Hanoi is a feast for the senses. The smells of some of the world’s best street food, the sights of peaceful lakes, and the buzzing of what seems like millions of scooters will enthral, delight, and surprise you. The mazy backstreets of the Vietnamese capital hold treasures just waiting to be discovered.
Although Hanoi is now a modern and vibrant city, there are still nods to the past which shouldn’t be missed by any history buff. The city has recovered remarkably well and is now consistently voted as one of the top cities to visit in the world.
In this article, I’ll take a look at the best places to stay in Hanoi, helping you to make the most out of your trip and maybe even live like a local for a bit!
Need a place quick? Here’s the best neighbourhood in Hanoi:
Hai Ba Trung
Hai Ba Trung is a modern and lively district set in Hanoi’s city centre. Adjacent to the Old Quarter, this district is well-connected throughout Hanoi, making it a great base for exploring the city.
- Dance until dawn at The Bank Hanoi, the largest nightclub in the city.
- Learn about the contributions women had to Vietnam’s history and culture at The Women’s Museum.
- See the beautiful Hai Ba Trung Temple.
These are the BEST Places to Visit in Hanoi!
Before you scroll any further, be sure to check out where to stay in Hanoi first. There’s a lot more to discover than just Hai Ba Trung and you’ll find some great accommodation options in each area!
#1 – Hoàn Kiem Lake – A beautiful and scenic place to check out in Hanoi
Why it’s awesome: Hoàn Kiem Lake is one of the prettiest spots to find in the whole of Hanoi and an absolute must-visit on your sightseeing itinerary. Located in the heart of Hanoi Old Quarter in the Hoan Kiem district, there are a number of activities to do on the shores of the lake.
Weekends are the best time to visit, as Hoan Kiem Lake is closed to traffic from Friday to Sunday. Vietnamese legend tells that a golden turtle stole an emperor’s sword and dived to the bottom of the lake. This is how it gets its name, which means the lake of the restored sword. You can see this tale re-enacted at the Water Puppet Theatre, which I’ll get to later!
What to do there: Take a walk on the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake to clear your head from Hanoi’s noise. In the centre of the lake, there’s the beautiful Ngoc Son temple. Take a walk over the bridge and explore the Ngoc Son temple, it’ll cost you less than $1 USD. One of Hanoi’s more unusual landmarks is Thap Rua, a small tower in the middle of the lake that’s often used as a symbol of the city!
Across the lake from the temple is the Vietnamese Women’s Museum which doesn’t take long to look around but it’s very interesting. Just up the road from there is the Hoa Lo Prison, which was used by French colonials for political prisoners. Hoa Lo Prison was also used by the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. It’s a harrowing place, but an important part of Vietnamese History.
There are over 150 hostels in Hanoi. Check them out and see if you find any in this centrally located area near the lake!
#2 – Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Why it’s awesome: Although Ho Chi Minh City is in Southern Vietnam, the man whom the city is named after has his body here at the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum in Hanoi.
What’s unusual about this place is that the body is still perfectly preserved, more than 40 years after his death. Even an embalmed body would decay eventually, leading to rumours that it’s actually a model of Uncle Ho. Not that he will mind, as his original wish was actually to be cremated! You won’t spend a lot of time at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum since the line is never allowed to stop moving.
What to do there: Really the only thing you can do if you include this in your Hanoi itinerary is to respectfully observe the body of one of Vietnam’s great leaders. That’s because the guards will want you out so that the hordes of both locals and tourists can see the body.
It may seem macabre, but it’s one of the most visited historical sites in the country by travellers in Vietnam. Afterwards, take a walk through Ba Dình Sqaure, where the man you’ve just laid eyes on reading the Proclamation of Independence!
#3 – The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long – One of Hanoi’s coolest historical sites!
Why it’s awesome: Staying in the Ba Dình District, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is not to be missed while backpacking in Hanoi. The citadel was the capital of Vietnam for 8 centuries, while it was the political center since its construction in the 11th century! This is the number one place to visit in Hanoi for its historical and cultural importance in Vietnamese history.
Nowadays, it’s open to the public to explore the stone fortresses and walk through the beautifully landscaped gardens. The entrance to the citadel is 30,000VND, which is about £1 or $1.30 (at the time of writing). For one of the best places in Hanoi, it’s well worth that low price!
What to do there: Transport yourself back to the 11th century and admire the beautiful architecture of the stone buildings. Don’t miss the beautiful dragon statue either! If you want to get some panoramic views of the city, then climb the flag tower and spend some time looking out.
