Hanoi is a city that has so much history and culture woven that can be felt when you step in. Hanoi comes from two Vietnamese words ‘Ha’ meaning rivers and ‘Noi’ meaning inner or inside as the city lies between two rivers. To get a feel of the city you need to check out these top attractions in Hanoi.
Did you know?
Hanoi has been the capital of Vietnam for over 1000 years. Can you imagine how many stories and tales are written on every nook and corner of the city?
Things to do in Hanoi
There are a plethora of things to see in Hanoi, Vietnam. Be it love for art, history, culture, architecture, food or natural beauty, Hanoi won’t disappoint you.
Depending upon how many days you plan to stay in this charming city we have the list of best things to do in Hanoi Vietnam.
1. Hoan Kiem Lake (Sword Lake)
The name Hoan Kiem means ‘Lake of the restored sword’ based on a legend story when the Golden Turtle God appeared to reclaim the sword from the Emperor. There is a tower called the ‘Turtle Tower’ built in the lake to commemorate the event.
This is the first place we visited after reaching Hanoi. The lake is surrounded by a blanket of trees and a walking path to enjoy the breeze and views.
This freshwater lake is in the focal point of the Old Quarter and makes it the befitting for people to gather around to walk, relax, dance, eat or gossip.
Do visit it in the evening on weekends and the street, closed for traffic becomes a melting pot of activities.
At one place you see youth playing some interesting local games, or kids focusing on playing Jenga, or casual family gatherings and having a gala time.
2. Ngoc Son Temple
Constructed in the 18th century, this small pagoda stands on the Jade island on the Hoan Kiem Lake.
The temple is connected to the mainland with a red wooden bridge that is a major attraction for pictures. In the evening, the bridge glistens with lights and a perfect reflection forms in the water.
Ticket: 30,000 VND per adult; 15,000 VND per child
3. Old Quarter
Seems like the most happening place in the entire city. This congested area is a maze of streets buzzing with people, hawkers, and bikers zipping around. And it is a paradise for shoppers who want to buy souvenirs, local clothing or handicrafts.
This is the central area where you can find many hotels, restaurants and cafes, shopping options all in the budget.
Note: There is bargaining in most of the shops.
4. Ho Chi Minh Complex
Ho Chi Minh complex is a vast area with many points of interest that is great to spend half or full day. The complex has a lot of emotional and political significance for the citizens.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum: This place is like a pilgrimage to Vietnamese people who throng here to visit the Mausoleum of the most iconic leader, the first president Ho Chi Minh whom they lovingly call ‘Uncle Ho’. Inside the building is the embalmed body of the president for its people to pay their respect to.
This is free for the public to visit.
Ho Chi Minh House: The complex also has the Presidential palace and the house of Uncle Ho. The Presidential Palace is not accessible for public viewing, but the house of the president is worth visiting.
Amidst huge green lawns and a lake in the premises, there is a wooden stilt house where the president used to live, in spite of the grandeur presidential palace.
The president refused to live there as he expressed his citizens were poor and could not afford that life.
He was a simple man and truly believed in ‘Simple living high thinking’. The lake beside it has fishes in it and it’s believed that the fishes would gather for feed with Uncle Ho’s clap. We even tried calling them with our claps and found some luck.
Ticket: 40,000 VND per adult
Vietnamese students do get discounted tickets.
Ho Chi Minh Museum: Ho Chi Minh is the most revered leader of Vietnam. The museum dedicated to this leader throws light into his life and the events. It also displays the artifacts and gifts gathered from across the world.
Hours: 8 am – 12 pm from 2 pm – 4:30 pm
Ticket: 10,000 VND
One Pillar Pagoda: Inside the Ho Chi Minh complex, situated next to the mausoleum is the One Pillar Pagoda.
As the name suggests, the pagoda is constructed over a single concrete pillar standing in the middle of a pond. This small Buddhist temple was built in the 11th century by a king as a lotus flower standing in a pond.
