Best Things To Do in Hanoi

Hanoi is a place with a lot to offer visitors. I'll tell you about the places and activities that are not to be missed in this ancient city.

Ana Caballero

Ana Caballero

10 min read

Best Things To Do in Hanoi

personas en bote |©Leandro Cristalli

Vietnam's capital, Hanoi, is a city with a wealth of culture, history and architecture. Its chaotic streets are lined with temples, museums, theatres, markets and many other tourist attractions. Many of these are influenced by French and Chinese culture.

Some of the best things to see and do in Hanoi include walking around the historic centre to see landmarks such as the One Pillar Pagoda and the Ho Chi Minh Complex. You can 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 top things to do in Hanoi is to wander the chaotic and picturesque streets, which showcase the history and culture of the Vietnamese capital. You will 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 as must-see. For example:

  • The 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 artefacts and objects belonging to the Đinh, Lý, Trần, Lê and Nguyễn dynasties, among others.
  • The one-pillar pagoda; this small Buddhist temple was erected by King Ly Thai To as a token of veneration to the goddess Quan Am for his first-born son.
  • Ngoc Son Temple, with a history dating back to the 18th century and 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 around €26 per person.
  • Duration: The activity usually lasts around 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 dishes 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 buy 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, 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.

Useful information

  • 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 end 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 Theatre. Upon arrival, you will enter the hall of this performing arts space 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 surrounding area and even reach Halong Bay from Hanoi, among other activities.

Useful information

  • Price: the cost of this attraction is approximately €9 per person.
  • Duration: The show usually 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, touring the city and what better way to do that than aboard the Hanoi sightseeing bus. You can 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 sightseeing bus you can see 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 temples in the Vietnamese capital.
  • The Hanoi Opera House, a 1911 construction, representative of the neoclassical and eclectic architectural style.
  • The Hanoi Cathedral; this is an imposing late 19th century building in the neo-Gothic style.
  • The Flag Tower, a 33-metre high war monument, a World Heritage Site.

Useful information

  • Price: the price of a sightseeing bus tour of Hanoi with free stops starts at around €19 per person.
  • Duration: the complete tour of the city of Hanoi lasts approximately 90 minutes. Moreover, the bus service is available from 9.15am to 4.15pm.

5. Experience a different kind of 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 undoubtedly 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 get into a classic Vietnamese army jeep, which will take you back to the Soviet era, i.e. throughout the 1950s and 1960s. You will then set off 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.

Some of the places that this cultural and sightseeing tour of Hanoi by jeep usually takes you through are the following:

  • The French Quarter, with its buildings from the French colonisation era. This place stands out in Hanoi as the modern area and is home to several interesting destinations such as the 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 little street where a train passes through, which is surrounded by houses and shops.
  • The West Lake; a beautiful natural lake about 17 kilometres long, from where you will have a privileged panoramic view of the city.

Useful information

  • Price: this city jeep experience 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

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

If you want to create lasting memories of your visit to Hanoi, then you should grab your camera and wander the streets of the Vietnamese capital. You'll find incredible sights 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 Quarter and its surroundings, you'll have no trouble taking pictures, as every corner of this area offers great visual appeal.

Without a doubt, this is an Instagram-worthy tour of Hanoi with some of the city's must-see destinations as a backdrop:

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

Long Bien Bridge, an ancient structure that has witnessed several wars.

  • St. Joseph's Cathedral, a Gothic-style Catholic compound 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 range of gastronomic offerings, capable of delighting the most demanding palates. During your stay of 2 days or more in Hanoi, you can enjoy the flavours, colours and textures of local food. Visit the dozens of street food stalls in the historic centre and try some of the dishes.

For this experience you will have many options to visit. For example, you can go to Hang Buom food district, with traditional and exotic preparations; Ta Hien Street, which stands out for its varied dishes and beer; Dong Xuan Market, considered the oldest market 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 deep-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. This 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 place of knowledge made up of sanctuaries, 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 former rest rooms, once used by students.
  • The courtyard that houses the treasures of the temple, as well as the Thien Quang well, which offers an amazing view at night.
  • 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 enclosure.

Useful information

  • Price: The entrance fee to the Temple of Literature is approximately €1 per person.
  • Opening hours: The Temple of Literature is usually open to the public from 7.30am to 6pm in the summer and from 8am to 6pm in the winter season.

9. See the exhibits at the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology and delve into the history of Vietnam

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 get an insight into Vietnamese culture.

When you arrive at the museum you will have at your disposal a series of exhibits with traditional artefacts used for 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 houses built by each of the ethnic groups; multimedia resources, which will allow you to better understand the history displayed in the exhibits. There is also a souvenir shop for you to buy some souvenirs.

Useful information

  • Price: The entrance fee to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is around €2 per person.
  • Opening hours: The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is open from 8.30am to 5.30pm (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 experienced by political prisoners in the late 19th century. You will have access to some cells and photographic records of the time.

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

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

Without a doubt, this is one of the best tours of Hanoi that you should not miss and incorporate it into your itinerary along with the best day trips from Hanoi to explore the city's surroundings. You can discover the small town of Ninh Binh, reach Sapa from Hanoi, etc.

Useful information

  • Price: The approximate entrance fee 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).