Hanoi Must-see Attractions and Not-to-miss Activities

Hanoi is the capital and second largest city of Vietnam after Ho Chi Minh City. However, the atmosphere of these two cities is totally different: Thousands of years ago, the Vietnamese territory had been very small, including just a few provinces in northern Vietnam today.

The country has been invaded and occupied by the Chinese for almost a thousand years. These provinces (including Hanoi) were thus strongly influenced by Chinese culture.

Then, the Vietnamese resistance against the Chinese won and the Vietnamese territory was expanded more and more to the south. Therefore, Hanoi has a rich history and a thousand-year-old culture which is an ideal destination for culture lovers, while Ho Chi Minh City is a young and dynamic city and more like a western city.

A day seems too short to visit Hanoi. 2 or 3 days would be better.

Hanoi Attractions and Activities

Walking around Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple – The Huc Bridge

Hoan Kiem Lake is a place dear to the heart, sacred to Hanoians and Vietnamese in general. You can ask any Vietnamese “What is there to see in Hanoi?;  they would definitely answer: “Hoan Kiem Lake and Turtle Tower”.

Hoan Kiem Lake - a mirror-like green lake in the center of Hanoi
Hoan Kiem Lake – a mirror-like green lake in the center of Hanoi

Hoan Kiem Lake is also the landmark for measuring the distance between Hanoi and other provinces. The lake recalls a legend that the Vietnamese king returned the sword to the Golden Turtle God after winning the Chinese invaders. This is why it is called “Lake of the Restored Sword” (Hoan Kiem).

During your walk, there will be Vietnamese students who will approach you and ask some questions in English. This is because they would like to practice English. If you have time, it will be a good opportunity to understand more about the life of Vietnamese students. If you don’t have time, you can simply tell them.

You can enter Ngoc Son Temple, which is located in the middle of the lake across the red The Huc bridge. Here you will see a preserved turtle on display that once lived in the lake. The entrance fee to enter Ngoc Son Temple is 30.000VND.

Ngoc Son Temple (Temple of the Jade Mountain)
Ngoc Son Temple (Temple of the Jade Mountain)

Almost travelers choose a hotel in the old section of Hanoi for easy access to all tourist attractions, restaurants …

Visiting the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology

This museum is undoubtedly unmissable. It is not only interesting for adults but also for children, especially for culture lovers. Try to visit this museum on your first day in Hanoi to get the idea about Vietnamese culture. The museum is quite large with one covered with exhibition area and the other outside. The real houses and tombs of several ethnic groups in Vietnam attract many tourists. A visit to the museum is a good opportunity to know 54 ethnic groups of Vietnam and also other cultures of the countries in Southeast Asia. Open 8.30 – 17.30 every day, except Mondays.

The Rong House - Tay Nguyen Communal House on display in the Museum of Ethnology
The Rong House – Tay Nguyen Communal House on display in the Museum of Ethnology

Entry fees: 40.000VND; and 50.000VND more to have the right to take photos.

Address: Nguyen Van Huyen Street, about 8km from Hoan Kiem Lake.

Free water puppetry every Saturday and Sunday at: 10h, 11h, 14h, 16h

A house of ethnic minorities in the museum

The Vietnamese Women’s Museum is also a good place to visit if you have more time. From the old quarter of Hanoi, it takes just 10-15 minutes to walk to the museum. It is not far from the Mercure Hanoi La Gare Hotel.

Getting lost in the old quarter of Hanoi

Hoan Kiem Lake is the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

What streets are included in Hanoi’s Old Quarter? The boundaries of Hanoi Old Quarter: Hang Dau Street to the north; Tran Nhat Duat Street and Tran Quang Khai Street to the east; Phung Hung Street to the west; Hai Ba Trung Street to the south (the green zone).

Start at Hoan Kiem Lake and spend at least half a day or a full day walking and eating street food.

