Hanoi in Vietnam is actually one of the most ancient capitals in the world although most of the Hanoi that is visible today dates from the French Colonial period and after.
The Vietnamese city of Hanoi has established itself as an essential backpackers destination. Hanoi beautifully showcases the rich history of Vietnam and is home to countless museums, preserved architecture and the biggest mosaic in the world. On the flip side, Hanoi still has a buzzing and vibrant atmosphere and a lot of tourists.
Hanoi has two sides to it, so be prepared for dressing for a glam night out as well as hiking the mountainous countryside. You should also be prepared to play a lot of Frogger with the traffic – that’s just part of the charm!
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Take Street Food Tour
You can’t go backpacking in Hanoi and not fall in love with their sheer passion for street food. Vietnamese food is great and the country was one of the originators of street food. It’s also a great way to gain more insight into the local dishes. Prices are pretty cheap, but a 3-hour €20 Hanoi street food tour can be a great way to get the most out of it with an expert.
It’s not just the food market stools to look out for either. Hanoi is known for its silk, so it’s worth keeping an eye on the incredible designs and craftsmanship you can pick up for cheap. This is leveraged from a large Chinese community influence.
Once you get a taste for the local food, you may want to learn how to make it for yourself…
Take a Cooking Class
As above, one of the besets things about backpacking Vietnam is trying the country’s amazing cuisine. You’ll be sure to miss Vietnamese food once you go home, so why not learn how to make it yourself?
Hanoi has tons of cooking classes where you can shop in local markets and learn how to cook up classic Vietnamese dishes – once you get home you can have your friends over and wow them with your skills.
Explore The Old Quarters
There are many separate landmarks to visit in Vietnam, but it can get too much if you don’t have much time. A simple visit to the Old Quarters can lead to a lot of experiences in one space – it is one of the largest districts in Hanoi and a fantastic choice of where to stay. There’s a large business ecosystem here, along with many street vendors and tourists. Getting lost here is a good option. You’ll run into Buddhist temples, french architecture and a ton of sole trader shops. There are some great art galleries which are worth a visit too!
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
For a change of pace into something more tranquil, a trip to UNESCO’s World Heritage Site Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is a powerful experience. This ancient site was at the center of Vietnamese politics for over 1300 years. The most iconically recognizable part of this site is its 40 meters high stone tower. Entrance to the site costs a little over 1 EUR/USD but is closed on Mondays. What is great about a day-out here is that it’s situated right by the Vietnam Military History Museum and the Quan Thanh Temple.
The Huong Pagoda
Known as the Perfume Pagoda in English, this beautiful place to see in Hanoi is a Buddhist temple built around the 15th century into the limestone mountains. The site draws in pilgrims from all around Vietnam, as it is the location annual religious festival lasting 3 months at a time. There are ceremonial rituals such as handing out incense, flowers, candles, and fruit. Many believe that climbing to the top of Huong Tich Mountain will bring them success and happiness. Of course, once you make it to its peak, you’re also rewarded with an incredible view.
Join a Free Hanoi Walking Tour
A free Hanoi a walking tour is a great way to get some exercise and see Hanoi all whilst learning about the cities history and culture. The tours usually are run by local students who do an excellent job of introducing their city to visitors.
There are a variety of tour options, so be sure to check around to find the right one for you. However, do be sure to sign up for at least one tour.
Pay a Visit to Uncle Ho
Ho Chi Minh City may have the name, but Hanoi has the man.
That’s right, Vietnam’s capital city is home to the preserved body of none other than the departed Vietnamese leader, Uncle Ho Chi Minh himself.
If looking at famous corpses inside a case isn’t quite your thing, you should still go check it out just to see the mausoleum from outside and the crowds that gather there.
Plus, you can still visit the Ho Chi Minh Museum. It’s full of interesting exhibits and definitely worth the addition to your itinerary when you’re planning your trip to Hanoi.
Watch a water puppet show
A really fun thing to do in Hanoi is to watch the classic Vietnamese water puppet show. This traditional Vietnamese art form dates all the way back to the 11th century and was originally a form of story telling.
These days, you can catch a performance at the Thang Long Theatre. Tickets cost about $3 and it’s a fun thing to do in Hanoi before going out for the evening.
The women museum takes a look at the role Vietnamese women have played throughout history and has some great examples of female clothing from over the centuries. The segment on Vietnamese women during the war with the US is particularly interesting.
Before Your Trip to Hanoi…
…there are a couple things to take care of. Before setting off to Hanoi, you want to ensure you have understood the requirements for a Vietnam visa. These are necessary, along with a few other preparations.
It’s also good to book your accommodation before you arrive We wrote a booking guide to Hanoi’s best and brightest hostels will help you find the perfect budget place to bunk.
All in all, there is a wide variety of things to do in Hanoi. Fortunately, many of Hanoi’s best things to see are clustered together, so you can see as much as Vietnam has to offer – almost!
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Need more inspiration?
- Where to Stay in Vietnam
- Vietnam Tourist Safety Report
- Beautiful Places to Visit in Ho Chi Minh
- Awesome Hoi An Holiday Itinerary
Freeborn Aiden. Senior Editor, resident travel insurance expert and 2nd longest-serving member of team Broke Backpacker. Can’t resist a colourful shirt, ideally one with no buttons. Rampant Psytrance addict and seriel cat fancier. Aiden recently realised that his entire reality is little more than a badly written 90’s sitcom.