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The Top things to do in Hanoi, Vietnam

Find out what are some of the top things to do and see in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.

tran quoc pagoda

Even if Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, from a tourist point of view, it doesn’t seem to have much to offer. Most 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 Southeast Asian cities, Hanoi does not have much to offer, I think it’s still worth visiting.

Things to do and to see in Hanoi

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 that will be useful for your trip to Vietnam.

Walking along the Hoàn Kiếm Lake

Hoan Kiem Lake

Hoàn Kiếm Lake, nestled in the heart of Hanoi, is a haven for locals and visitors. Strolling along the tree-lined promenade that skirts the water’s edge, you will encounter the iconic red bridge leading to Ngoc Son Temple, an island temple with a history as rich as the lake. Couples share tender moments on the shores, and elderly residents practice Tai Chi in the early hours.

The picturesque Turtle Tower rising from the lake’s center adds a touch of mystery. Hoàn Kiếm Lake, also known as the Lake of the Returned Sword, serves as a mirror reflecting the soul of Hanoi.

Sipping cocktails in a rooftop bar

hanoi traffic

The buzz of motorbikes below mixes with distant tunes, setting the scene for some serious glass-clinking and good times. Sipping on a locally inspired cocktail, you’re in for a treat with flavors that dance between the familiar and the exotic.

The cool breeze, the city lights, and the laidback vibes are a combo that seals the deal. Hanoi’s rooftop bars aren’t just places to grab a drink; they’re like a front-row seat to the city’s heartbeat, where tradition meets a modern twist.

A visit to one of the many local markets

Woman Hanoi

Hanoi’s markets are like big, colorful parties where you can see, smell, and taste many cool things. Imagine narrow streets filled with stalls selling all kinds of stuff: fresh fruits, yummy spices, and handmade things.

People chat, bargain, and share stories while cooking delicious street food like banh mi and pho. It’s not just about shopping; it’s like jumping into the heart of Hanoi’s lively and tasty world. These markets show off the city’s awesome mix of food and culture, making every visit an adventure full of surprises!

Wandering around the Old Town

hanoi railway

Hanoi’s Old Town is a captivating labyrinth of narrow streets and ancient buildings telling the story of the city’s rich history. Walking through its bustling lanes, you’ll find yourself surrounded by charming colonial architecture, street vendors selling tasty treats, and the constant hum of everyday life.

The vibrant chaos of motorbikes weaving through the streets adds to the lively atmosphere. Each corner holds a piece of Hanoi’s past, with traditional shophouses, hidden temples, and glimpses of daily rituals. The Old Town is not just a historic district; it’s a living, breathing snapshot of Hanoi’s cultural heritage, where the old and the new coexist in a delightful dance of tradition and modernity.

McCain Memorial

john mccain hanoi

On October 26, 1967, amid the Vietnam War, John McCain, a U.S. Navy aviator, was downed by an anti-aircraft missile during a mission targeting a Hanoi power plant. He parachuted into Trúc Bạch Lake while injured. He faced the rage of North Vietnamese locals and was handed over to the military, marking the beginning of his time as a prisoner of war.

In 1985, a monument was erected on the western shore of Thanh Niên Road to commemorate McCain’s capture. The inscription on the monument bears testament to this significant event.

A visit to the St. Joseph’s Cathedral

saint joseph cathedral hanoi

St. Joseph’s Cathedral, situated in the heart of Hanoi, is an amazing architectural gem that symbolizes the city’s rich cultural and religious history. Completed in 1886, this neo-Gothic Cathedral is the oldest church in the Vietnamese capital, with its twin bell towers and intricate stained glass windows commanding attention.

The cathedral’s façade and towering spires create a striking contrast against the backdrop of Hanoi’s modern landscape. Surrounded by a charming square and nestled amidst the vibrant streets of the Old Quarter, St. Joseph’s Cathedral is not only a place of worship but also a testament to Hanoi’s enduring architectural and spiritual legacy.

