Best Things To Do in Hanoi

Hanoi is a place with a lot to offer to visitors. I will tell you which are the places and activities that are a must to discover in this millenary city.

Ana Caballero

Ana Caballero

10 min read

Best Things To Do in Hanoi

personas en bote |©Leandro Cristalli

The capital of Vietnam, Hanoi, is a city with a great cultural, historical and architectural richness. In its chaotic streets you will see temples, museums, theaters, markets and many other destinations of tourist interest. Many of them with a notorious influence of French and Chinese culture.

Among the best things to see and do in Hanoi you can walk around the historic center to see landmarks such as the one-pillar pagoda or the Ho Chi Minh Complex. Also, sample local cuisine at street food stalls and even join a traditional cooking class, visit the Museum of Ethnography and Hoa Lo Prison, among others.

1. Explore the streets of Hanoi on foot and discover the Vietnamese capital

Hanoi Street|©Mark Fischer
Hanoi Street|©Mark Fischer

One of the main things to do in Hanoi is to walk through its chaotic and picturesque streets, which showcase the history and culture of the Vietnamese capital. You will be able to discover many ancient buildings with exquisite oriental architecture: temples, mausoleums, pagodas, markets, museums and much more.

Throughout this adventure exploring Hanoi, you will have the opportunity to see some of the places considered must-see. For example:

  • Ho Chi Minh Complex, where the body of the founder of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, rests.
  • History Museum, inside which you will find exhibits of prehistoric objects and those belonging to the Đinh, Lý, Trần, Lê and Nguyễn dynasties, among others.
  • The one-pillar pagoda; this small Buddhist temple was erected by order of King Ly Thai To, as a token of veneration towards the goddess Quan Am, for her first-born son.
  • The Ngoc Son Temple, with a history dating back to the 18th century and a harmonious architecture.

These types of tours can be done on your own or by joining a guided or private tour of Hanoi. This option is more convenient, as you will be accompanied by a local person who knows every corner of the city and will take you directly to each destination of interest.

Useful information

  • Price: if you do the tour on your own it is free, but if you join a private tour the approximate cost is about 26€ per person.
  • Duration: the activity usually lasts about 4 hours. However, if you walk around Hanoi at your own pace there is no time limit.

Book a private tour of Hanoi

2. Join a cooking class and enjoy Vietnamese cuisine

Street food, Hanoi|©NoDurians
Street food, Hanoi|©NoDurians

If you are an Asian food enthusiast, then during your stay of at least 3 days in Hanoi, you will learn how to prepare some traditional Vietnamese food dishes, together with a local instructor.

This culinary experience usually starts with a visit to a local market, one of the most popular and oldest being Dong Xuan. There, you will purchase all the fresh produce needed for the preparation of the recipes (meats, fruits, vegetables, etc.) and then you will set off to the kitchen of a local house to start the class.

Although the menu of the Vietnamese cooking class in Hanoi may vary, generally a typical dish called Bun Cha (sweet and sour fish sauce, noodles and pork patties), spring rolls, a creamy pudding over coffee and whipped egg yolks, among other delicacies, are usually prepared.

Information of interest

  • Price: the average price of this culinary experience is 42€ per person.
  • Duration: this Vietnamese cooking class usually lasts 4 hours and 30 minutes (approx.).

Book a Vietnamese cooking class

3. Be amazed by the original water puppet show in Hanoi

water puppet show|©Lindsay
water puppet show|©Lindsay

During your visit to the city of Hanoi you can attend an original water puppet show. This is a traditional activity performed during the Lý Dynasty (1428 to 1789), to celebrate the completion of the rice harvest. You can learn about local folklore and have fun at the same time.

This activity usually takes place at the Thang Long Water Theater. Upon arrival, you will enter the hall of this performing arts venue and, after lights out, enjoy the mind-blowing water puppet show in Hanoi, which incorporates special effects, live traditional music and fireworks.

This is a highly entertaining experience, which is not to be missed during your stay in the Vietnamese capital. Therefore, you should not hesitate to incorporate it into your itinerary along with tours of the old quarter of the city, the best cruises in Hanoi, which will allow you to explore the surroundings and even reach Halong Bay from Hanoi, among other activities.

