Hanoi is one of the most vibrant cities in the world and within minutes of setting foot in the city, you’ll feel instantly captivated by its seemingly non-stop nature and bustling feel. It was once said that you’ll remember Hanoi for a lifetime, and it won’t remember you for a second, and after a few days in Hanoi, you’ll understand why! The constant sensory stimulus and things as simple as crossing the road being an event won’t be for everyone, but for others, you’ll instantly fall in love with everything Hanoi has to offer.
Our guide below will help you get your head around this bold city and give you some suggestions of the best things to do in Hanoi for a truly unforgettable experience.
Things to do in Hanoi
Hanoi seems to be pretty much always on, no matter what time of day you’re there, you’ll always find something to do, and something vying for your attention. If you’re looking for unique and unforgettable things to do in Hanoi, Vietnam that will also give you a more authentic experience, these 14 suggestions will give you a starting point. Of course, these suggestions only just scratch the surface, and simply spending some time walking around and going where looks interesting will lead you to discover the city more like a local too.
1. Walk Around Hoan Kiem Lake
Walking around Hoan Kiem Lake, a natural freshwater lake in the heart of the city is without a doubt one of the best things to do in Hanoi. It’s also known as Luc Thuy Lake (Emerald Lake) due to its year-round green color. The lake is at the intersect between numerous popular streets in the Old Quarter which you’ll no doubt spend quite a lot of time exploring. Hoan Kiem Lake can give you a sense of peace amongst an otherwise busy city and you can expect to see Tai Chi sessions, performance artists and families simply enjoying their time.
There are also lots of exceptional restaurants nearby, shopping centers and weekend activities, so it’s always busy. It’s easy to reach Hoan Kiem Lake by foot from most hotels in the Old Quarter and by bike, taxi etc from other areas. If you want some of the best views of the lake, where you can see Ngoc Son Temple, head to near the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, where the view of the Temple is just in front of you.
How to find Hoan Kiem Lake, Vietnam:
2. Visit the Old Quarter
Think bustling streets with everything you can imagine on sale from food to homewares, to textiles and art as well as buildings decorated with street art, the Old Quarter should absolutely be at the top of your list when visiting Hanoi. One of the best things to do in Hanoi Old Quarter is to just walk around and take it all in. If you’re staying at a hotel in the Old Quarter, you have a head start, but it is also easily reachable on foot from other areas or by taxi. We’d suggest walking from anywhere in the Old Quarter down to Hoan Kiem Lake, taking in the various little boutiques and street sellers along the way, as well as trying some of the food and drink offerings from the local specialty street food vendors.
Some of the best streets to check out are Hang Dao Street, Hang Duong Street, Hang Ma Street and Hang Bac Street. A word of warning – keep your eyes peeled for mopeds!
How to find Hanoi Old Quarter:
3. Indulge in Hanoi’s Foodie Scene
Hanoi is well known for its foodie scene – and offers a whole range of food for all tastes and budgets. Hanoi, and Northern Vietnamese food is unique in that it takes a lot of elements from other areas of Vietnam and makes its own special thing. Expect for dishes to be lighter and more fragrant; making use of fresh herbs and spicier than some of the dishes you may expect to find in the South. The food in Hanoi is delicious and its inexpensive nature means it’s possible to eat out every meal of your trip and try some of the best food Hanoi has to offer. Quite simply, eating is one of the very best things to do in Hanoi, it’s just so good!
You’ll find street food sellers offering grab and go as well or little sit-down areas as well as more traditional sit down restaurants and some of the biggest, most choice laden buffets you could ever experience here.
