The capital of the vast country which is Vietnam, Hanoi is a stunning blend of French, Chinese and Southeast Asian influenced cultures. With such an interesting history, beautiful landmarks and extremely friendly people, where do you start in one of the most ancient capitals in the world? Read our top 10 destinations that you cannot miss in the beautiful city of Hanoi.
1. Ha Long Bay Cruises
If you came to Hanoi to break away from the everyday work woes and the monotony of 9-5 life, then a perfect escape is a cruise around Halong Bay. A UNESCO heritage site, Halong bay with it's a beautiful emerald waters and thousands of limestone islands is a great trip for scuba diving, kayaking, cave exploring or just simply for unwinding. There are hundreds of junk boat providers, each with varying trip itineraries and themes, so can find a tour to suit you. This was easily one of the best tours I've ever done, and I made memories on this trip to last a lifetime. Read my blog post here on halong bay cruises.
2. Temple of Literature
One of Hanoi’s most picturesque tourism attractions, the temple of literature is just shy of 1000 years old, originally built in 1070 as a university. The site includes the lake of literature, the well of clarity as well as pavilions and courtyards used by the royals. Even though it was busy whilst we visited, it is a really beautiful temple with a gift shop and a calligrapher where you can purchase personalized wall scrolls created right there and then. This was without a doubt my favourite temple that we visited in Vietnam, and I loved learning more about its origins.
I would recommend visiting earlier in the day so you can walk about the grounds at your leisure and get some great shots of the traditional Vietnamese architecture.
Entry fee 10,000VND
3. Hoàn Kiếm Lake
An unmissable tourist attraction in Hanoi, Hoàn Kiếm Lake is central in the capital of Vietnam, with pagodas, cafes and popular western stores surrounding the peaceful lake.
Legend has it that Emperor Le Loi gained a magical sword from the Dragon King to fight against Chinese oppressors from Hoan Kiem lake. After the battle against the Chinese invaders, Emperor Le Loi visited the lake and was boating through the still waters when an golden turtle surfaced. The turtle was sent by his master the Dragon King to retrieve the sword after which he swam back beneath the waters. Loi then named the area Hoan Kiem lake, meaning “Lake of the Returned Sword” to commemorate the event. You may even notice turtle tower, in the middle of the lake, which is said to be home to actual turtles in its waters. This is a perfect place to wander around with a cool drink, taking in the view and enjoying local cuisine sold by street vendors.
Free with obviously no opening hours! Visit at night to see the bridge lit up!
4. Street Food Tours
Hanoi street food is up there with some of the best asian cuisine I've had, but I definitely would not have tried as much as I did without taking a street food tour. I've written a blog on my tour here but once again, it really was one of the best 'touristy' things we did whilst visiting Hanoi.
5. Bia Hoi Junction
It's a culture shock to be sure, but isn't the whole of Vietnam? And isn't that why we travel? Thousands of people perch on tiny chairs (I'm 100% sure my grandparents had a chair this size for me when I was younger) outside restaurants, bars, karaoke places and clubs. Endless winding roads are packed with people, and if we hadn't had been with a local tour guide we would have definitely got lost. Visit this place for authentic Hanoi cuisine, or with friends for drinks with the locals, better yet, visit later in the evening for some really great nightclubs.
Visit after sunset to find vast crowds of people perched on tiny chairs and the bright lights of bars
6. Imperial Citadel of Thăng Long
A UNESCO world heritage site, the Imperial Citadel is an enormous relic located in the centre of Hanoi. It was built on the remains of a chinese fortress in the 11th century by the Vietnamese Dynasty and is one of Vietnam's top ten national treasures. And it's no surprise that this citadel is nationally recognised, it is a majestic attraction, split into the fortress and an archeological site containing previous artifacts and excavations. This is an amazing attraction that you definitely should not miss whilst in Hanoi, it covers a huge area allowing you to wander at ease through the well-kept gardens and ancient buildings.
Open 8AM-5PM (Closed Monday)
Price: 30,000 VND
7. Ngoc Son Temple
A beautiful temple located in the Hoàn Kiếm Lake, built on the jade island in the centre of the lake to commemorate the legend of Emperor Le Loi. Providing stunning views of the lake, this temple is a peaceful oasis from the busy centre of the city and a definite destination to visit whilst in Hanoi.
Open 8-6pm Daily
A small admission fee which must be paid at the booth before crossing the bridge to the temple
8. Đồng Xuân Market
If you are looking to snap up deals on fake designer items, souvenirs, vietnamese snacks and clothing, then this market is the perfect stop. It's enormous, and if you're good at haggling you'll find items are quite cheap. Keep an eye on all your belongings and keep them close, whilst this market is big it's also quite busy and probably a popular location for pickpockets. The market is located on a long road leading to Hoàn Kiếm Lake lined with similar shops selling souvenir gifts and fake items, we dedicated a whole day towards the end of our trip to buying presents in this area.
9. Trấn Quốc Pagoda
A statuesque pagoada on the outskirts of the Hanoi centre, the temple itself was closed when we visited, with conservation works preventing us from visiting. That being said it was a nice change to walk out of the busy tourist centre of the city and visit the quieter pagodas. We enjoyed wandering around the outskirts, with vendors selling all sorts along our path from turtles to balloons, snacks and bubble tea. If you are visiting Hanoi for a long time I would recommend wandering to the west lake to visit this vibrant pagoda and to get a breather from the tiresome scooter horns.
Entry - free!
Closes between 11:30 and 1:30 so don’t visit during lunch!
10. West Lake
Whilst you can visit the pagoda mentioned above, West Lake is also a really place to visit simply for a coffee, and if you're looking for abit of fun - swan pedalo boats! Be warned - we tired quickly on these, i dont think all our walking around Hanoi had trained our legs for the intensive pedalling here but it was a nice change from the busy tourist attractions in the city centre.