20 Exciting things to do in Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi is a beautiful, bustling city with plenty of exciting things to do! The city is full of interesting history, delicious food and plenty of culture that will make your trip memorable. I’ve spent one week in the Vietnamese Capital together with my partner and a local friend. I totally loved it and decided to collect all the things we did in this blog post. Here’s my list of 20 exciting things to do in Hanoi, Vietnam:
Eat street food in Hanoi
Eating street food in Hanoi is definitely something you can’t skip! Vietnamese street food is very fresh and healthy and a big part of Vietnamese culture. Most dishes are served with vegetables, herbs and rice or noodles. I found so many delicious treats on the streets, like pho, bun cha and banh mi sandwiches:
Pho is a noodle soup with meat, herbs and vegetables. It’s a classic dish that’s served everywhere in Hanoi and across the country.
Bún chả Hanoi is a Vietnamese dish of grilled pork and noodles. Bún chả Hanoi is served as a soup with grilled fatty pork and a plate of white rice noodles and a basket of vegetables/herbs. You then add your own noodles and vegetables/spices to your soup. It’s definitely my most favorite dish from North Vietnam! Please notice that there’s a difference between Bún chả and Bún chả Hanoi! My favorite place in Hanoi to eat Bún chả Hanoi is: Bún Chả Nem 41 Cửa Đông.
Banh mi is a Vietnamese sandwich that is made with bread, meat and vegetables. The bread is often baguette and is usually stuffed with pork or chicken (pate spread) along with pickled carrots and daikon radish. It’s delicious! There are also many vegetarian options available. Everywhere on the street you see carts where a delicious Banh Mi is made for you on the spot. This is my favorite place to eat Banh Mi in Hanoi: Banh Mi Long Hoi.
If you want something sweet after dinner (or lunch), try one of Vietnam’s famous desserts: green tea ice cream or coconut ice cream! Chè – Xôi chè Bà Thìn (Chè cổ Hà Nội) is a local place where you can enjoy traditional Vietnamese desserts. Be prepared for a lot of jelly!
Vietnam is also known for its fresh fruit juices and smoothies. You can find these at street stalls or restaurants all over the city. Try a lychee juice if you want something tart or sweeten it up with some sugarcane juice. I love the sugarcane juice!
Participate in a Hanoi street food tour
A street food tour in Hanoi is a great way to experience the city’s culinary culture. You’ll learn about Hanoi’s history, enjoy local cuisine and see some sights all at once!
In addition to tasting delicious food from mostly street stalls, you’ll also get a good introduction into Vietnamese cuisine. You’ll learn how each dish is prepared, what ingredients are used in it and how it differs from other styles of cooking throughout Southeast Asia. Your guide will explain why these dishes are so popular and why they’re worth seeking out.
Sample traditional Vietnamese (egg) Coffee
Coffee is a big deal in Vietnam, and you’ll find it everywhere. The streets are lined with small cafes that serve coffee by the cup as well as full meals and snacks.
Traditional Vietnamese coffee is served in a tiny cup with a metal filter. The coffee is often very strong. Sometimes it’s served with condensed milk. Unfortunately, I didn’t like the traditional coffee.
A must-try however, is the Vietnamese egg coffee (cà phê trúng), originated in Hanoi during the period when there was a shortage of milk products. The inventor of this coffee is Nguyen Giang, owner of Café Giang; an establishment that still exists and is currently run by his son and daughter. I went to try the egg coffee at his daughter’s cafe; Đinh Café. The cafe was really hidden. We first had to go down a weird alley and up some stairs. The cafe was packed with locals and luckily there was still one table free. We ordered the egg coffee and it was very tasty! Egg Coffee (ca phe trung) is made by whisking an egg yolk with sweetened condensed milk for about 10 minutes until it takes on an airy, creamy, meringue-like consistency. Then it is poured over hot espresso or iced coffee. The coffee itself is quite strong. You can’t drink the ‘drink’ and have to spoon it out.