Some of the most popular foods in Hanoi are Pho (pronounced ‘fuh’) the traditional noodle soup usually involving chicken (Ga), Beef (Bo) or Tofu, Banh Mi, Nem (Spring rolls) and Summer Rolls, amongst a huge array of others. It’s also extremely possible to eat vegan and vegetarian in Hanoi as there is a big Buddhist population. Look for dishes or places marked as ‘chay’ meaning vegan or ‘an chay’ which means you eat vegetarian food the same way Vietnamese Buddhists do, which is usually vegan. Some notable restaurants to try out are:
- Katze, Old Quarter: Offering homestyle cooking, the traditional way
- Veggie Castle: Offering healthy and hearty food in the form of an extremely reasonably priced buffet
- Huong Thien: Two floor restaurant offering hearty and healthy buffet style food
- Uu Dam Chay: Luxurious Restaurant, higher end
- Banh Mi 25: One of the most iconic Banh Mi Places in Hanoi
4. Try an Authentic Banh Mi
One of the best comfort foods you can ever imagine: the Banh Mi. An ever-popular dish in Vietnam and an iconic street food of Hanoi. You’ve likely tried a Banh Mi before, but nothing compares to the authentic taste of a Banh Mi here, and trying one is one of the best things to do in Hanoi, Vietnam. Crispy, warm, pillowy bread, filled with fresh crunchy veg, herbs, chili and the protein of your choice. It’s a culinary combination of two cuisines and a great example of how food is tied to history and culture. Taking it’s starts from French Colonialism; the Banh Mi is a signifier of modern Vietnam.
The Banh Mi is often eaten for breakfast and is seen as a cheap, filling street food and there are some great places to check out in the city for this delicious bite. Banh Mi 25 in the Old Quarter has a cult following, as does Banh Mi Hoi An. Whilst these places have vegan and vegetarian options, if you’re looking for somewhere exclusively vegan, try Banh Mi Vegan.
5. Get Involved in Hanoi’s Art Scene
Hanoi has a bustling art scene, and spend any time walking around the Old Quarter down towards Hoan Kiem Lake and you’ll see a lot of impressive street art that is begging to be explored in more detail. However, this isn’t all that Hanoi has to offer those with a creative eye. There are plenty of small galleries (such as the Nguyen Art Gallery) of local artists and traditional crafts to check out around this area too, but there is also an interesting collective of artists working in Hanoi who both show their work – mixing modern art with traditional techniques.
A great way to indulge in the art scene Hanoi has to offer is by taking a class – many of these being offered to learn silk painting in calm and relaxed settings with locals and international travelers alike. Hanoi Art Tours offers interesting looks into the art scene of Hanoi and you can often find workshops happening near or around the Temple of Literature (you’ll find notices and leaflets advertising events happening locally), which is well worth exploring in its own right.
6. Visit The Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature is one of the most impressive buildings and significant cultural landmarks in the area and is one of the best unique things to do in Hanoi. Not only is it stunning to look around, but it is also significant in that it was founded in 1070 and then became the first university in Vietnam until it was later closed after being open for over 700 years due to colonialism. You only need an hour to look around, and it provides a great, calming respite from the bustle of the city close by. It’s very popular to visit, so we recommend going earlier on in the day. For more information on opening hours and up to date costs, visit their website here.
How to find The Temple of Literature:
7. Take an Overnight Trip to Ha Long Bay
Whilst not technically in the city, a trip to Hanoi wouldn’t be complete without exploring the magnificent Ha Long Bay. This area is one of the most unforgettable things to do in Hanoi. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it isn’t hard to see why – it is absolutely beautiful. Ha Long Bay itself can be very touristy and busy – you’ll notice when you take a tour that you will not be the only people there – and it is possible to visit the lesser seen Bai Tu Long Bay instead. Depending on the tour you take, you can visit here instead, and it takes the same route at the beginning before turning off in a different direction.
You can only visit Ha Long Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay through a tour, as much of this area is heavily protected, and there are a whole range of tours on offer from a number of companies. You can take day tours, overnights and longer tours on small, medium or larger boats (often referred to as traditional junks). It takes about 3 hours by car to get to Ha Long Bay where you’ll board your boat, and most tours will collect you from Hanoi.
