21 Unmissable Things to Do in Hanoi

This post may contain affiliate links. Read our Disclosure Policy here

Hanoi, Vietnam is my second favorite city in South East Asia just behind Chiang Mai in Thailand. It’s a popular destination for tourists and it’s easy to see why. The city is rich with Vietnamese history and culture as well as being an affordable destination for travelers.

Aside from the many things to do in Hanoi, there’s plenty to do in the surrounding areas such as hiking through rice paddies in the north or visiting the UNESCO World Heritage site of Halong Bay to the east.

Whatever your interests, you’re sure to find something you like in Hanoi.

Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Vietnam (Travel Guide)

About Hanoi

The city of Hanoi can be found in the north of Vietnam. Its name literally means ‘inside the river’ given its location on the banks of the Red River. Despite being Vietnam’s capital city, it’s only the second-largest city in the country with Ho Chi Minh City (AKA Saigon) taking the top spot.

The main tourist areas in Hanoi are around the Old Quarter and the French Quarters of Ba Dinh and Hoan Kiem. Vietnam was a French colony for almost a hundred years from the mid-1800s which has left plenty of French-style design and architecture in the city.

Hanoi has served as the country’s capital for over a thousand years including during the Vietnam War as the capital of North Vietnam. More recently, Hanoi has developed considerably with the building of skyscrapers.

However, the central quarters are protected from this development and keep their original low-rise charm.

Related Article: 30 Epic Things to do in Vietnam

21 Things To Do in Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi Street Train

1. Hanoi Street Train

Price: Free

One of the most popular things to do in Hanoi is to see its street train. The tracks run along a narrow street lined with cafes. The street is often full of tourists either sitting by the tracks enjoying a drink or standing around trying to take the best photographs.

This is my favorite place in the city for people-watching. It’s fascinating to see the lengths people go to to get the perfect photo. You may also see professional photoshoots taking place here, we saw two or three during our visits.

There are various reports as to when the train actually passes by and it seems even the cafes on the street itself can’t agree. The cafe we spent most of our time in, Cafe Ga Dong Duong, told us the train passed by every hour on the weekends yet another nearby cafe said they were less frequent than that.

The most popular time to go seems to be for the 3:20 pm train on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s best to arrive early to find a standing spot and to watch as the cafes pack away their tables and chairs. Be sure to keep well against the street walls as the train rattles past, it gets closer than you might think!  

2. Tran Quoc Pagoda

Price: Free

The Tran Quoc Pagoda can be found in the southeast corner of West Lake on its own little island. It’s the oldest pagoda in Hanoi and one of the oldest in the country. The pagoda was originally built back in the 6th Century along the Red River but moved to West Lake in the early 1600s.

As this is a holy place, you are expected to dress conservatively. You’ll need to cover up your shoulders and knees and not wear anything too revealing. This dress code applies to most religious sites in South East Asia, no matter how hot it gets!  

Related Article: Hue to Hoi An Vietnam Motorbike Adventure

Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi

3. Hoan Kiem Lake

Price: Free

Hoan Kiem Lake can be found at the southern edge of the Old Quarter. This lake is home to the legend of Emperor Le Loi who is said to have received a sword from a magic turtle. Near the center of the lake sits Turtle Tower, a small structure on its own tiny island.

At the north end of the lake is another island that is home to the Ngoc Son Temple (Temple of the Jade Mountain). You can visit this temple by crossing the red wooden bridge for the price of 30,000 VND.

The area around Hoan Kiem Lake is another excellent place for people watching. You’ll often find locals sitting around chatting or some sort of fitness class taking place in the park. There’s a cafe on the south bank if you’re looking for something to eat or drink while you watch Hanoi’s day to day life pass by.  

4. West Lake

Price: Free

If you’re looking for a break from the busy city center, West Lake offers you a bit of peace and quiet. Unlike Hoan Kiem Lake, you probably won’t want to walk around West Lake since the shoreline is a little over 10 miles long.

