Hanoi and Ha Long Bay. 18 Best Things to Do, and more.
The capital of Vietnam, Hanoi, is one of the oldest capitals in the world. Hanoi has a rich history full of legends. Hanoi traced its history back to the third century BCE (before the Common Era). The best location to explore Hanoi is the old city center, also known as hanoi old quarter. Next to the old quarter is the Ba Dinh district where you can also admire many historical places, as well as many colonial buildings.
This former French colonial city, created by French rule, is a mix of Eastern and Western influences. You can see this in the architecture of the city. The sights that you can encounter here consist of well-preserved colonial buildings, unique museums, ancient pagodas and of course museums about the Vietnam War. Although the traffic is hectic, it's good to know that you easily can explore Hanoi on foot.
Because Hanoi has a lot to offer, we have prepared a list with our favorite 18 outings in and around Hanoi. Below our favorite tourist attractions:
1. Wander through Hanoi Old Quarter and Ba Dinh district:
Actually, wandering around in these neighborhoods is our favorite activity. The neighborhoods are always awake and there is something special to see everywhere. This combined with temples and colonial buildings in combination with a lot of greenery provide a lot of ambiance.
2. Ha Long Bay daytrip:
Hạ Long Bay or Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular travel destination. The name Hạ Long means "descending dragon". The bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various shapes and sizes. The best way to explore Halong Bay is with a boat tour. This is easily organized from Hanoi in a day trip including transport. The one-day boat tour usually consists of a cave, kayaking, a viewpoint with swimming opportunity and lunch is included.
If you find a day trip from Hanoi too long, you can always stay a few days in Ha Long. Here you have the choice of the old center or the new part Bai Chay. Another option is to stay on the island of Cat-Ba. Whichever option you choose, HaLong Bay is rightfully a Unesco heritage Site.
3. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum:
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Ba Dinh Square is one of the most visited attractions in Hanoi. It is the final resting place of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam's most iconic and popular leader, known by the people as 'Uncle Ho'. His body is kept here in a glass coffin in the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in central Hanoi. Ho Chi Minh's Tomb is located in the west of Hanoi. It was built with Russian assistance between 1973 and 1975, on the site where Ho Chi Minh presented the Declaration of Independence on September 2, 1945.
Summer & Fall (April 1 - October 31): Tuesday - Thursday and Saturday - Sunday, 7:30 a.m - 10:30 a.m and in Winter & Spring (November 1 - March 31): Tuesday - Thursday and Saturday - Sunday, 8:00 a.m - 11:00 a.m. Currently, the ticket price for entering the mausoleum is VND25,000 (US$1,07) per person. This is a reasonable and worthy payment for a tour to explore Vietnamese history.
4. Temple of Literature:
Located to the south of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, Temple of Literature was founded in 1070. The Temple of Literature is a rare example of well-preserved traditional Vietnamese architecture where is dedicated to the Confucius & honors Vietnam’s finest scholars. This is often cited as one of Hanoi’s most picturesque tourist attractions. Being as Vietnam’s first national university, the Temple of Literature is a place of study rather than a religious landmark. Entrance fee of this beautiful site is 30.000VND.
5. Imperial Citadel of Thang Long:
The Imperial Citadel of Thăng Long is a complex of historic imperial buildings located in the centre of Hanoi, Vietnam. It was first constructed in 1011 under the reign of Emperor Ly Thai To of Ly dynasty. Several royal temples can be seen here, as well as many historical excavations and relics from distant history.
Another interesting sight on this site are the old war bunkers and buildings from the wartime from 1954 to 1975. You can even enter the bunkers and tunnels underground from this wartime, very special. Entrance fee for the entire site is 30.000VND.
6. Vietnam Military History Museum:
Next to the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is the Military History Museum located. This repository of Vietnam's military history includes rooms full of war propganda, photographs and documents from wars against China, France, and the United States. The grounds feature several captured aircraft as well as a central structure build from the wreckage of French and American planes. Visitors may climb the flag tower, with great views from the top. Entrance fee is 40,000VND & if you bring a camera there is a 30,000VND Photography Fee.
7. Hoa Lo Prison:
One of the best examples of Vietnam's terrible history, the Hoa Lo Prison Museum. The museum shows how the Vietnamese prisoners were treated by the French government during the occupation, really terrible. It is unusual that a prison was built right in the old center of the city. The idea of the French occupiers was to set an example for the local population. Entrance fee is 30.000VND.
Also in the Vietnam war many American soldiers were imprisoned here, luckily they were treated a lot better than the Vietnamese themselves, which is why the prison got the nickname "Hanoi Hilton". If you want to know what atrocities have taken place, a visit to this prison is definitely worth it!
8. Train street:
The Hanoi Train Street is one of the most famous and adventurous tourist spots in Hanoi. It’s a tiny narrow street hidden in one of the back streets of Hanoi and surrounded by high narrow houses packed closely together. These families’ backyards are the railways where the train passes a few times per day. Currently in September 2022, the train street is closed to tourists for safety reasons. Fortunately, it remains a beautiful photo location. Kindly ask permission from one of the friendly guards at the fence and you can often take a picture.
