bao Khanh and Luong Ngoc Quyen Streets.
15- See a show at the Hanoi Opera House
Admiring the architecture of the Hanoi Opera house is one of the popular things to do in Hanoi. Built by Vietnam’s French colonial masters, the Hanoi Opera House is the loveliest European building in Hanoi.
Its grand French neoclassical design, with wrought iron balconies, shutters and friezes is a reminder of Hanoi’s French legacy.
The building took 10 years to complete, between 1901 to 1911. There’s a programme of Vietnamese and Western opera, ballet and music performances.
Seeing a show in the Opera House is one of the cool Hanoi attractions.
Day trips from Hanoi
16- Perfume pagoda in Huong Tich Mountains
Discover the serenity of the Perfume Pagoda, which is a sprawling Buddhist temple complex dug into the limestone cliffs of the Huong Tich mountains.
A visit to these stunning mountains is the chance to stretch the legs while hiking, float in a boat and see ancient pagodas and temples.
The two-hour drive to Perfume Pagoda, which is 60km southwest of Hanoi, reveals scenes of rural Vietnam. But don’t try to explore this area independently as it’s not easy to get to.
Trek up the mountain to Huong Tich Cave or you can cheat and take the cable car!
17- Visit the ancient capital of Hoa Lu
The ancient capital of Hoa Lu in Ninh Binh province is an adventure back into Vietnamese history. Hoa Lu was the Dinh Dynasty capital of Vietnam for 41 years, from 968 to 1009.
King Dinh Tien Hoang is a romantic figure in the history of Vietnam.
Being in the countryside, away from the bustling city, is an opportunity to cycle through a landscape of rice fields and paddle in a sampan to explore hidden coves and caves.
18- Cruise Halong Bay
The stunning soaring Karst rock formations and islands of Halong Bay are part of a UNESCO World Heritage worth seeing
While you can indeed travel and cruise Halong Bay as a day trip, a better option would be to take a two or three-day cruise to explore this region. Longer cruises will give you a chance to explore less visited parts of Halong Bay.
If you’re short of time, a day trip is doable. Most tours include lunch on a boat while you cruise around the bay gazing at the stunning Karst islands jutting out from the water, a tour of a floating village and a chance to explore the famous Thien Cung Cave.
The cave has magnificent chambers and is on an island where you’ll get a scenic view of the bay.
3 days in Hanoi will give you a good taste of life in Hanoi. Here’s a suggested Hanoi itinerary.
Day 1 Hanoi
Ho Chi Minh Complex including the house on stilts and One Pillar Pagoda
- Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum
- Temple of Literature
- Ethnology Museum
- Water puppet show at Thang Long
- Bar hopping around Hanoi’s Old Quarter
Day 2 Hanoi
- Hanoi Flower Market
- Tai chi with the locals at Hoan Kiem Lake
- Cyclo tour of Hanoi’s Old Quarter
- Cooking class
- Show at Hanoi Opera House
- Dinner at the Hanoi Press Club
Day 3 – Take a day trip from Hanoi
Best area to stay in Hanoi
Hoan Kiem (Hanoi City Centre)
Book a hotel in Hoan Kiem is you want to be close to Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi’s Old Quarter and the French Quarter in Hanoi.
Ba Dinh is where you’ll find key Hanoi sightseeing spots like the Temple of Literature, Presidential Palace and Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum.
How to get to Hanoi
Hanoi airport is large and modern. It’s 45km from the city and has flights from many international airlines, including Vietnam Airlines, Air Asia and Cathay Pacific.