Spend an evening at Hanoi Opera House
If you like to explore traditional Vietnamese dancing or music, it’s a good idea to visit Hanoi Opera House. This venue hosts all kind of cultural events and performances. If you don’t like to party, but still want to go out in the evening, this is a great option.
Watch a Water Puppet Show
Water puppets are a traditional form of theatre in Vietnam. The puppets are controlled by a pair of puppeteers who manipulate them using rods and strings. It’s fun to watch and amazing to see how they make these figures move. Keep in mind that most shows are played in Vietnamese and that you won’t understand much of the narrative. It’s still fun though 😉 When you buy your Thang Long Water Puppet ticket online, you have the options to skip the entry line. Ideal!
Photograph Hanoi Train Street
The Hanoi Train Street is one of the most famous and adventurous tourist spots in Hanoi. It’s a tiny narrow street surrounded by high houses packed closely together. The authorities closed down the street in 2022, but you can still visit this place and make some Instagram worthy photos.
Tip: follow the instructions of the locals very well to find a safe spot along the sidewalk and to watch the train run by
Explore the Hoa Lo Prison Museum at night
The Hoa Lo Prison Museum is a former prison of the French colonists, who used it to torture and execute political dissidents. During the Vietnam War, Hoa Lo also served as a base for Viet Cong soldiers. The museum has been preserved in its original state with many of its infamous cells still intact. It’s worth visiting if you want to learn more about what life was like in this notorious prison!
Tip: visit the prison at night to get the best experience. The night tour is offered at 7pm every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday
See Uncle Ho at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a must-visit for any traveler to Hanoi. The mausoleum is the final resting place of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam’s most iconic and popular leader, known to the people as ‘Uncle Ho’. His body is kept here in a glass box. It’s a bit scary to see, but very interesting in the end.
Visiting the Mausoleum is free of charge but involves a set of strictly enforced regulations. When entering the mausoleum, there’s an X-ray inspection and you are not allowed to bring water and large pieces of luggage inside. The mausoleum consists of three floors: the first floor contains exhibits about Ho Chi Minh’s life; the second floor has his embalmed body; and the third floor houses an auditorium where you can watch history videos about Vietnam.
Tip: dress up respectfully; men have to wear long pants and women skirts over the knee. Walk in a line, go forward without turning your head, take no photos of Uncle Ho and do not wear a hat or helmet inside.
Tip: try to avoid visiting on Sundays as this is the busiest day at the Mausoleum
Visit the One-Pillar Pagoda
The One-Pillar Pagoda is located within the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex and is one of the national symbols of Vietnam. The architecture is very unique as the pagoda sits on a single pillar. The area is very calm and serene, a contrast to the bustling streets of Hanoi, as here is an oasis of calm amidst old buildings.
Stroll around the Presidential Palace
The Presidential Palace was not on my list and I just happened to be there after visiting the Mausoleum. You can’t go inside the palace, but the visit route shows you other premises where Ho Chi Minh used to live and work in. The area is well maintained and they have done quite a bit to touch different aspects of Ho Chi Minh’s life, beginning from his term ruling Vietnam, his leadership up until his death. You can expect to spend around 1-2 hours at this place
Tip: avoid visiting on a hot day, because there is a fair bit of walking to be done
Discover the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
Heading out of the main tourist areas, the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is located in Cau Giay. It’s the perfect place to learn about the different Vietnamese ethnic groups. Inside the museum you can find exhibition halls where garments, clothing, artwork and everyday-life objects are on display. It’s a good idea to visit this museum before traveling around the country.
Relax at the West Lake Park
The West Lake Park is a beautiful park outside the center of Hanoi. It’s a great place to relax and to see the sunset. There’s a path all the way around the lake with a lots of trees and flowers, making it an excellent spot if you like walking and photographing. On the lake itself, you can see two famous pagodas; Quan Thanh Temple and Trấn Quốc Pagoda which floats on the water.
Stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake, especially during the weekend
If you’re looking for a place to relax in Hanoi, Hoan Kiem Lake is the perfect spot. The lake is home to several historic sites, including Ngoc Son Temple, One Pillar Pagoda, and the Lake Turtle. Our hotel was close to this lake and we spent lots of time here.
