In 2016 Hanoi was named to be the 8th most popular destination in the World by TripAdvisor. The city is over 1000 years old and the history is mind blowing. Ranging from temples, unique theatre, ancient citadels and gorgeous wilderness outside the city walls all offer fun-filled days in the capital of Vietnam!
Some of these gems are remarkably preserved museums, colonial buildings, ancients pagodas and the world’s largest mosaic. This mystical city is also known for its silk, cuisine, cultural diversity and buzzing nightlife. Make sure to visit at many of these attractions in Hanoi as possible.
Read more: 8 Best Day Trips from Hanoi
Enjoy our list of Top 10 Things to Do in Hanoi below.
1. Wander around the Old Quarters
The Old Quarter in Hanoi as undoubtedly where you can soak in the Vietnamese culture. Roaming through the many small streets, you can observe the French Colonial architecture that made the city so special. You will also have the chance to eat delicious food from one (or more) of the many street vendors, selling food and souvenirs on the street.
The streets are packed with cars, scooters and bicycles, and you can 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 even lights surrounding the lake and it´s beautiful sights! 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 even one turtle living in the water that was 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
One of my favorite things to do and the absolute best introduction to a city is to go on a walking tour. These tours are usually guided by local students, as it allows them to practice their English. The tours includes visits to the best attractions, restaurants, bars and other hidden spots around the city. There is also a lot of variations in the tours, so 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 expected for guides that do a great job.
4. Attending a Cooking Class
Joining a cooking class in Hanoi is well worth spending your time at, and is definitely something I would recommend. Most classes also 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. You don’t have to be a chef to prepare the dishes, but 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
Seeing that we are already talking about food, I 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 tur as well as a cooking class during your stay in the city. 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. I recommend you to 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 highlight not to be missed is the Water Puppet Show, which is specific to the Vietnamese culture. This is an ancient form of art dating back to the 11th century. When rice paddy fields got flooded, the villagers used to stand in the water, attaching puppets to their fishing rods and had them performing over the water´s surface.
Today the shows are shown 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! 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 it´s theme is “History through pictures”. The pattern used represent 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 where speed trains hurls through the streets, feet away from peoples everyday lives. Here the 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.
Let’s admit it, it has now made it into your must see list. Have fun enjoying the quirky Hanoi Street for yourself 🙂