Visiting the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

hochimin mausoleum

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a solemn tribute to the founding father of modern Vietnam, President Ho Chi Minh. Completed in 1975, the monumental structure is an austere blend of Soviet architectural influence and traditional Vietnamese design. Surrounded by manicured gardens, the mausoleum houses the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh, allowing visitors to pay their respects in a solemn procession.

The grandeur of the building and the meticulously organized changing of the guard ceremonies reflect the Vietnamese people’s profound reverence for their beloved leader. The Mausoleum, situated in Ba Dinh Square, symbolizes the enduring legacy and ideals of Ho Chi Minh in the hearts of the Vietnamese people.

Visiting the temples and pagodas

one pillar pagoda

Nestled amidst the lush grounds of Hanoi, the One Pillar Pagoda is a small, unique Buddhist temple with profound cultural significance. Constructed in 1049 during the Ly Dynasty, the pagoda is renowned for its distinct architectural design, which resembles a lotus blossom emerging from the water.

The stone pillar supporting the wooden structure adds to its charm and has become a symbol of Vietnamese spirituality. Surrounded by serene ponds and bonsai trees, the pagoda offers a quiet escape from the urban bustle.

A one-day (or two) trip to Halong Bay


Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located about 4 hours from Hanoi. Situated in northeastern Vietnam is a breathtaking seascape of emerald waters and towering limestone karsts that jut dramatically from the Gulf of Tonkin. With its more than 1,600 islands and islets, this natural marvel creates a mesmerizing panorama that seems almost otherworldly.

Legend has it that dragons descended to the bay, leaving behind these karst formations as they thrashed their tails, and the name “Halong” itself translates to “Descending Dragon.” Visitors can explore the bay on traditional wooden junks, making it one of Vietnam’s most iconic and sought-after destinations.

An excursion in Sapa

sapa paddies

Nestled in the northern highlands of Vietnam, Sapa is a captivating mountain surrounded by terraced rice fields and mist-covered peaks. Renowned for its breathtaking landscapes and vibrant hill-tribe cultures, Sapa offers a refreshing escape from the hustle and bustle of urban life.

The town, surrounded by the Hoang Lien Son mountain range, is a gateway to trekking adventures and encounters with ethnic minority communities, such as the Hmong, Dao, and Tay. Sapa’s bustling market, where the vibrant colors of traditional textiles and crafts come to life, adds to the town’s cultural richness.

Whether trekking through the hills, exploring local villages, or simply enjoying the cool mountain air, Sapa beckons with its serene charm and the warmth of its diverse communities. Sapa is a bit far from Hanoi, and you’ll need at least three days to arrange an excursion.

If you plan to continue your trip from Sapa to China, don’t miss the other amazing rice terraces in Yuanyang.

Where to stay in Hanoi

hanoi rickshow

Accommodation in Vietnam, as in other Southeast Asian countries, is quite cheap, especially if you are not looking for a 5-star 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 Another option is to use, which is 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 your first time in Asia, Hanoi will seem chaotic, but you’ll get used to it after a while…

When is the best time to visit Northern Vietnam?


Although located in Southeast Asia, Hanoi has all four seasons, and Winter can be cold. In summer it’s very hot.

I would say that the best times to visit Hanoi are April and May, September and October. Usually, in summer, it rains 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 scam problem. 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 in other nearby countries.

Other useful info about Vietnam

hanoi market
  • Unfortunately, Vietnam is famous for scams; sooner or later, you will deal with dishonest people. This site is a good resource for getting an idea of the official prices for famous locations. Another piece of 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 compelling 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 take 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.
  • If you need to book a train in Vietnam, I recommend using this site. Each train comprises several cars, each run by private companies, plus a train car run by Vietnamese railways. Private wagons are more expensive but more comfortable, and although there are several companies to choose from, they are more or less the same. The only one to avoid is the Orient Express. I have had several problems with them; they were unprofessional.
  • Remember that Twitter is censored in Vietnam. If you want to use it, you need to get a VPN. You should also remember that posting Social Media news 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.
  • You can use this agency if you need a visa to visit Vietnam,
  • You can find more information on this article if you want to cross the border between China and Vietnam,

Here are some of the pictures I took in Vietnam.

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