9. Hanoi Water Puppet Theater:
The Water Puppet Show is an ancient art form dating back to the 11th century. When the rice fields were flooded, the villagers took pleasure in their lesser situation. They stood in the water and tied dolls to their rods. They then let those puppets perform over the surface of the water. Entrance fee is 100.000VND for seats in the back, or 150.000VND for the best VIP seats in front.
Today, these shows are performed at the Hanoi Water Puppet Theater with a pool of water as the stage for the water puppets. The puppets are controlled by eight puppeteers who hide behind a bamboo fence. The shows are usually short sketches or they re-enact some of the legends of Vietnam. such as the legend of the Emperor's restored sword and the giant tortoise. Live music plays an essential role in the show with singers singing a song to the water puppets.
10. Relaxing around the Hoan Kiem Lake:
Hoan Kiem Lake, located in the French Old Quarter, takes its name from a legend. Centuries ago there was a story that the Emperor Ly Thai To had a sword with magical powers. He used that sword to chase the Chinese out of Vietnam. At the end of the war, a huge golden turtle took the sword and disappeared to the depths of Hoan Kiem Lake to return the sword to its original owner. Hence the name more of the restored sword.
If you don't like legends, don't worry. There are plenty of other attractions at this lake. In addition, it is centrally located and we have regularly used this lake to escape the crowds, or to enjoy a nice cup of coffee in one of the many coffee shops.
11. Visit the Heritage House:
This house on 87 Ma May Street, Hoan Kiem District, is one of the very few old-style homes that remain intact and are open to the public. It is a brilliant example of the type of architecture that existed in Hanoi before the concrete era. This house is beautifully decorated with antique furniture, and as you explore the space, you will see what the lifestyle of classic merchants from those times was like. Opening Hours are from 08:30-12:00 and from 13:00-17:30. Entrance fee is 10.000VND.
12. St. Joseph's Cathedral:
The St. Joseph Cathedral is a Catholic church in a Neo-Gothic style and was built about 120 years ago. But the interior is decorated in a Vietnamese way with the colors yellow and red. The streets around this church are also very atmospheric, so definitely worth a visit.
13. Get yourself a beer at Ta Hien Beer street:
Hanoi has a lot of great places to enjoy a beer. But actually it always hits the spot at Ta Hien Beer street. A busy lively street with many terraces and bars. Prices vary a lot, so choose the right bar with a clear price list. Enjoy it!
14. Watch a show at the Opera:
The Hanoi Opera House was built on the model of the Palais Garnier in Paris and it has fully implemented the Western style. It has Italian marble floors and the ceilings are decorated with French-style paintings. You will also find copper chandeliers. The Hanoi Opera House is one of the most famous landmarks in Hanoi.
15. Visit the Vietnamese women's museum:
Located a short distance from the Opera House, this museum pays tribute to Vietnamese women. The museum is run by the Women's Union of Vietnam. The museum focuses on the position of Vietnamese women through the ages. From female traders to mothers and women who have set up their own businesses.
It focuses on the female role in society, the obstacles women have had to overcome, marriage, motherhood, fashion and rituals. One of the exhibitions focuses on the position of Vietnamese women during the war, this was our favorite floor with beautiful stories about heroic ladies.
16: Go to the market:
Hanoi has a lot of good shopping opportunities and markets. Our favorite place to shop is the Hanoi weekend night market. A huge market located the entire length of P. Hang Dao Street. This is the ideal place for clothes or a nice souvenir. On the end of this street you will find the indoor Dong Xuan Market, this is the perfect place to buy a souvenir or a cheap pair of "non-original" sneakers. The markets also offer a great diversity of food and delicacies. Be sure to try the pressed sugar cane drink, delicious.
17. Get a drink at the Note Cafe:
Looking for a special place for a nice drink. Then the Note cafe is a special place, and a hip place among travelers. The decor of this cafe is formed by, as the name suggests, the many notepads scattered throughout the interior. Travelers post fun texts such as dreams, wishes and jokes. A nice place for a drink. Although we also found the covered tables with old notes a bit unhygienic.
18. Statue of King Ly Thai To:
The Ly Thai To statue is located on the east side of Hoan Kiem Lake. This great statue of King Ly Thai To, the largest pure bronze statue in Vietnam, weight of 34 tons with a height of 10 meters. Ly Thai To is the founder of the Ly dynasty of Vietnam. He also founded the city of Thang Long in 1010 which later became the city of Hanoi.
As you read, there is a lot to do in Hanoi to entertain you for a long time. We have been here for over a week and had a fantastic time. Since I have been here 8 years ago, it is clear to see that the city is developing fairly quickly, but it remains a city with a lot of atmosphere and liveliness. A city that many people hold deep in their hearts.