Planning a trip to Vietnam (maybe a 1-month trip?) and searching for some fantastic things to do in Hanoi? You’ll find this city to be crazy (in a fun “organized chaos” type of way) with welcoming locals, cool markets, and tons of sites to see. Keep reading to find out the best things to do in Hanoi!
Psst, this post contains affiliate links. Read our disclosure.
Updated February 2021 (with Things to Do in Hanoi List Additions!)
My first impression of the place was that it seemed like a smaller and calmer version of Bangkok, yet waaaay better.
The traffic was still crazy, the smells on the street were still sometimes overwhelming (and not always in a good way), and the people still seemed to always have smiles on their faces — just like the Thai.
I immediately loved it.
So, if you’re planning to visit this northern Vietnam city, you’ll find there are tons of awesome Hanoi attractions, places to visit, things to see, and adventures to be had!
Visiting Sapa after Hanoi? Don’t forget to check out my 17 essential tips every Vietnam backpacker needs to know before heading to Sapa!
Table of Contents
- 1 BEST THINGS TO DO IN HANOI, VIETNAM
- 1.1 1. Hanoi Hòa Lò Prison Museum
- 1.2 2. Hoàn Kiem Lake
- 1.3 3. Ngoc Son Temple (Temple of the Jade Mountain)
- 1.4 4. Vietnamese Women’s Museum
- 1.5 5. Weekend Market (Friday, Saturday, & Sunday)
- 1.6 6. Egg Coffee
- 1.7 7. St. Joseph’s Cathedral
- 1.8 8. Bach Ma Temple
- 1.9 9. National Museum of Vietnamese History
- 1.10 10. Venture Around the Streets
- 1.11 11. Tran Quoc Pagoda
- 1.12 12. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
- 1.13 13. Vietnam Military History Museum
- 1.14 14. Imperial Citadel of Thăng Long
- 1.15 15. Ho Chi Minh Museum
- 1.16 16. Hanoi’s Train Street
- 1.17 17. Hanoi Beer Street (Ta Hien Beer Street)
- 1.18 18. Visit Hanoi’s Green Spaces
- 1.19 19. Eat ALL the Food
BEST THINGS TO DO IN HANOI, VIETNAM
1. Hanoi Hòa Lò Prison Museum
One of my favorite things to do in Hanoi, the Hòa Lò prison is a historical landmark. It was first used as a prison by the French colonists for political prisoners.
Later, it was used by northern Vietnam for U. S. prisoners of war (POWs) — who dubbed the prison as the “Hanoi Hilton” — during the Vietnam war.
Although the prison was only meant to hold around 450 inmates, records indicate that there were close to 2,000 inmates by the 1930s. And it wasn’t a very secure prison, as prisoners frequently escaped, typically slipping out through the sewer grates.
2. Hoàn Kiem Lake
Located right in the historical center of Hanoi, Hoàn Kiem lake is one of the major scenic spots in the city and a popular place to relax at. And it’s pretty cool, having a little island in the middle with a temple on it.
Hoàn Kiem actually means “Lake of the Returned Sword” or “Lake if the Restored Sword.”
Legend is that during the mid-15th century, the emperor was given a sword from heaven, which he used to drive the Chinese from Vietnam.
He then returned the sword to a giant turtle that rose up out of the lake, who came to retrieve it, intending to give the sword back to heaven – hence the name of the lake.
Oddly enough, a rare giant turtle actually lived in the lake for decades – or longer – before passing away back in January of 2016.
In honor of the turtle, the city covered the turtle in bronze and placed it in the temple that sits upon the lake (not the one in the middle though, a different one – I know, confusing).
Before you step foot in this magical country, I want you to read my helpful post on 16 things to know before you travel to Vietnam!
3. Ngoc Son Temple (Temple of the Jade Mountain)
Located on Hoàn Kiem lake, this historic temple is only reachable by a bridge and is Hanoi’s most visited temple.
It’s dedicated La To (patron saint of physicians), the scholar Van Xuong, and General Tran Hung Dao – who defeated the Mongols in the 13th century. Inside the temple, visitors can also find the rare turtle that was coated in bronze.
Entrance fee is 30k dong and visitors are required to cover their shoulders and knees — although the temple does provide some clothing to cover up with for free.
4. Vietnamese Women’s Museum
Another fantastic Hanoi attraction, the Hanoi Women’s Museum is an modern museum dedicated to the Vietnamese women, showcasing their role in the nation’s development, society, and culture.
Throughout the museum, visitors get some insight into the 54 Vietnamese women ethnic groups, as well as the progressive changes in how they lived, family culture, traditions, history, and fashion.
And not only does the museum focus on their lives, but how their daily routines changed during the war.
Entrance fee into the Women’s Museum is 30k dong (last time I checked).
5. Weekend Market (Friday, Saturday, & Sunday)
The weekend market in Hanoi in nuts.
Full on crazy… but sooo cool to walk through.
No joke, the weekend market is about two miles long. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration but it’s definitely at least a mile long.
And it has everything — from knock-off (*shitty) electronics like iPhone cords and chargers to clothing stands with dresses and shirts to food stands selling a variety of odd-looking snacks.
If you’re visiting the city, this is definitely one of the top places to visit in Hanoi!
Psst, did you know visiting the Hanoi market is on my list of 10 incredible experiences to have in Vietnam? Check out that post to add more things to your Vietnam Bucket List!
6. Egg Coffee
If you aren’t vegan or eat eggs, head down egg coffee lane to the famous Giang Cafe to try some egg coffee. I know, I know… this might sound as one of the stranger things to do in Hanoi but it’s totally a local attraction!
Started in the 1950s, egg coffee is a specialty in Hanoi and can be found throughout the city – but the best place to get it is definitely Giang Cafe.
So what exactly is egg coffee? Brewed coffee topped with a mixture of egg yolk and sweetened condensed milk that’s whisked vigorously together to create a frothy, fluffy concoction. It’s more like a dessert than anything. Thick, creamy, and sickly sweet.
Psst, want to explore more of the awesome coffee Hanoi has to offer? Head over to this post on the best cafes in Hanoi!
7. St. Joseph’s Cathedral
St. Joseph’s Cathedral is something you might find in Europe but here it is, in the middle of Hanoi. It’s a beautiful Roman Catholic cathedral with a neo-gothic style that was built about 120 years ago by the French.
After the French army took over the city of Hanoi, the cathedral was constructed and finished in 1886.
Although, rumor has it that when the Vietnamese took back the city, they wanted to destroy and tear down the cathedral but some ruler wouldn’t let that happen.
So, to put back a little piece of their religion, someone hid a Buddha statue in the cathedral – although no one has found it yet.
But who knows if that’s actually true?! Cool story though — which makes it one of the better attractions if you’re wondering what to do in Hanoi.
Are you heading to Sapa while backpacking Vietnam? Don’t forget to brush up on my 17 essential Sapa travel tips to prepare for your trip here!
8. Bach Ma Temple
Dating back to the 11th century, the Bach Ma Temple is said to be the oldest temple in the city of Hanoi.
It was built by the Emperor Ly Thai To to honor a white horse that lead him to this site, where he chose to construct the city walls.
Located in the heart of the Old Quarter, the temple provides a quiet and peaceful setting compared to the bustling atmosphere and cacophony right outside its walls. I loved it!
9. National Museum of Vietnamese History
Located in the Hoàn Kiem (Lake) district, the National Museum of Vietnamese History is an architecturally impressive building in itself, constructed and designed by Ernest Hebrard. He was the first to combine Chinese and French design elements in Vietnam.
The museum is split into two different sites, although the best of the two sites is definitely Site One.
It covers Vietnam’s prehistory through to the Nguyen dynasty in 1945. Site Two is just right across the road and houses various rooms talking about movements, resistance wars, and more. And your ticket is valid at both sites.
Interested in visiting an abandoned waterpark? Vietnam has one! Check out this post on abandoned waterpark hunting in Hue, Vietnam!
10. Venture Around the Streets
If you have some free time, just walk around the streets of Hanoi and experience the craziness of the place.
You’ll likely see some strange things, like carts full of raw meat, maybe a whole pig, odd-looking food, motorbikes nearly hitting one another, and more.
11. Tran Quoc Pagoda
This charming Buddhist Temple was built in the 6th century, making it one of the oldest of its kind in Hanoi! It is located on its own quaint little island in Hanoi’s West Lake and is surrounded by lush greenery that’ll take your breath away.
Want to learn more about the Tran Quoc Pagoda? Check out this page!
12. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
One of the most important places in Hanoi to the Vietnamese people, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is the final resting place of their beloved president, Ho Chi Minh (fondly referred to by the people as “Uncle Ho”).
You can see his preserved body within the mausoleum, as well as remnants of his life, such as his old cars, furniture, and more.
Additionally, I highly recommend trying to fit your visit to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum with the changing of the guards schedule! It rivals that of Buckingham Palace and will surely make your trip to Hanoi memorable.
Furthermore, it’s important to know Ho Chi Minh’s remains are sent yearly to Russia for maintenance. Therefore the mausoleum is closed usually from October onwards.
- Opening Hours: Tuesday – Thursday 07:30 – 10:30, Saturday & Sunday 07:30 – 11:00
- Location: 8 Hung Vuong, Dien Bien, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
- Admission: Free, but donations are welcomed.
13. Vietnam Military History Museum
This place is SO darn cool! Honestly one of the best museums I’ve ever visited. The pristine military equipment they’ve saved, restored, and kept in immaculate condition is incredible.
Not to mention, the Vietnam Military History Museum has collected rubble and military equipment debris that was dropped onto the country or left there after enemies left.
It’s pretty remarkable to see! And I highly recommend this, as it is one of the top things to do in Hanoi.
14. Imperial Citadel of Thăng Long
Did you know that Hanoi was the seat of power during the Ly Dynasty, before the Nguyen Dynasty moved south to Hue, Vietnam?
Thang Long means ‘rising dragon’, a wondrous citadel built by the Ly Dynasty in the early 11th century and in used until 1810.
Sadly, much of the citadel was put to ruin during the French conquest and by the 20th century much of the buildings were torn down.
However, during the 21st century, the citadel foundations were excavated and now the once-royal enclosure holds many important relics.
Additionally, a few structures remain for visitors to view and admire, such as the Flag Tower, North Gate (pictured above), and D67 Tunnel and House!
15. Ho Chi Minh Museum
Another great thing to do in Hanoi, the Ho Chi Minh Museum is dedicated to the leader it’s named after (Uncle Ho) and features 8 chronological exhibitions documenting his life.
As part of the Ho Chi Minh complex, you’ll find the Ho Chi Minh Museum is located nearby the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, which means it’s easy to hit both Hanoi attractions at one time!
16. Hanoi’s Train Street
Hanoi’s Train Street is hands down one of the most unique things to see in Vietnam!
A tight little narrow street in the maze-like Hanoi Old Quarter, a bustling diesel train rumbles through, sometimes just mere inches from the homes and buildings!
17. Hanoi Beer Street (Ta Hien Beer Street)
Are you a big fan of beer? Or need a relaxing, ice cold beer after a day of walking the streets and ticking off activities on your Hanoi bucket list? Head to Hanoi Beer Street!
One of the most well-known nightlife destinations in Hanoi, Vietnam backpackers, travelers, expats, and tourists alike flock to Hanoi Beer Street to divulge in its exciting atmosphere and cheap drinks!
18. Visit Hanoi’s Green Spaces
For such a bustling city, Hanoi features some beautiful green spaces and parks! Perfect for sneaking away to when wanting to getaway from the endless crowds and hectic traffic.
Some great green spaces and parks in Hanoi are:
- Thong Nhat Park
- Lenin Park
- Thu Le Park
- Indira Ghandi Park
- Yen So Park
19. Eat ALL the Food
As the capital of Vietnam and one of the biggest cities in the country, you can bet Hanoi has tons of delicious food options that’ll tantalize your taste buds!
One of my favorite things I did in Hanoi last time I visited was explore the city in search of all the best vegan food!
And lemme tell ya, Hanoi has tons of vegan options that you must try — especially if you’re a vegan traveler or trying to reduce your meat intake when in Vietnam.
Some of my favorite vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants in Hanoi include:
- Veggie Castle (100% vegan)
- Tam An Lac (100% vegan)
- The Veg – Organic Vego and Tea (vegetarian restaurant)
- Om Hanoi (vegetarian restaurant)
- Vegan Banh Mi (100% vegan)
- Banh Mi 25 (non-vegan but serves a tasty tofu banh mi)
All in all, Hanoi is a pretty exciting place to explore! And I can’t wait for you to experience this crazy city for yourself.
Are you planning a trip to Vietnam and Hanoi? What number on this list of things to do in Hanoi are you most looking forward to? Let me know in the comments!
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