Move over Thailand, there’s a new tourist mecca on the scene. Over the past few years, Vietnam has become the new must-visit country in Southeast Asia, with cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City taking center stage in the explosion of interest. In Hanoi, it seems a day doesn’t go by when a new restaurant, club, or boutique doesn’t open. But thankfully, the boom hasn’t yet translated into an increase in prices. If you’re looking for an affordable vacation destination, it’s still a great choice, with a world-class dinner costing little more than $5 and access to most sights and attractions coming in for even less. If you’re planning a trip, here’s 20 of the best things to do in Hanoi for first-timers.
20. Walk Long Bien Bridge
Trip Advisor reviewers have ranked Long Bien Bridge as one of Hanoi’s top attractions. Looking at some of the effusive reviews, it’s not hard to see why. “Well worth the walk over this historic bridge designed by the famous French architect who built Eiffel Tower. Amazing watching everyone commuting on their bikes. Great views. Definitely a must-do,” one says, with a 2nd adding “If you love art and take photos, this is an ideal place, go there in the evening when the sun is going down.” Just be mindful that while the views are breathtaking, it’s not for the faint-hearted. It’s also not in the best of shapes in some parts, so be sure to keep an eye on where you’re walking.
19. Admire St Joseph’s Cathedral
Named after the patron saint of Vietnam and Indochina, St Joseph’s Cathedral was built in 1886. As one of the first buildings to be constructed by the French government, its resemblance to Notre Dame de Paris is remarkable. The gothic architecture is awe-inspiring, especially at night when it’s lit up in all its spectacular glory.
18. Admire Bach Ma Temple
While you’re in Hanoi, don’t miss a visit to one of The Crazy Tourist’s top suggestions of things to do in the city: a visit to Bach Ma Temple. It’s history traces back to the 11th century when Emperor Ly Thai To commissioned the temple in tribute to the white horse that led him to the site of the building. Although it’s been damaged and rebuilt over the years, it’s still a majestic structure, full of breathtaking detail and intricacies.
17. Enjoy a Drink at Bia Hoi Junction
If all your sightseeing has given you a thirst, there’s only one place to head: Bia Hoi Junction. Sat at the junction at Ta Hien and Luong Ngic Quyen, it comes alive at night with hundreds of vendors tempting locals and tourists alike with a huge array of beers, liqueurs, and wines… and of course, Vietnam’s favorite draft, bia hoi.
16. Pick Up Some Produce at Dong Xuan Market
Hanoi does street markets very, very well. If you needed proof of this, pop a visit to Dong Xuan Market onto your itinerary. Located in a Soviet-era building on the northern edge of Hanoi Old Quarter, this bustling wet market sells a vast array of seafood, meat, vegetables, souvenirs, accessories, and clothing. As not only the oldest market in Hanoi, but the largest local market in the Northern region of Vietnam. it’s a must-visit.
15. Shop Till You Drop at Lotte Center
Hanoi might be heaven for history lovers, but it’s not exactly letting the side down in contemporary pleasures either. Lotte Center doesn’t just have the distinction of being the second-tallest building in Hanoi, it’s also one of the best places in the city for recreation, with scores of boutiques, a huge department store, multiple restaurants, a first-class spa, and, suspended on a glass terrace up on the 65th floor, an observation deck that offers breathtaking views over the city.
14. Visit the Great Father at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a mausoleum on the border between the Ba Dinh District and the Tay Ho (West Lake) District that serves as the final resting place of one of the most important historical figures in Vietnam, Vietnamese Revolutionary leader & President Ho Chi Minh. As well as offering visitors the chance to view the embalmed body of the country’s ‘Great Father’, the site is home to a number of gorgeous gardens that can be wandered freely. Conservative dress is encouraged, so leave the shorts and tank tops for another day.
13. Stroll around Lake of the Restored Sword (Hoan Kiem Lake)
Lake of the Restored Sword (Hoan Kiem Lake) is beautiful at any time of the day, but at nighttime, it really comes into its own. As the sun goes down, the shoreline around the freshwater lake comes alive with hundreds of sparkling lights. Despite the thronging streets that surround it, it’s still remarkably peaceful and romantic – the perfect place for a midnight stroll with a loved one.
12. Enjoy a Show at Water Puppet Theatre
As vietnam-guide.com writes, the tradition of water puppet theater in Hanoi dates all the way back to the 11th century. But while it may be ancient, its popularity is showing no signs of abating anytime soon. One of the best places to take in a show is at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, where the performances (which take place in a pool of water) are accompanied in the traditional way with drums, wooden bells, horns, bamboo flutes and cymbals. Admission is a very reasonable VND 100,000, but bear in mind you’ll need to pay an extra fee if you want to photograph or video the performance.
