Hanoi, the beautiful cultural capital of Vietnam, is full of things to see and do. A few days in the city doesn’t do it justice, but luckily, most attractions are located within walking distance of one another. You can easily map out an itinerary for yourself and enjoy a day of wandering around, taking in the contrasting beauty of the old and new. Make sure to visit as many of these attractions as possible to fully enhance your experience in Hanoi.
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
This UNESCO World Heritage site, often used as a symbol of Hanoi, stands 40 metres tall. The complex comprises the royal enclosures built during the Ly Dynasty and is close to many other attractions in Hanoi. It’s closed on Mondays.
The ancient art of water puppetry has long been associated with Hanoi. Watch as puppets dance elegantly – controlled by a whole troupe of puppet masters – telling a story of the famous Legend of the Restored Sword of King Le, which is about Hoan Kiem Lake and a giant tortoise.
Ho Chi Minh was one of the most important leaders in Vietnamese history. His body is preserved in this mausoleum, laid to rest in a glass case so that visitors can pay their respects. Modest dress and quiet reverence are prerequisites while you’re inside.
Hoan Kiem Lake (Turtle Lake) is a popular hangout spot for locals and foreigners. On an island in the centre lies Ngoc Son Temple, linked by a graceful red bridge. It serves as a fabulous background for photos, and if you’re lucky you might catch couples doing their engagement photo shoots here too.
Dong Xuan Market is the largest market in Hanoi. Four storeys high, you can find all sorts of apparel, electronic items and food. Great for some shopping or to just experience the day-to-day life of the locals, you can practise bargaining here as it is a popular tourist market, and prices quoted are likely to be inflated.
Hanoi Old Quarter is a lively area where travellers can enjoy many fine examples of colonial architecture packed along narrow streets. This is the city’s ultimate shopping spot, and is full of cafés and restaurants to indulge in some delicious Vietnamese cuisine.
Built in the 15th century, this series of Buddhist temples are built into a mountain range in a maze of alleyways carved into the rock, with rich forests and flowing streams all around. It’s a little way from Hanoi – about 60 kilometres – but definitely worth the trip.
Located around two hours from Hanoi, Ba Vi National Park is a nature reserve famous for peaks, viewpoints, waterfalls, old French colonial churches and prisons. You can even find natural hot springs on the forest floor. It’s easy to spend a whole day here exploring before enjoying a meal in the restaurant near the entrance.
Built in 1911, this is one of the most elegant buildings in all of Hanoi, and visitors can enjoy opera and dance performances here to this day. It was modelled on the Paris Opera House, and the intricate design is even more magnificent at night when the cream-coloured floodlights are turned on.
This charming temple complex hosts the Imperial Academy, the oldest university in Vietnam. It was built in 1070 by Emperor Lý Thánh Tông’s dynasty to serve as a centre of learning, dedicated to the Chinese scholar Confucius.
This prison was built by the French in the 1880s, and was sarcastically named by American POWs as the Hanoi Hilton. Hoa Lo literally means, stove; it was certainly no Hilton. Senator John McCain was held here after his capture, and his uniform is on display.
This museum showcases the 54 different ethnic groups in Vietnam, all under one roof. It is interesting to browse through the displays and learn about the ethnic history of Vietnam. It’s closed on Mondays.
This pagoda is built on a single wooden pillar that’s just 1.25 metres in diameter. The story goes that heirless emperor Ly Thai Tong dreamt that he met Quan The Am Bo Tat, the Goddess of Mercy. Soon after, he married a young peasant girl who gave him a son. The pagoda was built between 1028 and 1054 to express his gratitude to the goddess.
This was one of the first structures built by the French colonial government in Indochina. Construction began in 1882 and finished in 1886, the whole church was built in neo-Gothic style, modelled after Notre Dame in Paris. Mass is still held inside several times a day.
This is one of Vietnam’s seven national museums and is perfect for those interested in wartime artillery. There are both indoor and outdoor displays of military artefacts, some dating from as far back as the Huong Vuong Era, which is considered the official start of Vietnam’s history.
This is the biggest freshwater lake in Hanoi. Located right in the centre of the city, it makes for a perfect evening walk. You can easily get to other places nearby and there are plenty of restaurants, bars and shops here to explore. Great photo opportunities await.
This museum is dedicated to the late Vietnamese leader, Ho Chi Minh, referred to lovingly as Uncle Ho. His life is chronicled in eight different sections, running from his upbringing and youth to his travels, ideologies and ultimately what led to the founding of the Vietnamese communist party. English descriptions are available, and it’s closed on Mondays.
This is a narrow street in the Old Quarter, where train tracks running right down the middle allow trains to pass terrifyingly close to the houses. The daily life of the locals have to be packed up multiple times a day when a train is scheduled to pass. It’s somewhat similar to Maeklong Railway Market in Thailand.
Book with our partner and we will earn a small commission.
These recommendations were updated on August 7, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.