Things to do in Hanoi

Vietnam is an assault to the senses. The smells, tastes, noises and atmosphere of this vibrant place hits you full force as soon as your aeroplane touches the tarmac and you start exploring things to do in Hanoi.

And yet the north and the south of the country, broken up by decades of war, have emerged as vastly different regions. The south features the famous Ho Chi Minh City, which is fast paced, forward thinking, entrepreneurial and modern. Sky rise buildings adorn the skyline and a tech culture is well and truly alive.


The old charm of Hanoi can be seen in its buildings

By contrast, the capital Hanoi still clutches on to the past, its small alleyways harking back to the decades of yesteryear, its skyline free from modernity and its traditional culture strong.

For us, digital nomads on a working adventure, Ho Chi Minh City was an appealing drawcard. But that didn’t leave us oblivious to the city’s charms or have us finding a lack of things to do in Hanoi. The old, fading French style buildings with weathered shutters speak of the history of the city, and the large lakes scattered throughout the core of the metropolis are romantic and alluring.


Hanoi’s lake at night

Things to do in Hanoi

We’ve come up with a list of some of the best things to do in Hanoi so you can make sure you make the most of your time spent in this enthralling place.

Vietnam Fine Arts Museum

As far as museums go in Hanoi (and there are quite a lot) this is one of the best. There are two buildings to explore and some of the art dates back centuries. There’s everything from pottery to huge murals to my favourite – the giant Buddha and Vishnu statues. It costs a small fee to enter, and is well worth it.


Inside the Fine Arts Museum

What you need to know:

When to go: The museum is open seven days from 8:30am – 5pm.

How to get there: The address is 66 Nguyễn Thái Học, Ba Đình.

Cost: About AUD$3.

Army Museum

If you are someone who is into aircraft and war paraphernalia, like Dave, then you will love this museum. There are helicopters, planes and canons in the large garden area and the interior of the buildings feature different war relics including the tank that was made famous after the military crashed it through the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon, effectively ending the Vietnam War back in the 1970s.


Relics at the Army Museum

What you need to know:

When to go: The museum is open Tuesdays – Thursdays 7:30–11:30am and 1–4:30pm, and Saturdays – Sundays 7:30–11:30am and 1–4:30pm.

How to get there: The address is 28A Điện Biên Phủ, Điện Biên, Ba Đình.

Cost: About AUD$3

Tran Quoc Pagoda

Sandwiched between two lakes, this picturesque pagoda is a space of calm and when we went there seemed more locals than tourists around. There’s a small garden, two worship areas and a stunning tree in the back courtyard.


The Tran Quoc Pagoda

What you need to know:

When to go: I think the pagoda is open during daylight hours.

How to get there: Thanh Niên, Trúc Bạch, Ba Đình.

Cost: Free

Hoa Lo Prison

A museum isn’t without a touch of bias and propaganda as it portrays the French treating the Vietnamese abysmally and the Vietnamese treating the American prisoners beautifully whereas I think the truth may have been somewhere in between. Nonetheless it is an eye-opening place for a glimpse into the tragic past of the city.


Inside Hoa Lo Prison

What you need to know:

When to go: The prison is open seven days from 8am – 5pm.

How to get there: 1 Hoả Lò, Trần Hưng Đạo, Hoàn Kiếm.

Cost: About AUD$1.50

Temple of Literature

This temple was first built nearly 1,000 years ago and is a must visit when in Hanoi. The gardens are perfectly manicured and feature ponds, while the temples are a great example of some of the few original Hanoi structures that still stand in the city.


The beautiful Temple of Literature

What you need to know:

When to go: The temple is closed on Mondays but is open the rest of the week from 8am – 5pm from November until March and 7:30am – 6pm in the other months of the year.

How to get there: The address is 58 Quốc Tử Giám, Đống Đa.

Cost: About AUD$1.20

Places to eat in Hanoi

You can’t visit Hanoi without wanting to sample all the delicious dishes on offer. Hanoi really is the foodie hub of Vietnam and we loved eating out there, whether in a street food stall or a more upmarket restaurant.

The below restaurants were two of our favourites.

Cha Ca Thang Long

This place always seems to be busy with locals, which is a good sign, and is the perfect place to try cha ca, Hanoi’s iconic dish. The meal features fried fish mixed with shrimp paste and fresh herbs. At this restaurant, you cook it yourself on a mini gas stove on your table and chow down the meal accompanied by vegetables.


Cooking up a storm at Cha Ca Thang Long

What you need to know:

When to go: The restaurant is open seven days from 10am-3pm and 5-10pm.

How to get there: The address is 21 Đường Thành Cửa Đông Cửa Đông Hoàn Kiếm.

Cost: About AUD$8 per person for a meal

43 Cầu Gỗ

This little hole in the wall is Vietnamese street food at its best. The women running the restaurant cook delicious smelling (and tasting!) pork over coal fires and the dish is served with noodles and green veggies.


Street food at 43 Cầu Gỗ

What you need to know:

When to go: I’m not sure of the opening hours exactly, but it seemed to be open most lunchtimes and evenings.

How to get there: The address is 43 Cầu Gỗ, Hàng Bạc, Hoàn Kiếm.

Cost: About AUD$6 per person for a meal – which is very expensive for street food and probably the tourist price!

Places to stay in Hanoi

We stayed in the three star Mai Charming Hotel and Spa in Hanoi which was perfectly adequate for our needs. The staff were very friendly and the hotel was in a brilliant location in the old quarter, meaning we could walk to all of the attractions. The rate also included breakfast and we got a cheap deal for just over AUD$20 a night on

But if you’re looking for more luxurious hotels in Hanoi, you can’t go past the Sofitel. This five star hotel is the place to stay if you want to stay somewhere with ultimate style. With old French charm, four poster beds and stunning bathrooms, it is one of the best hotels in Hanoi.

Our love for Hanoi

And there you have it – some of our absolute favourite things to do in Hanoi. Although we didn’t spend as much time in the city as we did in Ho Chi Minh, we did really enjoy our visit and look forward to returning one day.

Have you been to Hanoi? What did you think of the city? What are your favourite things to see and do there?

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About the author

Carmen has been nomadic since May 2013 and the co-founder of Double-Barrelled Travel. She loves experiencing new cultures and learning new languages. She is having the most fun when skiing down a mountain, scuba diving in the Caribbean or curled up with a good book.

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