An ancient city with an incredible food scene, Hanoi is a fun and affordable destination for travellers. Scooters buzz through the streets, the smell of delicious food fills the air and everywhere you turn, there’s a friendly smile waiting to greet you. We love travelling in Vietnam and Hanoi is a destination we seem to keep going back to time and time again. If you’re planning a trip to Hanoi and are looking for some itinerary inspiration here are our tips on 24 things you absolutely must do in Hanoi including three amazing day trips and tours.
But first, watch this…
1. Start with a guided scooter tour
We kicked off our visit to Hanoi with two guided scooter tours and absolutely loved it! There are loads of scooters in Vietnam and being able to get in amongst it and see Hanoi from the back of one was an exhilarating experience. Our guides were knowledgable, sharing in-depth insight on all the spots we visited. They also took us to places I’d never seen before, despite having visited Hanoi many times before. We did our tours with Vietnam Vintage Vespa Tours and loved it! Find Vietnam Vintage Vespa Tours here.
2. Wander the famous Hanoi train street
You’ll find no shortage of other visitors at Hanoi’s famous train street but there’s a good reason; it’s awesome! The train tracks are bordered by perfectly placed cafes serving local favourites like egg coffee and traditional Vietnamese coffee. A couple of times a day the train rips through the area, coming perilously close to the storefronts. In-between those times, the tracks are crawling with visitors seeking the perfect Instagram shot. We actually visited while it was POURING rain and got the tracks all to ourselves! Find out more about visiting Hanoi train street here.
3. Have drinks at the Diamond Sky Bar
Hanoi is best viewed from above! It gives you a better appreciation for the layout of Vietnam’s capital city and just how densley populated it really is. Our favourite rooftop spot is Diamond Sky Bar, perched atop The Gourmet Corner Restaurant. It offers amazing views over Hanoi and is the perfect spot for evening drinks just as the sun is beginning to set. We love the drinks, food and service and the music is great too! It’s a bit more pricey by local standards but found it well-priced for what it is. Find Diamond Sky Bar here.
4. Eat the same Bun Cha as Obama and Bourdain
It’s always a good idea to immerse yourself in as many local food experiences as possible in Hanoi! I was a bit nervous that Bun Cha Huong Lien would be a bit of a tourist trip after being visited by Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain but when we stepped inside, the multi-storey restaurant was packed with locals! It was my first Bun Cha experience and it was perfect. The food was fresh, flavoursome and I ate every last bite. Bun Cha consists of grilled pork, rice noodles, a flavourful broth and side dishes like chilli and fresh greens. Ours was also served with really delicious spring rolls and a plant-based option was available for me. We loved it and highly recommend Bun Cha as a must-try dish in Hanoi. Find Bun Cha Huong Lien here.
5. Stroll around the Old Quarter
Hanoi’s Old Quarter is best explored on foot so you can follow the never-ending maze of narrow laneways lined with street vendors. The buildings here are incredible and there are plenty of great spots to stop and soak it all in. I recommend putting aside at least a few hours to wander through the Old Quarter. You’ll want to pop into shops that catch your eye, grab a drink at a local cafe and try street food along the way. Find Hanoi’s Old Quarter here.
6. Drink ALL the Vietnamese coffee
Vietnamese coffee is strong and flavourful, a single cup will set your pulse rate on a trajectory to the moon. Introduced by French colonists, the Vietnamese have made ca phe their own. There are loads of great cafes to choose from in Hanoi but my personal favourite is a chain called Cong Caphe. I love the unique interior of Cong and they often have on-street seating so you can sit outside and watch the world go by.
Be sure to try lots of different variations of Vietnamese coffee to find one you like most but don’t overdo it in a single day (I’ve had three in one day before and had the jitters for the following two days). Cong’s menu also has other really yummy treats including this ice-cold, coconut, chocolate concoction that will knock your socks off! Best of all, Cong has free wifi so if you need time to order a Grab Taxi or check your maps, it’s the perfect spot. Find Cong Caphe here.