Tours can really vary in price, from group tours to individual charters. For the most authentic experiences, we’d recommend booking with Origin Vietnam, who offer individually planned and curated experiences, off the beaten track adventures and local guides who give you an insight you likely wouldn’t get otherwise.
8. Visit Hanoi Train Street Differently
Train Street has become one of the top things to do in Hanoi in recent years. A long street with a still functioning train that passes through the narrow street at various points in the day has had tourists hooked. The idea that you can go sit and have a drink in one of the cafes along the street is a sheer draw. However, it has become contentious in recent times and many of the locals to the area are becoming increasingly worried and distraught about the actions of some tourists, usually not realizing just how dangerous this street can be. Because it has become so popular, it attracts a lot of people and problems with crowding have happened and have made the experience less safe.
It is still possible to take in this experience but do it in a different way, and you can still get a feel for the interesting scenes of life along the train tracks. Many access points to Train Street itself are closed off and heavily guarded, apart from to residents, but step away from these touristy areas and you’ll see that it’s possible to experience a similar feel from different areas. For example, the train areas run very close to Banh Mi 25, where you can take a peek without the worry of recent events.
9. Enjoy a Hanoi Water Puppet Show
The Thang Long Water Puppet show is such a fun thing to do and one we’d recommend to anyone visiting Hanoi, especially if this is your first time. The charming show has been going since 1969 and is now seen as one of the leading arts and cultural hotspots in the city. Each showing lasts about 50 minutes and there are various showings on throughout the day and into the evening.
It’s a fantastic way to enjoy ancient art – water puppetry is very traditional in Vietnam and is tied to the cultural identity very strongly. It has been practiced for over a thousand years and the plays performed by the talented artists in each show are based on myths and legends in Vietnamese history.
How to find the Hanoi Water Puppet Show:
10. Peruse the Hanoi Night Market
The Night Market in Hanoi is a market situated in the Old Quarter and is always bustling and full of energy – it’s a great thing to do in Hanoi at night. Here you’ll find all sorts of trinkets, crafts, painted goods as well as clothes and everything in-between. You’ll also likely find sellers offering kumquat iced tea and fruit dipped in chili powder. There’s also a big focus on barbeque- where you can choose skewers already pre prepared with different meats, fish and vegetables as well as tofu to be griddled and served with different sauces and dips. The Hanoi Night Market is on every weekend from Friday to Sunday, 6pm until 12am, but it’s always best to head down later after about 8pm to get the best atmosphere.
How to find Hanoi Night Market:
11. Learn to Cross the Road
One of the most unique things to do in Hanoi is learn to cross the road again! In fact, you can always tell the people who may have arrived just yesterday because of their hesitation to cross the road and those that have been there longer by their confidence. This might seem like a strange thing to add into a guide to Hanoi, but you’ll soon see why. The traffic in Hanoi is intense, and you’ll find mopeds, motorbikes, rickshaws heavily congesting the streets pretty much from the moment you wake up until you go to sleep (and whilst you sleep, too).
There aren’t really many crosswalks in Hanoi, especially in the Old Quarter, so you need to cross the road by weaving in and out of the traffic. This may sound scary at first, but just watch how the locals do it and you’ll soon see that the best way is to walk very slowly so that the bikes can weave around you. Certainly an experience you won’t forget in a hurry!
12. Try Vietnamese Coffee
The coffee culture in Vietnam is pretty strong – if you like good coffee then you’ll really want to try a Vietnamese Coffee. If you love espresso, then Vietnamese Coffee will give you what you’re looking for as it’s really strong and aromatic. There are so many different options to try, making use of yoghurt, butter, coconut, egg coffee, condensed milk and drip coffee. It can be extremely sweet, but the aroma and the whole experience (especially if you try one from a street seller) is a fantastic, unique thing to do when visiting Hanoi.
