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Hanoi, on the banks of the Red River, is one of the world’s oldest capitals, with well-preserved colonial structures, historic pagodas, and one-of-a-kind museums. This French-colonial city is noted for its wonderful cuisine, active nightlife, silks and handicrafts, and a multi-cultural populace with Chinese, French, and Russian influences. It’s also a terrific spot to explore on foot.

Let’s dive in and take a look at the best things to see and do in Hanoi!

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

One of Hanoi’s most prominent tourist sites is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Ba Dinh Square. It is the final resting place of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam’s most iconic and popular leader, whom his people affectionately refer to as “Uncle Ho.” Despite his desires, Ho Chi Minh’s body is housed in a glass case at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in central Hanoi.

Because it is more than simply a tourist attraction; it is a piece of history, a visit to Uncle Ho’s final resting place can be an unforgettable experience for visitors.

Entrance is free, but no cameras are allowed inside the mausoleum itself and you must keep to a strict no talking policy whilst walking around the tomb, otherwise a guard will quieten you!

Photo by Simon Coppinger of Travel Agent Hanoi

Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son

Tourists and residents alike flock to Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake to escape the city’s bustle and noise. Ngoc Son Temple, a pagoda on a small island in the middle of the lake, is surrounded by peace and calm.

The temple was built in honor of Tran Hung Dao, a military leader from the 13th century who was known for his courage in battles against the Yuan Dynasty.

The legendary Huc Bridge or Rising Sun Bridge, a lovely scarlet-painted wooden bridge of traditional Vietnamese architecture, connects Jade Island to the mainland. The lake is the ideal area in Hanoi city to relax and take in the scenery, as well as a nice place to sit and observe the residents.

Photo by Simon Coppinger of Travel Agent Hanoi

Hanoi Old Quarter

Hanoi’s Old Quarter is a fascinating part of town with many beautiful examples of colonial architecture crammed into tight lanes. Traders peddling fruit and souvenirs weave among endless packs of scooters, motorbikes, bicycles, and autos, while narrow shop houses sell wonderful Vietnamese food for cheap. 

The Old Quarter was (pre-pandemic) filled with dodgy travel agencies, budget friendly hotels and one of the best restaurants in Hanoi, The New Day. 

The Old Quarter of Hanoi, brings to life what many people perceive Hanoi to be, and all visitors to Vietnam’s capital city should explore this region on foot. You can also take a cyclo (man riding a push bike with a front seat for passenger), to visit the sights, but a lot of haggling will be needed and sometimes is not worth the effort.

Photo by Simon Coppinger of Travel Agent Hanoi

Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature is a magnificent temple complex divided in to 5 courtyards, each with its own historical significance. Set deep in the heart of Hanoi, dedicated to the Chinese sage and scholar Confucius.

Many more buildings were constructed and beautified over the next 1000 years, such that this vast area is now brimming with elegant pavilions, shrines, and a lush garden.

Visiting The Temple of Literature has become something of a rite of passage for graduating doctors, and the entire location is rich with Vietnamese history. If you visit after exam time, you will see hundreds of elegantly dressed Vietnamese girls dressed in their traditional Ao Dai. A wonderful sight to see.

Entrance is just 10,000 VND ($0.44)!

Photo by Hoang Dinh on Unsplash

Long Bien Bridge

Constructed around the turn of the 20th century, Long Bien Bridge was designed by the great man himself, Gustave Eiffel. Bombed many times during the American war in 1967 & 1972 but swiftly repaired by the resilient Vietnamese. 

Long Bien Bridge is an iconic structure which should not be missed on your holiday to Vietnam and the capital Hanoi. 

To get to Long Bien bridge, you can either hire a bicycle as part of your day exploring this amazing city. Or, take a short walk from Dong Xuan Market & up the steep road towards newly renovated Long Bien Train Station. Here you can access the path and walk the 1 mile length of this great bridge.  

You can see floating families on the Red River, an island with banana trees, vegetable patches and even a nudist colony (no word of a lie). You can even stop off under the bridge for a Tra Da (Iced tea) from one of the ladies. 

The best time to visit is at sunset (although crowded) to take some magical photos of this iconic place in Hanoi. Walking along the tracks for that Instagram shot is now no longer permitted.

Photo by Simon Coppinger of Travel Agent Hanoi

Dong Xuan Market

Housed in a monster of a building, apparently Soviet style built in 1889 and filled to the rafters with clothing, shoes, material, bags, gadgets and toys. Dong Xuan Market sells to the shops and businesses in and around Hanoi, so its mainly trade sales here. 

I have myself been thrown out or shooed away when attempting to buy a single pair of shoes & not a truckload…it may however have been due to the fact my feet are size Titanic! 

Get in the way of people carrying huge loads of material or clothing and you will be knocked sideways, this is not a place for the feint hearted. 

Some great Com Binh Dan can be found on the upper level, a hearty workingmans lunch and very cheap!

Photo by Simon Coppinger of Travel Agent Hanoi

Hanoi Night Market

The night market appeals to some and not to others. It all depends on your perspective. I have known people say its amazing and a treasure trove of everything possible, from tea pots and shoes, to wallets and gadgets!