7. Explore the Tran Quoc Pagoda
Tr?n Qu?c Pagoda is the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi, located on a small island near the southeastern shore of Hanoi’s West Lake. You may recognise it from photos as the very tall, reddish temple often seen when you start researching Hanoi. It’s a beautiful spot to explore and one we saw as part of our guided scooter tours. It’s open daily from 7:30am to 6pm (though I did see something online that said it closed at 4pm so best to get there early just in case!) Entry is free and, if not visiting as part of a guided tour, Grab is probably the best way to get there. Find Tr?n Qu?c Pagoda here.
8. Visit the Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature is another great historic spot to visit in Hanoi and probably my favourite of the bunch! Often cited as one of Hanoi’s most picturesque tourist attractions it was originally built as a university in 1070, dedicated to Confucius, scholars and sages. The building is extremely well preserved and an excellent example of traditional Vietnamese architecture. The passageways here were once used by royalty! Just beware of the heat when visiting as we stopped by on a sunny, humid day and couldn’t spend quite as long as we wanted to. Entrance is 30,000 Vietnamese Dong per person and you’ll need to purchase your tickets at the ticket booth before going in. Find the Temple of Literature here.
9. Drink cheap beer at beer street after dark
If you love nightlife or just really enjoy a cold drink and a spot of people watching you have to visit Hanoi’s famous beer street! Ta Hien Corner also called Bia Hoi Junction is located in the Old Quarter and it comes alive after dark. We didn’t know where we were going or what we were looking for so we just kept asking locals, ‘Where’s beer street?’ every few hundred metres to get directions and eventually we found it! There are loads of streetside bars who will call out to you and try to get you to grab a seat at their establishment.
I recommend doing a lap to case out one you like the look of instead of just settling for the first one that calls out to you. If you’re a bit funny with crowds (me!) you may prefer to choose one on the edge of it all for a bit more calm. I’d also recommend choosing a seat back from the road, not in the front row of seats because when the police do drive-throughs, the bar staff have to move those chairs to adhere to local laws and you don’t want to be getting up and down over and over again. Find out more about Beer Street here.
10. Check out the Imperial Citadel
The Imperial Citadel of Th?ng Long is a must-visit historic site in Hanoi also known as the Hanoi Citadel. I love wandering through the imperial buildings which were once the site of the political centre of Vietnam for 13 consecutive centuries. You can also glimpse artefacts and items dating back to between the 6th and 20th centuries! Located in Ba Dinh District, entrance to the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is priced at VND 30,000 and it is open from 08:00 to 17:00 every day except Monday. Find the Imperial Citadel here.
11. Haggle with street vendors
As you wander through the Old Quarter you’ll see streetside stores selling all kinds of wares including children’s toys, knock-off shoes and backpacks, clothes and more. You may also notice these kinds of shops tend to be grouped together, which is interesting! Typically, as shoppers, we notice shops try to set up far away from their competitors but in Hanoi, you’ll find all the shoe shops in one spot, all the optometrists in another and so on. It’s fascinating! If you do fancy a bit of streetside shopping be sure to haggle with the street vendors. It’s best to assess the item and determine a price you’d be happy paying for it so you go into it with a clear idea. If you need more tips on haggling be sure to read: How to haggle like a professional in Bali which also applies to other places in South-East Asia!
12. Eat at Wild Lotus Restaurant
For a delicious dinner near the French Quarter be sure to visit Wild Lotus. The restaurant has a stunning entryway leading all the way up to the dining area. We loved the food here and they great a selection for meat-eaters and vegetarians/vegans alike. We got stuck into their banquet-style tasting menu which allowed us to try lots of different dishes including delectable spring rolls, soup, salads, deep-fried goodies, hot pot, noodles and more. The service here was absolutely fantastic, the staff were so attentive and the restaurant was packed with other diners! Find Wild Lotus Restaurant here.
13. Catch a show at the Hanoi Opera House
The Hanoi Opera House was erected (yep, I wrote erected!) by the French colonial administration between 1901 and 1911. Now, it’s a stunning piece of neo-classical French architecture and the biggest theatre in Vietnam. If you want to delve into the world of local culture be sure to check out what’s playing at the Opera House and duck in for a show. If that isn’t your cup of tea, it’s a really lovely spot to visit just to check it out and snap a few photos. It looks particularly gorgeous toward the end of the sunlight hours and into the early evening. Find the Hanoi Opera House here.