Silk Street and Custom Clothes: Hang Bong, Hang Gai

Clothing Street: Hang Ngang, Hang Dao, Hang Duong

Silver Jewelery Street: Hang Bac

Copper Street, full of vibrant colors: Hang Ma

Luong Ngoc Quyen Streets, Ma May: backpackers’ streets

Sugar Street, dried fruit: Hang Duong

Colorful Hang Ma street in mid-Autumn festival
Colorful Hang Ma street in mid-Autumn festival

Get lost in the old quarter of Hanoi, and discover old houses, temples, pagodas, markets … by chance. It will be cool! (It also allows you to discover interesting corners in the heart of Hanoi Old Quarter).

Quan Chuong Gate in the Hanoi's lively old Quarter
Quan Chuong Gate in the Hanoi’s lively old Quarter

Enjoying an egg coffee in Hanoi

Vietnam is the second largest producer and exporter of coffee in the world. Vietnamese coffee can be considered the best one in Southeast Asia.

With a little egg, butter and cheese, the coffee at the famous Giang Cafe, 39 Nguyen Huu Huan street (old quarter) is as sweet as vanilla. It’s a family coffee shop from generation to generation. The egg coffee here is really good. It does not smell of raw egg.

Egg coffee
Egg coffee at Giang Cafe

The approximate price for a cup of egg coffee is 25.000VND. The cafe is open daily from 7am til 10.30pm.

Attending the folk music show “ca tru”

“Ca tru” is a Vietnam World Heritage recognized by UNESCO in 2009. It is the traditional music of North Vietnam, existing since the 15th century.

If the water puppet show is more suitable for families with children, the show “ca tru” is for those who want a taste of art experience.

Ca Tru Performance
Ca Tru Performance

The show is held in a small but pretty temple at 8 pm every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. This temple – Quan De Temple is Thang Long Ca tru Theater which is located at 28 Hang Buom Street. The ticket for a person is 270.000VND

Admiring the sunset on the West Lake (Ho Tay)

There are several lakes in Hanoi and the largest is the West Lake (500ha). In the afternoon, some Vietnamese run, cycle around the lake or surf SUP (stand up paddle) on the lake. Foreigners working in Hanoi like to rent an apartment near this lake. The area attracting large number of foreigners near West Lake is Ciputra.

Admiring the stunning sunset on the West Lake
Admiring the stunning sunset on the West Lake

Another place to visit is Tran Quoc Pagoda which is located on a small island near the southeastern shore of West Lake. Entrance is free to the temple, but donations are encouraged.

Tran Quoc Temple
Tran Quoc Temple

Walking on Phan Dinh Phung street and tasting typical dishes at the restaurant

Phan Dinh Phung is one of the most romantic streets of Hanoi, especially in autumn when you can enjoy a walk on Phan Dinh Phung street watching falling yellow leaves and hearing the church bells. Come here, you’ll see traveling florists, photographers …

Phan Dinh Phung street full of falling yellow leaves in the autumn
Phan Dinh Phung street full of falling yellow leaves in the autumn

Do not forget to come to the beautiful villa at number 34 of this street for a special dinner. This is a restaurant offering good food with price not too expensive. Come here, you can taste all the best dishes typical of all regions of Vietnam: north, center, south. There are hundreds of dishes to choose from. The restaurant opens from 7 am to 10pm.

Address: Quan Ngon, 34 Phan Dinh Phung Street

The Temple of Literature: the first university of Vietnam

It was built in 11th century and first to honor Confucius and nowadays to celebrate the doctorates and high rank scholars of Vietnam. The temple hosts the Imperial Academy which is the first university in Vietnam, Temple of Literature and Imperial Academy is a sacred place. The buildings remain the same as it was built a millennium ago.

The Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature

Entry fee: 30.000VND

Open: 8 am-5pm every day

Address: 58 Quoc Tu Giam Street (2.5km from Hoan Kiem Lake)

The Mausoleum, Ho Chi Minh House and Museum, Ba Dinh Square, One Pillar Pagoda

These sites are all close to each other (3km from Hoan Kiem Lake)

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
One Pillar Pagoda
One Pillar Pagoda

The musoleum is closed every afternoon and Monday, Friday

Entry fee: 25.000VND

Walking on the Long Bien bridge (ex-Paul Doumer) and admire the sunset

Long Bien bridge is over the Red River and offers scenic views of river. The total length of the bridge is 2.1km. Cars and buses are not allowed to cross the bridge.

Long Bien Bridge
Long Bien Bridge

Suggested itinerary for a 2-day trip in Hanoi

If your budget allows, do not hesitate to stay in the hotel Sofitel Legend Metropole, the best hotel in Hanoi and in the top 100 of the best hotels in the world.

Sofitel Legend Metropole
Sofitel Legend Metropole

Day 1:

Morning: visit of the Ethnology Museum of Vietnam

Lunch: enjoying a “bun cha Obama” (rice vermicelli with grilled pork, a specialty of Hanoi) in the Huong Lien restaurant at 26 Le Van Huu street where President Barack Obama has tested it for you, and he did like it.

Bun cha Obama - Bun Cha Huong Lien
Bun cha Obama – Bun Cha Huong Lien

Afternoon: visiting the Lake of the Returned Sword and its Temple of the Jade Mountain (Ngoc Son Temple) before getting lost in the old districts of Hanoi. Opportunity to visit shops on the Hang Bong and Hang Hom streets… for shopping souvenirs.

Dinner: Enjoy typical Vietnamese dishes at Quan Ngon Restaurant at 34 Phan Dinh Phung Street. A table in the balcony is recommended. If not, try “cha ca Hanoi” – rice vermicelli, grilled fish and aromatic herbs … another Hanoi specialty in the Cha ca La Vong restaurant, at 14 Cha Ca Street, in the old quarter.

Quan Ngon Restaurant - 34 Phan Dinh Phung Street
Quan An Ngon Restaurant – 34 Phan Dinh Phung Street

Night in a small charming hotel in the old quarter.

Day 2:

Morning: visiting the Temple of Literature (and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex or the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum if you want to)

Lunch: having meal at KOTO Van Mieu Training Restaurant at 59 Van Mieu street, near the Temple of Literature with original dishes and if you want to help disadvantaged teenagers at the same time. Or having a light meal on the street: sticky rice Xoi Yen at 35B Nguyen Huu Huan, Vietnamese sandwich at 12 Hang Buom Street … then having an egg coffee at Giang Cafe at 39 Nguyen Huu Huan Street.

Banh My P - Vietnamese sandwich at 12 Hang Buom Street
Banh My P – Vietnamese sandwich at 12 Hang Buom Street

Afternoon: visiting the Tran Quoc Pagoda, located on the edge of the Western Lake. Returning to Hanoi’s Old Quarter and taking a short stroll through the alleys around Hanoi Cathedral. Do a foot massage at “Van Xuan Footmassage” at 18 Ly Quoc Su Street, not far from the Cathedral (from $ 7 for foot massage, from $ 9 for body massage for 70 minutes, not including tips)

Dinner: at the restaurant Madame Hien at Chan Cam 15 Street of the chef of the 5-star hotels: Didier Corlou – a French chef who fell in love with Hanoi and opened several restaurants there. Or at the popular “The Gourmet corner” restaurant on the rooftop of the boutique hotel La Siesta Diamond at 32 Lo Su Street, with great views of the city.

If you travel alone, Grabbike will be very useful for getting around town. Grabbike is a Uber type app, but for motorbikes. The trip by motorcycle taxi Grabbike costs about 1 € / 3km.

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About Me

Welcome to Local Life In Vietnam Blog. I’m a Vietnamese who love traveling around the world. My mission is to share with those who are interested in traveling in Vietnam the best travel experiences, things to do in the most popular tourism destinations in Vietnam. Vietnam is definitely a great place to visit and has much to offer. I strongly hope that someday you will take on a trip to visit my beautiful country.