20 Things to Do in Hanoi

You’ve found yourself in the fast-paced city of Hanoi, Vietnam. Motorbikes are flying at you left and right. Now, what are you going to do while you’re here? Maybe you’ve got two days, maybe you’ve got three. You’re ready to pack in the sights, sounds and delectable tastes.

20 things to do in Hanoi

Here’s what David and I got up to (or wish we’d gotten up to!).

1. Sip on Egg Coffee at Café Giang

20 Things to Do In Hanoi

Blink and you’ll miss this hole in the wall café. Egg coffee, you ask? Sounds gross. Tastes AMAZING. This concoction is akin to liquid tiramisu and it’s a favourite with both tourists and locals – a definite winner. Look for number 39 and head down the alleyway. Beware, if you plan to sit on the second floor, you’ll be sharing your coffee with a crowd of smokers. Cough cough. Or puff puff, depending on your preference!

2. Take a Free Walking Tour

Hanoi Free Walking Tours are… well… free! Book a half day or a full day and learn first-hand from a local about the Old Quarter and the major sights of Hanoi. Why is it free, you might ask? Well, these tourism students are just shy of getting their license. Perhaps they’re not as polished as a paid guide, but we learned a ton. Most importantly, our guide taught us how to cross the roads in heavy traffic. Worth every penny of his tip!

Read More: The Good Luck of Buying Art in Hanoi

3. Brush up on your Bargaining

Unless you see a stickered price on the souvenir you’re eyeing up, the price is probably negotiable. Remember your poker face, keep a limit in your head and be prepared to walk away if needed. There are probably ten other stores around the block selling the exact same thing anyways.

20 things to do in Hanoi

Just between our heads… you’ll see the temple on the island.

4. Take a Walk Around Hoan Kiem Lake

The Lake of the Restored Sword is a gathering place for both tourists and locals – and the odd motorbike. It looks bigger on the map than it actually is, so why not take a leisurely loop around the lake, stop off for a coffee and enjoy the view of the temple. The lake is home to a giant turtle, and legend has it she is almost a thousand years old. Our guide reckoned she was more like 190 years.

5. Hop in a Cyclo

You’ll see these guys in the Old Quarter and around Hoam Kiem Lake in particular. If you fancy a rest for your weary feet and a bit of a novelty, hop in a cyclo (bicycle rickshaw) for a quick spin. Make sure to negotiate your ride first.

20 things to do in Hanoi

Just your average street with no traffic lights.

6. Marvel at the Madness of Traffic

The roads are crazy. You know it and I know it. Get an aerial view from Highland Coffee. Best time to go is half an hour before sunset. You’ll get some amazing slow-shutter photos of the traffic, a scenic view of the lake and enjoy the beauty of the changing sunset.

7. Feed Your Hunger with Pho

Ah, the national dish. A good bowl of Pho solves any trouble. You can have the dish made vegetarian (although I’d question the broth) or with your choice of meat. Almost every restaurant sells it, but Pho 24 is a pretty decent chain that you can find in multiple locations in the city, including at the top of Hoam Kiem Lake.

8. Make Up Your Own Mind About the Hanoi Hilton

Hoa Lo Prison, better known to Westerners as the Hanoi Hilton, is definitely a polarizing and confusing place. All the signage and displays point to the prison having been a haven for American prisoners of war, so take that in your stride when you visit. Just make sure you read both sides of the story. This place goes to show that just because a museum says one thing, doesn’t mean it’s true.

20 things to do in Hanoi

9. Get Lost in the Old Quarter

The Old Quarter is a hub of energy. Day or night, it never stops, but that means there is always something to keep your interest. Many of the streets are named after the good that they sell. Silver street. Silk street. Bamboo street. Just take a look at the products being sold down a stretch of the road and I’m sure you’ll be able to guess the English translation.

Read More: Why We Chose NOT To Buy Tailor Made Clothes in Hoi An

10. Buy a Souvenir That Will Last a Lifetime – Art!

I won’t lie… we were sucked in. In the Old Quarter you will see many galleries packed to the brim with stacks of paintings. For the  most part, they are all reproductions, but this is why the price is so reasonable. If you find a piece you love, they’ll take it off the frame, roll it up and place it in a tube for shipping. All in all, our 5ft by 4ft painting cost $150 USD for the piece and $70 to ship. Perhaps we could have bargained more on the piece, but we were in love. Look at the skill that goes into them and be reasonable when you haggle.