You’re sure to have a few more Insta likes and followers by the end of the day! The Imperial Citadel is close to Quan Tanh Temple, Vietnam Fine Arts Museum and the Vietnam Military History Museum so those are good options for your next activity!
#4 – Temple of Literature
Why it’s awesome: Many people say the Temple of Literature is the most beautiful attraction in the Old Quarter Hanoi. It’s certainly one of the oldest, dating back to 1070 AD (although it’s not quite as old as the citadel).
Originally a Mandarin University, the site was also open to students from the royal family, aristocrats, and the elite. However, it took a lot longer to open up to “intelligent” commoners. Eventually, it did though, and you can see the names of graduates carved into the stone turtle statues outside!
What to do there: Escape from the concrete jungle of Hanoi and spend some time contemplating and relaxing at the Temple of Literature in Hanoi old quarter. Not only are there religious and academic buildings, but there are five courtyards to take a leisurely stroll through.
Two are home to landscaped gardens and another has a pond called “The well of heavenly clarity”. In the others, you’ll find a statue of Confucius, who the temple was originally dedicated to, and a drum and bell tower. This is one of the most important academic landmarks in Hanoi and Vietnam.
#5 – Tran Quoc Pagoda
Why it’s awesome: This peaceful and quiet pagoda has over 1,500 years of history, making it one of the oldest landmarks in Hanoi. Sat on a peninsula jutting into the largest lake in Hanoi City Centre, just on the edge of Hanoi Old Quarter, it is another excellent place to escape from busy city life. Although the pagoda has stood for 1,500 years, it hasn’t always stood on the West Lake.
In fact, it was moved here in the 20th century after a serious landslide! Tran Quoc is one of the best things to see in Hanoi if you’re looking to learn more about the city’s rich history and culture!
What to do there: Since it’s such a chilled out and relaxed place, I’d recommend coming here and taking as long as you need to disconnect from the real world. If you prefer to always be on the go, of course, you can visit the on-site museum, which is full of priceless Vietnamese antiques.
It’s even home to the statue considered the most beautiful in all of Vietnam. If you feel you’re not quite ready to return back to the hustle and bustle after visiting the pagoda, take a walk around West Lake! The Quan Thanh Temple is just a five-minute walk away.
#6 – Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre – Quite the quirky place to visit in Hanoi
Why it’s awesome: Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre sits at the northern tip of Hoàn Ki?m Lake and you may wonder why this unassuming building has a queue outside around 7pm every night. Well, it’s to see water puppetry.
This is an ancient Vietnamese art, which was mostly unknown outside of Northern Vietnam until the 1960s! Although it’s still pretty much a secret abroad, locals and tourists alike flock to see the ancient Hanoi folkloric tales and listen to the haunting music which makes up water puppetry shows!
What to do there: You can’t go to the water puppet theatre without seeing a show! Buying tickets on the door costs around £3 or $4 and the show lasts around 50 minutes.
It’s a really cool place to take kids, especially if you need to keep them quiet for an hour! Look out for the puppeteers, who are stood waist-deep behind a screen in water operating their creations. Think carefully when choosing where to sit, as you might get splashed if you’re in the front row!
#7 – Train Street
Why it’s awesome: If you head to Train Street and it’s not 3pm or 7pm, to be honest, it’s not that awesome. However, as you might have guessed from the name, there’s a reason that changes.
Sometimes as little as a minute before, you’ll see the residents taking in clothes, picking up children, and stray dogs reluctantly getting up. Then, you’ll feel the quaint street start to vibrate.
That’s because a train that has travelled from crossed through many other regions of Vietnam is somehow navigating the narrow Old Quarter streets of Hanoi!
What to do there: First of all, come at the time when the train is expected to come through to get a totally unique experience and some great pictures. You’ll need them to back up your story, as friends and family back home will never believe this!
Coming when there’s no train isn’t a wasted journey though. It enables you to see a part of Hanoi you probably wouldn’t have bothered with otherwise, and you’ll catch a glimpse into local life. Maybe even practice your Vietnamese! It may be one of the hardest languages in the world, but the locals will appreciate the effort!
#8 – Hanoi Opera House
Why it’s awesome: The Hanoi Opera House is probably the best and most beautiful example of French colonial architecture in Vietnam. It dates back to 1911 and the grand building looks out of place among the palm trees and the roads around it.
If you think it looks impressive on the outside, just wait until you actually enter! The building was modelled on Paris Opera House and there are chandeliers, 600 plush seats, and a stage fit for opera and ballet!
What to do there: Admiring from the outside is the first thing in order on your trip here. It’s possible to do a guided tour of the Opera House, and that’s definitely recommended. For 400,000VND, you can see the amazing architecture inside in the building also known as the Cathedral of Art.