There are countless lake-view cafes and restaurants in the area to relax in. Alternatively, you could get on one of the pedal boats or even head up to the Ho Tay Water Park on the northern shore.  

St Joseph's Cathedral - Hanoi, Vietnam

5. St Joseph’s Cathedral

Price: Free

You’ll find St Joseph’s Cathedral to the west of Hoan Kiem Lake. This Roman Catholic church is a prime example of French architecture in the city. The whole structure, notably the front two bell towers, bears a strong resemblance to Paris’ Notre Dame.

Over time, the exterior walls have become dirty and dark in appearance due to the heavy pollution in the city. Mass is held here regularly but Sunday evenings at 6 pm are the most popular time. As with the Tran Quoc Pagoda, if you want to visit the cathedral, you may be turned away if you wear anything too indecent.

If you fancy something sweet in the area, head to the Joma Bakery just up the street, they do excellent cinnamon rolls.  

Our top recommended tours:

6. Lotte Observation Deck

Price: 230,000 VND

The Lotte Center is the second tallest building in Hanoi and the third tallest in Vietnam. You’ll find the observation deck up on the 65th floor. Aside from having the usual floor to ceiling windows and telescopes, you’ll also find the slightly more unnerving Sky Walk.

This small area sticks out from the rest of the building and has a glass floor allowing you to look straight down at the city some 272 meters below. Perhaps not one for the faint-hearted but you’re sure to get a great photo from there if you have the nerve.

If you want to take it a little further, why not visit the Top of Hanoi restaurant found on the rooftop of the Lotte Center. The restaurant mainly serves western dishes and it isn’t the cheapest but the view of the city will be second to none.  

Our top recommended tour: Hanoi city tour and Lotte Observation Deck- Private tour

Ho Chi Minh Masoleum - Hanoi, Vietnam

7. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Price: Free

Ho Chi Minh was pivotal in shaping modern-day Vietnam. He declared Vietnam as an independent nation in 1945 and served as the country’s Prime Minister for the next ten years. In 1955 he became the President of the country until his death in 1969.

His embalmed body lies inside a huge mausoleum in Ba Dinh Square. Visitors are welcome to visit the mausoleum free of charge. You can expect to queue to get in and your visit will be very brief.

It’s also best not to go at the weekends as the queue to get in can seem endless with locals often visiting to pay their respects.

The entire area surrounding the mausoleum and Ba Dinh Square does have a dress code so you’re expected to cover your shoulders and not wear anything too revealing, similar to a temple dress code.

You will also need to go through a security checkpoint to enter the complex.

Although the mausoleum is open most days, it can be closed during state events or for renovation but these aren’t always stated online. Unfortunately, this happened to us and we were unable to enter the mausoleum any day during our stay in Hanoi.  

Our top recommended tours:

Ho Chi Minh Museum- things to do in Hanoi

8. Ho Chi Minh Museum

Price: 40,000 VND

The museum can be found in the same area as the mausoleum and is dedicated to the life of Ho Chi Minh. Much of the artwork shows his life and history alongside several artifacts and documents.

Other displays in the museum show Vietnamese history and the lives of the Vietnamese people during Ho Chi Minh’s leadership. You’ll also find several other themed displays of artwork.  

Our top recommended tours:

9. Thang Long Imperial Citadel

Price: 30,000 VND

One of Vietnam’s many UNESCO World Heritage sites is the Imperial Citadel in the Ba Dinh district. Hanoi was formerly known as Thang Long so you may see the name around the city. The citadel was built at the start of the 11th Century during the Ly Dynasty.

Although the citadel is a fascinating site, if you’re planning on traveling further around Vietnam I’d highly recommend stopping in Hue to explore the huge Imperial City.  

One Pilar Pagoda - Things to do in Hanoi, Vietnam

10. One Pillar Pagoda

Price: Free

Between the Ho Chi Minh Museum and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is the One Pillar Pagoda. The pagoda was originally built in 1049 but has been renovated and rebuilt over time most notably after it was destroyed by the French in 1954.

It sits on a single stone pillar in the center of a lotus pond and is designed to resemble the flower. Although the structure is small, this is one of the most unique and iconic temples in Asia.  

