The one thing people tell you to expect when you visit Hanoi is craziness. It’s a city with a buzz that goes well beyond its borders. So, when I arrived at the airport and hailed a taxi to the hotel, it’s fair to say I was a bit surprised. There were lots of motorbikes, but it wasn’t that different to Bangkok. It was only after leaving the hotel for the first time that I did understand why people call this city crazy.

Hanoi is the capital and the second largest city of Vietnam. It is full of wonderful colonial architecture, Buddhist temples, picturesque lakes and pagodas. It wasn’t the first Asian country I’ve visited, but it does feel like one of the most authentic in my opinion. The experience is very raw, crowded, loud and dirty… but also completely fascinating.

Where to stay in Hanoi

We divided our stay into two for our visit to Hanoi. Our third night was on Halong Bay. Then we headed back to the centre of Hanoi. This is around Hoàn Kiếm Lake, so it’s best to find your hotel there. If you plan to stay in a hostel, the best place for it will be the Old Quarter, which is the city’s backpacking base.

The first place we checked into was the Acoustic Hotel & Spa. It was a cheap but beautiful place. Friendly staff gave us a warm welcome and refreshed us with fruit and a drink. We loved the very charming balcony overlooking the city from our room, and the price included breakfast too!

For part two of our Hanoi experience, we headed to Hotel de l’Opera Hanoi MGallery by Sofitel. You’ll find it right in the heart of the French Quarter. Sofitel hotels are some of my favourites – we loved it when we stayed in the Sofitel in Singapore too – because there’s always a nice surprise.

These are not standard rooms but they have some elements that stand out. Our room was wonderful. Beautiful decor, a huge bathroom and a super comfortable bed. There was also a pool with a view of the Opera House on the top floor and downstairs there was a restaurant. They also served the best hotel breakfast I’ve ever eaten.

Unmissable experiences & things to do in Hanoi

 

Old Quarter

This is a place you just can’t miss it! The Old Quarter is full of narrow, bustling streets characterized by colonial architecture, divided thematically by services and goods sold. It’s the heart of the city where you go shopping, dine and party.

Full of cheap souvenirs, tiny chairs, the smell of good food, the cheapest beer in the world and bars that close the main door at midnight to continue the party inside.The Old Quarter simply has to feature in your list of things to do in Hanoi.

I won’t lie, it’s not easy to walk there. The streets throb with tourists and motorbikes. My favourite time there was at the weekend, when most of the streets are closed to cars and bikes for the market. The night market in Hanoi happens every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Vendors display stalls in the middle of the street! You can pick up virtually anything and shop for hours.

French Quarter

Founded in the nineteenth century when the city was under French control, today this district has beautiful colonial architecture, houses, fancy hotels and nice restaurants too. On some streets, you feel like you’re back in Europe and only the buzz of the bikes reminds you that you’re still in Vietnam.

Opera House

Established in the early twentieth century and modelled on the building of the Paris Opera Garnie, Hanoi’s Opera House is the largest building of this type in Southeast Asia. Today it is considered as the most luxurious theatre in Hanoi.

Train Trucks

One of the most Instagrammable places in Hanoi! This small and narrow street has a train that passes twice a day. Pay it a visit for some super cool coffee shops and be prepared to share your table with an Instagrammer or two!

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum 

This is a mighty edifice and one of the most important places in Hanoi. And rightly so, as it’s where their national hero rests. Ho Chi Minh was the prime minister from 1945–1955, then from 1955 until his death the president. He dreamed of unifying the nation, but unfortunately he died 24 years before that happened.

Near the mausoleum, you can also admire the wonderful Presidential Palace. The inside is closed to the public but the building itself, being a French colonial mansion, is stunning.

You’ll also find the One Pillar Pagoda, Uncle Ho Fishpond and Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House close by. The stilt house is a great reflection of the simple and modest life Ho Chi Minh chose to lead.

Hanoi Water Puppet Theatre

This is the traditional Vietnamese theatre showing the old life in Vietnam. There is a small pool on the stage that acts as a lake or rice field. The actors are hidden behind the set in the waist-high water. They move wooden dolls with a special bamboo stick and strings. It’s a great show regardless of how old you are!

Tran Quoc Pagoda

As far as things to do in Hanoi goes, this was my biggest disappointment because… I couldn’t find it! I walked around West Lake and just didn’t see it only to find it the next day while driving to the airport.

Tran Quoc Pagoda is considered the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi. It dates back over 1,500 years with interesting architecture and colour that attracts many tourists. But the biggest attraction of the Tran Quoc Pagoda is the 15m red brick tower, built in the Chinese style.

Saint Joseph’s Cathedral

Built in 1886 and stylized as the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Saint Joseph’s Cathedral stood on the site of the Bao Thien Pagoda, which was destroyed during the war. The cathedral is the largest Catholic church in all of Vietnam and has been the seat of one of the largest Vietnamese parishes since 1990.

Lake Hoan Kiem

Located in the middle of Hanoi, this lake is a peaceful place for a romantic walk. It’s a place to gather your thoughts or dance late at night. In the middle of the lake, you will find the Thap Rua – The Turtle Tower with a legend of a daredevil who, thanks to the sword he received from the golden turtle living in the lake waters, defeated the Chinese occupying the city. There are so many things to do in Hanoi right around this lake.

Museum of Ethnology

This is the largest, interactive and most interesting museum in the city. Add it to your list of things to do in Hanoi and make sure you fit it in! The open-air museum contains the history, heritage and cultural identity of 54 communities living in Vietnam. You can discover their traditions, customs, symbolic rituals, beliefs, as well as a glimpse into everyday life.

