There are many fantastic things to do in Hanoi. Some are simply unmissable, others are pure fun.
Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is one of the most interesting places to visit in the country. It’s a typical Asian metropolis, with traffic, chaos and noise that can at times be overwhelming. Yet, it can be a lot of fun, not to mention a great place to get at least some understanding of Vietnamese culture, way of life and spirit. The city has a lot to offer to visitors, and there are many incredible things to do in Hanoi that will keep you entertained for days.
I recommend spending at least 3 days in Hanoi. It’s a good amount of time to explore all of Hanoi attractions at a slow pace, and get to appreciate its vibe. If you have a fourth day to spare, you can also get to visit some of the beautiful surroundings.
This post highlights the unmissable and the most fun things to do in Hanoi, and gives you some tips on how to make the most of the city.
For an extensive guide about Vietnam, check out my post “33 Incredibly Fun Things To Do In Vietnam In 15 Days.”
17 Unmissable Things To Do In Hanoi
Explore Hanoi Old Quarter
As soon as you get to Hanoi, make sure to head to the Old Quarter. Even better, try to get a room there – I will tell you more about where to stay in Hanoi in a bit. Visiting the Old Quarter is one of the unmissable things to do in Hanoi. This is the historic heart and commercial center of the city, where there are lot of interesting attractions – think temples and pagodas.
Still, I find that rather than going through all the temples and pagodas, one of the best things to do in Hanoi is to actually just walk around. This way, you’ll be able to appreciate the architecture and enjoy the incredible vibe of Vietnam’s capital.
Walking around the Old Quarter, you will notice that it is packed with a multitude of tiny bars, restaurants and the biggest array of street food places one can think of – eating street food is one of the things to do in Hanoi: stay tuned as I will talk more about this in a bit! This is also where you’ll find all the travel agencies selling tours to the rest of the country.
TIP: If you are thinking of buying a guided tour of Ha Long Bay or Sapa Valley in one of the many agencies located in Hanoi Old Quarter, make sure to take online reviews with a pinch of salt. Some reviews are blatantly fake!
You can book your Hanoi Old Quarter tour here.
Walk along Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son
Taking a walk along Hoan Kiem Lake (also known as Turtle Lake) is one of the unmissable things to do in Hanoi. The best part of it is that there are no cars and no scooters there, so it’s a nice break from the terrible traffic of Hanoi. Make sure to cross the bridge that leads to the island at the center of the lake, as this is where the lovely Ngon temple is located. It costs 20000 Vietnamese Dong (VDN), which is less than $1 USD, to visit the temple. I suppose you can splurge to get in, as this is one of Hanoi attractions!
TIP: Make sure to go to Hoan Kiem Lake at night. That’s when the bridge to Ngoc Son gets illuminated and the sight is truly beautiful.
Visit the Temple of Literature
If you are a fan of traditional architecture, visiting the Temple of Literature is one of the unmissable things to do in Vietnam. In fact, I actually think you should go regardless of your interest in architecture, as this is simply a truly interesting place to explore. Dedicated to Confucius, the temple was built in 1070. It then became a university for Mandarin students. Around the temple there are stelae which are dedicated to the students.
For a tour of Hanoi that also goes to the Temple of Literature, click here.
Explore Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex and its surroundings
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is (obviously) dedicated to Ho Chi Minh, the political leader of Vietnam. Paying a visit is one of the ultimate things to do in Hanoi. Close to that, there also is Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House and the One Pillar Pagoda, which are two of the most famous Hanoi attractions. I recommend exploring the area, which is pretty and quiet – as opposed to most of the city, it is closed to traffic and the roads are spacious.
This tour of Hanoi also goes to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
Visit the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
Known as the citadel of Hanoi, the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the nicest things to do in Hanoi is exploring this site. This used to be the political center of Hanoi. The citadel is located in Ba Dinh and it opens every day from 8:00 and to 7:30 pm.
Enjoy a show at Hanoi Opera House
One of the most beautiful buildings in Hanoi is the Opera House, which was built in 1911, when Hanoi was under French rule, in what is now known as the French Quarter. The Opera House was pretty much left to the elements when the French left Vietnam, but it was renovated in 1997. One of the nicest things to do in Hanoi is attending a show – there are Vietnamese opera performances, concerts and even ballet. The prices start from around $4 USD do it’s completely affordable.
Go to the Water Puppet Show
One of the most touristy yet interesting things to do in Hanoi is attending the Water Puppet Show. In a small theater in the heart of the city, puppets are moved from under the water in a show that showcases the pillars of Vietnamese way of life, culture and even religion. The show lasts about one hour and it costs around $10 USD.
TIP: The Water Puppet Shows is one of the most famous Hanoi attractions. Make sure to get your ticket in advance, either online or at the theater. There are several shows daily. You can get Water Puppet Show tickets here.
Do a street food tour
If there is one thing that I love about Asia that’s all the street food. Eating in the streets for a real steal is a must in this part of the world, and such a popular thing to do that places like Singapore have even allocated specific areas in the city for all street food vendors.
Find out more about street food in Singapore in my post “Why You Should Visit A Hawkers Center In Singapore.”
Vietnam is the first country where I indulged in the pleasures of street food. One of the nicest things to do in Hanoi is taking a street food tour, which will give you the chance to learn more about the local dishes and will explain how to pick a good place from one that isn’t as good. It’s a fantastic way to get introduced to what’s a huge part of Vietnamese culture, and to eat a lot of delicious food for a real steal!
Then attend a cooking class
One of the things to do in Hanoi is taking a cooking class. I regret not doing that, to be honest, because I really love pho bo (it may well be my favorite international dish) and I crave it so much that any time I travel outside of Sardinia (where Vietnamese restaurants aren’t a thing) I make it a point to look for it. Cooking classes usually include a market tour, so you’ll also get a glimpse of the local life and culture.
