Be the conversations at its rustic old coffee cafes or a dive into rich culture and history, Hanoi offers multitude of options as you go on to explore the interiors of this soulful city.
Longer you stay here, deeper Hanoi would soak you into its soul. I rented out a scooter and drove around busy roads and narrow streets of Hanoi for days. Here is my suggestion of top fun things that you could do on your Hanoi trip. This list is not the usual tourist bucket list but the things that would help you embrace the offbeat Hanoi in its originality and at its best –
- Stroll through Hanoi ‘Old Quarter’ & ‘French Quarter’
- Sip Traditional Vietnamese Coffee at Hanoi Cafes
- Visit Unique Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu)
- Explore Vietnam’s History at Hanoi Citadel
- Watch Water Puppet Show at Thang Long Theater
- Go for a Walk or Run around Hanoi West Lake
- Drive across Long Bien Bridge of Hanoi – Symbol of Vietnamese Courage
- Explore Vietnamese Culture & Heritage at Hanoi Museums
- Pay your homage at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
- Shop till you drop at Hanoi Markets – Dong Xuan Market
- Play or watch Kick Volleyball (Cau May) in Hanoi Streets
- Try Thuốc lào – Special Vietnamese Sheesha (Hookah)
- Post a postcard back home to your family and friends
- Get confused with Millions of Vietnamese Dongs
- Savor delicious local cuisines and beer – Hanoi’s Food Streets
You may read about all my experiences below or click on respective section to directly jump to a particular section.
(Go to the Top) ‘Old Quarter’ is the historical heart of Hanoi buzzing with trade and commerce activities since thousand years. A stroll (couple of hours to full day or days) through Old Quarter gives you a package of Vietnamese culture and heritage as you negotiate through its narrow alleys, at times shopping and few times savoring local street food. Bach Ma Temple and Heritage House (Traditional Merchants’ House) are two top attractions in ‘Old Quarter’ area.
South of Hoan Kiem Lake, lies French Quarter with old French Style Villas and wide pavements. This quieter part of town is worth a walk.
Party scene at ‘Old Quarter’ is simply amazing. As sun sets, it seems as if whole Hanoi heads to ‘Old Quarter’ for party and drinks. Streets literally get jammed with people sitting on low lying stools occupying all streets.
(Go to the Top) Your trip to Hanoi will be incomplete without exploring its old Coffee Shops. Try traditional Vietnamese Filter Coffee (cà phê đá) served in a glass with an aluminium top. Even before you take your first sip, you will be mesmerized as coffee essence drips in the glass drop by drop mixing with condensed milk. Or try Egg Coffee (cà phê trứng) that tastes something like tiramishu.
(Go to the Top) It is a picturesque Hanoi temple dedicated to Confucius – A revered Chinese Teacher and Philosopher. Built in 1070, temple has five courtyards that lead to the main temple complex towards the exit. In case, you have love for photography, Temple of Literature is an ideal place for you to capture moments in your camera. Take a stroll across its courtyards and relish your time capturing both architecture and portraits.
Read more about my trip to Temple of Literature here – Temple of Literature Hanoi (Văn Miếu) – Scenic Confucius Temple
(Go to the Top) Preserving a heritage of more than 1300 years and with its continuous role as a seat of power, Imperial Citadel of Thang Long in Hanoi is an impressive piece of Vietnamese history, culture, archaeology and values. Central Axis of the Citadel runs to the Hanoi Flag Tower, towering over 33 meters and visible even from a distance.
Read more about my visit to Hanoi Citadel here – Imperial Citadel of Thăng Long and Flag Tower, Hanoi – Impressive Heritage !!
(Go to the Top) If you are in Hanoi, then experiencing Hanoi Water Puppet Show is a must !! You will find posters of water puppet show in each of Vietnamese city but if you want to experience the best Water Puppet Show in Vietnam, then head to Municipal Water Puppet Theater once you are in Hanoi. Puppeteers (from back-stage) control the puppets with large bamboo rods hidden under water. They do it so perfectly that puppets look live as live humans – jumping, walking, fighting, swimming and doing all kind of aerobatics over water surface.
You can read more about Hanoi Water Puppet Show here – Hanoi Water Puppet Show at Thang Long Theater – Unique Vietnam Experience !!
