As a historical and capital city of Vietnam, Hanoi has a good range of tourist attractions and places for travellers to explore and journey through history and culture. In this article, the most popular and famous tourist spots are covered as well as my personal suggestions, so you can use it as a full guide to plan your time in the city.
Hanoi Opera House
Designed after one of the two Opera Houses in Paris, Hanoi Opera House is one of the notorious landmarks resembling French architecture in the city. You can visit to admire the oddly Western building standing out in the middle of ancient town from the outside or go watch Vietnamese plays and musicals.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem lake is the most famous lake in Hanoi and has a great historical significance related to a legendary story of a former king, Le Loi, who had a magical sword with great power, which was then returned to Golden Turtle in this lake. And the king named this lake Hoan Kiem, which means “returned sword”. It is a beautiful lake and a stroll around the lake is a must when in Hanoi.
Weekend Night Market
During weekends from Friday to Sunday, parts of the Old Quarter turns into Walking Streets allowing pedestrians to freely walk without traffic and night market to take place. The main night market is on the streets between Dong Xuan market and the lake. The Walking Street is also on the lake where a lot of entertainments happen.
Dong Xuan Market
Dong Xuan Market is a market full of shops selling clothes, accessories, food etc. I personally don’t think there’s much to buy here, so the visit is more to get the vibe of a typical Vietnamese indoor market. My suggestion is to go outside of the building and visit local markets for a more authentic Vietnamese experience.
One cannot forget the beer street in Hanoi especially those thirsty backpackers and travellers looking for ice-cold beer in the middle of the crowd of locals and foreigners who gather up in this hub for a good night out. The main of the main beer street is the conjunction between Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen streets and it’s the busiest and liveliest on Fridays and Saturdays.
There are great museums to discover if you’re into history and culture of this country. If you’re looking to fit in all or most of these places, check out my previous article outlining the optimal itinerary.
Hoa Lo Prison
Hoa Lo prison is a relic of prison built by the French colonists in the early 20th century and Vietnamese revolutionaries were incarcerated here. A visit to this place will be thought-provoking and you’d most definitely come out heavy-hearted after learning about painful truths and wounds from colonialism. It is a place that deserves a visit and helps understanding of Vietnam’s history.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is where Vietnam’s hero, President Ho Chi Minh or Uncle Ho is resting in peace after his great contributions to the country’s independence and history. There are exhibitions displaying both his personal and political life. It is a symbolic and prominent place where local visitors come to pay respect to their Uncle Ho. Thus, conformity to dress code and regulations are expected.
Temple of Literature
Temple of Literature is an Imperial Academy, which is the first national university in Vietnam built in 1070 under Emperor Ly Thanh Tong’s ruling. This was where the country’s finest scholars were gathered and taught the teachings of Confucius, one of the most honoured Chinese philosophers.
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is the relic site of Thang Long city, the old name of Hanoi and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Hanoi’s been the capital city of Vietnam for over 1,000 years now and you can take in the depth of its history in this citadel.
Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
Vietnam has 54 different ethnic groups with their own cultural customs, languages and lifestyles. Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is a hub showcasing different ethnicities through their costumes, customs and houses. It is located far from the Old Quarter (about 30 minutes by car), but it can be a culturally enriching experience for those who have great interest in this subject.
Vietnam Women’s Museum
Museum of Vietnamese Women exhibits artefacts demonstrating roles that Vietnamese women play historically and culturally. There are displays and information on significant women who participated in the country’s independence as well as women from different ethnic groups of Vietnam and their importance in the culture and community.
Temples & Church
St. Joseph’s Cathedral
St. Joseph’s Cathedral is the oldest church in Hanoi built by the French in 1886 and the architecture resembles Notre Dame de Paris. It has become one of many remarkable attractions in Hanoi and there are many cafes and restaurants offering views over the cathedral.
Tran Quoc Pagoda
Tran Quoc pagoda is the oldest buddhist temple in Hanoi dating back 1,500 years. The tall standing pagoda can be seen from far away and it adds much value to the already beautiful West lake view. As well as the religious significance this temple has, there’s historical value as it was a place where the imperial kings and mandarins of Thang Long (old name of Hanoi) came for worshipping and sightseeing the lake.
Ngoc Son Temple
Ngoc Son temple was built in dedication to Confucian and Taoist philosophers and one of the Vietnamese national heroes, Tran Hung Dao, a prince of Tran Dynasty. This temple is located on Hoan Kiem lake and the glorious red bridge leading to the temple is especially more scenic and photogenic in the evening.
Train Street is one of the hot places in Hanoi for Instagram photos and a unique experience sitting right by the railway. If you go at the right time, you’ll be able to see real trains passing by and take that special snapshot!
Phung Hung Mural Street
Phung Hung mural street is along and below the railway and there are wall paintings of Hanoi in the old days. A walk along the beautiful paintings is a walk through history, culture and art of Hanoi.
Long Bien Bridge
Long Bien Bridge is another Insta-famous spot. But you can walk on the bridge and discover the forest under the bridge crossing the Red river. It’s a great opportunity to take an adventure and explore the yet unknown area to many people before the mass picks it up. Check out more details here.
Book street on Dinh Le street is located adjacent to Hoan Kiem lake and there are book shops selling English books. It’s a heaven for book lovers and a great place to grab a new book to accompany you in the following days of your trip.
Tay Ho (West lake) is located in the north of Hoan Kiem lake and is the biggest lake in Hanoi. The size of the lake is quite mesmerisingly big and enjoying a good cup of Vietnamese coffee overlooking the lake is absolutely rewarding especially after sightseeing around the city.