This place does sell practically everything. There are others who think it is simply selling tack, or low quality items. I would say the tea sets are a must and are probably bought from Bat Trang Pottery down the road which is good quality. 

Starting at around 7-7.30pm & closing at around 11pm & open Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. 

A whole street leading from Hoan Kiem Lake roundabout to Dong Xuan Market…a very long street…plenty of opportunity to kindly have you relieved of your wallet or purse, so do keep a close eye on that.

Photo by T.H. Chia on Unsplash

Imperial Citadel of Thang Long

The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is a magnificent historical relic that was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010, reflecting its historical and cultural significance.

In 2004, the Hanoi Citadel, also known as the Hanoi Citadel, was excavated and many artefacts and materials dating from the 6th to the 20th centuries were discovered, including foundations of historic palaces, ancient roadways, ponds, and wells.

In addition to these discoveries, researchers unearthed bronze coins, earthenware, and pottery from China and other Asian countries, all of which hint to a close trading relationship in the region.

The exhibit room, which houses significant unearthed artefacts as well as mock-ups of the citadel itself, is a must-see for visitors.

Photo by Simon Coppinger of Travel Agent Hanoi

Water Puppet Show

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre in Hanoi is based on an 11th-century art form. Water puppet theatre has its origins at a time when rice paddy fields were flooded, and peasants entertained themselves by standing in waist-deep water with puppets playing over the water. 

The puppets appeared to be floating across the water, with the puppeteers hidden behind a screen, thanks to the use of enormous rods to support them.

It’s a rare experience to see the puppets play in their native setting at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, as this practise is unique to North Vietnam but has recently gained worldwide reputation on stages. A Vietnamese orchestra performs traditional music with drums, wooden bells, horns, bamboo flutes, and cymbals, among other instruments.

There are also traditional Vietnamese operatic songs accompanying the puppets’ performance. The majority of the presentations tell Vietnamese folk tales and legends, with issues such as rice harvest celebrations depicted in a lighthearted manner.

There are shows starting from 3pm to 8pm every day and the Thang Long puppet theatre is situated next to shoe street looking over the electric cars on the lake.  Price per ticket is 100k VND.

Photo by Simon Coppinger of Travel Agent Hanoi

Hanoi Opera House

The French, who were in authority at the time, built the beautiful Hanoi Opera House. With Gothic decorations on the doors and domes, pillars, shuttered windows, balconies, and a glass room, it’s a spectacular example of neo-classical French architecture.

Musicians, actors, and dancers offer dramatic operatic and classical performances for a 600-person audience, making it an especially popular theatrical event.

The Hanoi Opera House is the country’s largest theatre, and it conveys a lot about Vietnam’s history and culture during the French occupation. Many people believe that the interior is even more lovely than the outside and that it is more artistically superior to the Paris Opera House.

Visitors can now enjoy a range of events at this architectural landmark, including local Vietnamese opera, traditional folk music, ballets, and a number of international shows.

Photo by Simon Coppinger of Travel Agent Hanoi

The Women’s Museum

The Vietnam Women’s Museum is run by The Women’s Union of Vietnam, one of the country’s most powerful movements, and features a beautifully exhibited tribute to Vietnamese women throughout history.

Inside the museum, there are major representations of women from the rice paddy fields, service workers, street vendors, female business executives, professors, and mothers.

There’s also a lot of knowledge on topics like marriage, family, fashion, and life-changing ceremonies. There are also interesting exhibitions on the role of women in the Vietnam wars.

The exhibits are well-designed and tell a story, with placards in both English and French. Photographs and film footage depicting the lives of brave mothers throughout the second world war are compelling exhibits that should not be missed.

Photo by Simon Coppinger of Travel Agent Hanoi

Hanoi Train Street

Although the government have closed down access to the tracks due to safety reasons, there is still the opportunity to see the trains riding precariously in between the houses in Hanoi.

What was once the selfie capital of Hanoi & possibly Vietnam. It was a marvellous experience, sipping coffee in one of the newly opened cafes, sat up on the 1st floor and watching the train glide through. 

Is now, not so comfortable, but you can still catch a few selfie shots at the railway barriers as it goes past. It is still on the way around in one of our walking tours in Hanoi, so is worth stopping by to see (if the timetable suits your trip).

Trains don’t go through that often unless on a weekend, but if you time it right, you are in for a treat.

Photo by Simon Coppinger of Travel Agent Hanoi

Mural Street

With amazing mural artworks depicting the history and traditions of Hanoi’s local people, this previously derelict street has been given a 21st-century makeover.

In 2018, the project began as a collaboration between Vietnamese and Korean artists as part of a community project. The murals portray various aspects of Hanoi, including Trang Tien, the Old Quarter, and the Long Bien Bridge (which is only a short walk away), as well as locals hard at work, whether carrying bamboo baskets or immersed in their calligraphy.

It’s worth a walk from train street, perhaps along the sides of the tracks, to gain a unique perspective on daily life in Hanoi.A visit here will serve as a stepping stone to the next attraction recommended by Travel Agent Hanoi.

Photo by Simon Coppinger of Travel Agent Hanoi