Hanoi, a city steeped in rich history and vibrant culture, is a must-visit destination for any Vietnam travel enthusiast. With a wide range of exciting things to see in Hanoi, it can be challenging to uncover the best this city has to offer. In this guide, you will find the top places to visit in this capital city, ensuring that your Hanoi travel journey is truly rewarding.
1. Things to see in Hanoi: Iconic historical and cultural sites
1.1. Hoan Kiem Lake
A visit to Hoan Kiem Lake is among the top things to do in Hanoi for travelers. The lake is tied to the legend of King Le Thai To (1385-1433), who was given a holy sword by the Sea God to defeat invaders and later asked to return it to the depths of the lake. This legend leads to the lake's name, "Hoan Kiem," meaning "Lake of the Returned Sword," or Sword Lake.
Hoan Kiem Lake is also a gathering place for both locals and tourists alike, as it is surrounded by lush greenery amidst the bustling cityscape. While locals come for traditional exercises and communal activities, travelers arrive to embrace the essence of Hanoi - whether by taking a leisurely stroll around the lake, admiring the Turtle Tower rising amidst the lake, or capturing stunning photographs of the surroundings.
1.2. Ngoc Son Temple - One of the top things to see in Hanoi Vietnam
Resting on a small island within Hoan Kiem Lake lies Ngoc Son Temple, accessible via the red wooden The Huc Bridge.
Built in the 19th century, this temple pays homage to Van Xuong De Quan (Wenchang Dijun), a Taoist deity embodying dignity and good fortune, and General Tran Hung Dao (1228-1300), a highly respected Vietnamese military leader.
For many people, this temple is a sacred site where they can pray for luck and inner peace. It also provides a vantage point to appreciate the beauty of Hoan Kiem Lake in fresh light.
1.3. Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature, also known as Van Mieu in Vietnamese, is one of the famous sights in Hanoi. Founded in 1070, it was the first national university in Vietnam, educating students for about 700 years and producing thousands of talents for the country.
The temple is dedicated to Confucius, scholars, and sages. Its primary attraction is the area filled with stelae of doctors. Here, stone turtles carried large stelae engraved with the names of exceptional scholars on their backs. Local students often touch these turtles' heads, hoping for good luck and success in their studies.
1.4. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Inside the mausoleum, you can witness the preserved and embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh. This provides a moment to pay your respects to the influential figure, who played a crucial role in Vietnam's struggle for independence and reunification.
Around the mausoleum, there is a lush green landscape with over 250 species of plants, creating a peaceful atmosphere that complements the sense of reverence inside.
1.5. One Pillar Pagoda - A highlight among the many things to see in Hanoi city
Quietly nestled in the midst of the busy city, One Pillar Pagoda is a popular stop for those seeking moments of reflection and photography opportunities. Initially built in 1049 by Emperor Ly Thai Tong, it stands as a significant Buddhist temple and a symbol of Vietnam's rich cultural and religious history.
The pagoda is supported by a single pillar rising gracefully from the water, designed to resemble a lotus blossom emerging from a pond. Inside, there is a small shrine dedicated to Quan Am, the goddess of mercy. It is a sacred space where devotees and visitors come to offer prayers and seek blessings.
1.6. Presidential Palace
Sitting to the north of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the Presidential Palace is a must-visit for those interested in the revolutionary history of Vietnam and the life of President Ho Chi Minh.
The palace was constructed between 1900 and 1906 as the residence of the French Governor-General of Indochina. In 1954, when Vietnam regained independence from French colonists, President Ho Chi Minh was expected to live in this palace, but he refused and lived nearby in a traditional Vietnamese stilt house instead. The palace was primarily used to host important guests visiting Hanoi, and it continues to be the working place of the president to this day.
Besides, the President Palace is a masterpiece of art, earning it a place among the 13 most beautiful palaces in the world, as recognized by the US magazine Architectural Digest.
1.7. St. Joseph's Cathedral
St. Joseph's Cathedral, the oldest church in Hanoi, is a highly recommended spot for your visit to the city. Despite enduring two fierce wars, this cathedral miraculously stands intact, witnessing the many ups and downs of the Vietnam capital.
The architecture of St. Joseph's Cathedral adds to its appeal. The neo-Gothic masterpiece offers a striking contrast to the city’s traditional architecture. From the outside, the cathedral is majestic, featuring a stone cross, a big clock, a statue of Mother Maria, and two square bell towers. Inside, the cathedral captivates with its colorful glass windows, high domes, and numerous pictures of Jesus Christ all around.