14. Cycle or walk around Hoan Kiem Lake
Meaning ‘lake of the returned sword’ Hoan Kiem Lake is a freshwater lake measuring some 12 hectares located in the historical centre of Hanoi. According to the legend, in early 1428, Emperor Le Loi was boating on the lake when a Golden Turtle God surfaced and asked for his magic sword, which had been given to him by the Dragon King. He gave the sword back and renamed the lake to commemorate the event.
Now, it’s a must-visit (and sort of inevitable tourist spot) in Hanoi. You may like to wander around the lake or visit the Ngoc Son Temple, a pagoda sitting in the centre on a small island, which has an entrance fee of VND30,000 per person. The island on which it sits is known as Jade Island, accessible by the iconic Huc Bridge or Rising Sun Bridge. The streets around Hoan Kiem Lake are closed to traffic on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 7pm to 2am in summer and 6pm to 2am in winter. This means visitors can walk around the area freely and check out some of the stalls and activities that often pop up. Find Hoan Kiem Lake here.
15. Go Silk Shopping
Silk production in Vietnam dates back to 2000 BC. Known as lua in Vietnamese, it was considered an extravagant luxury in feudal times, associated with wealth and success, worn only by Kings and Queens. It was also once used as a type of currency in trade. It has played a big part in Vietnam’s history and economic development and still plays a prominent role today. Vietnam is the sixth leading silk-producing country in the world, producing approximately 450 metric tonnes in 2015. There are 2 main silk-producing regions in Vietnam and one of them, Ha Dong, is an urban district located here in Hanoi. You’ll find no shortage of silk shops in Hanoi and my advice is to wander through Hang Gai Street (Silk Street), the perfect spot for some silk shopping and to have a custom suit made! Find the best silk shopping in Hanoi here.
16. Have dinner at La Plume Restaurant
If you love cocktails and great food be sure to put La Plume on your itinerary! We stopped in for dinner and drinks on a rainy evening and had a fantastic time. The bartenders whip up magical cocktails, including some really cool versions of local foodie favourites like a Vietnamese Pho inspired cocktail reflecting all the flavours of Vietnam’s iconic breakfast dish. In addition to great drinks, you’ll find a diverse menu showcasing a mix of French and Vietnamese cuisine. I tucked into a vegetable pasta dish while Matt enjoyed a juicy steak! Find La Plume here.
17. Explore the French Quarter
Located on the southeastern end of Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi’s French Quarter is home to luxury hotels and upmarket restaurants as well as galleries, boutiques and bookshops. You’ll notice it may not be as bustling here as you experience in the Old Quarter. The French architectural influence is obvious, as seen in The Cathedral of Hanoi, built in the mid-1880s and other buildings lining the streets. We spent an hour or two exploring this area ducking into cafes and boutiques that took our fancy. Find the French Quarter here.
18. Join a cooking class
A cooking class is a great way to get hands-on with the flavours of Vietnamese food. You’ll get to whip up delicious dishes and learn recipes you can take home and recreate once your trip has ended. Not only that but it’ll give you a deeper understanding of Vietnamese cooking practices, local produce and how they balance the flavours so well. If you’re interested, you may like to consider joining one which includes a tour of a local market! It’s a great opportunity to see how the local’s shop and see fresh produce you may not have encountered before. Find the best cooking classes in Hanoi here.
19. Visit Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum
This is an experience that may not be for everyone, I understand. But there may be some who are interested in visiting Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum in Ba Dinh Square. I’ve visited to glimpse the exterior and watched the military parade but haven’t been inside, which is where Ho Chi Minh’s body is preserved in glass. The Mausoleum is an important site for many Vietnamese locals and could be a good addition to your itinerary if it takes your interest. Find out more about Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum here.
20. Check out St Joseph’s Cathedral
St Joseph’s Cathedral is a neo-gothic style church located in the Hoan Kiem District and a must-visit for tourists. The facade is absolutely stunning and, as a result, you’ll find it’s very popular with other visitors. One of my favourite things to do is grab a seat at one of the cafes with a balcony located near the church. It’s a great way to take it all in from an unimpeded viewpoint while enjoying a cup of Vietnamese coffee. Find St Joseph’s Cathedral here.
