Find out what are the top things to do and to see in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.
Even if Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, from a tourist point of view doesn’t seem to have much to offer. Most of the people who get to Hanoi use this city as a starting point to explore other places like Halong Bay, Sapa, or the Mekong delta.
Although it is true that compared to other cities in Southeast Asia Hanoi does not have much to offer, there are still some things that are worth seeing. If you are planning a visit to Hanoi here is a list of the top things to do. At the end of the post I also added some travel tips useful for your trip to Vietnam.
Things to do and to see in Hanoi
Walking along the Hoàn Kiếm Lake
Lake Hoán Kiếm is located in the historic center of Hanoi. Here you will find both tourists and locals engaged in many activities such as training in an open-air gym.
Sipping cocktails in a rooftop bar
The traffic jams of Hanoi don’t look so terrible if you are relaxing in a rooftop bar 😉
A visit to one of the many local markets
It doesn’t matter if you often visit Asia or it’s your first time: a visit to one of the local markets is always very interesting.
Wandering around the old town
Wandering around the old town it’s the best way to find interesting places to photograph and to see how the locals live.
Looking for this monument
It’s a monument commemorating the imprisonment of American Senator John McCain. A strange monument but quite interesting. I bet Vietnam and the USA have still some issues.
A visit to the St. Joseph’s Cathedral
Perhaps this cathedral reminds you of Notre Dame de Paris. That’s because the St. Joseph’s Cathedral was built by the French for that very purpose.
Visiting the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum
This monument is dedicated to the Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh or as they call him in Vietnam Uncle Ho Chi Minh.
Visiting the temples and pagodas
Vietnamese are very religious people and temples and pagodas are hidden in every corner of the city. The one you see in the picture is called one pillar pagoda.
A one day (or two) trip to Halong Bay
Halong bay is not really in Hanoi but is about 4 hours away. In any case, Hanoi is a good starting point for excursions of one or more days to this landmark of Vietnam. I recommend this tour leaving from Hanoi.
An excursion in Sapa
Sapa is the other symbol of Vietnam. As in the case of Halong, it’s quite far from Hanoi, but if you have at least three days you can organize an excursion to Sapa from Hanoi. You can for example book this tour leaving from Hanoi.
After writing this article I had the opportunity to visit the YuanYang rice terraces in China. If you are in doubt between Sapa and YuanYang, in my opinion, there is no comparison. YuanYang is way better than Sapa.
Where to stay in Hanoi
Accommodation in Vietnam, as in the other countries of Southeast Asia, is quite cheap, especially if you are not looking for a 5 stars hotel. You can find hostels for as low as $5 per night. If you prefer to have a little more privacy and comfort, you’ll have plenty of options on Booking.com. Another option is to use Agoda, very useful in Asia.
My suggestion is to stay in the old town. All the most important things to see will be within walking distance and you won’t have to spend money on taxis. If it’s the first time in Asia, Hanoi will seem very chaotic but you’ll get used to it after a while…;)
I stayed in this guesthouse, and I really had a good time. It’s not a 5-star hotel but the lack of comfort will be compensated by the cozy atmosphere. You can have coffee and tea for free and the owners will help you to organize your excursions around Vietnam.
When is the best time to visit Northern Vietnam?
Although it is located in Southeast Asia, Hanoi has all four seasons and Winter can be quite cold. In summer it’s very hot. I would say that the best time to visit Hanoi is April and May and September and October. Usually, on summer it rains often and is very hot and humid while in winter the sky is often covered with fog.
Is Vietnam a safe country?
Unlike other Asian countries such as China, Taiwan, and Japan, Vietnam has a major problem with scams. When you take a taxi be sure to know in advance how much you’ll spend (ask your hotel) and be sure that the driver uses the meter. Not that these problems are unique to Vietnam, but in Vietnam the situation is way worse than other nearby countries.
Other useful info about Vietnam
- Unfortunately, Vietnam is famous for scams and sooner or later you will have to deal with dishonest people. A good resource to get an idea of the official prices for famous locations is this site. Another advice I give you is to avoid the minivans that bring tourists to Sapa or Ha Long Bay. They often ask twice the price you are supposed to pay. I can assure you that the drivers are very convincing and will make you believe that if you don’t go with them you will never reach your destination (you will be told that the buses are not there or that take are extremely slow). This was honestly a very negative aspect of my trip. I am accustomed to finding dishonest people but the number of scams that I saw in Vietnam I have not seen anywhere else. Not even in Italy… Obviously I also met very kind and honest people but Vietnam left me with a bad impression.
- If you need to book a train in Vietnam I recommend you to use this site. Each train is made up of several train cars, each of them run by private companies plus a train car run by Vietnamese railways. Private wagons are obviously more expensive but also more comfortable and although there are several companies to choose from, they are more or less the same. The only one to avoid is Orient Express. I have had several problems with them and they turned out to be really unprofessional.
- Remember that Twitter is censored in Vietnam. If you want to use it, you need to get a VPN. You should also keep in mind that posting news on Social Media is illegal in Vietnam. Social networks can be used in Vietnam only to discuss personal information. It is good to remember these things when traveling. Here 5 reasons to always use a VPN.
- If you need a visa to visit Vietnam you can use this agency.
- If you want to cross the border between China and Vietnam you can find more info in this post.
Here some of the pictures I took in Vietnam.