Here is the video of snippets from Hanoi Water Puppet Show at Municipal Water Puppet Theater (Also known as Thang Long Water Puppet Theater Hanoi)
(Go to the Top) West Lake (Ho Tay), the largest of Hanoi lakes is 15 kilometers circumference with a walking path. Wake up early morning and go for a walk or run around West Lake. Alternately, you can also rent a bicycle and go for a round around the lake.
(Go to the Top) Long Bien Bridge represents the resilience and courage of Vietnamese. Built around 1900, this bridge was bombed multiple times during Vietnam War and each time quickly repaired by Vietnamese. It is a 2.4 kilometer long bridge with railway line passing through the center and road on both sides to drive through (only mopeds, bicycles and pedestrians).
You can enter inside train bridge through Ga Long Train Station. There are no charges to enter in, however if you will park your bike, there is parking fee. Please be careful not to venture too much inside as there is danger of slipping off through the large space between rails.
(Go to the Top) Hanoi houses some of the best and most unique museums of Vietnam – 1) National Museum of Vietnamese History 2) Vietnamese Women’s Museum 3) Museum of Vietnamese Revolution 4) Vietnam Military History Museum 5) Fine Arts Museum of Vietnam 6) Ho Chi Minh Museum 7) Vietnam Museum of Ethnology 8) Hoa La Prison Museum. It is quite difficult to visit all of them so select the ones that appeal to you.
I myself visited Vietnamese Women’s Museum and was personally quite impressed how Vietnam has a complete museum dedicated to its women. It is a multi-floor museum with each floor covering a particular theme. There is a floor dedicated to women revolutionaries who played a significant role in Vietnam War. Vietnam has conferred honorary Title of ‘Heroic Mothers of Vietnam’ to 50,000 women who sacrificed their husbands and children for the motherland. Indeed an impressive site !!
(Go to the Top) This is an important place of pilgrimage for many Vietnamese and you can take a walk around as complex that houses Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Presidential House, Ho Chi Minh Museum, His Stilt House and the One Pillar Pagoda. Ho Chi Minh’s body is still preserved inside the museum.
(Go to the Top) Yeah!! Go and visit local Hanoi markets and literally shop till you drop because you will get almost everything at pretty cheap prices. Dong Xuan Market is the biggest of Hanoi market and you can get here anything ranging from clothes to shoes to beautiful souvenirs and those special Vietnamese hats. Do bargain as rates are usually jacked up for foreigners.
(Go to the Top) This is a unique sports that you can see Vietnamese playing even on road side. This is amazing how they display amazing control while kicking small shuttles and balls. Do play in case you have agility to match Vietnamese else enjoy for sure 🙂
(Go to the Top) While roaming on Hanoi streets, I found few people smoking a unique version of Sheesha. Out of curiosity, I walked to them and they not even let me try it but also taught me how to pump it up. But believe me, it hits really well as you smoke pure tobacco. Do try in case you are up for a smoke in Vietnam : )
(Go to the Top) This is another unique experience to post a postcard back home to your friends and family members. You will find some very well hand-crafted post-cards in Hanoi. buy few and head to local post office to post one even to yourself. You will be glad to receive a letter from yourself once you would be back home after couple of days.
(Go to the Top) This you can not avoid but are bound to go through. Initially, it is painful to manage millions of Vietnamese Dongs. Even for parking, I was paying some ten thousand of Dongs. It made me feel filthy rich but it was traumatic to keep a count of millions. Slowly, It sank into me and became quite handy to manage my Dongs. I even managed to get my hands on 200 and 500 Dongs notes which are not so common now in Vietnam.
(Go to the Top) This is must if you are in Hanoi. Hanoi’s street food is an experience in itself. I especially enjoyed the part when locals so willingly taught me how to use chopsticks for my noodles and rice. Pho Cam Chi, Truc Bach, Pho Nghi Tam, Duong Thuy Khue and Cho Am Thuc Ngoc Lam are some of the streets where you can head to explore local Hanoi cuisines.
Hanoi is an amazing city and you can best explore it when you go around slowly. Best that I loved about this place is the people. Even on a solo trip, I never felt alone just for the warmth and approachability of Vietnamese people. Would love to be back soon sometime !!
Hope this helps you plan your Hanoi trip better. Please drop us your comments in case you need any additional information or want us to add more to the list.