Things to Do in Hanoi

The capital of Vietnam is also one of the most ancient capitals in the world. It’s located in the northern part of the country, and is home to some 10 million people in the metropolitan region. It’s the place where the cultures of every region in Vietnam converge. Unlike Ho Chi Minh City where everyone is always hustling, Hanoi is all about the quiet and the peace. If you want to visit Hanoi, one to three days is more than enough, here are some of our choices on what to do in Hanoi.

  1. Take a Stroll at Hoan Kiem lake

Meaning “Lake of the Returned Sword”, Hoan Kiem Lake is situated in the heart of the Old Quarter of Hanoi. Hoan Kiem Lake is also home to Ngoc Son Temple, an 18th century Buddhist temple that sits on a small island in the lake, reachable only via an ornamental, red wooden bridge connecting the island to the northern shore of the lake; a small entrance fee applies.

It’s worth it, as inside the temple you’ll see interesting historical artifacts, as well as a giant turtle (it weighs over 250 kg) that was found in the lake. Even today there are turtles living in the lake, so try to spot one as it’s considered a sign of good luck!

Opening Hours of Ngoc Son Pagoda: Daily 07:30 – 17:30
Entrance Fee: VND 20,000 to enter the temple 

  1. Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Next up is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. This huge granite complex in the middle of Ba Dinh Square should absolutely be part of your itinerary, as it represents a big part of Vietnam’s history and culture. He is remembered as the savior of his people, which explains the reverence with which he is held.

Ho Chi Minh was the first communist ruler of Vietnam, defeating the French during the colonial era in 1954. Modeled after the tomb of Lenin of Russia, visitors can now see the body of Ho Chi Minh preserved for eternity in a coffin of glass.

Since Ho Chi Minh’s remains are sent to Russia for maintenance every year around October, the Mausoleum is closed for a while in autumn. Before you go, check online or with your hotel to see if it’s open to avoid disappointment.

The Mausoleum
Location: 8 Hung Vuong street, Dien Bien district, Ba Dinh Square
Mausoleum Opening Hours: Tuesday – Thursday 07:30 – 10:30, Saturday and Sunday 07:30 – 11:00
Entrance Fee: Free but donations are accepted

The Museum
Location: 19 Ngoc Ha, Ba Dinh Square (right next to the Mausoleum)
Museum Opening Hours: Every day except for Monday and Friday, from 08:00 – 11:30 and 14:00 – 16:30
Entrance Fee: VND 10,000 

  1. Explore Hoa Lo prison

Hoa Lo Prison has a dark and foreboding history. First built in the late 1800’s by the French, the prison was used to house Vietnamese political prisoners. A guillotine from this time is a silent reminder of the harsh punishments’ prisoners suffered for breaking the rules of the French colonial government.

Today Hoa Lo prison is more well-known for housing hundreds of American POW’s after the Vietnam War. Colloquially known as “Hanoi Hilton,” this famous prison has been mostly torn down, only the gatehouse of Hoa Lo Prison remains. The remaining structures have been transformed into a museum where tourists stroll this once nightmarish place.

Location: 1 Hoa Lo Street, Tran Hung Dao, Hoan Kiem district
Opening Hours: Daily 08:00 – 17:00
Entrance Fee: VND 30,000 

  1. Visit the Citadel of Hanoi

The imperial citadel of Thang Long is a must-see when visiting the city. This UNESCO protected world heritage site once stood at the center of ancient Hanoi and is still spectacular to see, even to this day.

For an incredible thirteen centuries the Citadel has stood as the heart of northern Vietnam and was once the capital of the country.

Location: 19C Hoang Dieu, Quan Thanh, Ba Dinh district
Opening Hours: Daily 08:00 – 19:30
Entrance Fee: VND 30,000

  1. Visit the Temple of Literature

This beautiful temple complex in the heart of Hanoi was built over 1000 years ago, and was dedicated to the teachings of Confucius. The Temple of Literature was Vietnam’s first national university, and many monuments still remain on the grounds dedicated to the scholars who graduated here.

The Temple of Literature is home to five courtyards, two of which house wonderfully landscaped gardens. A large, serene pond known as the Well of Heavenly Clarity, is in the third courtyard, a statue of Confucius and a house of ceremonies is in the fourth. In the fifth courtyard, you’ll find Thai Hoc, a large bell tower and drum, that are both of key importance in Vietnamese history and culture.

Meander through the beautiful grounds and let this place take you back in time, to when ancient scholars came to the gardens to relax, and only the children of royalty and aristocrats were educated here.

Location: 58 Quoc Tu Giam Street, Ba Dinh district
Opening Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 08:30 – 11:30 and 13:30 – 16:30
Entrance Fee: VND 10,000

  1. Visit Tran Quoc Pagoda

Tran Quoc Pagoda is the oldest temple in all of Hanoi. It was first constructed in the 6th century by the Emperor Ly Nam De, making the Pagoda almost 1500 years old. Standing at 15 meters, the main pagoda is made up of eleven levels, while its surrounding buildings include an incense burning house and a museum housing historic relics. You can also see intricately carved statues dating back to 1639, each of which bear unique facial feature.

Location: Thanh Nien, Truc Bach, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
Opening Hours: Daily 08:00 – 16:00
Entrance is FREE 

  1. Get Lost in the Old Quarter

The Old Quarter is where all the magic happens in the city. This crazy, charming place is a bustling hub of attractions, restaurants and shops and one of those rare places in the world where you can happily get lost. Most hotels in Hanoi are located in the Old Quarter and many of the city’s sights are too, so this is likely where you’ll be spending a good portion of your trip.

