Planning a vacation in Vietnam? Start your journey on the bustling streets of Hanoi, Vietnam’s exciting capital city. For those seeking a taste of authentic Vietnamese life, all the enticing things to do in Hanoi promise a captivating trip. From eating street food among the beautiful French colonial buildings of the Old Quarter to chillin’ out around Hoan Kiem Lake, plan your adventure through this exciting Southeast Asia city with this quick & easy attractions guide!
Must-see places to visit in Hanoi
Only got 24 hours in Hanoi? Start your trip in the bustling Old Quarter. Nestled in the heart of Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi’s Old Quarter is an intoxicating blend of historic architecture, delicious street food, and local shops. The district spans 36 streets north of Hoan Kiem Lake. Each street represents a different historic guild or trade, from silver vendors to silk merchants.
Stroll through the enchanting labyrinth of narrow streets to spot stunning examples of French colonial architecture. Marvel at the neo-gothic St. Joseph Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church that dates back to 1886. See Chinese influence in the Old Quarter by stopping into Ma May House (Hanoi Ancient House), a 19th-century Chinese merchant house that’s now a popular museum.
Venture deeper into the Old Quarter to discover gems like Dong Xuan Market, a bustling hub of local commerce, and the vibrant Hang Da Market, renowned for its artisanal crafts.
Foodies will relish the opportunity to savor authentic Vietnamese flavors at the myriad of street food stalls. The food vendors lining the busy streets of the Old Quarter dish out everything from steaming bowls of pho to delectable banh mi sandwiches.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Once you’ve explored the streets of the Old Quarter, take a breather at Hoan Kiem Lake. Located on the southern fringes of the historic district, his emerald gem beckons travelers to escape the urban hustle and embrace nature’s beauty.
Gaze in awe at the majestic Turtle Tower, perched on a small island in the center of Hoan Kiem Lake. Cross the iconic red Huc Bridge to discover Ngoc Son Temple. Spend time exploring this beautiful temple, including its centerpiece statues of Tran Hung Dao and Van Xuong De Quan.
Wander along the edge of the water, watching locals practice Tai Chi and couples walking hand-in-hand. As you stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake, soak in the serene ambiance and the mesmerizing reflections of overhanging willow trees on the water’s surface.
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
History buffs exploring Hanoi should set aside time to visit the awe-inspiring Imperial Citadel of Thang Long. Located just west of the Old Quarter, this citadel lets tourists embark on a journey through centuries of Vietnamese history. Walk along the ancient pathways where emperors once roamed and feel the echoes of Vietnam’s dynastic past.
As you enter the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, marvel at the Main Gate (Đoan Môn). This imposing entryway, guarded by stone dragons, marks the southern entrance to the palace. Once inside, keep an eye out for the Hanoi Flag Tower. Built in 1812, the tower stands 33 meters. Climb to the top of the tower to enjoy beautiful panoramic views over the city.
Venture into the citadel’s archaeological site to comb through treasures from the Ly, Tran, and Le Dynasties. Admire the delicate craftsmanship of ancient ceramics and the intricate details of imperial artifacts.
Leave the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long through the imposing North Gate (Cửa Bắc). The North Gate is the last remaining from the citadel’s Nguyen dynasty reconstruction. On the outside, try to spot the gate’s most famous feature: two holes from the French cannonball attacks in 1882.
Hoa Lo Prison Museum
Step into Hanoi’s somber past as you enter the Hoa Lo Prison Museum. Once sardonically referred to as the “Hanoi Hilton” by the prisoners held there, this haunting site bears witness to the country’s tumultuous history.
Hoa Lo Prison was built on the land of a former pottery village, now just blocks from the center of the city. It was built to detain prisoners, including everyone from Vietnamese dissidents to American POWs during the Vietnam War.
Walk through the prison gates to explore the dimly lit cells and exhibitions. Witness first-hand their cramped conditions and get a glimpse into the difficult lives of former inmates. See photographs and artifacts that chronicle the experiences of both Vietnamese revolutionaries and American POWs during different eras.
Keep on the lookout for the most chilling exhibit at the Hoa Lo Prison Museum: the guillotine. The mobile guillotine offers a stark reminder of the French colonial era when the prison was called “Maison Centrale.”
US history buffs will want to also check out one of the museum’s most interesting exhibits: the flight suit from former POW and American senator John McCain.
Presidential Palace Historical Site
Searching for more beautiful historical architecture in Hanoi? Step into the early 20th-century grandeur of the Presidential Palace Historical Site. The historic heart of the Ba Đình district, this important historical site is home to several top Hanoi points of interest, including the original Presidential Palace and Ho Chi Minh’s presidential house.
