Things to do in Hanoi is a detail introduction for any who plan to visit this city. In this deep look, you can find the information of which destinations to visit, what area to focus, which food is the best, etc. Read it and you can make a complete discovery in this charming city.
- 1 Hanoi at first look
- 2 Understanding weather before knowing things to do in Hanoi
- 3 Transportation within Hanoi
- 4 Main visiting spots in the center – Things to do in Hanoi
- 5 Recommended visiting spots around – Things to do in Hanoi
- 6 Best food you must try – Things to do in Hanoi
Hanoi at first look
Hanoi has been capital for Vietnam Kingdom for nearly a millennium. And now, it is still the capital of Vietnam. Hanoi is famous not only thanks to the characteristic architecture, but also to special culture and etiquette. There is an Old Quarter in the middle of the city where street names are named after things sold there. Many temples and small alleys in Hanoi and these also help to bring unique manner for this city.
Hanoi is the second biggest city in Vietnam. You can find here a blend of man cultural ambiance influenced by Oriental philosophies, the French colonization and the communism society. The visit there then can bring a so much different feeling as compared to the cities nearby like Hochiminh City, Danang, Hue or Vientiane.
Understanding weather before knowing things to do in Hanoi
Unlike Saigon, Hanoi is the city with different weather seasons. The best time to arrive Hanoi is in autumn, around August to October yearly. This is because the high humidity time is over, and the raining season does not arrive yet. The sky is blue but the sun is not so strong. The temperate is moderate and you can find it cool at night. This makes your discovery of things to do in Hanoi just pleasant and enjoyable.
For some people who prefer a cold temperature, the mornings of November and December are the best to enjoy Hanoi. This city is well-known for street foods. Therefore, the experience of having those fantastic food at some small alley of Hanoi among the chili temperature can make a great moment of life.
Transportation within Hanoi
Honestly taxi is not a trust source to recommend here. The reason is that there are too many taxi companies here. And most of them does not control their driver wells. This leads to a situation that there are many cases of over-charge. The different amount is not much and therefore there is not a radical solution to stop this. If you really need a taxi, choose Hanoi Taxi which is light blue. The trustful taxi companies you have known in Saigon is not popular here unfortunately.
Taxi apps can be Grab. This is with low cost. Hence, if you can load the apps then why not. The option of Grabbike is great with very low cost if you don’t have big luggage. Sitting at the back of bikes along bustling streets of Hanoi is a great fun.
If you see electric vans around and love to have experience on this vehicle, ask your tour guide to arrange it. It can be a good idea because the van run slowly and you have time to see the beauty of Hanoi. It is also very quiet and environmentally friendly. This kind of vehicle does not take you from A to B but it takes the whole route along streets at the Old Quarter. You need to hire the whole van with the whole route though it is not expensive at all.
Main visiting spots in the center – Things to do in Hanoi
Hoan Kiem lake
In some books you might see the literate translation name “Sword Return lake”. This is because the lake is stick with a Vietnamese legend. It was said that the sacred spirit from the lake (which was a huge turtle) has given the Vietnam king the powerful sword to fight against Chinese invasion. The King had returned to sword to the sacred turtle at that very lake.
The lake is really a beautiful place for local people to hang out, take photos and even do exercise. There are also several monuments like the temple, the red bridge to visit and get yourself into a worshiping ambiance of Vietnamese. Don’t forget to visit the giant turtle on the left wing of the temple. Who knows that could be the one in 14th century who gave the local king the sword and stayed forever in the legend.
Temple of Literature.
The name looks weird, doesn’t it? Obviously, there is no god of temperature. The temple was the place to worship Confucius and to stimulate study around one thousand years before. This place was used for senior masters to teach kings’ and mandarins’ sons in order to prepare the human force for the Vietnam kingdom. Hence, the temple is considered the first ever university in Vietnam.
The trip to the temple is interesting with amazing architecture of Oriental, the philosophy of Confucius, as well as the stories told by the rock steles at the temple. This place is also great for children and teens as it tells a story of studying ambition in Vietnam.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral
The ancient out-looking and the everlasting beauty of this Gothic cathedral is the main reason for the youth to come for photos everyday. The cathedral is open for visiting insides. Nevertheless, the daily life of Vietnamese outside is unique and worth of a visit. That can be young girls and boys with poses for facebooks photos. It also can be couples with complicated wedding photo process to show their relatives at the wedding at the following month.