The Old Quarter is also the prime shopping district. Everything here is so delightfully cheap by western standards, and even if you don’t like to shop, you’ll still probably find yourself shopping. Haggling is the name of the game, so prepare yourself.

  1. Shop at Dong Xuan Market

Established in 1889, Dong Xuan Market is housed within a four-story Soviet-style building on the northern edge of Hanoi Old Quarter. It’s also known as Hanoi’s largest indoor market, offering a wide range of goods such as fresh produce, souvenirs, accessories and clothing, as well as electronic and household appliances. Looking for a souvenir? You will have a good chance of finding it here.

Even if you don’t want to buy anything, the bustling, colorful atmosphere of Dong Xuan Market makes it worth a visit.

Location: Dong Xuan Street, Hoan Kiem district
Opening Hours: Daily 06:00 – 19:00

  1. Hanoi’s Iconic One Pilar Pagoda

Source image wikipedia

Rising from one pillar in the center of an elegantly square shaped lotus pond, the One Pillar Pagoda is said to represent a lotus flower growing up, out of the water. Built between the years of 1028 and 1054 during the reign of Emperor Ly Thai Tong of the Ly Dynasty, the One Pillar Pagoda is one of Vietnam’s most iconic temples.

The little temple is constructed from wood, based on a single stone pillar crafted into the shape of a lotus blossom. It has been rebuilt several times, most recently in 1955, when the base was destroyed during the French evacuation.

Step inside and you will see a richly decorated effigy of the Buddhist goddess Quan Am, also known as the Goddess of Mercy. The tiny, 3-square meter interior is beautifully adorned and still an important place of worship and prayer.

Location: The One Pilar Pagoda is situated in the park behind the museum near Ba Dinh Square at Ong Ich Kiem Street in the Ba Dinh District.
Opening Hours: Daily 08:00 – 17:00
Entrance is FREE

  1. Thang Long Water Puppet Show

Hanoi is famous for its water puppet shows, with several theaters showing daily performances. The most famous water puppet theater is Thang Long Theater, located next to Hoan Kiem Lake. Shows at this modern theater are performed in a pool of water, that acts as the stage for the puppets. The puppets are controlled by no more than eight puppeteers hiding behind a bamboo screen.

The renowned Thang Long Water Puppet show is considered to be one of the cultural highlights of Northern Vietnam, dating back to a tradition that first started in the Red River Delta.

This is something you don’t want to miss, as it plays a significant part in Vietnamese heritage and culture. That being said, you can imagine this show being very popular among both international guests and locals. This means that performances often sell out several days in advance, so try either booking ahead or as soon as you get to Hanoi.

Show Timings: Daily 15:00, 16:10, 17:20, 18:30 and 20:00
Location: 57B, Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hoan Kiem district
Tel: +84 43 824 9494
Ticket Price: VND 100,000

  1. St. Joseph Cathedral

The neo-Gothic looking St Joseph Cathedral is considered the Mother of all Catholic Churches in Vietnam. It was inaugurated in 1886, and is a wonder to behold. You definitely get the feeling of medieval Europe.

Location: 40 Nha Chung P, Hoan Kiem
For Inside visit: visitors can only enter the Cathedral in Hanoi in the opening time of ceremonial practice as the following schedule:

    • Weekday: 05:30 and 18:15
    • Saturday: 18:00
    • Sunday: 05:00, 07:00, 09:00, 11:00, 16:00, 18:00 and 20:00
    • Special ceremony is on 19th March every year.

    Entrance is FREE

  1. Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House

The small wooden house where Ho Chi Minh lived, is composed of only 2 floors. It is very humble and simple, with just a couple of rooms where Ho Chi Minh was resting and studying. The visit to the house of Ho Chi Minh simply allowed us to see the grounds and rooms, without allowing entry to them.

The stilt house was constructed in a corner of the Presidential Palace’s gardens, in front of a carp pond. It looks like nothing more than a wooden house set on stilts, perhaps less weathered and better constructed than its traditional counterparts, but still affecting a simplicity that seems better suited to servants’ quarters than the President of a country. 

Location: Part of the Presidential Palace Complex
Operating Hours: Monday 08:00 – 11:00 and Tuesday to Sunday 08:00 – 16:00
Entrance is FREE

  1. Take a Tour to Bai Tu Long Bay

The next entry on the list of things to do in Hanoi is one which is known throughout the world. The majestic Bai Tu Long Bay is one of the most stunning places you will ever see. Although technically not in Hanoi, most of the tours to the bay leave from this city.

  1. Make a Pit Stop at Bia Hoi Corner

Besides the constant barrage of motorbikes, the first thing I noticed about Vietnam were the tiny, brightly colored stools on every street corner occupied by people drinking beer. And if it wasn’t Tiger or Bia Hanoi (mass-produced commercial beer), it was “fresh beer”, or Bia Hoi.

Located in the intersection of Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen, known as Bia Hoi Corner, the “pubs” around this intersection in the Old Quarter serve freshly-made local beer, without preservatives. It’s brewed daily in small steel barrels, and may be the cheapest beer in the world at between 7,000 and 15,000 VND for a glass (about $0.25 – $0.50 USD)

We loved the atmosphere at Bia Hoi Corner. This is one of the best places to come if you want to meet other travelers, expats, and locals. Everyone sits on little plastic stools on the edges of the streets (that eventually become impassable for cars as the night goes on) and it’s easy to strike up conversations and meet people.

We have to say our trip to Hanoi was fascinating and we hope to make it back there again sometime, hopefully on a trip that includes a journey up to Sapa!

Safe Travels! 

Note: The information provided in this post was correct at time of publishing but may change. For final clarification please check with the relevant service.

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