Start your journey at the stunning Presidential Palace. Completed in 1906, the palace was built for the governor-general of French Indochina. Today, the building is the official residence of the president of Vietnam.
Although it’s not open to visitors, you can admire the Presidential Palace from its exterior. Painted in yellow, the building features typical French Colonial architecture, with Renaissance and Beaux-Arts architectural styles taking center stage. The palace includes 30 rooms, each showing off different designs and styles.
Stroll through the perfectly manicured gardens. Enjoy the serene atmosphere as you walk along pathways lined by exotic plants and flowers, along with a tranquil fish pond and orchard.
Take a walk along the 200-meter-long Mango Alley walking path to President Ho Chi Minh’s wooden stilt house. This modest traditional Vietnamese home sits in stark contrast to the opulent Presidential Palace.
Nearby, you’ll also find several other buildings used by Ho Chi Minh before his death in 1969. Look out for the little-blue House No. 67, which served as the former president’s work quarters. Step inside to see a couple of small exhibits, including a clock stopped at the day and time of his death.
Likewise, at House No. 54, visitors will witness a late 1960s time capsule with books, furniture, documents, and decor frozen in time.
Bach Ma Temple
No visit to Vietnam’s capital is complete without digging into its beautiful temples. Bach Ma Temple is the oldest temple in Hanoi and one of its most decorated. Located in the heart of the Old Quarter, the temple was built in the 9th century as one of the Four Guarding Temples of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long.
Step through the ancient wooden doors to admire the temple’s stunning interior. Wander through halls to marvel at the pillars, wooden beams, and altars carved with ornate designs. Keep your eyes peeled for valuable antiques, including paintings, ancient weapons, and other artifacts.
When you visit, keep in mind that Bach Ma Temple is an active place of worship for locals. Although entrance is free and you’re free to wander, always remember to be mindful of the worshippers and to obey common temple courtesies and dress codes.
Dong Xuan Market
Dive into Hanoi’s vibrant commercial heart at Dong Xuan Market. As you step inside, the lively energy of this bustling Old Quarter marketplace will beckon you to explore its array of vendors, selling everything from housewares to clothing & accessories.
Navigate through rows of stalls bursting with colorful fabrics, intricate handicrafts, and ceramics. Engage with local vendors who passionately showcase their wares, from traditional ao dai dresses to hand-embroidered textiles and silk. The market also offers plenty of exotic herbs & spices and fresh produce. Browse its corridors to find everything from fruits and vegetables to meat and seafood.
PRO TIP: Don’t accept the first price offered for goods at Dong Xuan Market, as it’s usually inflated. Brush up on your bargaining skills to try to haggle for better prices.
After your shopping experience, follow your nose to the street food stalls surrounding Dong Xuan Market to savor the delicious flavors of Hanoi. Indulge in Vietnamese food favorites like pho, spring rolls, and banh mi.
One of the most iconic tourist attractions in Hanoi, Train Street is a must-see on any sightseeing tour through the city. This narrow alley offers one of the most unique experiences in the city and is a must-see during any Northern Vietnam itinerary.
Train Street, officially known as Ngõ 224 Lê Duẩn, cuts through the western edge of the Old Quarter. As with many other streets in the historic area, it’s incredibly narrow, with barely enough room for a few people to pass each other. Many of the old buildings along the street feature front porches and hide small courtyards.
The distinct feature of Train Street is the train track running through the middle. Twice per day, a train speeds down the narrow street, taking up almost its entire width. The train leaves just a foot between the train and the buildings. When it’s almost time for the train to pass, locals start gathering up their possessions to go inside their homes, cafes, and shops.
PRO TIP: Be sure to be aware of train times when visiting Train Street. Several travelers have been injured or killed by passing trains here while trying to snap photos for social media. It’s such a problem that the local government has “officially” closed the street off to tourists, although the ban doesn’t seem to be having much effect on tourism in the area yet.
Where to stay for sightseeing
Although Vietnam’s capital is home to over 8 million people and spreads far and wide, figuring out where to stay in Hanoi isn’t as big of a challenge as in other Asian cities. Prices here are (as in Vietnam in general) quite reasonable. If you do your research, you can find excellent quality accommodations here without breaking the bank.
Located in the historic Old Quarter, close to many of the top points of interest in Hanoi, this budget-friendly hotel offers comfortable modern rooms that will make your stay in Hanoi as memorable as any.
If you’re looking for a few extra amenities during your stay in Hanoi, this 5-star pick has all the bases covered. Besides the elegant rooms, the hotel features a fitness center, restaurant, bar, and outdoor pool with views over the city.
A top luxury pick in Hanoi, this hotel delivers a superb accommodations experience with its sophisticated rooms decked out with rich dark wood grain finishes. You’ll love retiring to the rooftop bar & terrace after a long day of sightseeing.