You can book your cooking class in Hanoi here.
Do some shopping
Vietnam is an excellent shopping destination, and one of the things to do in Hanoi is shopping. There are various markets around town (well, in fact there are shops everywhere!). One of the most famous ones is Dong Xuan Market. The building is anything but charming, and depending on where you go the smell is overpowering. But if you past the fish section, it can be a cool place to spot local life and do some shopping. The market closes at 7:00 pm.
TIP: One of the things to do in Hanoi and the rest of the country when shopping is haggling. The market is a good place to practice your skills!
Enjoy Hanoi nightlife
One of the most fun things to do in Hanoi is enjoying its nightlife. To be fair, the local nightlife can’t even compare to that of Saigon, but it’s still worth going out and see what’s going on! According to local law, bars and clubs in Hanoi have to close by midnight. However, before closing time the city is incredibly lively. The best areas to go for a night drink are the Hoan Kiem Lake area and the Old Quarter, which are packed with small bars. The best thing to do is to sit in one of the tiny plastic stools and enjoy a cold beer for a real steal.
Read more about Saigon in my post “10 Things To Do In Saigon In Just 3 Days.”
Learn to cross the road
Ok, this is mere survival more than anything else. But literally, one of the things to do in Hanoi is getting a hang of the traffic and learning how to cross the crazy road. The thing is, this is a huge city – almost 10 million people live there, and traffic in Hanoi is daunting. Each and every person that lives in Hanoi owns a scooter, a car or both.
Walking around is difficult because, on top of all the traffic caused by scooters, bikes, cars and small trucks, there are all the scooters parked on the pavement, the shops that exhibit whatever they are selling on it, and all the small tables and stools of the street food places. Basically, you are forced to walk in the middle of the street and must avoid being hit.
The secret to walk or cross the road in Hanoi is to just go. Really. Drivers never stop to allow pedestrians to cross the street, yet they will somehow avoid them, driving around them while they hit their horn multiple times as a warning. It takes some getting used to, but you’ll get the hang of it.
Go to the Perfume Pagoda
One of the nicest things to do in Hanoi is getting away from it (I know, it makes little sense!). For as interesting and fun as Hanoi can be, it can get truly overwhelming and you may want to recharge your batteries by getting out of town and seeing a different part of the country. There are several places to visit close to Hanoi. I have selected just 3.
If you are in search for a truly local experience, go to the Perfume Pagoda.
The Perfume Pagoda is a complex of Buddhist temples built along the Houng Tich mountain chain. Here, the most relevant temple is Chua Trong, which is located inside a cave.
Though the place is beautiful in its own way, what makes the trip worth it is the overall experience. In order to get there, you have to ride a wooden rowing boat. Traditionally, these are moved by women. The boat ride lasts around one hour and the views along the way are lovely.
Once on the site, you will notice that it is packed with street food stalls and shops, much like a huge shopping mall, and that it is crowded – yet there are hardly any foreign tourists. Keep on walking following the stairs, or take the cable car, to get all the way to the top. The views are stunning.
TIP: Make sure to factor enough time for a trip to the Perfume Pagoda. For as close as it is to Hanoi, the traffic to get there and back is terrible! Also keep in mind that this part of the country is very humid, so make sure to wear good shoes with grip soles as the area is very slippery.
You can book your Perfume Pagoda tour from Hanoi here.
Explore Ba Vi National Park
Ba Vi National Park is in a nice reserve at about 60 km from Hanoi. It’s a fantastic place to go hiking, and get a good break from the chaos of the city. One of the perks of the park is the natural hot springs. On top of the tallest mountain there is a temple that dates back to the 11th century and from where there are breathtaking views.
Visit Ninh Binh and Trang An
One of the nicest things to do in Hanoi is getting on a motorbike and head to Ninh Binh. The area is lovely, with many temples, valleys and even caves, so I don’t recommend to visit it on a day trip. It’s better to stay overnight. Trang An complex, a lovely UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an easy boat ride from Ninh Binh. You will find temples, caves and plenty of nice sights.
Should you still want to see Ninh Binh as a day trip from Hanoi, these are the best tours:
- Ninh Binh daily tour
- Bai Dinh, Trang An and Mua Cave day trip from Hanoi
- Full day Trang An, Hoa Lu and Mua Cave tour with lunch
Make sure to read my post “13 Great Day Trips From Hanoi.”
Get travel insurance
Hanoi is a safe city. Having said that, I recommend getting a good travel insurance no matter where you travel. You can find a good travel insurance deal here.
Beware of scams
The most common scam in Vietnam is inflated taxi fees. One of the things to do in Hanoi to avoid falling victim of a taxi driver is to haggle the price of the ride before getting on, starting with offering less than half of the suggested price. If haggling is not your thing, ask to pay by the meter so that you know you are paying a fair price.
Further Tips To Plan Your Trip To Hanoi
Where to stay in Hanoi
The good news about Hanoi is that whatever accommodation option you will pick, it’s going to be extremely good value for money. The city caters for any kind of traveler, with a variety of hostels, guest houses, boutique and luxury hotels.
Here’s a selection of where to stay in Hanoi:
- Central Backpackers Hostel in Hanoi Old Quarter is a very good option for backpackers. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- O’Gallery Majestic Hotel and Spa is a fabulous boutique hotel near Hoan Kiem Lake. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- My Moon Hotel Hanoi is a very good mid range option. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Have you ever been to Hanoi? What are the things to do in Hanoi that you enjoyed the most?
Make sure to read my post “How To Get The Vietnam Visa Online And The Vietnam Visa On Arrival.”