7 Must-Do Activities in Hanoi

Tue, 13 Jun 2017. Last updated Tue, 04 Dec 2018 16:45

Hanoi is perhaps Asia’s most exotic capital city. For all of its timeless charm, it’s also a 21st-century metropolis. You can experience a very different side of the country here in this northern and cosmopolitan city.

Hanoi is perhaps Asia’s most exotic capital city. For all of its timeless charm, it’s also a 21st-century metropolis. You get off your plane and you're shocked by how busy this capital city can get.  You can experience a very different side of the country here in this northern and cosmopolitan city. So here are some recommendations what to see and do while you are staying in Hanoi. 

1. Street food

Old quarter street cafe 

Hanoi is known for amazing street food, and the best bites you can have is from unassuming shops with plastic chairs.

Sit on a plastic chair, drink Bia Hoi (local beer) and people-watch. This is a favorite activity of the locals. Walk down any street and you'll find several shops with plastic chairs to post up in.  This is a city that takes the phrase “street food” seriously – food is literally everywhere. Each block has dozens of cafes, with diners spilling on to sidewalks.

Surely you have heard of Pho, the national dish of Vietnam, originated in Hanoi.  Classic pho has four ingredients: clear stock, quickly boiled beef, rice noodles and herbs or green onions, though every shop has its own secret recipe.

Pho Hanoi

Another famous and delicious street food in Hanoi that you must try is a Steamed Rice Roll. Steamed rice roll looks like a stuffed pancake or a crepe but it’s not sweet. It’s made from rice paper combined with minced pork and chopped mushroom.

Steamed egg rolls

For veggies, there is a delicious option too, traditional Deep-fried Tofu (Bún Đậu Mắm Tôm).The dish consists of fried tofu and tightly compressed vermicelli noodle “patties” cut into cubes. These are then eaten dipped into a shrimp paste and accompanied with fresh herbs (as everything in Hanoi is).


Bun Cha has long been a specialty of Hanoi. In spite of having a very simple name, Bun Cha is a favorite and must-to-try dish of international friends when visiting Vietnam. Main ingredients to make Bun cha include rice vermicelli, belly pork, shallots, spicy, carrot, green papaya, raw vegetables and well-mixed fish sauce.  It has been said that the first Bun Cha Restaurant in Hanoi is in Gia Ngu Street, Hoan Kiem District, therefore, the best place to enjoy a genuine Bun Cha in Hanoi is in Hanoi Old Quarter area. The flavors of Hanoi Old Quarter’s Bun Cha are quite special in comparison with other places. Under the strong sunlight in summer, enjoying Bun Cha, visitors can feel the essence of Vietnamese cuisine by tasting all kinds of flavors including sour, sweet, spicy, and fatty created by its ingredients and fish sauces.

For those who enjoy beer, Vietnam has several local brands. Bia Hoi is fresh locally brewed beer, it's so cheap (about 40-50 cents USD for a glass) that you just can't pass the opportunity to try it.

2. Old Quarter

Old Quarter

What makes Hanoi become unique and more charming is Old Quarter – the soul of Hanoi.

The beautiful thing about Hanoi is that life happens on the street. As you sip on your beer, coffee or tea, watch people getting haircuts, men lifting weights and playing chess, children playing games and women catching up with friends – all taking place on the sidewalk. It's something to be seen.

Old Balconies in Hanoi

Pay attention to the street names. They are all named after what they used to sell. There is a ‘sugar street’, ‘fabric street’, ‘shoes street’. Of course, the names are all in Vietnamese, but you can recognize them from a word ‘hang’, which means ‘selling’ followed by another word, describing what was sold here. Some of the streets have been keeping up with the tradition, so you don’t be surprised if you stumble upon a street with only shoes or underwear.

Get lost in the winding, messy, chaotic, narrow streets of Hanoi's Old Quarter. Old French and Vietnamese architecture, the alley of the shops, all bring Hanoi a different beauty that distinguishes from other places in Vietnam and in the world.  There's no place like this city, and getting lost is the best way to explore it. 

3. Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

To the west of Old Quarter, where most Western tourists go in Hanoi, a large area of the park, and grounds and buildings dedicated to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, ripe with hundreds of visitors filling through when it is open in the morning.  The Mausoleum, a pillared, granite and stone-faced building, reminiscent of Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow, contains Ho Chi Minh’s well-preserved corpse.  The main attraction is Ho Chi Minh's body, which has been restored since his death in the 1970s.

If lucky, you can observe the changing of the guard outside the mausoleum – the pomp and ceremony displayed here rivals the British equivalent at Buckingham Palace.  The entrance is completely free, but bear in mind that the Mausoleum is only open from 7:30 am until 10.30 am each morning. Thus make sure you visit it as early as possible.  Cameras are banned inside the complex. It is also recommended not to wear hats, shorts or inappropriate clothing. 

