Hanoi, the bustling capital of Vietnam, is both a vibrant modern city and a treasure trove of rich history and culture. With a thousand years of history under its belt, this ever-evolving city has plenty to offer visitors, from ancient temples and monuments to trendy cafes and shopping destinations. In this article, we’ll explore the top things to do in Hanoi to make your first day in the city truly unforgettable.
As you first set foot in Hanoi, you’ll be struck by the energy and charm of the city. The streets are a cacophony of honking motorbikes, the air is filled with the scent of fragrant street food, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by a mix of historic sites and modern developments. This blend of old and new is what makes Hanoi so captivating and unique.
To help you make the most of your first day in this enchanting city, we’ve curated a list of the top things to do in Hanoi. From exploring the city’s historic Old Quarter to discovering the delights of Vietnamese cuisine, these activities will ensure that your first day in Hanoi is one you’ll cherish forever.
A visit to Hanoi wouldn’t be complete without a wander through its historic Old Quarter. This bustling area, lined with narrow streets and ancient architecture, is the heart and soul of the city. Here, you’ll find a maze of streets, each named after the trade or craft that was historically practiced there. As you stroll through the Old Quarter’s maze-like streets, you’ll be immersed in Hanoi’s history and culture.
The Old Quarter is home to a plethora of temples, shrines, and markets, making it the perfect place to spend a leisurely morning or afternoon. As you explore, be sure to stop by the iconic Bach Ma Temple, which is believed to be the oldest temple in the city. You’ll also want to visit the bustling Dong Xuan Market, where you can find everything from fresh produce to traditional Vietnamese souvenirs.
As evening approaches, the Old Quarter truly comes alive. The streets fill with locals and tourists alike, all enjoying the vibrant nightlife, delicious street food, and the famous Bia Hoi (fresh beer) at sidewalk bars. There’s no better way to soak up the atmosphere of Hanoi than by spending an evening in the heart of the Old Quarter.
The Temple of Literature, also known as Van Mieu, is one of Hanoi’s most famous historical landmarks. This stunning example of traditional Vietnamese architecture was built in 1070 and is dedicated to Confucius, the great Chinese philosopher. Over the centuries, the temple has been a center of learning and was the site of Vietnam’s first university.
A visit to the Temple of Literature is a must for anyone interested in history, architecture, or simply a tranquil escape from the bustling city streets. As you wander through the temple’s peaceful courtyards, you’ll be transported back in time, surrounded by ancient calligraphy, statues, and beautifully carved stone steles honoring the scholars of the past.
The Temple of Literature is also a popular spot for local students, who come here to pray for success in their studies. Be sure to take the time to appreciate the temple’s serene atmosphere, and perhaps even light some incense as an offering for good fortune in your own pursuits.
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex is one of Hanoi’s most important sites, and a visit here is an excellent way to gain insight into Vietnam’s history and the life of its most famous leader. The complex is home to several significant landmarks, including the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the Presidential Palace, and the Ho Chi Minh Museum.
The centerpiece of the complex is the imposing Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh, affectionately known as “Uncle Ho,” lies in state. Visitors can pay their respects to the revered leader and learn about his life and his role in Vietnam’s struggle for independence.
The Presidential Palace, once the residence of the French Governor-General of Indochina, is now used for official government functions. While the palace itself is not open to the public, visitors can explore the picturesque gardens and the stilt house where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked during his time in power.
Finally, the Ho Chi Minh Museum offers a comprehensive look at the life and legacy of Vietnam’s most famous leader. With exhibits detailing his early years, his rise to power, and his enduring impact on the country, the museum is a must-visit for anyone interested in Vietnam’s history and culture.
In the center of Hanoi lies the tranquil Hoan Kiem Lake, an oasis of calm amid the hustle and bustle of the city. The lake is not only a picturesque spot for a leisurely stroll but is also steeped in local legend and history. According to legend, Emperor Le Loi returned a magical sword to the Golden Turtle God in the lake after defeating the invading Chinese, thus giving the lake its name, which translates to “Lake of the Returned Sword.”
As you walk around the lake, you’ll come across several notable landmarks, including the striking Red Huc Bridge, which leads to the small island on which the Ngoc Son Temple sits. This temple, dedicated to the legendary General Tran Hung Dao, is a popular spot for both tourists and locals seeking a peaceful moment of reflection.
