“Destinations in Hanoi” beckon travelers as they navigate the vibrant alleys of the city, immersing in the authentic cadence of Vietnamese life. Hanoi, a booming economic beacon, reverently holds onto its deep-seated traditions, effortlessly melding the historic with the contemporary.
The Old Quarter stands tall as a testament to this blend, captivating tourists worldwide. With streets alive with bustling vendors and contemporary cafés and eateries, each moment here brims with vivacity. In this district, even the act of street-crossing becomes an unforgettable experience.
When urban noise becomes too much, Hanoi offers pockets of tranquillity. The serene Hoan Kiem Lake provides a quiet reprieve amidst the urban rush, while the Temple of Literature and the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology invite introspection into Vietnam’s storied past.
For an enriched Hanoi experience, delve into our comprehensive list of must-visit sites and activities in this enchanting city.
1/Hanoi Old Quarter
“Destinations in Hanoi” come alive as travelers meander through the streets of its historic heart.
This enthralling maze of slender lanes is not only the city’s commercial epicenter but also holds tales that date back a millennium. It’s a captivating contrast, where remnants of the medieval era stand tall amidst the modern chaos of zooming motorbikes, animated street vendors, and the rhythm of daily trade.
While navigating, if one were to lift their gaze, the unique shophouse architecture emerges — traditional two-story abodes that are long and slim, where erstwhile merchants would reside atop their retail spaces, these houses closely knit along the alleyway lanes.
Wandering these back alleys provides an unparalleled immersion into Hanoi’s vibrant street culture. Beyond the array of street food delicacies and sidewalk sellers with fresh produce, you’ll encounter stalls that delve into traditional medicinal remedies and the deep roots of Buddhist religious artifacts.
Amid this ancient backdrop stands St. Joseph’s Cathedral on Nha Tho Street, a vestige from the French Colonial era. Erected in 1886, this edifice showcases the intricacies of neo-Gothic design. It proudly displays a detailed façade, anchored by twin bell towers, and its interiors are adorned with exquisite stained glass windows. While the primary entrance remains locked outside of mass timings, one can always explore the church’s insides from the rear, through the administrative sections of the Diocese of Hanoi.
2/Hoan Kiem Lake
A serene gem in Hanoi’s vibrant landscape is the iconic Hoan Kiem Lake, located just at the periphery of the old town district.
The lake’s prime attraction for visitors is a quaint island, accessible by a striking red bridge. This island is home to the Ngoc Son Temple, a revered shrine dedicated to three eminent figures in Vietnamese lore: La To, venerated as the guardian saint of physicians; the illustrious scholar Van Xuong; and the 13th-century military legend, General Tran Hung Dao, celebrated for his valor against the encroaching Mongol forces.
To the lake’s southern expanse stands another islet, crowned by the robust Turtle Tower. Its silhouette is most mesmerizing when observed from the bridge, making it a “Destinations in Hanoi” must-see.
3/Temple of Literature
Arguably Hanoi’s most captivating religious edifice is the serene Confucian temple, which, in its inception in the 11th century, served as a prestigious university.
Today, the Temple of Literature stands tall as a monument honoring Vietnam’s esteemed scholars.
In bygone times, this was the epicenter for the teachings of Confucian philosophy and literature. As testament to its scholastic legacy, near its entrance stand pillars, bearing inscriptions of the names of scholars who once graced its halls.
Venturing within, visitors are treated to meticulously landscaped gardens that pave the way to elegant pavilions and a remarkably preserved pagoda, where an effigy of Confucius stands in solemn reverence. This destination undoubtedly captures the essence of “Destinations in Hanoi.”
4/ Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, a significant landmark in “Destinations in Hanoi,” stands as a revered site of pilgrimage for countless Vietnamese. Nestled amidst the city’s lush gardens, this vast compound encompasses the final resting place of Ho Chi Minh along with several museums and notable monuments.