Useful information

  • Price: the cost of this attraction is about 9€ per person.
  • Duration: usually the show lasts about 50 minutes.

Buy tickets for the aquatic puppet show

4. Hop on the Hanoi sightseeing bus and explore the city at your own pace

Bus To Halong Bay|©ohirtenfelder
Bus To Halong Bay|©ohirtenfelder

A good plan to incorporate into your itinerary is, of course, to tour the city and what better way to do it, but aboard the Hanoi sightseeing bus. You will be able to take a panoramic tour, as well as, hop on and off at any of the 14 stops assigned to visit the places of your interest.

Once on the Hanoi tourist bus you will be able to contemplate the city from a different perspective and listen to live commentary, being able to see on your way emblematic places such as:

  • Bach Ma Temple, belonging to the Lý dynasty and considered one of the oldest in the Vietnamese capital.
  • The Hanoi Opera House, a construction of 1911, representative of the neoclassical and eclectic architectural style.
  • The Hanoi Cathedral; this is an imposing building of the late nineteenth century with a marked neo-Gothic style.
  • The Flag Tower, a war monument of 33 meters high, valued as a World Heritage Site.

Information of interest

  • Price: the price of the tourist bus tour of Hanoi with free stops starts at about 19 € per person.
  • Duration: the complete tour of the city of Hanoi lasts approximately 90 minutes. Moreover, the bus service is available from 9:15 am to 4:15 pm.

5. Experience a different adventure in Hanoi by riding through the streets in a Soviet-era jeep

hanoi by jeep|©richandalice
hanoi by jeep|©richandalice

A very original way to explore the busy streets of Hanoi is, without a doubt, aboard a Soviet-era jeep. In the same activity you will be able to live a cultural and touristic experience, where you will see the city from a different perspective, while learning about its history.

For this adventure you will board a classic Vietnamese army jeep, which will take you back to the Soviet era, i.e. throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Then, you will embark on a route through the streets of Hanoi with a driver-guide, who will give you interesting facts about the past and present of each place as you pass by.

Among some of the places where this cultural and tourist tour of Hanoi by jeep usually passes are the following:

  • The French Quarter, with its buildings belonging to the French colonization era. This place stands out in Hanoi as the modern area and is home to several interesting destinations such as Hoa Lo Prison and the Opera House.
  • Tran Quoc Temple, one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Hanoi at approximately 1,500 years old.
  • The Train street; a peculiar alley where a train passes, which is surrounded by houses and stores.
  • The West Lake; a beautiful natural lake about 17 kilometers long, from where you will get a privileged panoramic view of the city.

Information of interest

  • Price: this jeep experience in the city usually costs around 48€ per person.
  • Duration: the tour usually lasts 4 hours and 30 minutes.

Book a cultural and sightseeing jeep tour

6. Grab your camera and take the best pictures of Hanoi's Old Quarter

square view in hanoi|©Jean Pierre 87
square view in hanoi|©Jean Pierre 87

If you want to create lasting memories of your visit to Hanoi, then you should grab your camera and roam the streets of the Vietnamese capital. You will find incredible places that will allow you to capture the essence of this picturesque city, dotted with monuments, ancient architecture, natural spaces and much more.

Once you start your walk through the old town and its surroundings you will have no problem to start taking pictures, as every corner of this area offers great visual appeal.

Undoubtedly, this is an Instagram-worthy tour of Hanoi in which you will have as a backdrop some of the city's must-see destinations such as the following:

  • The Ceramic Mosaic Street, considered the world's largest ceramic mosaic mural mosaic in the world due to its length of about 3.85 kilometers.
  • Tran Quoc Pagoda, erected by order of Emperor Ly Nam De in the 6th century.

Long Bien Bridge, a millenary structure that has witnessed several wars.

  • St. Joseph's Cathedral, a Catholic compound in Gothic style that was built by the French.

Book an Instagram-worthy tour

7. Try street food in Hanoi

Hanoi Street Market|©Ruud Bos
Hanoi Street Market|©Ruud Bos

Hanoi is a city with a wide gastronomic offer, capable of delighting the most demanding palates. During your stay of 2 days in Hanoi or more, you can enjoy the flavors, colors and textures of local food. Go to the dozens of street food stalls in the historic center and try some dishes.