Our top recommended tours:

Military History Museum - Things to do in Hanoi

11. Vietnam Military History Museum

Price: 40,000 VND

If you have an interest in the Vietnam War or any of its history then you’ll find plenty of military and war museums around the country. Although I personally feel the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City is superior to the one in Hanoi, the Vietnam Military History Museum is still not to be missed.

The museum features Vietnam’s entire military history from events long before the American Vietnam War. Of course, this war is featured heavily throughout the museum but it’s interesting to see the history from before this time.

Within the museum grounds, there are a number of planes, tanks and other military vehicles mostly from the Vietnam War. You’ll also be able to look inside the 200-year-old Flag Tower which proudly flies the national flag.

The tower also offers great overhead views of the military vehicles below.

It’s worth noting that, although the entry fee is 40,000 VND, they claim to charge an additional 30,000 VND to guests taking in cameras. It’s not clear how well enforced this is but it doesn’t seem to apply to phones at least.

As Brits, we’re not educated on the Vietnam War and so the entire history was new to us. If you’re interested in the war I’d highly recommend watching Ken Burns’ ten-part documentary The Vietnam War before heading to the country especially if you plan on visiting any of the historic sites.  

Our top recommended tours:

Hoa Lo Museum - Hanoi, Vietnam

12. Hoa Lo Prison

Price: 30,000 VND

Nicknamed the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ by American POWs, Hoa Lo Prison was originally built by the French in the late 1800s to hold Vietnamese prisoners. The French called it Maison Centrale meaning ‘Central House’. Here, they executed their prisoners using the guillotine which can still be found in the museum.

During the Vietnam War, Hoa Lo Prison was used to house captured Americans most of whom were pilots shot down over North Vietnam. Although there is a small area devoted to the American POWs, the museum mainly focuses on the history of the prison before the Vietnam War.

Curiously, the museum states several times that American POWs were well looked after by their Vietnamese captors. However, many American testimonies say they were treated very poorly and often tortured.

Most of the original prison was knocked down in the 1990s to make way for new developments, but the main entrance and some cell blocks remain. Although not the most light-hearted experience in the city, it’s definitely not one to miss.  

Our top recommended tours:

13. B-52 Victory Museum

Price: Free

During the Vietnam War, the city was bombed extensively by B-52 bombers, fifteen of which were shot down. Outside of the museum are the remains of one of the bombers along with a number of other military artifacts.

Although the B-52 Victory Museum is not as extensive as the Vietnam Military History Museum it’s still worth visiting if you’re specifically interested in the Vietnam War.  

14. B-52 Wreckage

Price: Free

A short walk from the B-52 Victory Museum is Huu Tiep Lake. In the center of the lake are the remains of one B-52 bomber which was shot down during the 1972 Christmas Bombing. The wreckage lies in the place where it landed with some parts of it, such as its tires, clearly identifiable.  

Food Market- things to do in Hanoi, Vietnam

15. Go Shopping

I don’t mean you should find the nearest mall in Hanoi to look around, although there are a few. Instead, have a wander around the streets of the Old and French Quarters.

You’ll find countless interesting shops to browse around all selling local items. I’d recommend picking up a silk sleeping bag if you’re planning on taking any night buses or trains.

Food shopping in Vietnam is also fascinating, the street markets have weird and unique fruits and vegetables while any corner store like Circle K will be full of local favorite snacks.

If you’re really into shopping why not head up to Dong Xuan Market, the largest covered market in Hanoi, but be prepared for it to be busy.  

16. Vietnamese Women’s Museum

Price: 30,000 VND

This museum is dedicated to the role that women have played in Vietnam’s history. The aim of the museum is to raise awareness of the impact women have had on the country and, in turn, promoting gender equality.

Inside, you’ll find thousands of objects and clothing from history. The museum has displays the following three main themes: Women in Family; Women in History; Women’s Fashion.  