1.8. Hanoi Opera House
The Hanoi Opera House is a key attraction among the many things to see in Hanoi. It was built between 1901 and 1911 and was considered the height of luxury for academic art spaces in Indochina at the time.
Covering a vast area of about 2,600 square meters, the opera house's exterior is impressive, with many steps, columns, and intricate wrought iron details. As you step inside, the opulence continues with lavish decor, including chandeliers, frescoes, and red velvet seats. Hanoi Opera House is the city's top venue for important meetings, conferences, and high-level artistic performances by both international and domestic art groups.
1.9. Long Bien Bridge - One of the must-see sights in Vietnam
Another notable tourist site to see in Hanoi is the iconic Long Bien Bridge, stretching across the Red River. Built between 1898 and 1902, it endured damage during the two Indochina Wars against the French and Americans. Despite the scars of war, it has been meticulously restored and stands as a symbol of resilience.
As you stroll along this bridge, you will gain a unique perspective on Hanoi's river life and cityscape, which is particularly breathtaking during sunrise or sunset. You can observe how a witness to the past now peacefully coexists with the people in the capital city.
1.10. Hoa Lo Prison
If you are a history enthusiast, Hoa Lo Prison is an essential stop. It tells a powerful story of Vietnam's struggle for independence and its unwavering spirit during the wars.
Built by the French in 1896, the prison housed thousands of Vietnamese patriotic and revolutionary fighters. These prisoners endured daily physical and mental torture, ranging from electric shocks to being hung upside-down and provided with poor food. Inside, you will find numerous exhibits that portray harsh reality, including a brutal guillotine, iron shackles, torture devices, and statues depicting captives wearing leg chains.
2. Bustling markets and streets – the top things to see in Hanoi Old Quarter
Here are the best things to see in Hanoi Old Quarter, the heart of the capital city:
2.1. Dong Xuan Market
Dong Xuan Market is a bustling hub of activity and commerce that offers an authentic Vietnamese market experience. Dating back to 1889, this market is the largest indoor market in Hanoi.
Upon entering, you will be greeted by a sensory overload of sights, sounds, and scents. The market boasts a diverse array of goods, ranging from clothing and electronics to fresh produce and local street food. While exploring, don’t forget to treat your taste buds to some renowned dishes, such as rib and cartilage porridge, mango and beef jerky salad, bamboo stick-grilled pork with noodles, and crispy shrimp cake.
2.2. Hang Da Market - A standout spot among the places to see in Hanoi Vietnam
Hang Da Market is a popular hangout among both locals and tourists visiting Hanoi. In the past, Hang Da Market primarily sold leather products, hence its name, “Hang Da” (meaning leather market). Nowadays, the old Hang Da Market has been transformed into a small shopping mall offering a variety of products. Prominent items here include fresh food, wine, flowers, clothes, and fabric. Although smaller than Dong Xuan Market, buying retail products at Hang Da Market is more convenient.
2.3. Hang Bac Street
Hang Bac Street, known as "Silver Street," holds a significant place in Hanoi's rich history. Once a bustling hub for silver and jewelry craftsmen, it featured shops showcasing exquisite silverware and intricate jewelry.
Today, the street spans around 0.5 kilometers, hosting hundreds of shops established by silversmiths and goldsmiths. While many shops have embraced modern technologies from abroad, some families continue to honor the traditional methods of crafting jewelry by hand. Coming here, you can explore a wide selection of finely crafted silver items, from rings and bracelets to necklaces and earrings.
2.4. Hang Gai Street
For travelers seeking a taste of traditional Vietnamese craftsmanship, Hang Gai Street is a paradise. Renowned for its exquisite silk products, this street boasts a variety of silk boutiques, clothing stores, and tailor shops where skilled artisans craft beautiful garments and accessories.
Beyond silk, Hang Gai is a bustling shopping site with a diverse range of items, ranging from handcrafted souvenirs to art galleries. It is also a place where modernity blends beautifully with tradition, as seen from its lively atmosphere and diverse architecture. All these aspects provide a delightful glimpse into Hanoi's unique cultural identity.
2.5. Ta Hien Street - A hub of vibrant things to see in Hanoi
Ta Hien Street, known as "Beer Street," is the beating heart of Hanoi's nightlife. If you are looking to experience the vibrant social scene of the city, this is the place to be.
The street is famed for its abundance of bars, pubs, and eateries. Here, you can indulge in a variety of Vietnamese street food and the popular "Bia Hoi," a light and refreshing local draft beer. Grabbing a cold beer and immersing yourself in the street's lively ambiance is one of the must-try experiences when you are in Hanoi.