The mausoleum itself exudes a solemn air with its stern marble facade. Inside, visitors can view Ho Chi Minh’s preserved body, ensconced in a glass display.
Another highlight within the compound is the Ho Chi Minh Museum. This space showcases a diverse array of exhibits, including personal artifacts that once belonged to Ho Chi Minh, and offers a comprehensive narrative on the evolution of the Vietnamese Revolution.
The adjacent stilt house, which once served as Ho Chi Minh’s residence, stands as a beautifully preserved testament to his life. Also worth noting is the One Pillar Pagoda — a recreation of the original temple from the 11th century, which sadly met its demise at the hands of French colonial forces.
5/Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
A pinnacle in “Destinations in Hanoi” for aficionados of history and museums, the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi is an outstanding showcase of the nation’s rich tapestry of cultures. This museum holds the eminent national collection, brilliantly narrating the tales of Vietnam’s multifaceted ethnic backgrounds through meticulously curated displays.
Within its walls, the museum spotlights the myriad of ethnic minorities of Vietnam. Visitors are treated to a visual feast of art and artifacts, ranging from intricate wooden carvings and sophisticated metalwork to the vibrant textiles of traditional costumes.
Beyond the confines of the main building, the outdoor garden space unveils even more captivating exhibits. Here, one can embark on a journey through the diverse rural abodes characteristic of Vietnam’s ethnic groups. Among the outdoor highlights is the intriguing Giarai tomb, a testament to the unique burial customs of the Giarai people.
6/Visit Hoa Lo Prison Museum
A seminal structure rooted in the annals of “Destinations in Hanoi,” Hoa Lo Prison Museum stands as a somber reminder of Vietnam’s tumultuous past. Constructed by the French colonialists in the late 19th century, the prison was originally designed to detain Vietnamese revolutionaries and those opposing the French regime.
Yet, for many international visitors, the prison resonates more for its role during the Vietnam War (referred to as the American War in Vietnam). Among its former inmates, the most renowned is the American Senator John McCain.
Walking through the prison, visitors are met with vestiges of its harrowing past — communal cells, solitary confinement chambers, and the expansive courtyard. One can also view the chilling guillotine, a relic from the French rule, showcasing the harsh penalties imposed.
The museum offers an extensive narrative on Vietnam’s prolonged struggle against French domination, shedding light on the oppressive conditions the inmates faced. Dedicated sections of the museum focus on the American POWs, incorporating a video that chronicles their confinement and subsequent release. Personal artifacts belonging to these prisoners further amplify the personal narratives of their ordeal.
7/Water Puppet Theatre
One of the iconic cultural experiences “Destinations in Hanoi” offers is the mesmerizing water puppet show, a delightful blend of traditional Vietnamese art and captivating entertainment. This ancient art form, especially appealing for families with children, promises a memorable evening in the capital city.
Originating in Vietnam’s countryside during the monsoon-induced paddy field inundations, water puppetry has transitioned from open-air performances in natural ponds to purpose-built aquatic stages in urban settings.
Narratives of these performances typically revolve around beloved local legends, brought to life with the accompaniment of a live ensemble playing indigenous Vietnamese instruments.
Today, Hanoi stands as the epicenter of this unique art form. The Municipal Water Puppet Theatre, in particular, offers aficionados and newbies alike a chance to experience this tradition with five daily shows, ensuring visitors don’t miss out on this enchanting experience.
8/ Thang Long Imperial Citadel
Although it may not look like much at first, Hanoi’s Imperial Citadel area was once the vital seat of military power here, and continued in an important strategic role right up to the 1960s and the Vietnam War.
The site achieved UNESCO World Heritage Site recognition in 2010 for its long role in Hanoi’s past, and the area’s 1,000 years of history are highlighted by archaeological work that has unearthed the foundations of various palaces that once stood on this spot.
There’s also a bunker here that dates from the Vietnam War where military maps and implements are displayed.
