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 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
Looking for this monument
It is a monument commemorating the imprisonment of American Senator John McCain. A strange monument but quite interesting. I bet Vietnam and USA have still some problems…
A visit to the St. Joseph’s Cathedral
Perhaps this cathedral reminds you of Notre Dame de Paris. That’s normal 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 several temples and pagodas
Vietnamese are very religious people and temples and pagodas are hidden in every corner of the city.
A 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.
An excursion in Sapa
Sapa is the other symbol of Vietnam. As in the case of Halong it is quite far from Hanoi, but if you have at least three days you can organize an excursion to Sapa 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. If you are comfortable looking for an hotel once you arrive in Hanoi you can stay in a hostel for as low as $5 per night. If you prefer to have a little more privacy and comfort, you can search Booking.com and book a room in advance. Another option may be Airbnb. Here you can find a discount voucher.
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 is 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, don’t think you can wear shorts and t-shirts all year round. Hanoi has all four seasons and in winter, although it does not snow, can be quite cold, compared to other places in Southeast Asia. In summer it’s very hot. I would say that the best time to visit Hanoi are the months of April and May and September and October. As always, however, when we talk about weather, there are no guarantees. I visited Bangkok during the rainy season and there was sunshine for a whole week. So you never know. Usually, however, in summer it rains and is very hot and in winter it is cold and the sky is often covered with fog.
Is Vietnam a safe country?
Unlike other Asian countries such as China, Taiwan or Korea and Japan, Vietnam has a major problem with scams and looting. When you take a taxi be sure to know pretty much how much you’ll spend (ask your hotel) and be sure that the driver uses the taximeter. Not that these problems are unique to Vietnam, but in Vietnam the situation is way worse than other places.
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. Try to ask for help in your hotel and they can maybe suggest you some good tour. 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 low…). This was honestly a very negative aspect of my journey. I am accustomed to finding dishonest people but the quantity and concentration of scams that I saw in Vietnam I have not seen it yet anywhere else. Not even in Italy… Obviously I also met very kind and honest people but Vietnam left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Be careful and as a general rule do not trust anyone.
- 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 Medias is illegal in Vietnam. Social networks can be used in Vietnam only to discuss personal information. It is good to remember these things when travelling. 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.