Our top recommended tours:

Egg Coffee - Hanoi, Vietnam
Egg Coffee in Hanoi

17. Try Egg Coffee (Cafe Trung)

Egg coffee is everywhere in Vietnam and there are several interpretations for you to try. Its origins are believed to stem from a lack of fresh milk after the Vietnam War and so egg yolks were used as a substitute.

Although it may not have the most appealing name, egg coffee is a bit like a black coffee topped with fluffy custard, similar to a tiramisu without the sponge.

The best we had was at the Cafe Ga Dong Duong by the Street Train. You can get them hot or iced or even try making your own at a Vietnamese Cooking Class.  

Hanoi cooking class

18. Take a Cooking Class

Price: 500,000-1,000,000 VND

If you enjoy the food in Hanoi then taking a local class to learn how to cook everything for yourself should be high up on your list. Classes do vary considerably in price but most will include classics such as Pho, Bun Cha and spring rolls. Most classes will last half a day in the morning or evening.

I’d personally recommend the Rose Kitchen which includes a market tour, four local dishes and a selection of local drinks all included. You’ll also get a copy of their recipe book so you can remake the ones you like back home.

The classes are small too, we only had four people in our group, so we always had something to do.  

Our top recommended tours:

Chocolate buffet - things to do in Hanoi, Vietnam
Chocolate Buffet, yes please!

19. Enjoy a Chocolate Buffet

Price: 600,000 VND

One thing that can be hard to come by in South East Asia is decent chocolate. Of course, this isn’t the most traditional Vietnamese experience but if you fancy a break from the local food and you’re missing some home comforts then this buffet might be for you.

Near the southeast corner of Hoan Kiem Lake is the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel, a luxury five-star hotel. Every day from 3 pm to 5:30 pm they serve what they call the ‘Chocolate Library’ which includes unlimited chocolate, truffles, cakes, and almost anything else you can think of made with chocolate.

Despite being a five-star hotel, there’s no need to worry about the dress code here. They don’t officially take bookings but if you email them ahead of the day they will keep a table for you. We visited on a Monday and it wasn’t too busy but it can fill up at weekends.  

20. Go to the Cinema

Price: 50,000+ VND

Although North Vietnam can be a little cooler than the south, it still gets very hot and humid at times. If you’re looking for a break from walking around the busy streets then going to the cinema is a nice air-conditioned option that gets you out of the hotel.

It also means you can keep up with the latest releases if you’re traveling around long-term.

Cinemas in Asia are an interesting experience and a lot different from those in western countries. The audience seems to be more respectful and mindful of everyone else so you can expect a more peaceful screening.

There are plenty of cinemas in Hanoi and most will show big Hollywood films which are often shown in English with Vietnamese subtitles. The big cinema chains are Lotte, CGV, and BHD.  

Thang Long Water Puppets - Things to do in Hanoi

21. Thang Long Water Puppets

Price: 100,000-200,000 VND

For a more traditional show, you should definitely check out the Vietnamese Water Puppets, it was one of my personal highlights in the city. The tradition goes back over a thousand years with performances often taking place in the wet rice paddies.

The Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre can be found along the northern shore of Hoan Kiem Lake.

The performance takes place in a small pool of water with the puppeteers hidden behind a bamboo screen. It lasts for around an hour and showcases scenes from Vietnamese history, legends, and daily life.

I had reservations about the show but it turned out to be great fun, entertaining and very funny at times.

Although the price for seats near the front is a lot higher at 200,000 VND, it’s well worth it for the view. From the back, the performance can seem a little distant however being on the front row is perfect for the show.

Thang Long showtimes are daily at 4:10 pm, 5:20 pm, 6:30 pm, and 8 pm, they occasionally add performances at 3pm but it’s best to check with the venue.

Tickets can be bought on-site through the box office kiosk or using the self-service machines. It’s best to book in advance as tickets may become limited or sell out.

Our top recommended tours:

Best Day Trips from Hanoi

If you’ve tried all the things to do in Hanoi and find yourself looking to get away from the city during your stay, there are plenty of options that are well worth visiting.  