13. Visit the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and Saint Joseph’s Cathedral
If you want to learn more about Vietnamese history, culture and its religious aspects, check out some of the museum and architectural offerings Hanoi has in abundance. We’ve added these together as you can do these activities in a day. You’ll get to see some iconic places on this mini tour, but be aware, you’ll need to make sure you have your legs and arms covered to visit some of them – especially the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. You can find out up to date opening times and entry costs for each location via the websites we’ve listed below.
14. Indulge in a Hanoi Cooking Class
With food being such a big part of the culture in Hanoi, and so many of the flavors being perfect balances of unique ingredients you may not have experienced back home, a cooking class can be a great way to get a real feel for the food you’re trying out in Hanoi, and allow you to take home some of your newly learned skills in order to recreate your favorite dishes.
There are so many cooking classes on offer in Hanoi, some which will take you for a market visit (which we highly recommend) as well as ones that take place in small home stays or similar. It’s also possible to organize individual cookery classes one on one if that’s more your thing. You can find a whole range of classes available from the likes of Trip Advisor, and other reputable tour operators.
Best Travel Tips for Hanoi, Vietnam
Vietnam may be unlike anywhere you’ve ever visited before, it’s unique, it’s vibrant and there is a lot to see and do. Below, we’ve outlined some of our key travel tips for visiting Hanoi to help you have the best experience and make some incredible memories.
How to Get to Hanoi
Hanoi has one main airport serving it – Noi Bai International. Being the capital, there are international flights departing and arriving every day and it’s easy to get to Hanoi from a huge variety of places around the world. You may find you cannot fly directly and need to fly in from a connecting flight (Doha, for example is a main hub for flights into Asia).
From the airport, the easiest way to get into Hanoi is by taxi. Uber works in Hanoi, but you can also usually pick up a taxi from the front of the airport and they run on a meter, which isn’t expensive.
What is the Weather Like in Hanoi?
The weather in Hanoi, and the North of Vietnam can be extremely different from the weather in the South and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). The best time to visit is ideally between October and April, but this will depend on where else you plan to visit in Vietnam as well. Be sure to read our guide on the best time to visit Vietnam to help you plan accordingly with the rest of your trip.
How to Get Around Hanoi
There are three main ways to get around Hanoi, these are:
One of the easiest ways to travel around Hanoi is by taxi – these are very reasonably priced and can sometimes be the cheapest option aside from walking. Uber works in Hanoi, which is a great way to be able to travel cashless and know exactly what you’re spending. You can also hail a cab on the street, and usually pay in cash for these. There are always plenty of taxis around so you should never be waiting long.
If you’re able, exploring Hanoi on foot and walking is a great way to discover the city – especially in the Old Quarter, it can actually be easier than taking a cab, and sometimes take less time too. Whilst the city is big, the main areas you’ll want to explore are generally quite concentrated, so walking is a really viable option.
You’ll see lots of rickshaws being pedaled around Hanoi, and this is also a pretty viable mode of transport around the city – though it is certainly the more touristy option, and you’ll likely pay over the odds for it. You can also use the Grab app to get rides both in cars and on bikes to your destination too.
How Many Days Should I Spend in Hanoi?
Whilst you could spend a good long while in Hanoi, between 6-7 days will give you enough time to explore everything. Some guides will say that 4 days is enough, but this doesn’t give you the opportunity to really immerse yourself and just feels like you’re dashing from one place to another trying to tick things off as quickly as possible. Give yourself a bit longer and take some time for spontaneity. 5 days will give you enough if you are shorter on time, but you may have to decide which places are most important to you to explore.
Enjoy Hanoi, Vietnam
As you can see, there is so much to explore in Hanoi, and you could spend a really long time just taking in everything this incredible city has to offer. Hanoi will stay in your memories for a long time. Some people will say you either love it or hate it, but if you allow yourself to get swept along by everything going on and really get into the moment, you’re sure to love it.
We hope our guide has given you some ideas for what Hanoi has to offer, and some off the beaten track suggestions too. So, whether you’re visiting Hanoi as a spring board for a bigger trip to Vietnam or visiting the city alone, we hope you enjoy it to its fullest.