With a place as vibrant as Hanoi, you will not be short of historic sights to explore, excellent museums to visit, dramatic shows to watch and cultural monuments to admire. With vast history and modern approach, it’s a city that’s easy to fall in love with.
The 20 Best Things to Do in Hanoi
The capital of Vietnam is one of a kind. It’s full of action, rooftop bars, gorgeous street food and zillions of bikes whizzing back and forth. And we run through it all in our best things to do in Hanoi guide right here.[Updated: December 2019 | Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links, we may receive a small commission for any purchases at no extra cost to you. Lovely.]
1. Cross the Road with Your Eyes Closed
First things first. The traffic in Hanoi is bonkers and crossing the street will feel like a mission impossible. The volume of motorbikes on the streets is huge. And before you start exploring the city, you need to master the art of road-crossing in Hanoi.
We won’t lie, it was a little bit scary the first couple of times. We waited at the pedestrian crossing or traffic lights in the hope of the traffic to stop for us. But to our dismay, we were left standing there for a long time.
This is the best advice from the locals: ‘ just close your eyes and walk’. Yikes!
You’ll just have to trust yourself and the locals to keep you alive when crossing the road. In reality, to master road crossing isn’t so hard in Hanoi. The traffic, although chaotic, is fairly slow. Gather all your confidence and bravery and start walking.
Once you step into the road, the drivers will stop or drive around you. Just keep going, don’t hesitate. Moving back and forth will only confuse the driver.
2. Take a Street Food Tour
Now you know how to safely cross the street, next up on the top things to do in Hanoi list is taking a street food tour. The city is a foodie’s heaven and if you’ve never been to Hanoi, you’ll benefit from a guided street food tour.
Street food here is amazing but not knowing what and where to eat can soon cloud your first impressions of Hanoi. Once you’ve discovered the local delights, the rest of your visit to Hanoi will be a walk in the park.
Hanoi’s Old Quarter is a buzzing place at any time of day, but it’s the most fascinating at night. And joining a street food tour by night is, hands down, one of the top things to do in Hanoi.
If you, however, venture for Vietnamese food on your own, head to the maze of the Old Quarter and a more local Do Hanh area. These are great places to visit in Hanoi for local food.
The Old Quarter will greet you with a steamy broth bubbling away in a massive pot over a fire, steaming dumplings, crispy duck and veggie spring rolls.
For breakfast in the Vietnamese capital, you will find delicious Pho Bo (beef noodles) and Pho Ga (chicken noodles) garnished with fresh cilantro, tangy Thai basil and bean sprouts.
Use the chopped fresh lime on the table to sanitise your spoons and chopsticks. That’s a top tip we picked up from the locals.
If you are unsure of all the weird dishes, look for Banh Mi. It’s a tasty Vietnamese sandwich that comes loaded with sweet, spicy, meaty or vegetarian flavours.
While visiting Hanoi, we stayed in the Do Hanh area. Here we had the pleasure of sampling some of the best Pho for breakfast, succulent beef for lunch and sip smooth Vietnamese coffee at a local cafe.
3. Immerse Into the Vietnamese Coffee & Tea Ceremony
Vietnam is the world’s second-largest coffee-producing country after Brazil. Unsurprisingly, coffee is a huge part of Vietnam’s economy and culture.
Therefore, there aren’t better things to do in Hanoi for coffee snobs other than master the art of Vietnamese coffee and tea preparation.
Join this 5-star rated Vietnamese Coffee & Tea Ceremony in Hanoi and learn coffee secrets from the French-trained coffee connoisseur right at the start of your visit to the city.
As you explore further, you’ll find Vietnamese cafes all over Hanoi. Most of them serve traditional Ca Phe Nong (black coffee), Ca Phe Sua Nong (black coffee sweetened with condensed milk) or Ca Phe Sua Da (iced coffee).
But one of the biggest Hanoi attractions is the iconic Ca Phe Trung. Invented in post-war Hanoi by Cafe Giang, the coffee is made from whisked egg, condensed milk, sugar and strong coffee.
As one of the most fun things to do in Hanoi, visit the original Cafe Giang. The two-level cafe is buzzing with locals and visitors alike sipping coffee and chatting away. It’s one of the most authentic places to visit in Hanoi for coffee lovers.
Other good coffee shops include Cafe Lam, right next door to Cafe Giang, and Cafe Pho Co. Cafe Lam is one of the oldest cafes in the city. Enjoy your favourite brew outside with the locals.