Address: Hùng Vương, Điện Biên, Ba Đình, Hà Nội

4. Water Poppet Show

Water Puppet Show

Book your tickets for the popular Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre at the northeast corner of the lake (it's a good show to see when you first visiting Vietnam, but if you are crunched for time don't go out of your way to see it). This is Hanoi's oldest Water Puppet show/stage. Vietnamese operatic songs, accompanied by orchestra playing traditional music using drums, wooden bells, horns, bamboo flutes and cymbals, marvel at water puppet shows recounting Vietnamese legends like Legend of the Restored Sword of King Le or folk tales, taking the audience on a journey of ancient village life, agricultural harvests and dances of mythical creatures. Tickets are cheap (60,000 - 100,000 dong, which is between $3-5 USD) and there are many show times each day.

Opening Hours: Daily 15:00, 16:10, 17:20, 18:30 & 20:00

Address: 57B, Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi

Tel: +84 43 824 9494

5. West Lake

West lake view

Oasis of calm away from the hustle and bustle. You can either cycle or take a taxi to the Truc Back Lake and the West Lake. Both places are less often on everyone’s list of things to do in Hanoi and they make great destinations. They are different than the Old Quarter, more sophisticated with lots of luxury homes around. It is the largest lake of the capital and a popular place for recreation. Lap around West Lake, escape the crowds and enjoy the silence.

October Lounge

There are dozens of cafes overlooking West Lake. We recommend you to visit October lounge, one of the most dazzling cafe choices. As you walk through the entry, you immediately feel like you’ve stepped into some kind of quirky Brick Lane antique store.  It is totally different to any other cafe options in the area. October is best enjoyed in the evening on one of the small balconies that are spread over the multiple floors. 

6. Coffee

coffee egg

Coffee culture is huge and coffee shops spring up everywhere. It’s not just the beans that people rave about, it’s how it is prepared.  Vietnamese coffee is more typically known as a potently strong coffee with a good sugar kick behind the sweetened condensed milk. If you are feeling adventurous, try Vietnamese egg coffee, most flavorful coffee you can imagine. At first, these two flavors seem really unrelated. However, if you once try this special coffee, their harmonious combination can blow your mind away: not too sweet, not too bitter, the creamy taste of egg foam combined with the passionate aroma of condensed coffee. 

In the West, we often drink coffee in solitude, mug in one hand, newspaper in the other, oblivious to our surroundings. In Vietnam, friends gathering to drink coffee before breakfast, after work, or after a night on the town. Until you’ve enjoyed it in the community spirit, you really haven’t had Vietnamese coffee.  Our recommendation is to visit Cafe Giang. The egg coffee there is a masterpiece – absolutely delicious, back in 1946 it was the place where the first egg coffee of Vietnam originated.  This cafe is easy to overlook; it is down a pretty narrow little lane!  Head upstairs to the area up there is much prettier than down below. 

Address: 39 Nguyễn Hữu Huân, Lý Thái Tổ, Hoàn Kiếm

Night market

Night Market

Markets are the best places to be when you’re in a city you’ve never visited before because that’s the place to see it at it is most real. The Dong Xuan Weekend Night Market in Hanoi is one of those perfect examples. It’s not set up for tourists; it is set up for the locals. This market spreading from Hang Dao Street to Dong Xuan Market creates a busy and crowded walking street on weekend evenings, a lot of people come here to stroll or go shopping, which becomes a habit. Vietnamese traditional music concerts can also be seen at walking street.  The market consists of over 3000 stalls. You can find almost anything there, including local food. It opens from 7 p.m until 11 p.m on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Popular airports in Hanoi

Noi Bai International Airport, Hanoi (HAN) - Vietnam

Popular airlines flying to Hanoi

Turkish Airlines -> 495 USDJC International Airlines -> 245 USDGaruda Indonesia <-> 1,027 USDTiger Air -> 167 USD
Ukraine International Airlines -> 683 USDChina Southern Airlines -> 227 USDUnited Airlines -> 473 USDUni Airways Corporation <-> 1,140 USD
Hainan Airlines -> 497 USDMandarin Airlines -> 193 USDShenzhen Airlines -> 81 USDMalindo Airways -> 62 USD
Air China -> 265 USDHawaiian Airlines -> 503 USDThai Lion Air -> 56 USDDeutsche Lufthansa <-> 697 USD
Bangkok Airways -> 72 USDShandong Airlines -> 458 USDJuneyao Airlines -> 743 USDRoyal Jordanian -> 529 USD

Popular flights to Hanoi

Ghana -> Hanoi 912 USDAccra
United States -> Hanoi 371 USDBloomington, Corpus Christi, Las Vegas, Miami, San Angelo, Yakima
India -> Hanoi 147 USDKolkata, Delhi
Indonesia -> Hanoi 140 USDBali Denpasar
Republic of Ireland -> Hanoi 772 USDDublin
Malaysia -> Hanoi 335 USDKota Bharu
Japan -> Hanoi 928 USDMatsumoto
China -> Hanoi 175 USDBeijing
Lao, People's Dem. Rep. -> Hanoi 186 USDPakse
Thailand -> Hanoi 97 USDTrang
Canada -> Hanoi 650 USDHalifax, Windsor, Cranbrook, North Bay

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