This pagoda is small and can be seen while visiting the mausoleum, else it’s not worth going.
Highly recommend: We highly recommend taking free tours from the enthusiastic students of Hanoikids.org
5. Temple of Literature
This temple of Confucius (Chinese philosopher who lived in 551 BC) is the mecca for students who still visit it during their exams and graduation to pray and thank. This temple boasts of being Vietnam’s first university built in 1070 and preserves a lot of history.
The architecture of the place is beautiful and has special meanings associated with each symbol or structure. As you enter there is a huge green courtyard with two gates, and one is meant for entering and others to leave the temple. There is a lake between the courtyards.
We were lucky to have two enthusiastic girls who were our guides and explained the history and significance of the place and shared some interesting facts. Like the turtle whose head was rubbed by the students for good luck.
There are 5 huge courtyards inside the temple complex, huge bronze bell, stelae of turtles with names of scholars engraved on it, the sanctuary that holds the altar and huge statue of Confucius. It is interesting to see the books, uniforms and other objects in display inside the sanctuary.
Tickets – 30,000 VND per adult
6. Museum of Ethnology
This is a must-visit place if you are interested in Vietnamese history. From their wedding customs and costumes, from utensils to dances. It is interesting to learn about the culture evolves over a period of time. The geographical locations play an important part in the customs, clothing, food habits.
We recommend taking your kids there to experience cultures from other countries.
Small kids do get bored around the exhibits, but they enjoy exploring the actual models of the various types of houses. The houses, their furniture, and belongings were according to the social class of the people.
Plan to spend around 2-3 hours in the museum. There is also a café on the premises.
7. West Lake and Tran Quan Pagoda
This oldest pagoda in the city got us impressed a lot. A red color tall 7 story pagoda affiliated to Buddhism was built in the 6th century.
It was built by the Red River back then, but due to river encroachment, it was relocated to the West Lake where it stands tall today.
The West Lake in the backdrop, the tall pagoda, the fragrance from the incense sticks wafting the air, the chants that are music to your ears a temple in the complex.
The pagoda is red in color as this symbolizes luck and prosperity in Vietnamese and Chinese.
There is a Bodhi tree that grows beside the temple and is said to have grown from the cutting of the original Bodhi tree in India under which Lord Buddha got enlightenment. Being from India we understand the importance of this sacred tree and why it is prayed upon.
Do you need a visa for Vietnam? If yes, how to get a visa for Vietnam? Read Our Ultimate Guide to Vietnam Visa that answers all your questions.
8. Hoa Lo Prison Museum aka Hanoi Hilton
Hoa Lo Prison is an old prison that was used by the French colonists and then by Vietnamese to capture and torture the U.S. prisoners of war.
Since our kids were small we did not want to visit the prison.
Note: We would not recommend taking small kids to this prison as there are pictures that might not be suitable for their viewing.
9. Water Puppet show
Mesmerizing, spectacular, mind-blowing were some thoughts that came to our mind when we watched the water puppet show. Talented artists created an aura that left us spellbound.
Most of the shows depict a mythological story from Vietnam. The different puppets carved out of wood are brought to life in the 1-hour show and you feel them talking, dancing and jumping around in the water.
Yes, the small water pond is the stage for these puppets with artists behind the curtain at the back of the pond. Each puppet is tied to a long pole that is held by an artist beneath the water from the back of the stage.
We got a double treat as there was a live music band playing traditional instruments and singing the story as it progressed.
Water puppet is a traditional Vietnamese art dating back to the 11th century that has been prospering down centuries.
We appreciated the art as Puppet shows are also a traditional art form in India and know how talented the artist is who weaves a story merely with lifeless puppets. There is magic in the hands of these craftsmen.
We watched the show at Thang Long Water puppet theater.
There are different show timings and the popular timings do get booked fast.
Pro Tip: Book the water puppet show ticket well in advance as it gets booked fast. We did not get tickets the first day we went.