Halong Bay - day trips from Hanoi, Vietnam

22. Bai Tu Long Bay (Halong Bay)

The UNESCO World Heritage site of Halong Bay is top of many people’s Vietnam Bucket List and it’s completely understandable. The area is full of fantastic rock formations and amazing scenery.

Unfortunately, Halong Bay has become incredibly popular with tourists leaving some visitors disappointed with the number of boats and the polluted waters.

There are two alternatives to Halong Bay which are much quieter, Bai Tu Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay. Both have tighter restrictions on the number of cruises permitted in the area and fewer companies are authorized to tour there. The prices are often slightly higher but not considerably so.

It can be daunting choosing the best cruise to take, there are options for day trips, 2D1N and 3D2N cruises. The best way to decide is to have a budget in mind and an idea of the activities you want to do.

We personally took a 3D2N cruise of Bai Tu Long Bay with Viola Cruises which included a fair amount of kayaking but also a lot of time to relax.

I’d highly recommend organizing your trip with Lily’s Travel Agency in Hanoi, they’re very professional and can help you choose the best tour for you. We used them to book our trips to Bai Tu Long Bay and Sapa and their service was excellent online and in person.  

Our top recommended tours:

Sapa - day trips from Hanoi

23. Trekking in Sapa

Sapa is a beautiful natural area in the north of Vietnam close to the Chinese border. It’s surrounded by mountains and rice paddies so hiking in the area is guaranteed to offer fantastic scenery.

Like Halong Bay, it is very popular with tourists and many tour guides follow the same route. However, some agencies offer less crowded journeys which were the option we took.

Because Sapa is so far from Hanoi, you’ll need to stay for at least one night. It takes six hours to arrive by bus and eight hours by train. Although the train takes longer and is a little more expensive, I’d personally recommend taking the train there for a more comfortable night’s sleep.

Many tours offer homestays as part of the trek where you’ll get the chance to stay the night with a local family. If you’re interested in nature, Sapa is a fascinating place to visit. You may not have a luxurious few days but it’s definitely an experience that will stay with you.  

Our top recommended tours:

Tam Coc - day trips from Hanoi

24. Tam Coc (Ninh Binh)

Tam Coc is around two hours south of Hanoi by road so, unlike Sapa, you can easily take a day trip from the city. Like Halong Bay, Tam Coc is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Its name means ‘three caves’ which are all found along the river as well as plenty of rice paddies. A typical tour may include taking a boat trip down the river through the caves, a bike tour of the area and a visit to the ancient city of Hoa Lu.

If you’re too short on time in Hanoi to commit to overnight stays, Tam Coc is an excellent option for a day trip to experience some of Vietnam’s best nature.

Our top recommended tours:

Hanoi Travel Tips

Pho - what to eat in Hanoi

What To Eat

  • Pho: One of Vietnam’s most famous dishes is Pho, a noodle soup. The dish is made of rice noodles in broth with either beef (Pho Bo) or chicken (Pho Ga). Personally, I couldn’t get into it but I’m very much in the minority when it comes to Pho, locals, and tourists love it so be sure to try it for yourself.
  • Banh Mi: Banh Mi is just a baguette…I say ‘just’, Banh Mi is probably one of the best baguettes you’ll have. A Banh Mi will often be filled with some sort of pork with a salad including coriander, cucumber, and carrot all topped with chili sauce. They’re everywhere in Vietnam and, better yet, they’re cheap. A Banh Mi will cost around 20,000 VND, less than $1 USD. The best Banh Mi we had in all of Vietnam was in Hanoi. Most searches online will tell you that Banh Mi Phuong in Hoi An is the best but I personally didn’t think it lived up to the hype. The best we had was a pork and pate Banh Mi at the Cafe Ga Dong Duong.
  • Spring Roll: In my opinion, this is the best food in Vietnam. I could eat these every day and never get bored, they’re simply perfect. You can choose between fried or fresh. Personally, I think fried spring rolls are better but fresh ones are a lot healthier. Fried spring rolls in Vietnam have a nice, crispy outside as they’re wrapped in rice paper. They’re usually filled with minced pork, mushrooms, and vegetables. Fresh ones often contain pork and whole prawns. For excellent spring rolls in Hanoi, head over to Viet Spring Rolls. They also serve Bun Cha…
  • Bun Cha: Essentially, Bun Cha is grilled pork served with rice noodles, leafy herbs and a dipping sauce. The pork is often marinated pork belly or meatballs. The dipping sauce is made from fish sauce mixed with garlic, lemon juice, chili, and sugar. Like spring rolls, Bun Cha is incredibly moreish and you can find it everywhere in Hanoi. The best we had was making our own at the Rose Kitchen Cooking Class, nothing tastes better than the food you’ve made yourself.
  • Rice Wine: Also known as ‘happy water’, rice wine can be an interesting choice of drink. If you stay in any homestay in Sapa, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be offered it. Some cooking classes in Hanoi will also give you a recipe to make your own back home. Since it’s usually homemade, the alcohol content can vary so it’s best to take it slow. Don’t expect it to taste the best, it’s like a strong whiskey as opposed to wine so it can be a bit painful on the way down but it’s worth trying. It’s also incredibly cheap to buy throughout Asia.