Cafe Pho Co offers beautiful panoramic views across the Hoan Kiem Lake. The cafe is hidden at the back of a shop filled with silk produce and touristy t-shirts.
Once you find your way through the souvenir jungle, order your drink at the ‘reception’ area downstairs and then head upstairs to a tranquil terrace. A lovely spot to enjoy your coffee.
Cafe Indigenous, located next to St Joseph Cathedral in the French Quarter, is very easy to miss so keep your eyes peeled. A teeny tiny coffee shop offers a nice variety of Vietnamese coffee as well as coffee-making accessories.
Another great pitstop for coffee in Hanoi is the Cong Cafe chain. You’ll find them all over Vietnam. Apart from beer and other refreshments, they serve coffee till late.
But if you want to taste really good Vietnamese coconut coffee, head to Ag Cafe.
4. Discover Hanoi’s Hidden Gems
Complete with French colonial architecture, delicious Vietnamese street food, temples and pagodas, Hanoi’s Old Quarter is the heart and soul of Vietnam’s capital.
With the original street layout still preserved and some of the iconic architecture of old Hanoi, it’s easily one of the most atmospheric places to visit in Hanoi. Come here at any time of the day and discover the old Hanoi.
Having been lost in the jungle of the Old Quarter on several occasions, we’d recommend exploring it with a local. There are so many hidden things to see and do in Hanoi’s Old Quarter that taking a walking tour is a good idea.
But if you want to test your navigation skills and explore the city on your terms, pin the below places to visit in Hanoi on your Google map right now.
5. Cross the Legendary Hoan Kiem Lake
The legendary Hoan Kiem Lake is one of the biggest Hanoi attractions in the city. It’s probably one of the most visited sites in Hanoi and probably one of the most visited places in Vietnam.
The contrast between the green lake and the luminous red bridge is staggering. You won’t find a lake as emerald green as the ‘Reclaimed Sword Lake’ anywhere else in Vietnam. But it’s not just a popular tourist attraction.
Come here early in the morning and you’ll spot Vietnamese practising Thai-chi. The afternoon at the lake is busy with tourists zooming around the lake in cyclos and motorbikes. And evenings are reserved for romantic walks.
Just like the name of the lake, the Turtle Tower, seen from a distance, is also linked to the local legend about the magic sword. But it wasn’t built until 1886, during the French occupation.
After the construction, the Turtle Tower (Thap Rua) was always seen as a symbol of unity and patriotism in Vietnam.
During the occupation, locals would repeatedly place the Vietnamese flag at the top of the tower to remind the French about their glorious leaders.
6. Visit One Pillar Pagoda
Hanoi is a city of legends and of all the legendary places to visit in Hanoi, One Pillar Pagoda is a must-see. It’s considered to be one of the most iconic Buddhist temples in Vietnam.
The construction of this Buddhist temple is based on Emperor Ly Thai Tong’s dream. The emperor was childless and dreamed of having a son. One night, he had a dream that he saw a Bodhisattva sitting on a lotus flower who handed him a son.
Soon after, the emperor married a common girl who bore him a son. And to express his gratitude he built One Pillar Pagoda in a lotus pond.
The pagoda is open daily from 7 am – 6 pm
Address: Chua Mot Cot, Doi Can, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
7. Explore The Temple of Literature
Visiting the magnificent Temple of Literature is another must-do thing in Hanoi. Also known as the temple of Confucius, it was built in 1070. Magically, despite the Vietnamese-American war, the temple managed to keep the original layout.
Home to Vietnam’s first National University, the temple comprises of 5 large walled courtyards and Altar dedicated to Confucius. There are also 116 Turtle Steles adorned with turtles and depicting the names of those who successfully passed the Royal exams.
Here, at the Imperial Academy, the Vietnamese elite was educated until 1779. Later in 1802, a new imperial academy was founded in Hue.
The temple is open from 8.30 am – 11.30 am and 1.30 pm – 4.30 pm. Closed on Mondays.
Address: 58 Quoc Tu Giam, Van Mieu, Dong Da, Hanoi
8. Feel the Magic of Perfume Pagoda
Alongside One Pillar Pagoda, Perfume Pagoda is the second most iconic place to see in Hanoi. It’s carved into the limestone Huong Tich Mountain located 60 km southwest from Hanoi.
As one of the most sacred sites in northern Vietnam, it’s believed that the 15th-century Buddhist shrine possesses miraculous powers. Pilgrims and tourists alike flock to the temple to touch the stalagmites and stalactites inside the temple for prosperity and good luck.
Perfume Pagoda is a beautiful site but it takes a little bit of effort getting to. It’s an all-day pilgrimage.
How to get to Perfume Pagoda
To reach it independently, you’ll need a car or a motorbike. Once you arrive in My Duck, you’ll need to board a small boat. Run by the local women, the boat will take you along the picturesque Yen stream.
When you reach the foot of the Mountain of the Fragrant Traces (hence the name Fragrant Pagoda), you’ll have a choice to either trek to the pagoda and then climb to the top or take a cable car.
The trek, depending on your fitness level, can take up to 1,5 hours. If you are not fond of walking long distances, take a cable car.
To take the hassle out of your day and book a full-day pilgrimage tour to Perfume Pagoda from Hanoi. Most tours will have the entrance, transport and cable car fees included in the price.
9. Walk Around the French Quarter
While the French Quarter isn’t as charming as the Old Quarter, it’s still an area worth exploring if you have some extra time.
The top things to do in the French Quarter include luxury shopping at the high-end shops, eating at French, American and European restaurants and visiting beautiful architectural monuments.
The latter include Hanoi Opera House, the beautiful 19th century St Joseph’s Cathedral, the National Museum of Vietnamese History and Hoa Lo Prison.
A walk through the backstreets will afford you views into beautiful French-style buildings adorned with flower-filled balconies. And don’t miss the earlier mentioned Cafe Indigenous right next to the cathedral. They make lovely coffee.
10. Descend Into a Secret Bunker at Hanoi Citadel
When exploring Hanoi, be sure to visit Hanoi Citadel. A visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the top things to do in Hanoi.
Recently opened to the general public, it’s a historic Hanoi attraction depicting the long lost former residence of Vietnamese monarchs.
Here, you’ll also discover the D67 bunker that was constructed in 1967 and used during the Vietnam (American) War. It was the main spot where the commanders gathered secretly to make key decisions about the conduct of their troops.
The Citadel is open from 8 am- 5 pm. Closed on Mondays
Address: 9 Hoang Dieu, Dien Bien, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi
11. Learn About the Vietnam-American War
The Military Museum is home to a collection of weapons and machinery used during the Vietnam-American war. If you want to learn more about the infamous conflict, we’d say it’s one of the must-do things in Hanoi.
Some of the highlights include seeing the American B-52 Bomber, M107 self-propelled gun, military tank and lots of propaganda. You’ll also find some other ancient artefacts unrelated to the war.
The museum is open from 8.30 am – 11 am and 1 pm – 4.30 pm Tuesday – Thursday and Saturday – Sunday. Closed on Mondays and Fridays.
Address: 28A Dien Bien Phu, Ba Dinh District Hanoi, Vietnam
12. Pay Your Respects to the Late Ho Chi Minh
Probably one of the most fascinating things to do in Hanoi is to pay your respects to the late Ho Chi Minh at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Dress modestly upon entering the mausoleum.
Located in Ba Dinh District, the resting place of the glorious Vietnamese leader was erected between 1973 and 1975 despite Ho’s humble wish to simply be cremated.
When planning our visit, remember that Ho Chi Minh’s body is shipped to Russia for further conservation for a whole month from 4 September to 4 November.
The museum is open from 7.30 am – 10.30 am Tuesdays-Thursday and from 7.30 am – 11 am Saturday – Sunday. Closed on Mondays and Fridays.
Address: 2 Hung Vuong, Dien Ban, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
13. Try Fresh Beer
You haven’t really been to Hanoi if you haven’t squatted on one of those brilliantly tiny chairs by the roadside. Or if you haven’t tried the fresh beer.
When you see locals drinking beer on the streets in Hanoi, join them. It’s most likely fresh beer, try it! It’s usually less than 3% alcohol and costs between 3,000 and 7,000 VND ($0.13 to $0.30) per glass. Sometimes cheaper than water!
Mixing with the local crowd and tasting local fresh beer will be one of those brilliant things to do in Hanoi that will stay long in your memory.
14. Learn to Cook Delicious Vietnamese Dishes
When looking for fun things to do in Hanoi, check out the many cooking classes. They are always entertaining and provide a deeper insight into the local culture.