Hanoi Old Quarter
Hanoi Old Quarter is one of the best highlights of this charming city. The corner is with a system of street that is named after what is sold over there. The characteristics of the Old Quarter is made by the old house at the narrow streets, the communism ambiance at some poverty angles, and the bustling setting around. You can also find it like a big market. The local life and street food at every corner of the quarter is also great to enjoy the colorful day life of this special city.
Walking along the streets and hunting lovely daily life photos are the interest of not only travelers but also of the local Vietnamese. You can also stop at any coffee shop in the Old Quarter and enjoy one of the best coffee cup in the world. Else, you can sit down at some very small alleys and eat some street food that you never heard or imagine ever in your life.
Hanoi Opera House.
The Hanoi Opera House is a smaller copy of Opéra Garnier in Paris and was also built by French people. The building still operates every night the artists’ activities. That can be an opera night run by the Vietnam Opera Academy. You can see some concerts by some local famous or international musicians. Especially, there are many shows of Lune Production company who runs circus shows. The circus shows focus on cultural stories and daily life features. Then, it is worth of a night our there if you can arrange your time.
Hochiminh is one of the rare Communist leaders who the body is still preserved under the embalming process. Then, the trip to say hello to him is a unique experience. You will join a long queue with local people in front of his mausoleum, after a security check to make sure no one bring camera, weapons or explosive objects into the mausoleum. There are often cases you can see the guard changing and this is also a great to see. After entering the entrance with statue-like guards, you can go insides, say hello to the man, and experience the unique feeling that you never can imagine.
Note that the mausoleum is only open in the mornings of Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Also, double check with your tour guide or travel agent of the closure time of the year. There is a period of two month in summer that the mausoleum is close to install more chemical in the embalming process to make sure the body can last long. Visitors are requested to wear t-shirt covering arms and pants covering knees. Smiling is also advised NOT to make when you are insides the mausoleum.
This is the residence area of Hochiminh and locates behind his mausoleum. The walking trip insides can be a propaganda about how simple the man was and how great the man acted as a president of Vietnam Communist nation. In another hand, this is a great walking trip inside a park with big trees, house on stilt, and a pond with koi fishes. Ice cream and souvenirs are also tempted things along the hike. It could be bad in summer with humidity up to 97%, but at other seasons the hike is great.
At the end of this kike is Hochiminh museum that brings you a thick feeling of communism propaganda.
One pillar pagoda
This is on the day trip of visiting Hochiminh Mausoleum. After the mausoleum and the living area of Hochiminh, you will go passing by this. The pagoda at the first look is the same to any other temple in Vietnam. However, next to it is a little temple in the middle of a small pond. You might find lotus here most of the time. The shrine is well-known to the local as it was built nearly a thousand year with legends of the kings around it.
Tran Quoc pagoda.
This Buddhism pagoda is located at a peninsula in the middle of West Lake (this city has many lakes). The temple is with the shape of a lotus blossoming in the big lake. The stupas, the Buddhism statues and the temple architecture are the great things to explore more about Vietnamese spiritual life. Visiting the temple with a tour guide will help you to understand more about Mahayana Buddhism in Vietnam (and how it is very much different from the ones in Thailand or Laos).
Thang Long Water Puppet Show
This is a must among list of things to do in Hanoi, especially for family trips with children and teens. Hanoi city locates by the Red River. Then it is famous for floods. There should be some entertainment on the water of flood season. That is the reason why the water puppet is so well developed here. It even becomes an art. There are many villages nearby with traditional job of producing puppets for the show. The show is also displayed at international fair and get globally great well acknowledgement. In the show, you will discover that artists staying behind the curtains and control the puppets by sticks under the blue water. There is a series of different stories in the puppet show and are narrated by a lady voice. There are traditional music performed by men and women in traditional costumes as well.
Tickets can be purchased at the ticket booth in the front of the theater. However, you might not find tickets available at your preferred time slots. Else, the tickets available are only at the far back of the theater and you will not enjoy it much. So, consider to ask you tour guide or travel agent to books those days before.
Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is one of the best places to display and show the great cultural values of 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam. There is a huge display of clothes, jewelry, musical instruments, weapons, religions, shelters and others at the museum. The museum has two areas: indoor and outdoors. And this has contained a huge information about special cultural features in Vietnam.
The museum can be visited for two hours or the whole day. This depends on how much time you have and how it can raise your interest. We recommend to have a tour guide who can tells great stories on the display or can well describe the prime cultural feature of the artifacts.
Recommended visiting spots around – Things to do in Hanoi
Bat Trang ceramic village
The village located by the Red River and is around 20 km from Hanoi center. You can make a visit by motorbikes or car. This village is nationwide famous for high quality ceramic production. You can go around the village, call at some house and see the daily life that has happened for many centuries. The daily life of ancient ceramic production, the poverty but happiness of the villagers, and seeing the way of making those ceramic are the great value for the trip to this village.