9/Hanoi’s Train Street
A remarkable feature in Hanoi’s urban landscape is the slender alley, situated roughly mid-way between the Imperial Citadel and St. Joseph’s Cathedral. This alley has garnered global attention due to the train tracks that run through it, with trains passing precariously close – a mere 20-centimeter gap – to the homes lining the alley.
This “Destinations in Hanoi” spot gained such popularity that it led to dangerous behavior from tourists, with some not moving out of the train’s path in time. Concerned about the safety risks, the government intervened in 2019, prohibiting tourism in the alley and closing down the adjacent cafés.
However, recognizing the site’s appeal, authorities have somewhat softened their stance since then, allowing certain cafés to resume operations. If you choose to witness this unique spectacle, it’s imperative to respect the guidance of the local residents and café personnel when the train approaches.
Although the train schedule is subject to change, weekends usually provide multiple chances for visitors to watch the train pass through this tight-knit community.
10/Hanoi’s Military History Museum
Situated outside the museum, the courtyard is an intriguing exhibition of various military artifacts, showcasing downed French and US aircraft, tanks, and even a Soviet MiG fighter jet.
The museum’s interior delves deep into Vietnam’s tumultuous 20th-century history, detailing its wars against both France and the USA. It houses an impressive collection of weaponry and a vast trove of information. For history aficionados, this museum is a treasure trove of insights into Vietnam’s military past.
However, for the casual visitor, the interior displays might appear a bit disorganized and can be overwhelming. Despite this, many are drawn to the museum primarily for its captivating outdoor display of aircraft, all set against the backdrop of a robust flag tower, making it a noteworthy “Destinations in Hanoi” spot.
11/Hanoi’s Fine Art Museum
For aficionados of art and history, the museum is a must-visit “Destinations in Hanoi.” Housing an exquisite collection that traces Vietnamese art from ancient times to the modern era, visitors will be spellbound by the array of artifacts.
The museum showcases a variety of treasures, such as terracotta and stone sculptures originating from the revered Tran and Champa Dynasties. Devotees will appreciate the Buddha statues from the Mac and Le Dynasties and the intricately carved statues of the goddess Guan Yin.
Further enhancing its appeal, the museum also boasts an extensive array of ceramics from the 11th and 12th centuries. Additionally, a dedicated gallery celebrates the nation’s rich folk art tradition, providing a comprehensive insight into Vietnam’s artistic heritage.
12/Co Loa Citadel
Located a mere 16 kilometers northeast of Hanoi’s bustling center, Co Loa Citadel serves as a captivating escape and a “Destinations in Hanoi” that history enthusiasts should not miss. This ancient fortified city stands as a testament to Vietnam’s rich archaeological tapestry, with roots that trace back to the Bronze Age.
Historically significant, Co Loa Citadel once held the prestigious title of being the capital of the northern Vietnamese Kingdom of Au Lac in the 3rd Century BCE, cementing its position as possibly the oldest known capital in Vietnam.
Visitors to the site can marvel at the remnants of the expansive earthen ramparts, once stretching an impressive five kilometers. Additionally, the citadel houses an array of temples, each echoing tales of different eras, with the most recent temple hailing from the 16th century.
13/Artisan Villages of Hanoi’s Hinterland
On the periphery of Hanoi, several quaint villages stand as bastions of traditional Vietnamese craftsmanship, making them ideal “Destinations in Hanoi” for those in search of authentic souvenirs.
For aficionados of fine silk, the village of Van Phuc, situated a mere 10 kilometers southwest of central Hanoi, is a must-visit. This village prides itself on its rich weaving heritage, and the stores here offer an array of exquisite silk garments and accessories, all handcrafted by the skilled artisans of Van Phuc.
For pottery enthusiasts, Bat Trang is the place to be. Located roughly 16 kilometers southeast of the city’s heart, this village is a renowned hub for ceramic artistry. As you wander through its many ceramic shops, you’ll likely recognize some of the exquisite pieces that are often found in Hanoi’s upscale boutiques, but at a fraction of the price.