11. Tour the Vietnamese Women’s Museum
If you’re keen to take in a little culture while you’re in Hanoi, don’t miss a tour of the Vietnamese Women’s Museum. Highlighting the contribution of women to the history and culture of Vietnam, it’s a moving, fascinating experience that you’re unlikely to forget in a hurry. To get the most of the trip, take advantage of the audio guide – it’ll give you a level of insight into the exhibits that you wouldn’t otherwise get.
10. Wander the French Quarter
Situated in the city’s Old Quarter, the French Quarter showcases the cultural and architectural impact of French Colonialism on Hanoi. It’s also home to some of the best attractions in Hanoi, including the Vietnamese Women’s Museum, the National Museum of Vietnamese History, and Hanoi Opera House, not to mention a vast array of great restaurants and boutiques.
9. Visit Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is one of Forbes’ top recommendations for things to do in Hanoi. And what’s good enough for Forbes is good enough for us. Built by monarch Ly Thai To in 1010AD, the citadel was home to the Vietnamese court for hundreds of years. In the late 19th century, it was largely destroyed, spending much of the next century abandoned. Today, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, and a must-visit for any first-time visitor to Hanoi.
8. Shop at Long Bien Market
As the clock strikes midnight, there’s just one place in Hanoi to head - Long Bien market. The nighttime market is a vibrant, busy place that’s packed to the brim with local farmers selling a massive variety of fresh, local vegetables and fruits. Although it can get a little overwhelming at times, the sheer energy of this buzzing market can’t help but get under your skin.
7. Tuck into a Banh Mi
Tourguidevietnam.com has several great suggestions about what to do and see in Hanoi, and one very excellent suggestion about what to eat. The Banh Mi (sometimes spelled as Banh My) is widely considered the best and tastiest sandwich in Hanoi, and one you’ll find no problem in tracking down. The city is packed with countless vendors peddling this lip-smacking snack, which does a great job of combining the best of the city’s colonial legacy with fresh, local ingredients. Expect a tasty combination of soft French baguette and smooth pate together with a piquant topping of coriander, carrot and chilies.
6. Take in a Performance at Hanoi Opera House
You don’t have to love opera to appreciate the Hanoi Opera House, but it does help if you’ve got an interest in French architecture. If you haven’t got time to take in a show, a quick tour of the building will whet your appetite to see more of Hanoi’s architecture. Designed in tribute to the Palais Garnier in Paris (albeit with a warm yellow and white color scheme), it’s one of the most gorgeous buildings in a city renowned for beautiful buildings. If you do by chance have the time for a performance, don’t hesitate in booking a ticket. It’s not the kind of experience you’ll be forgetting anytime soon.
5. Take a Tour of Hoa Lo Prison
If you’ve got the kids with you, you might want to miss this next suggestion. If not, it’s more than worth the trip – just be prepared for an emotional rollercoaster. Recommended by azlocaltrip.com as one of the best places to visit in Hanoi, Hoa Lo Prison shut up shop in the 1950s, and today stands in memory of the country’s struggle for independence from France. The sinister French guillotine is just one of the many intriguing, often gruesome, exhibits on display.
4. Visit Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
Hanoi might be bursting with dance clubs and very 21st-century attractions, but it’s also packed with history and culture. To not visit at least a few of the city’s many museums while you’re there would be remis. To not visit the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, meanwhile, would be positively unforgivable. This fascinating venue showcases the histories and stories of the various ethnic groups that make up Vietnam’s population. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a water puppet performance while you’re there.
3. Tour the Gardens at the Temple of Literature & National University
Trip Advisor ranks the Temple of Literature & National University amongst the best things to do in Hanoi. So do we. This stunning historic site with its breathtaking temple and maze of gardens offers a much-needed retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. Take advantage of the audio guide to find out more about this must-visit destination.
2. Relax at West Lake
Hanoi is beautiful, sure, but it’s a city. And cities can sometimes get a little busy. A little hectic. If you need a break from the hustle and bustle, West Lake is the place to head. As the biggest freshwater lake in Hanoi, it’s one of the most popular spots for city-slickers looking for some rest and relaxation. Peaceful, but with plenty of recreational opportunities, it’s a gorgeous spot to while away a peaceful afternoon. If you want to stretch your legs while you’re there, you could even do as inspitrip.com suggests and rent a bicycle to tour around the shoreline.
1. Tour the Old Quarter
If there’s one neighborhood you definitely don’t want to miss while you’re in Hanoi, it’s the Old Quarter. Every street you walk down, every way you turn, there’s something new and exciting to do. Vibrant is an understatement – the Old Quarter is oozing life from every pore. The 13th-century architecture, meanwhile, is worthy of a thousand photographs, while the plethora of vendors peddling silk, wood, and silver goods will have you reaching for your wallet before you know it.
Written by Liz Flynn
Read more posts by Liz Flynn