At some opportunities you can sit down and make some ceramic for you by their technique. Is that fun enough?
Duong Lam ancient village
This is one of the ancient village that can well preserved the materialism and immaterial-ism values of daily life activities of Vietnamese. You can enjoy a lunch at an ancient house, visit the beautiful Vietnamese ancient houses or just make a pushing bike ride around the peaceful village. The background of buffalo, rice farms and farmers can make your photos here the best memory of Vietnam.
Ba Vi national park
This green area is super great for relaxing, as it was chosen by the French at the colonial time. There are French villas among the tropical rain forest but with cool temperature. There are several tourist spots where Vietnamese goes there and enjoys the nature in Asian ways. Nevertheless, there are trekking trails and temples along the trails at the park that can bring you great feeling away from the bustling Hanoi.
Best food you must try – Things to do in Hanoi
In the post of things to do in Hochiminh City, you have learnt some foods that can make your mouth watering. Believe me the food in Hanoi is much more of delicacy. Try some of the followings and you will see why you need to read this long post of things to do in Hanoi.
Pho is a must food in Hanoi. You might have learnt that pho is national food of Vietnam, and has entered Oxford dictionary as an English word. But did you know pho originated from North of Vietnam? If you are in Hochiminh city and enjoy so much pho overthere, remember that that taste has been modified to adapt to the appetite of the local people there. Pho in Hanoi is a real pho, with an original taste.
You might find this at many street vendors at many street corners. Some small no name vendors can give you so good pho with so cheap price. Some pho restaurant only serves in the morning. Others just open from the afternoon till night.
First pho is only with noodle and beef. Now you can have it with chicken. Other tasty alternatives are sautéed pho or pho cooked with wine.
If you are not sure which one you need to try, find one at the Ly Quoc Su street, or Bat Dan street, or Lan Ong street. Good luck and bonne appetite!
La Vong fish.
This is a very special dish of Hanoi. And it has been recorded in the list of Anthony Bourdain as one of the best ten you must eat before dying. Come and eat and understand why this is in the magic list. There are many restaurants serving this. Nevertheless, we recommend eating at the original place of this dish. That is the restaurant “Cha ca La Vong” at 14 Cha Ca street. This is the place they first cooked in 1731 and the taste has made the fame to day.
What will you eat there? Fish fillet pieces are fried on a small pan which is heated by a small charcoal oven. Fish is served with BBQ rice paper, noodle and vegetable. Additives to make great flavors are roasted peanut, mint, basil, dill, scallion heads, and of course a small bowl of prawn paste. This prawn paste should be processed by yourself at your table. The progress can be putting a bit of prawn paste into a small bowl, then squeezing lemon into it. You stir this by a spoon until you see the prawn paste turn purple with small bubbles and pleasant smell. Put a pinch of sugar, some drops of vodka, half tea spoon of fat into the bowl. Stir again and you have a fantastic sauce to eat fish and noodle.
Again this is a kind of noodle that we could not translate into English as there is no same equivalent. Some places might call it Obama noodle as Obama and Anthony have used this for lunch at a very small alley of Hanoi. Does that interest you yet?
As sitting down at a Bun Cha restaurant, you just say Bun Cha and they are sure what you are expecting. You will be provided three bowls: one vegetable, one noodle and one bowl of hot things. In that hot bowl, you will find BBQ pork slices, BBQ pork balls (oval shape), pickle papaya, and some hot and sour sauce. Put noodle into this sauce and eat with pork and vegetable and know why Obama was looking forward to eating this.
This is a common dish for breakfast for Hanoi people. When you sit down at a small street food vendor, they start to cook. Normally you don’t even have to order because they just serve only one dish. They have a big pot covered by a flat cloth sheet. The water insides the pot keeps steaming, and the cook pours a bowl of rice flower juice on the top of the cloth, and flat it into a paper. After 10 seconds cooking with the support of the top lit, the rice paper is well done. The cook will put some pork powder and minced ear mushroom into the paper, before taking the whole paper into your dish. You will eat it with fish sauce
Bun Dau Mam Tom
This is a truly delicacy of Hanoi but seem to be the hardest one to try for travelers. Food will come in a bamboo basket. You will see noodle, vegetable, fried tofu and a bowl of prawn paste. The process of making prawn paste is the same to the one described in the dish of La Vong fish above. The flavor of well processing tofu, of prawn paste, of herbs and barila at the vegetable part will make Hanoi people happy for the whole day.