You can find many restaurants, cafes, and activities around the lake; in the morning you see locals playing sports, during the day you see people relaxing and taking thousands of selfies, and in the evenings you see families and couples eating, drinking, singing karaoke, and playing games around the lake.
Roads are closed to traffic over the weekend around Hoan Kiem Lake making it the perfect place to walk around. They are closed to traffic on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 7 PM – 2 AM in summer and 6 PM – 2 AM in winter.
Tip: there are many young schoolchildren around the lake who would like to practice their English with you. They often give a short presentation on a particular topic or want to do a short interview. Have a chat with them, it’s a lot of fun!
See the turtle at the Ngoc Son Temple
Ngoc Son Temple is a peaceful temple complex located on a small island on the Hoan Kiem Lake, which is connected to the lakeshore by a beautiful red colored bridge. The temple has beautiful architecture that shows off traditional Vietnamese design elements like curved roofs and red walls.
What’s going on with the turtle? Well, Hoan Kiem Lake was once home to a famous turtle. The legend goes that the first king of Vietnam fought against China with a very important sword given to him by the Golden Turtle God. On his way home after winning this war, the king stopped by and was out boating on the lake. Suddenly the Golden Turtle God surfaced and asked the king to give back his magical sword.The Golden Turtle God took back the sword and disappeared into depths of the lake. The king then renamed the lake Hoàn Kiếm Lake, meaning ‘The Lake of the Returned Sword’.
Until a few years ago, there were many turtles swimming in the lake. Unfortunately, they are all extinct now. Vietnamese from all over the country came to the Hoan Kiem Lake to look for the (golden) turtle (god). These days, you can spot the lake turtle inside the Ngoc Son Temple.
Buy souvenirs at Dong Xuan Market
If you’re looking for souvenirs, Dong Xuan Market is a great place to find them. The market has many hand-crafted items and food items that will make great gifts when you get home. You can even buy traditional Vietnamese clothing there! It’s also fun just to wander around the market and see all of the things they have on offer.
Explore and shop in Hanoi’s Old Quarter
The Old Quarter of Hanoi is a busy, but but fun area to explore.It’s a great place to shop for souvenirs. The streets are lined with stalls selling handmade goods and traditional Vietnamese wares from all over the country. There are also many shops selling paintings, wood carvings and embroidery work. I almost spend an entire afternoon in the Old Quarter, just strolling around and explore all the beautiful things.
Visit the Museum of Vietnamese History
The Museum of Vietnamese History is located in the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, making it easy to get to. The museum offers a great insight into the country’s interesting history. For me, it was a great place to learn more about Vietnam, including its culture and traditions.
The museum contains many artifacts from different periods throughout history which makes for an interesting look at how some things have changed over time but others have stayed much the same (for example: rice farming).
Visit the St. Joseph Cathedral (preferably in the evening)
Hanoi’s St. Joseph Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral with beautiful architecture. The church has been damaged several times during wars with France and China, but has been restored each time. There are plenty of restaurants and cafes around the church’s square where you can enjoy a drink and some food.
Tip: the church looks most stunning during the evening
Check out Chua Tran Quoc, Vietnam’s oldest pagoda
Chua Tran Quoc is a pagoda in Hanoi, Vietnam and remains as one of the oldest structures in all of Vietnam. It’s also known for its unique design; it has four curving roofs instead of just one.
Look into the past at the Vietnam Military History Museum
This open-air museum feels like you’re stepping back in time. Learn about the Vietnam military and the wars they’ve fought throughout its history and see the real-life weaponry and artillery pieces lining the courtyard. I am sure you will be impressed!
Some other fun activities in or around Hanoi:
I hope this article has given you some ideas on what to do in Hanoi. I know I haven’t covered every single thing there is to do, but I think that these 20 activities are a great start! Hanoi is a wonderful city with rich culture and history, and it’s an ideal place to visit if you want to experience the real Vietnam. If you want more Vietnam inspiration, check out our other Vietnam blog posts.
If you have any questions about one of the above mentioned activities, please leave a comment in the comment section below.
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