We found that the best cooking classes are those that involve a trip to the local market.
It’s so much fun to go to a market with a local because you can ask questions, try the ingredients on the spot and avoid hearing the signature ‘same same Vietnam’ phrase.
Even if you can’t cook, with the help of a local chef, you’ll rustle up a mouth-watering Vietnamese meal in no time. And you’ll get to eat it too. It’s a win-win activity in Hanoi.
15. Go to the Excellent Women’s Museum
Dedicated to women, the excellent Women’s Museum in Hanoi first opened in 1995. The exhibitions here focus on different aspects of a woman’s life in rural and contemporary Vietnam.
You’ll find exhibitions explaining the marriage and motherhood among different Vietnamese ethnic tribes as well as depicting the scenes of a single mother in Vietnam. There’s also a small installation about the life of a street vendor in the country.
But the most touching exhibition and the one that might leave you in tears is the women’s role and struggles during the wars. If you only have time for one museum in Hanoi, make it this one. It’s one one of the must-see places in Hanoi.
The museum is open every day from 8 am – 5 pm.
Address: 36 Ly Thuong Kiet, Hang Bai, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
16. Look Around the Moody Hoa Lo Prison
Based in the French Quarter and built by the French, Hoa Lo Prison is one of the grimmest places to visit in Hanoi. But an interesting site nonetheless to learn more about the country’s history if you can stomach the gruesome sight of some of the torture instruments.
The prison was first used by the French for political prisoners. And later, during the Vietnamese-American war, North Vietnam used the building to lockup the US prisoners, mostly Air Force pilots.
During this time, the prison was (and still is to this day) often referred to as ‘Hanoi Hilton’ by the American POWs (prisoners of war). The new buildings added to the site were also sarcastically nicknamed after the famous Las Vegas landmarks.
It’s a small museum and won’t take much of your time to visit. It has signage in English and an audio guide available too if you want to hear more in-depth information.
The site is open every day from 8 am – 5 pm
Address: 1 Hoa Lo, Tran Hung Dao, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
17. Watch The Grand Quintessence of Tonkin Show
From highly rated things to do in Hanoi at night, The Quintessence of Tolkien show is one of the best. With the Thay Mountain for a backdrop, it’s an outdoor spectacular you don’t want to miss.
Each scene, depicting the 6 main pillars of the Vietnamese culture is performed by 300 artists on a floating stage, submerged in water. Half of the artists are farmers from northern Vietnam who trained for two years to make this live show happen. The other half is students from Vietnam Dance Collage.
Prices range from around $35 for the Silver ticket to $52 for the Platinum ticket. The higher the price, the closer you’ll sit to the stage.
You can book the show tickets at your hotel reception and then arrange transport to get there.
18. Have Fun Watching the Water Puppets
One of the most fun and even unique things to do in Hanoi is to enjoy the famous water puppet show at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre.
We’re told that water puppetry is a thousand-year-old Vietnamese tradition. It’s a performance art depicting the life of northern Vietnamese farmers. During the show, you’ll also hear Vietnamese orchestra playing the drums, horns and bamboo flutes.
It’s a fun little show and could make it a great night out in town if you are looking for things to do in Hanoi later in the day.
The show is in Vietnamese, but the storyline isn’t hard to follow, it’s best to get the seats closer to the front if you can.
To skip the line, get your tickets online and choose your best seat in advance.
19. Enjoy the World’s First Bamboo Circus
If you enjoy circus-type performances (no animals involved) The Lang Toi (My Village) show is another unmissable thing to see in Hanoi.
A combination of bamboo props, impressive acrobatic moves and exotic music creates a fantastic atmosphere that’s hard not to enjoy.
It’s a highly rated performance and one of the most unique and fascinating things to do in Hanoi.
Basic tickets start at $30 and go up to $90 for VIP zone at Hanoi Opera House.
The show is held at two different venues:
Hanoi Opera House: 01 Trang Tien St., Hoan Kiem Dist., Hanoi
Vietnam Tuong Theater: 51A Duong Thanh St., Hoan Kiem Dist., Hanoi
20. Take a Scenic Day Trip From Hanoi
Hanoi is in the perfect location from which to explore the nearby wonders of Vietnam. Some of the best day trips from Hanoi include a visit Hoa Lu, Mua Cave and the spectacular Ha Long Bay.
Ha Long Bay trips from Hanoi
You won’t be short of offers to take you on a scenic Ha Long Bay cruise so choose wisely. From luxury day trips to 3-day cruises, some tours are better than others.
In case you want to explore beyond Ha Long Bay, check out our detailed guide on how to catch a Cat Ba island ferry from Tuan Chau Island.
Tam Coc day trip from Hanoi
It’s also possible to visit Tam Coc village on a day trip from Hanoi, but we recommend spending at least 2 days exploring the scenic surroundings on a bike.
Hanoi to Sapa
Sapa is not a one-day destination but it is a very popular place to visit from Hanoi. Plan at least 2-3 days to trek the world-famous rice fields in Sapa.
Whether you take a tour or go there by yourself, it will be an experience you’ll never forget. But don’t let the low temperatures and persistent mist hanging over the valley for most of the day dampen your mood.
If you are thinking of travelling to Sapa from Hanoi independently, we have a super helpful guide on how to get to Sapa from Hanoi. In the guide, you’ll find the top tips for buying tickets and catching the right sleeper train plus how and where to take a local bus to Sapa.
Hanoi Travel Tips
Is it safe in Hanoi?
In general, Hanoi is a pretty safe place to visit. We explored the city late at night and didn’t have any trouble. But, as in any other place around the world, bad things can happen so stay alert and use common sense.
How Many Days Should I Spend in Hanoi?
With all the things to do in Hanoi, plan at least 3 days to explore the city. We stayed here for a week and could have stayed even longer.
How far is Ha Long Bay From Hanoi?
The distance between Ha Long Bay and Hanoi is around 170 km and takes around 3 hours to get there by bus (Quang Ninh) or train (Hai Phong).
Use the trusted 12Go Asia website to find check prices and find the best tickets.
Where to Stay in Hanoi
One of the best experiences you can have is a truly local experience. Choosing accommodation within walking distance from the sightseeing attractions gives you a better idea of the ‘real city’. It’s quieter and almost always provides a better deal.
After much research, we found a studio located on the Do Hanh street, around 20-minute walk from the Old Quarter. An easy walk into the town meant that we could have a stroll at any time and explore hidden passageways.
Also, the studio was located very close to the Hanoi Railway Station, which is always handy as we prefer trains to buses. It was so handy that we walked to the station to buy train tickets to Sapa a day before.
Getting In, Out and Around Hanoi
By Rail. You can easily reach Hanoi from Hue, Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City also from Sapa including Lao Cai, right next to the Chinese border.
We really enjoyed the rail journeys in Vietnam. To check information and routes we used the excellent Seat61.com rail travel website.
Also, we booked our Vietnam train tickets using the super friendly and reliable 12Go Asia website. Book online and show your ticket on your smartphone. No need to print it.
By Plane. When flying to Hanoi, you will arrive at the Noi Bai International Airport, about an hours drive from the city centre. We flew into Hanoi from Laos capital Vientiane and had a very pleasant 50-minute flight.
How Do You Get to Hanoi Airport?
You have 3 options:
- Take a shuttle or a local bus which takes a whole 1.5 hours to get from/into the city centre.
- To avoid the hassle, take a local taxi to/from the airport for around $10.
- Pre-book a private Hanoi airport transfer from/to Hanoi city centre. This is a cost-effective way to get to Hanoi quickly. The service is reliable and takes a lot of hassle out of your day.
Top Tip: It’s a good idea to look around and see if any other travellers are seeking transportation too and then split the taxi costs.
How Do You Travel Around Hanoi?
Walking. Vietnam’s capital is pretty easy to explore on foot if you are only going to explore the main touristy sights.
Taxis. Otherwise, taxis are a good way to get from place to place. But bear in mind that the prices can be inconsistent.
Both Uber and GrabCar are now available to book in Hanoi, just download the apps and you are good to go!
Alternatively, you can get a Cyclo, great fun but we don’t recommend as they can be a real rip off as just transport!
If you are brave enough to whizz around the streets of magical Hanoi, you could rent a bike at your accommodation. But mind you the traffic in Hanoi can seem a little crazy for the first-timers in Vietnam so be careful.
Still curious to see what it’s like to be on a bike in Hanoi, but want to avoid driving the bike yourself? Well, you can always jump on one of the ever-popular Vietnamese xe om (motorbike) for a quick journey.
Planning to visit Hanoi? What Hanoi activities are on your list? Let us know in the comments below…