The places to watch Water puppet show are
- Thang Long Water Puppet theater
- Museum of Ethnology
- Vietnam National Puppetry Theater
- Lotus Water Puppet
Note: The puppet show and songs are all in the Vietnamese language, but you can follow most of them visually.
Hanoi Opera House
The colonial architecture with columns enveloping it forms a perfect backdrop for a picture.
The Ceramic mosaic mural wall which spreads up to 6.5 km holds the Guinness World of Book record for ‘World’s largest ceramic mosaic’.
The mural represents beautiful scenes from the history of Vietnam. We watched it while passing through the street, but it was good to see colors spread beside the otherwise traffic-laden street.
This seems to fascinate most of the tourists visiting Hanoi, to see train tracks running in the middle of streets lined by houses.
The houses are so close to the tracks that people have to close windows when the train is approaching. And this has become a famous Instagram spot to take a pic.
But being from India, this was not new to us, so we decided to skip it.
Bat Trang Ceramic Pottery Village
If you are looking for a unique experience and want to try your hands into traditional Vietnamese art, then head over to Bat Trang village on the outskirts of the city.
This 7 century-old village boasts of some of the finest Porcelain and pottery products.
Its proximity to the Red River is advantageous for raw material.
You will be amazed to see the designs and high quality of artists. The details, designs, and finesse will surely impress you.
Most of the designs have Vietnamese symbols like dragon, turtle, lotus, tiger on them.
You can walk around the village, join a tour, try your hand at pottery making experience and shopping for the best.
Tip: Most museums only accept cash and no credit card.
Hanoi has a normal tropical monsoon weather with mainly hot and rainy summer while dry winter. The weather is mostly humid throughout the year.
Where to Eat in Hanoi
This is termed as the birthplace of Egg coffee. Through a tiny gallery is located this café. As I ordered the coffee and climbed the stairs above to find a spot to sit, I was shocked.
The café was bustling with people mainly youngsters who were chatting and sipping their egg coffee. You can order it hot or cold. As the weather was hot, we tried the cold version and liked it.
Accommodation in Hanoi
Looking for where to stay in Hanoi? Old Quarter is the central location with innumerable options for accommodation in Hanoi suiting all kinds of budget and is favorite among most of the tourists.
But the disadvantage is that it is congested and full of traffic and noise. There are some great options with close proximity to all major attractions but still away from the traffic snarls.
Hotels in Hanoi
With great views of Opera House and strategic location, this is a great luxury option.
If you want to experience Vietnamese luxury, then this historic landmark hotel is the place to be. With multiple excellence awards to its kitty, you will never be pampered with the impeccable service.
Read the review on Tripadvisor
Check the availability on Booking.com
This is a great hotel to stay in with close proximity to the Old Quarter. With great staff and facilities like a washing machine for free laundry, this is the best option. We had a very comfortable stay.
Read the reviews on Tripadvisor
Check the availability on Booking.com
This modern hotel with all the facilities is located in the Old Quarter with attractions, shopping area, restaurants all in walkable distance.
This comfortable hotel is situated by the Hoan Kiem Lake and is suitable for families. With multiple options for eating, shopping, attractions all in reach this is a great option.
Hostels in Hanoi
For the backpackers or the travelers who are on a tight budget, there are a lot of comfortable options available.
Not the regular hostel, but a posh hostel for adult accommodation only. This hostel has a bar, lounge and other facilities for the comfort of the backpackers.
One of the favorites among the backpackers with both private and dorm rooms. The free breakfast and central location
Have you ever visited this capital city of Vietnam? What did you like? Did we miss your favorite attractions in Hanoi? Do let us know and we’ll be happy to update.
Hope reading the post will be helpful in planning for what to do in Hanoi.
Looking for recommendations for Vietnam? Then head over to the Pearl Island of Phu Quoc. Read about Vinpearl Land Phu Quoc with kids.
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Feature Image credit: Pixabay
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