Another point of interest is the Turtle Tower, which stands on a small island in the center of the lake. This tower is a symbol of Hanoi and is said to be the resting place of the Golden Turtle God who took back the magical sword from Emperor Le Loi. As you stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake, be sure to take a moment to appreciate the beauty and tranquility of this historic spot.
One of the highlights of any trip to Hanoi is undoubtedly the food. Vietnamese cuisine is famed for its fresh, flavorful ingredients and fragrant herbs, and Hanoi is the perfect place to sample its many delights. From street food vendors to upscale restaurants, there’s no shortage of options for indulging in the city’s culinary offerings.
A must-try dish while in Hanoi is the iconic Pho, a fragrant noodle soup often served with thinly sliced beef or chicken. Other local specialties include Bun Cha (grilled pork with rice noodles) and Banh Mi (a delicious Vietnamese baguette sandwich). Be sure to venture off the beaten path and dine at local eateries for an authentic taste of Hanoi’s cuisine.
For a truly unique dining experience, head to one of Hanoi’s many “bia hoi” establishments. These informal sidewalk bars serve fresh draft beer, often for as little as 25 cents a glass, alongside a menu of tasty Vietnamese snacks and dishes. Pull up a plastic stool, order a cold beer, and soak up the convivial atmosphere as you sample Hanoi’s street food culture.
A trip to Hanoi wouldn’t be complete without experiencing a traditional Vietnamese water puppet show. This unique art form dates back over a thousand years and is a fascinating blend of music, storytelling, and puppetry. Performances often depict scenes from Vietnamese folklore and history, accompanied by live music from a traditional Vietnamese orchestra.
The Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is one of the most popular venues for experiencing this captivating art form. Here, you can watch skilled puppeteers manipulate intricate wooden puppets on the water’s surface, telling tales of ancient heroes and mythical creatures. A water puppet show is a truly enchanting experience and is sure to be a memorable highlight of your time in Hanoi.
Hanoi is a shopper’s paradise, with a mix of bustling markets, trendy boutiques, and traditional handicraft shops to explore. Whether you’re searching for unique souvenirs or simply want to soak up the lively atmosphere, Hanoi’s markets are a must-visit.
Dong Xuan Market, located in the Old Quarter, is the city’s largest indoor market and is brimming with stalls selling everything from clothing and textiles to traditional handicrafts and souvenirs. For a more authentic shopping experience, head to the local Hang Da Market, where you can browse stalls selling fresh produce, flowers, and traditional Vietnamese ingredients.
If you’re in search of high-quality handicrafts, Hanoi is home to numerous traditional craft villages, where you can witness skilled artisans at work and purchase their handmade products. Some popular handicrafts include silk, lacquerware, ceramics, and embroidery.
The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an important historical and cultural landmark in Hanoi. Once the political center of Vietnam, the citadel spans over 13 hectares and contains a wealth of ancient relics and artifacts dating back to the 6th century.
As you explore the grounds of the citadel, you’ll discover the remains of palaces, pavilions, and defensive structures, as well as numerous archaeological excavations. The citadel is also home to the Hanoi Flag Tower, one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. Climbing to the top of the tower offers stunning panoramic views of Hanoi, making it a must-visit spot for any first-time visitor.
Hanoi is renowned for its thriving cafe culture, with countless coffee shops tucked away in the city’s hidden corners and alleyways. From traditional Vietnamese coffee houses to trendy, modern establishments, there’s a cafe to suit every taste in Hanoi.
For a taste of Hanoi’s famous egg coffee, head to the legendary Giang Cafe, where this unique concoction of coffee, condensed milk, and whipped egg was first created.
No matter your coffee preference, taking the time to relax in one of Hanoi’s hidden cafes is a delightful way to unwind and soak up the city’s atmosphere.
With its rich history, vibrant culture, and mouth-watering cuisine, Hanoi is a city that captivates all who visit. By following our guide to the top things to do in Hanoi, you can ensure that your first day in this enchanting city is one you’ll never forget. From exploring the ancient streets of the Old Quarter to immersing yourself in the city’s thriving cafe culture, Hanoi offers a wealth of experiences that will leave you longing to return for more.
One Pillar Pagoda
Temple of Literature
Tran Quoc Pagoda
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum