Travelling to Vietnam for the first time and wondering what to do in Hanoi?
Hanoi city is the capital of Vietnam and one of the most ancient capitals in the world. The city is home to over 8 million people and impressively over 6 million scooters! You will see locals whizzing by on scooters carrying everything including the kitchen sink on the back of them – families of 6, hardware, TVs, chickens…. You name it!
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- Grab a cheap sim card at the airport so you’re always connected.
- You’ll always find petty theft in large cities, no matter where you go. While Hanoi is a safe city, be mindful of your belongings and don’t flash anything about.
- Look where you’re walking! Even on footpaths you’ll find scooters and bikes zipping around so make sure you’re alert.
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When To Visit Hanoi
Spring, between March and April, and Autumn, between October and November are the best times to visit Hanoi. The temperature during these times is consistently over 20 degrees Celsius and not so humid. You can expect the odd shower or two but nothing a small umbrella can’t help with.
It can get chilly in Hanoi in the wintertime, given its location in the north of the country, and July / August is humid and sweaty.
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Where To Stay In Hanoi
If you’re looking for budget accommodation in the heart of the city, you can book Hanoi Old Quarter Hostel for as little as $20 a night.
I stayed here during my stay and I couldn’t fault the hotel in any way (and I’m picky!). The O’Gallery Premier Hotel & Spa is located in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, just minutes away from Dong Xuan Market. You can book a room from $50 a night.
What To Do In Hanoi
Free things to do in Hanoi
Stroll around Hanoi Old Quarter
Of all the places to visit in Hanoi, the Old Quarter is the heart and soul of the city. If you’d prefer not to stroll around the Old Quarter by yourself, why not take a free walking tour led by one of Hanoi’s knowledgeable volunteer student guides.
Dong Xuan Market
If you’re looking for a bargain, and you don’t mind haggling, then Dong Xuan Market is for you. It’s the oldest and largest market in Hanoi and you know it’s the real deal as locals as well as tourists shop here.
You will find everything you can possibly think of in Dong Xuan Market; fresh food, lanterns, clothing, souvenirs, traditional arts and crafts,
Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake is a beautifully tranquil spot in the otherwise chaotic Hanoi. Ngoc Son Temple sits on a small island to the north of the lake.
Otherwise known as the Lake of the Restored Sword because the story is that Emperor Ly Thai To was once rowing across the lake when a Golden Turtle God asked him for his magic sword. He gave it to him, after defeating the Chinese.
Head there early morning to avoid the crowds and to watch the locals practising t’ai chi on the shore. Or venture over in the evening to watch the sun setting over the lake.
Sounds a bit glum, and perhaps it is, but Death Street is where you go when a loved one dies. Not to buy a casket or a headstone, but instead to buy everything your loved one might need to bring with them into the afterlife.
You’ll find iPhones, TVs, clothes, shoes, wads of cash for sale, which you will then burn during the funeral – sorry, I forgot to mention that these items are all made of paper!
Train Street [UPDATE – REPORTEDLY CLOSED 2019]
This was one of my favourite places to chill in Hanoi, watching the locals going about their every day lives (not in a creepy way, and always ask before taking pictures!).
However, it’s been reported that as of October 2019, Train Street has been closed, and cafes lining the train tracks have been ordered to shut down, due to safety concerns.
Throughout the day, the trains would pass by, leaving locals scrambling to take clothes, chairs and children off the tracks just in time for the train to whizz down this narrow street.
Unfortunately, over the past few years, Train Street has seen an influx of selfie taking tourists and in October 2019, after a train had to make an emergency stop due to too many tourists on the track, the government had to make the decision to close it down.
Related: Train Street Hanoi: Closed Down
Paid things to do in Hanoi
Lotte Centre Hanoi
Visit Lotte Centre either in the morning, before 10.30 to avoid the crowds or at sunset to witness the stunning panoramic skyline of Hanoi. Step out onto the ledge and get your ‘Love’ photo taken.
Food is everything in Hanoi. And you can tie in a walk around the Old Quarter with a street food tour where you’ll get an insight into the traditions of Vietnamese food culture, visit a hidden street food restaurant and watch local chefs do what they do best.
Water Puppet Theatre
Ah the weird and wonderful water puppet show. This 1000-year-old art form goes back to a time when rice paddy fields were flooded, and the locals would stand waist deep in the flooded fields and perform with puppets for entertainment.
One could be excused for watching a water puppet show and wondering what the heck is going on, but I implore you to go in with an open mind and just embrace the nuttiness of it!
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Pay your respects to ‘Uncle Ho’ at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Uncle Ho was the most popular iconic leader of Vietnam and his embalmed body lies inside with Mausoleum, with a guard standing at each corner of the bier.
You must adhere to a dress code when visiting the Mausoleum – no shorts or miniskirts and shoulders must be covered (a scarf will suffice). As it’s one of the most visited attractions in Hanoi, you’ll want to get there very early to beat the crowds.
The Women’s Museum in Hanoi is a homage to the crucial role women have played in Vietnamese history. And while there are exhibits about marriage and childbirth, the museum also recognises the contribution of women in the rice paddy fields, service women, business leaders and their contribution during the war.
The exhibits are spread out over five floors and are divided by women in family, women in history and women’s fashions.
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Hoa Lo Prison
If you’re interested in Vietnamese war history, then a trip to Hoa Lo Prison (or “Hanoi Hilton”) should be on your itinerary. But be prepared, it’s difficult to not feel sad and shocked after this tour.
The prison was built in 1896 by the French colonists. It was used to imprison many Vietnamese revolutionary leaders, as well as American pilots who were shot down during the Vietnam War (John McCain being one of those pilots).
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
Right in the heart of Hanoi is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long. For over 1000 thousand years, the Imperial Citadel was key to the country’s political and military history.
Wear comfortable shoes as there’s a lot of walking through this complex of historical buildings and make sure you take a tour of the underground war bunkers.
Asia is known for great massages and the likes. Most hotels have a spa within where you can book a massage and enjoy a relaxing day using their facilities. But if you’re on a budget, you can visit one of the many massage parlours lining the streets of Hanoi. A one-hour massage in one of these parlours will set you back less than $10.
Take a Cooking Class
Immerse yourself in Vietnamese culture by taking a cooking class, interacting with the locals and visiting a market to learn about Vietnamese produce. And of course you get to eat your wonderful creation!
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Here are my go to websites for planning a trip:
For activities: Get Your Guide
For hotels: Booking.com
For flights: Skyscanner
For travel insurance: World Nomads
Is Hanoi on your Bucket List? Or have you already been? Let me know in the comments below and if you liked this post, go ahead and share it!