21. Try amazing street food
As you wander through Hanoi you’ll spot streetside food vendors whipping up delicious bites along main roads and in tiny alleyways. The street food in Hanoi is absolutely incredible so be sure to jump in and try local favourites like Bun Cha, Banh Mi and Pho! If you’re a little worried about which street food vendors are safe for sensitive tourist tummies (I get it!) a street food tour is a great idea. That way you’re with a local guide who knows which spots are best suited to visitors and serve up consistently good local fare. Find the best Hanoi street food tours here.
22. Take a day trip to Ninh Binh
Aptly known as the ‘Ha Long Bay on land,’ Ninh Binh is the perfect spot for visitors who love the look of Ha Long Bay but don’t have the time or budget to get out there. We took a guided day trip with Authentic Ninh Binh Tours and really enjoyed ourselves! Our guide picked us up from our hotel at around 7am, driving us by car to Ninh Binh which took around 2 hours with a toilet stop halfway. When we arrived, we did a bike tour through local villages and rice paddies then joined in a cooking class for lunch. Afterwards, we did an amazing boat tour through some spectacular scenery. It was a day very well spent and were glad we did it. You can see more of Ninh Binh up close in our YouTube video above. Find Authentic Ninh Binh tours here.
23. Visit the stunning Perfume Pagoda
Another great day trip is a visit to the Perfume Pagoda, which I did a few years ago and really enjoyed. Our guide picked us up from the hotel at around 8am and it took around 2 hours to get out there. Once we arrived we did a boat ride past absolutely beautiful scenery including stunning mountains and bright pink lotus in bloom. Then, we grabbed some lunch and visited the main cave, which is a bit of a walk but totally worth it. It was a few years ago but I’m pretty sure our trip wasn’t for a full day as some research I’ve done today seems to indicate there are more activities than what we did on our visit so what I’ve shared here is just a taste. Find the best Perfume Pagoda day trips here.
24. Spend a few days cruising Halong Bay
The mother of all Hanoi trips is a visit to Halong Bay! I’ve included it here as a ‘day’ trip but really it’s going to be a minimum of one night. If you can, I recommend going for two nights. We’ve done both and the one night trip goes by so fast! We’ve done two visits now and each time we’ve been blown away by the whole experience and how beautiful it is. If you have the time and budget, I highly recommend visiting. Rather than double up information, I’ll give you some links to existing guides which will help you plan the best trip to Halong Bay:
- 15 Things you need to know about cruising Halong Bay
- Where to stay in Halong Bay: Paradise Cruise
- How to choose a great Halong Bay cruise
How to get to Hanoi
We flew from Singapore to Hanoi on a direct flight with Singapore Airlines and had a fantastic experience. If you’re still figuring out your travel plans and are looking for an airline recommendation, we absolutely love Singapore Airlines. A full-service airline you’re treated to comfortable seats, delicious meals, a great range of in-flight entertainment and the very best service.
Our trip actually took us from Brisbane to Singapore then onward to Paris, back to Singapore and over to Hanoi. Singapore is a fantastic destination for a layover, even if you’ve just got a few hours to spend in the airport there’s plenty to see and do (Read: 18 of the BEST things to do at Singapore Changi Airport) If you can, I’d recommend organising a layover of a few days in Singapore so you can visit Jewel, Gardens by the Bay and many of the other must-see sites in Singapore. One other great tip is to check out Singapore Airlines Changi Transit Rewards program which may allow you to receive SG$20 (FREE!) to spend at Changi Airport when transiting.
Where to stay in Hanoi
We stayed at the InterContinental Hanoi Landmark 72 and loved it! The hotel is located in Hanoi’s CBD, a location most travellers don’t consider when booking a Hanoi hotel. Our corner suite was absolutely incredible offering us amazing views over Hanoi and beyond, loads of space to spread out and a luxury experience. We also really enjoyed the incredible service from the hotel staff who made us feel incredibly welcome and helped us with all our travel plans and daily needs. Read our detailed review of InterContinental Hanoi Landmark 72 here.
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