>>> Check out what Hanoi is famous for to explore this capital city to the fullest!
3. Other highly recommended things to see in Hanoi Vietnam
3.1. Nature and green spaces
For those seeking the best things to do in Hanoi with family, exploring nature and green attractions is a good option. The city boasts West Lake, the largest freshwater lake, where you can unwind amidst serene shores and enjoy a variety of water activities. If you need a lush botanical adventure, Hanoi's Botanical Gardens present a rich tapestry of diverse plant life, perfect for peaceful walks and appreciating the wonders of nature. For a tranquil experience, Thu Le Park is a great option, as you can encounter wildlife and serene spots by the lake.
3.2. Museums and galleries
Exploring the museums and galleries is one of the cool things to do in Hanoi, which gives you a taste of the city's rich arts and history. Here are some notable museums and galleries for your reference:
- Vietnamese Women's Museum: This museum offers a fascinating glimpse into the role of women in Vietnamese culture and history.
- Vietnam Military History Museum: It provides a comprehensive view of Vietnam's victories over French colonists and American imperialists, with numerous exhibits and photographs that tell the story of Vietnam's prolonged struggle for independence.
- Fine Arts Museum: This is a treat for those who appreciate art, displaying Vietnam's artistic journey through an extensive collection.
3.3. Sacred sites – one of the best things to see in Hanoi
Embarking on a spiritual journey through Hanoi's sacred sites is among the unmissable things to see in Hanoi. Tran Quoc Pagoda, resting on a peaceful island in West Lake, offers a serene escape and a glimpse into the tranquility of Buddhism. Further southwest, about 20 kilometers away from Hanoi's city center, Thay Pagoda is surrounded by picturesque landscapes and steeped in rich historical and cultural significance. Additionally, the Perfume Pagoda, a complex of Buddhist temples, provides a profound pilgrimage experience as you navigate through its caves and mountains.
3.4. Entertainment places for fun things to do in Hanoi
Vinpearl Aquarium, one of Vietnam's most advanced aquarium systems, allows you to interact with over 30,000 sea creatures through glass panes. If you are traveling with children, VinKE is a perfect choice. It is an interactive edutainment complex where children can discover their interests and potential future professions through various simulated job games.
VinWonders Wave Park & Water Park, featuring VinWonders Wave Park and VinWonders Water Park, offers a fun-filled experience with exhilarating water slides, wave pools, and a range of water-based attractions.
3.5. Traditional villages – among the best places to see in Hanoi
Exploring Hanoi's traditional villages is one of the best things to see around Hanoi. Bat Trang Pottery Village is renowned for its high-quality ceramics and rich pottery-making traditions. Meanwhile, Van Phuc Silk Village is home to some of Vietnam's finest silk products. Both villages, situated just outside Hanoi, offer an opportunity to witness the skills and craftsmanship of local artisans.
For a captivating journey back in time, you can venture to Duong Lam Ancient Village. Roaming through the village allows you to admire its timeless rural beauty, with beautiful rice fields, lotus ponds, and ancient trees.
3.6. Things to see in Hanoi for nightlife
Hanoi, already bustling during the day, takes on a lively atmosphere after sunset. For a fun night out, there are plenty of options for you to explore. You can go to Hoan Kiem Lake Walking Street, known for its energetic atmosphere and street performances. If entertainment and delicious street food are what you seek, then Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square, a bustling area surrounded by a plethora of restaurants, cafes, and bars, is a highly recommended option. For those looking for a cultural delight, Thang Long Water Puppet Theater, with its age-old art of water puppetry, is one of the best things to see in Hanoi at night.
When you visit Vietnam, apart from Hanoi, there are many other stunning places that await your exploration, such as Phu Quoc, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Ha Long, etc. Each destination in this S-shaped country embraces its own unique appeal that is well worth a visit.
For a comfortable vacation in these destinations, many travelers opt for the hotels and resorts of Vinpearl. With luxurious rooms and a wide range of amenities, including swimming pools, play areas for kids, bars, gyms, and more, Vinpearl ensures that your every need is catered to during your stay.
To add an extra layer of enjoyment to your trip, don’t forget to check out VinWonders, an incredible entertainment complex featuring exciting games and captivating shows.
Whether you are looking for cultural immersion, culinary delights, or simply a glimpse into Vietnam's rich heritage, Hanoi is sure to exceed your expectations. Let this guide, detailing more than 30 noteworthy things to see in Hanoi, be your companion as you uncover the soul of this city. So, pack your bags today and get ready to create beautiful memories that will last a lifetime!