where to stay in Hanoi, Vietnam

Where To Stay in Hanoi

My personal recommendation is to stay at Zody House. They have seven fully furnished apartments complete with kitchen and washer. This is the perfect option if you’re traveling as a couple and it’s just a short 5-minute walk from the Hanoi Street Train. Prices are around $20-$25 USD per night.

If you’re traveling solo or on a tight budget, take a look at the Happy Feet Hostel or the Hanoi High Five Hostel for dorm beds as cheap as $5 USD per night. Both are in the Old Quarter and have cheap breakfasts too.

For mid-range hotels, the Vision Premier Hotel and the Ancient Lane Hotel offer centrally-located rooms for around $35 USD per night. The Vision Premier Hotel is also just a short walk from the Hanoi Social Club, another excellent place to eat.

If you really want some extreme luxury then why not try the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel after enjoying that chocolate buffet. But don’t expect to pay less than $300 USD per night!

Read reviews and check prices with our Hotel Search Engine, that gives you the best hotel deals found on the web. Our search engine pulls results from all of the major booking places, including Expedia, Hotels, Booking and more. All the options, all the deals, all in one place and just for you.

Map of Hanoi

All of the things to do in Hanoi and places to eat and stay mentioned can be found on the map below.

About the Author

Oli is the British-born creator of Not Brits Abroad. He has been traveling full-time with his partner, Katie, since September 2018 when they both quit their jobs to explore the world. They have since spent most of their time traveling around Europe and Asia.  Although Oli enjoys travel and new experiences, he is often overly honest with his disappointment, as is the British way. 

More on Vietnam:

Did you like this story? Share it!

Ultimate Travel Guide To Hanoi Vietnam


Looking to get started on your trip planning process? Let us help!

Travel Gear & Packing: Check out our packing lists and travel gear guide to ensure you're bringing the right items on your trip.

Book Your Flight: Ready to fly? Check out our tips for finding cheap flights.

Find A Car Rental:We use Discover Cars to compare car prices, find deals and book rentals.

Book Your Hotel: Compare prices and book with our recommended hotel search engine. You should also check out our tips for finding cheap accommodation.

Find Vacation Rentals: Search vacation rentals & apartments on VRBO for the best prices and options.

Protect Your Trip:Don’t forget your travel insurance! Protect your investment and yourself. Read Is Travel Insurance Worth It?

If you need more help planning your trip, be sure to check out our Step by Step Trip Planning Guide where we break down our process for getting the trip planning process right every single time.

About Guest Writer

Guest writers for Divergent Travelers offer insider tips and information on destinations that they are experts in. It is important to us that we are able to have the highest level of travel information available to you from local writers and experienced travelers.

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. We are also a member of other affiliate programs. For more info please read our disclosure page

Leave a Comment

Divergent Travelers- Adventure Travel Blog