As well as the tour, there’s a small performance included. This a great option if you don’t have the budget or time to spend a whole evening seeing an opera or ballet performance!
#9 – Hanoi Night Market – A great place to visit in Hanoi at night
Why it’s awesome: A Southeast Asian staple is the night market. Some are gaudy and over touristy, while some cater to tourists while retaining their authenticity and being a great place to be.
Thankfully, Hanoi’s night market falls into the latter category! In the streets to the north of Hoàn Kiem Lake, you can spend your VND on a range of things while enjoying the friendly family atmosphere of the night market.
Particularly recommended are the traditional Vietnamese souvenirs (which are super cheap) and street food!
If you love markets, I also recommend visiting the Dong Xuan Market on Dong Xuan Street if you have more time. It’s a Soviet-style building that dates back to 1889 and is four stories of market stalls selling everything from fresh produce, souvenirs, and clothing. It’s not great for street food though, so only go here if you want to take some stuff home.
What to do there: Let’s talk more about street food! Bánh mì baguettes, iced coffee with condensed milk, spring/summer rolls, and pho should all be on your list! The Night Market really hammers it home that the best places to eat in Hanoi aren’t always restaurants.
If you’ve plenty of space left in your backpack when you packed for Vietnam your trip, this is the ideal spot to pick up souvenirs. That way, you’ll have a lasting physical memory of your trip to one of the coolest tourist attractions in Vietnam!
#10 – Perfume Pagoda – A very cool place in Hanoi to go for a day
Why it’s awesome: Okay, so I’ve included a few places to visit in my list that allow you to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. However, sometimes you need to completely get out to disconnect, rest, and relax. Perfume Pagoda gives you the opportunity to do exactly that!
This incredible Buddhist temple complex really gets you off the beaten track. To get to the temples themselves, you’ll have to take a traditional wooden rowing boat – don’t worry, you don’t have to row it yourself, which is a truly special part of the journey!
If you do have more time to spend, there’s another great day trip you can take from Hanoi to Explore Ba Vi National Park. The Ba Vi National Park is an area of outstanding natural beauty, and you can enjoy trekking through the subtropical nature and admire panoramic views along the way. There isn’t much else to do but trek there, so I would only recommend going if you have the time.
What to do there: After the boat ride, visit the most important temples of the complex. Chua Trong is perhaps the most astounding, as it’s located inside a cave.
Inside the complex, there are a number of food stalls and souvenirs shops too. You can either follow the stairs or take the cable car to the top of the hill where your reward is awesome views of the surrounding landscapes. You won’t see many westerners here, but it’s a special place for Vietnamese people!
#11 – Hoa Lò Prison Memorial
Why it’s awesome: It’s safe to say that Hoa Lò Prison Memorial isn’t for everyone, but it is nevertheless an important Hanoi landmark. In the late 19th century, this prison was opened under French rule for political agitators and dissidents.
It was originally intended to hold just a few hundred prisoners, but this quickly increased to more than 2,000. Unfortunately, the prisoners lived in squalid and horrendous conditions. A symbol of French colonial oppression, the Vietnamese repurposed it when colonial rule ended in 1954. Unfortunately, conditions didn’t improve but prisoners changed. It was then used for American Prisoners of War during the Vietnam War.
What to do there: Most of the prison was knocked down in the 1990s to make way for high-rise buildings. There is still a museum, which tells of the grisly history of the prison though, with many artifacts on display.
It is here that you can see the former US Senator John McCain’s flight suit and parachute. Yes, he was an inmate at the prison! Unsurprisingly, this Vietnam museum focuses more on the French oppression and there are some quite graphic representations of torture. This one isn’t for the faint of heart!
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FAQ on the Best Places to Visit in Hanoi
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Final Thoughts on Places to Visit in Hanoi
So, that’s the end of my list of the best places to visit in Hanoi. Hopefully, you’ll have found this list useful and helpful for planning your trip to the Vietnamese capital and be eager to start your journey.
I think that there are definitely enough places to visit in Hanoi for 3 days on my list!
You’ll have seen that Hanoi mixes the historical, the exciting, and the downright unusual and really my list is just a snapshot. It’s impossible to capture the vibrant buzz of this city, but you sure won’t forget it in a hurry once you’ve experienced it. Oh, and the street food really is some of the best in the world!
I don’t just want you to have a great holiday in Hanoi, I want you to experience it like a local. My list will help you do just that! Whatever you end up doing when you visit Hanoi, I hope you have a spectacular holiday and come back with lots of unforgettable memories!
Bye for now, but not forever!
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