Hanoi was named the 8th most popular destination in the World by TripAdvisor in 2016. The city is over 1000 years old and the history is mind blowing. Temples, unique theatres, ancient citadels and gorgeous wilderness outside the city walls all offer fun-filled days in the capital of Vietnam! Enjoy our list of top 10 fun things to do in Hanoi below.
Some of these gems are remarkably preserved museums, colonial buildings, ancients pagodas and the world’s largest mosaic. In addition, this mystical city is also known for its silk, cuisine, cultural diversity and buzzing nightlife. Make sure to visit as many of these attractions in Hanoi as possible.
Read more: 8 Best Day Trips from Hanoi
1. Wander around the Old Quarters
You can certainly observe the French Colonial architecture that makes the city so special when roaming through the small streets. Furthermore, you will also have the chance to eat delicious food from one of the many street vendors. Spend your days soaking in the Vietnamese culture in The Old Quarter in Hanoi.
The streets are packed with cars, scooters and bicycles. You can certainly expect to see lots of cafes, restaurants, boutiques, art galleries and bars in this historical area.
2. Bike or walk around the Hoan Kiem Lake and Turtle Tower
You should definitely spend 30 minutes walking around this spectacular lake, learning more about its history and legends. In the evening there are lights surrounding the lake and it´s beautiful sights! More importantly, it´s the perfect place to sit and observe the Hanoian pace of life.
The legend has it that Emperor Le Loi had a magical sword from the Dragon King to fight against the Chinese Oppressors. This sword came from Hoan Kiem Lake, and was later returned after the successful battle when an enormous golden turtle surfaced in the same lake. Le Loi returned the sword to the turtle, and named the area Hoan Kiem lake, meaning “Lake of the Returned Sword”.
In the middle of the lake there’s an island with a tower, named Turtle Tower. After the sword was returned to the gigantic turtle, flocks of turtles began to be revered around the lake. There was one turtle living in the water thought to be the incarnation of the gigantic turtle. Sadly, she was discovered dead in the early 2016 and all of Vietnam mourned her death. If you visit Vietnam´s National Museum of Natural History you may see a display of her 🙂
3. Enjoy a free walking tour of the city
A walking tour is the absolute best introduction to any city. These tours are usually guided by local students, and it allows them to practice their English. In addition, the tours includes visits to the best attractions, restaurants, bars and other hidden spots around the city. More importantly, there is also a lot of variations in the tours. In other words, no matter what you are interested in, these guys got you covered 🙂
You may check out the following company if you are interested in going on a free walking tour of Hanoi: Hanoi Walking Tours.
Kindly note that whilst the tours are free, donations are certainly expected for guides that do a great job.
4. Attending a Cooking Class
Its well worth spending a couple of hours joining a cooking class in Hanoi. Most classes includes market tours, allowing you small glimpses of the local life and culture!
The Vietnamese cuisine is known for being simple in terms of ingredients, and that is also one of its charms. More importantly, you don’t have to be a chef to prepare the dishes. However, you need the tips to prepare them and make them as flavorful and authentic as the real deal!
There are many different classes on offer in Hanoi, and you can learn about seafood, monsoon, village, pho, pagoda vegetarian and my personal favorite: bun cha!
5. Street Food tour
I also have to mention the Street Food Tours in Hanoi – they are awesome! If you are a foodie like myself, you would probably love doing a food tour as well as a cooking class during your stay in the city. Similar to a cooking class, the food tour also provides wonderful glimpses of the local life and Vietnamese lifestyle. This will surely be one of the best memories from your journey. However, if you are short on time, I would recommend to choose either one 🙂
The streets of Hanoi is filled with street food stalls and night markets, making it a foodies dream destination. Check out the following two food tours: night street food tour and night market and street food tour. YUM!
6. Watch a Water Puppet Theatre performance
A true highlight is the Water Puppet Show, which is very specific to the Vietnamese culture. This is an ancient form of art dating back to the 11th century. Back when rice paddy fields flooded, villagers used to stand in the water, attaching puppets to their fishing rods and perform over the water’s surface.
Today the shows are in different theaters, where puppets slides and dances across the watery stage. They usually tell the story of Hoan Kim Lake and the gigantic turtle as mentioned above, or they play out some of the other Vietnam legends! In addition, the shows are also packed with live music with singers telling our words to the puppets!
There are several different theaters in Hanoi, where you can watch this uniquely Vietnamese performance, and the most famous theater is Thang Long Puppet Theatre. They have approx. 5 shows a day 🙂
7. Check out the 4-kilometre Mosaic Wall
If you have the time you should also include a visit to the world’s largest ceramic mosaic built from ceramic tesserae. The wall was built in 2010 for the 1000th anniversary of Hanoi, and the theme is “History through pictures”. The pattern represents the history and folk art of the country throughout different eras, dating all the way back to the Stone Age.
7. Eat some Bun Cha
Yes, this deserves its own point. That’s how good this dish is! Bun Cha is a Vietnamese dish of grilled pork and noodle, served over a plate of white rice noodle and herbs. You add your own spices, dipping sauce, herbs etc. Its super yummy and delicious and you simply must try it when in Hanoi! Looking for a taste explosion? Check!
9. Visit the Vietnamese Woman Museum
This museum is run by the Women’s Union of Vietnam, and offers a beautiful tribute to the women of Vietnam throughout history. The focus is on the women’s role in the society varying from street merchants, mothers to scholars and entrepreneurs. One of the most interesting exhibits focuses on the role women played in the Vietnam´s wars.
10. Finding the Hanoi Train Street
Hidden between the narrow and hectic streets in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, lies a cool little area. Speed trains hurls through the streets, feet away from peoples everyday lives. Locals are sitting on their doorsteps washing dishes, doing laundry, playing around, right on the train tracks.
There are a number of spots along the train tracks where you can watch the train speed by. The street lies on a small street between Kham Tien and Le Duan, and its walkable from the Old Quarter 🙂
There are two trains running every day, one a 3.30pm and one at 7.30pm. You should get there a little early to find a good, safe spot to watch the train from.
-> Kindly remember that it´s a real train, and it will and cannot stop for you! Find a spot at the side of the track and let it pass by you without putting yourself in danger. Don’t be stupid and stay in the middle of the track for as long as possible – it´s really not worth the photo.
To sum up, let’s start admitting that some of these activities has now made it into your must see list. Have fun enjoying the quirky Hanoi Street for yourself 🙂