 

Coffee Tour

Vietnam is the second largest coffee exporter in the world that’s why we decided to book a tour. We were taken to five different places to try different blends. The most famous is egg coffee with whipped egg yolks and condensed milk. I’ve also tried coconut, cinnamon, yogurt, and a few specialty coffees. The tour is worth it if you have a strong heart – it’s a lot of tasting!

Getting around in Hanoi

I would highly recommend an app called Grab if you don’t feel completely comfortable and safe walking in the city. It’s a bit like Uber, where you can get a car or even be a passenger on a motorbike. 

We had an amazing time experiencing the many things to do in Hanoi. A handful of days would be perfect for your visit – it’s a great city to twin-centre with another part of Vietnam. Since I only had a week overall, I knew I had to choose between the north and south. We had to skip Ho Chi Minh and Phu Quoc.

Vietnam is much bigger than you could think. I also planned to visit Ban Gioc waterfalls and the Sapa mountains, but the distances were just too long for such a short time there. But, despite those compromises, we cruised around Halong Bay, and that was an experience we’ll never forget.

Which of these things to do in Hanoi has headed to the top of your bucket list?

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links which mean that if you choose to book through it I earn a small commission at no cost to you. I appreciate your support to keep this site up and running!

26 COMMENTS

  1. We are hoping to visit the far eastern countries in a couple of years and ofcourse Vietnam is definitely in our list.
    Sofitel hotels are just stunning everywhere and Hanoi is no exception. The huge bathroom, stunning breakfast buffet and the pool with the view of opera house are just perfect elements to add the magic to your vacation.
    Good to know cars & bikes are blocked for weekend in Old Quarters and the night market also functions. It would be a must-do thing for me. The train trucks are just wow!!! Indeed very instagrammable! Too bad you couldn’t find Tran Quoc Pagoda… It also looks very picturesque!

  2. I visited Hanoi quite a few years ago and your post brought back lovely memories from the city. I loved walking through the streets of the Old Quarter in Hanoi and tasted some great Pho there. And the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum was intriguing. I remember having stayed at the Sofitel too. I loved the rooms and the breakfast. Seems like I need to plan another trip to Hanoi soon.

  3. Every blog post I read about Vietnam increases my desire to visit. Hanoi looks like an amazing spot to start. The narrow streets of old town does look like the heart of the city. I am sure that dodging the motorbikes would require us to keep our wits about us. But I would not want to miss the night market. And that narrow street with train tracks would make my Instagram feed for sure! The St Joseph’s Cathedral looks quite stunning and so different from the old town. We would definitely not leave without a coffee tour. Vietnam is so well known for its coffee.

  4. I enjoyed your descriptions. I haven’t been to Hanoi and although I would like to go, it won’t be in the near future. I loved the tilework in the bathroom. They did a fabulous job making that hotel room feel luxurious and glamorous. I enjoy the food scene, too, and would be interested in their coffee, too.

  5. We have just come back from 3 months in Vietnam and Hanoi for 3 weeks was a highlight. In the last month, they have closed Train Street because of the dangers. Our favourite thing was heading down to Hoan Kiem Lake at sunrise to enjoy the coolness of the day and see the activity. The Old Quarter is such a buzz and worth spending at least a day wandering around its streets.

  6. I love the food and architecture you get to see while traveling. Those food selections look amazing, but I can’t say I recognize very much of it. Looks like such a fun trip!

  7. I have never been to Hanoi but I can say that it one of the nice place that I would love to visit and explore and hope to be there someday.

  8. Definitely the first place that I will visit is the Old Quarter! I want local food, bars, and the night market. Secondly, the coffee tour and the rest would be the temple and museum. There’s so much to choose from depending on your taste as a traveler and this blog really helps. Thanks!

  9. I love that there is a French Quarter there just like in New Orleans Louisiana. The hotel looks lovely and I would be so scared of all the motorbikes. I went to Amsterdam and I thought I was going to be run over by a bike but motorbike would be much worse!

  10. Ok, I must say I never even thought of visiting. But from your experience it looked like quite an adventure. The hotel rooms are fabulous. And the old quarter looks like my type of vibe. It looks like a cool place with much culture and atmosphere!

  11. This post brings back memories of my first solo trip to Hanoi. It was an incredible city, usually, I don’t like staying much in cities for longer but that wasn’t the case with Hanoi, I loved the motorbike rides, the cheap yet affordable street food and the abundant places you get to visit. Old Quarter in Hanoi was one of my fav street in town.

  12. Hanoi is such a beautiful destination! I have been reading about traveling there quite a bit lately, so I really appreciate your recommendations. The Acoustic Hotel & Spa sounds like a great place, inexpensive place to stay. I would love to explore the Old Quarter, and my husband would love to try some local beer.

  13. I lived in Asia for sometime but never had the opportunity to visit Hanoi when I was there, I would love to visit this beautiful city and meet its people. The food and hotel looks so good as well.

  14. Wow – That’s a great overview of Hanoi. Vietnam is on my bucket list and I definitely want to visit Hanoi. I would definitely spend an evening at the night market. That hotel looks beautiful. I would love to stay there!

  15. Hanoi looks like a great place to visit. It’s amazing how most places have their own Uber like transportation system. As a New Yorker I would love to take pictures with the tracks I found that to be very cool.

Leave a Reply to Katie Cancel reply

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.