11. Take in a Water Puppet Show

While I didn’t see this in Hanoi (maybe 50 miles from Hanoi), it was quite the sight! Their masterful puppetry is timed to traditional music, and the puppets themselves are pieces of art. Where does the water come in? Well, their stage base is made of water, which they highlight with twists and turns, splashing around to great effect. It’s kitschy, but a great cultural experience nonetheless. Than Long Water Puppet Theatre is right off Hoam Kiem Lake.

20 things to do in Hanoi

12. HanoiKids Street Food Tour

If TripAdvisor is anything to go by, many visitors mark HanoiKids tours as the highlight not only their time in Hanoi, but in Vietnam. These kids get involved with tourists as a way to improve their English. How old is a ‘kid’ you ask? They’re usually college-age, many of them hoping to work in the tourism industry when they finish school. While the tour is free, you can of course tip your guide, but note that HanoiKids policy is that tip money doesn’t go to the individual, but back into the club so that they can grow.

13. Learn How Women Do It All at the Women’s Museum

Let’s just say that the Vietnamese Women’s Museum blew my mind. What I didn’t realize going into it was how drastically different many of the minority cultures in Vietnam are. To have both patriarchal and matriarchal societies so close to one another was fascinating. Their marriage and birthing customs are completely different to the way in which I’ve grown up, with many women still not getting ultrasounds of their babies to this day. You will leave with huge respect for Vietnamese women who somehow, against all the odds, manage to do it all. Their men are extremely lucky.

20 things to do in Hanoi

14. Look Up, Way Up, At The Tran Quoc Pagoda

You’ll find this Buddhist temple on a little island off the road separating the West Lake. The scenery is not only stunning, but the peace and quiet is a stark contrast from the bustling traffic in centre of Hanoi. Remember that it’s a temple, so dress modestly.

15. Peddle Boat the West Lake like a … swan? 

The West Lake is a little less packed with tourists than Hoam Kiem Lake, I assume based purely on the distance from the Old Quarter. One of the neat things about West Lake is that you can actually get out onto it … in a swan-shaped peddle boat. This isn’t too far from Tran Quoc Pagoda, so you can combine trips.

Read More: How to Spend Four Days in Hoi An

16. Explore the Mosaic Wall 

We discovered the mosaic wall from our taxi, zipping along the Yen Phu major roadway. It was a patchwork quilt of ceramic tiles creating little scenes, both from history and some seemingly more modern day. To get up close to see this Guinness Book of World Record (for largest ceramic mosaic) sight, wander up Ly Thai To road from the top of Hoam Kiem Lake, only a short walk away.

17. Puku 24 Hour Cafe

If you’re venturing out to Sapa, chances are you’ll be arriving back from an overnight train at the godawful hour of 4:30 in the morning. You can’t check into your hotel, there’s nothing open…or is there? We discovered the glorious Puku Cafe, open 24 hours a day. Is it the best food or coffee? Maybe not, but it’s OPEN! The atmosphere is pretty chill and it had plenty of plug ins for our laptops. The only weird thing was the pumping music at 5 a.m. (made for an interesting Skype call with my Mum), but I suppose the staff need to keep themselves awake somehow or other. It’s maybe a 10 minute walk from the train station, or you can talk one of the 50 million taxis waiting outside the train station.

20 things to do in Hanoi

18. Expand Your Understanding of Vietnamese War History

If you’ve read my blog, you all know that war tourism isn’t my thing. That said, traveling as a couple means compromises, and I don’t regret learning more about it. The Vietnam Military History in Hanoi is filled with artifacts and relics of war. To get the most out of it, I’d recommend either hiring a local guide or to get an audio tour. Without either of these things, many of the signs simply say what the artifact is (which you can see…) and the date it was used. Frighteningly, some of them say how many people they estimate were killed with this weapon. The exterior of the museum is where all the tourist photos happen. US helicopters, crashed planes, tanks and more will help you envision the scale of war.

19. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum 

Whether you love his politics or not, Ho Chi Minh’s influence on Vietnam was extraordinary. While we visited, the Mausoleum was closed for maintenance (which happens annually), so if it’s at the top of your list, plan your dates accordingly.

20. Visit a French Cafe

The best part of the French influence has survived in Hanoi… the food. I love that in Hanoi you can walk around one corner and eat a bowl of Pho, but also treat yourself with a delightful french pastry. Hanoi has definitely adopted the French cafe culture.

Where to Stay in Hanoi?

Budget

where to stay hanoi

Hanoi City Backpackers

While we didn’t stay at the Hanoi City Backpackers, it came highly recommended by fellow travellers that had, and the reviews are pretty outstanding for a hostel that can cost as low as $4 USD per night. Located in the Old Quarter, right in the middle of the action.

Midrange

where to stay hanoi

Madam Moon Guesthouse is located so close to the Hoan Kiem temple and comes with great reviews from visitors. Free wifi and breakfast included makes the $20-25USD a night guesthouse a really great bargain. You’re a little ways from the hustle and bustle of the Old Quarter, but better located for sights like the Mausoleum and the Hoan Kiem tample.

Luxury

where to stay hanoi

Here’s the thing…. what would cost you a fortune in North America is actually a bargain in Hanoi. We stayed at the Sheraton Hanoi for three nights and made great use of their stunning outdoor pool. The rooms are bit more old fashioned, but definitely a relaxing experience.

 

In a nutshell, those are just 20 of the infinite amount of things to do in Hanoi. Have you been? What would you recommend? 

This post contains affiliate links. If you choose to book one of these accommodations, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Reviews are honest and thoughtful. 

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12 Responses to 20 Things to Do in Hanoi

  1. Sarah Allen June 11, 2016 at 11:15 pm #

    Thank you so much for these helpful tips about Hanoi! I’ve been three weeks in Vietnam, and just about to catch a night bus into Hanoi, so I will be sure to visit all these lovely, off the grid places you suggested 🙂

    • Victoria Smith June 12, 2016 at 10:37 am #

      Oh I’m so glad! I’d love to hear or see what you get up to from the list, so maybe connect on Twitter with me @girltrieslife ? Have a phenomenal time. Hanoi is a dream.

  2. Martha September 28, 2016 at 1:38 pm #

    Wow this are some great idea, i will try to visit Vietnam soon, really helpful 🙂

    • Victoria Smith October 4, 2016 at 12:40 pm #

      I’m so glad! Have a fantastic trip.

  3. stephanie November 8, 2016 at 8:01 am #

    I ve been to Hanoi last year and spend a while there.
    The womans museum and Hao Lo prison were my favorite sights.
    x
    stephanie recently posted…Spotlight on: Tet 2015 in Hanoi (Vietnamese Newyear)My Profile

    • Victoria Smith November 8, 2016 at 8:43 pm #

      I found the prison really rough, but it was a good experience.

  4. Aman November 17, 2016 at 5:51 am #

    Hi,
    I will be staying in Hanoi for a month starting from 27th Nov. I have made a list of the places mentioned by you. Thank you for the post.

    • Victoria Smith November 17, 2016 at 6:19 pm #

      Hi Aman,

      I’m so glad! Have a fantastic month in Hanoi. You will absolutely love it.

  5. Mike Clegg March 2, 2017 at 8:34 am #

    Thanks for the suggestions and love your traffic picture with the slight blur. Very creative. The Madam Moon Guesthouse looks like a lovely place to stay and even the hostel recommendation looks nice.

    I’m must say I’m umming and aghhing about the egg coffee! I’m visiting Hanoi in a few weeks so thanks for the ideas on things to do.

    • Victoria Smith March 3, 2017 at 5:56 am #

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for your kind comments. The eggs coffee sounds disgusting, I’ll grant you that, but it is actually delicious, and, if nothing else, is a very traditional Hanoi cafe, so go for the experience if nothing else 🙂

      Enjoy your trip to Hanoi. It’s an incredible city and I’m sure you’ll love it.

      V

  6. Kevin April 17, 2017 at 8:37 pm #

    Thank you so much for these helpful tips about Hanoi! It’s useful information. I will come to Hanoi on next month

    • Victoria Smith April 19, 2017 at 5:58 am #

      Oh good, I’m glad. Have fun!

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