To carry out this experience you will have many options to visit. For example, you can go to the gastronomic district of Hang Buom, with traditional and exotic preparations; Ta Hien Street, which stands out for its varied dishes and beer; Dong Xuan Market, considered the oldest in the city.

Throughout this street food tour of Hanoi you will have the opportunity to taste the emblematic foods of the city, some of them being the following:

  • Pho, a rice noodle soup.
  • Bánh mì, which is a bread stuffed with pickles, tofu or meat and daikon.
  • Bun Cha, which combines pickles, grilled pork and some fresh herbs.
  • Spring rolls; a fried dough stuffed with vegetables, among other preparations.

Book a street food tour

8. Visit the Temple of Literature in Hanoi

Hanoi - Temple of Literature|©John Hammond
Hanoi - Temple of Literature|©John Hammond

Another destination that will help you learn about the history of Hanoi is the Temple of Literature. It is the first university built in the Vietnamese capital, whose history dates back to the 11th century. You will be able to visit the interior of this knowledge complex composed of shrines, landscaped courtyards, among others.

Throughout your tour of this temple built under the rule of the monarch Ly Thanh Tong, you will have the opportunity to visit the five courtyards that make up the building:

  • The ancient rest rooms, formerly used by students.
  • The courtyard that houses the treasures of the temple, as well as the Thien Quang well, which at night offers an amazing view.
  • The hall of knowledge, entirely dedicated to the Chinese philosopher Confucius. There, you will also see a tile with the names of the students who finished their studies in this imperial academy.
  • The museum area, which stands out in the fifth courtyard and offers interesting exhibits with the history of the compound.

Information of interest

  • Price: The entrance fee to the Temple of Literature is approximately 1 Euro per person.
  • Opening hours: The Temple of Literature is usually open to the public from 7:30 am to 6:00 pm in summer and from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm in the winter season.

9. See the exhibits of the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology and delve into the history of this Asian country

Museum of Ethnology|©Mark Turner
Museum of Ethnology|©Mark Turner

The Museum of Ethnology of Vietnam is a must-see destination in Hanoi. You will learn about the interesting history behind the different ethnic groups present in these lands: the Hmong, the Cham, the Muong, the Thau, among others. You will also delve into Vietnamese culture.

When you arrive at the museum you will have at your disposal a series of exhibits with traditional artifacts used for the realization of handicrafts, musical instruments such as the flute, the shawm, the drum, among others. You will also find clothing made of silk and cotton, bamboo hats, basketry and pottery.

The museum also has an outdoor area, where you will find different types of housing built by each of the ethnic groups; multimedia resources, which will allow you a better understanding of the history exposed in the exhibits. There is also a souvenir store for you to buy some souvenirs.

Information of interest

  • Price: the cost of admission to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is about €2 per person.
  • Opening hours: the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is open from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm (Tuesday to Sunday). It is closed on Mondays.

10. Go to Hoa Lo Prison and discover the harshness experienced by political prisoners in the late 19th century

Hoa Lo Prison|©PaulP73
Hoa Lo Prison|©PaulP73

The former Hoa Lo Prison, built in 1896 and now a museum, is an ideal place to discover the harshness to which political prisoners were exposed at the end of the 19th century. You will have access to some cells and photographic records of the time.

In the prison you will observe various elements of torture and some representations of use through dolls. For example, there is the guillotine, where Vietnamese accused of being revolutionaries were beheaded and then their heads were placed in a bamboo fiber basket.

Another interesting place in this museum that will most likely give you chills are the cells, which once housed more than 2000 prisoners. These stand out for their high walls and imposing iron door with a small window, which only lets in a few rays of light.

Undoubtedly, this is one of the best tours of Hanoi, which you should not miss and incorporate it into your itinerary along with the best day trips from Hanoi to explore the surroundings of the city. You can discover the small town of Ninh Binh, reach Sapa from Hanoi, etc.

Useful information

  • Price: the approximate cost of admission to Hoa Lo Prison is €2 per person.
  • Opening hours: Hoa Lo Prison is usually open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm (daily).