The 14 Most Fascinating Museums and Galleries in Hanoi, Vietnam

| San Nguyen / Unsplash
Rhonda Carrier

Hanoi is home to a variety of museums, covering a wide range of subjects from prehistory and anthropology to, quite naturally, war. So take some time to investigate the rich cultural history of Vietnam, and explore at least one of these spots when you visit.

As the country’s capital, Hanoi packs the lion’s share of Vietnam’s major museums and cultural institutions into its noisy, chaotic, colourful streets. You may be surprised to find out just how many there are here and the array on topics they cover between them. Here are some of the best to discover as you visit Hanoi.

1. Hỏa Lò Prison Museum

Memorial, Museum

Everyday life in Vietnam
© Valery Sharifulin / Getty Images
The remains of this penitentiary, ironically dubbed the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ by US soldiers who were held captive here during the Vietnam War, chronicles the experiences of prisoners of war in Vietnam, from Vietnamese revolutionary martyrs who suffered at the hands of French colonialists to American POWs. Displays include a French guillotine, chilly cells with rusted iron stocks and the flight suit and parachute of John McCain, war vet and later US Senator and Republican presidential nominee.

2. Vietnam National Fine Arts Museum

Museum, Art Gallery

In a gorgeous colonial building once used by the French Ministry of Information, this is a treasure trove of traditional, religious, modern and contemporary Vietnamese art. Think everything from ancient Champa carvings to 20th-century folk paintings and 21st-century abstract artworks.

3. Vietnamese Women’s Museum


This little gem packs a punch, with displays on ethnic minorities (including many vividly coloured costumes), Vietnamese women’s role in wartime, women as street vendors and the subject of maternity, including single motherhood. All combined, they give a great overview of Vietnamese history and culture. If you come with kids, there’s a discovery zone/games room to educate and amuse.

4. Vietnam Museum of Ethnology


Traditional water puppet show at the Performing Arts Revival Theatre at the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. Vietnamese water puppetry was originated in the villages of the Red River Delta area of northern Vietnam a thousand years ago. Hanoi, northern Vietnam
© Blaine Harrington III / Getty Images
Located a half-hour taxi ride from the Old Quarter, this captivating exploration of the 54 ethnic minorities of Vietnam bears witness to the religious and cultural ceremonies and everyday rituals of the country’s many different peoples in a city where old and new clash. The highlight is the open-air exhibition of actual houses from various regions, which you can go into and explore. Not to be confused with the one-room Museum of Anthropology in the University of Social Science and Humanity.

5. Vietnam Military History Museum


Outdoor displays of tanks, captured aircraft including rusting US jets, helicopters and artillery pieces make this a good bet if you’re in Hanoi with kids, while inside the three buildings you can see everything from further weaponry to war propaganda, photographs and documents. Together, they cover not only the Vietnam (American) War but the wars against China and France. Climb the flag tower for wide-ranging city views. Military buffs may also want to make time for the Vietnam People’s Air Force Museum on a disused airfield on the outskirts of the city, with MiGs, helicopters, army trucks, radar, artillery pieces and more.

6. Ho Chi Minh Museum


Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, Hanoi, Vietnam
Hans-Jürgen Weinhardt / Unsplash
This museum and mausoleum of the man who changed the face of modern Vietnam won’t detain you for a huge amount of time due to the propagandist vibe and lack of decent signage and overall context to the exhibits – hire a private guide for the best experience. But it’s still well worth a visit, for the surreal way it combines displays on his military accomplishments with ’70s-era pieces of installation art inspired by Soviet Social Realism. The triumphalist concrete museum and mausoleum buildings are worth a visit in their own right, too, and the gardens they are set in are lovely for a stroll.

7. Hanoi Police Museum – Museum of People's Public Security


Small but interesting (and free), this place has welcoming staff who speak English well and are happy to talk you through the displays covering the history of the Vietnamese police force from French colonial times to today – although the signage is good if you just want to drift around by yourself. Displays on costumes, drug smuggling, fake goods, kidnappings, scam rings and the like all combine to give a broader picture of Vietnam’s society through the ages.

8. Ho Chi Minh Trail Museum


Off the beaten track, necessitating a taxi ride outside the city and hence often overlooked, this venue offers a unique insight into the logistical military supply routes than ran from Communist North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia to South Vietnam – and to the incredible effort and determination that went into keeping them running in the fact of constant bombardment. This is another good one with kids – as well as two floors of exhibits, a short movie and various vehicles, there are re-created tunnels to clamber through in the lush gardens.

9. Nguyen Van Huyen Museum


A museum charting the life and career of Vietnam’s longest-serving Minister of Education might not grab you by the throat as a must-see, but this is a little wonder, with tours of the four floors of photos and documents and the pretty garden given by the professor’s granddaughter-in-law – a delightful personal touch (she serves guests tea, too). The life and family history of this outstanding scholar, ethnologist and patriot (the first Vietnamese person to earn a PhD at the Sorbonne) provide compelling insight into Vietnam’s history and transformation through the 20th century. The museum is about a 30-minute taxi ride from central Hanoi – combine it with a visit to the nearby Lai Xa Photography Museum and a wander about this small semi-rural town itself.

10. Nha San Collective

Art Gallery

Nha San Studio was the country’s first and longest-running artist-run space, founded by Tran Luong and Nguyen Manh Duc in 1998, and was known for nurturing Vietnam’s first crop of avant garde artists and promoting Hanoi’s experimental arts scene. The space was initially housed in Nguyen Manh Duc’s home, a Muong house built on wooden stilts. The studio had to be moved several times throughout the years, including a stint at the now-defunct Zone 9, which housed a dozen or so artistic endeavours, including galleries, shops and cafés, in a compound of colonial-era buildings and a former pharmaceutical factory. It was shut down in 2011. After its closure, the group existed in the form of mobile and guerrilla projects before finally forming Nha San Collective in 2013 and finding a new home in Ba Dinh. Recommended by Chiara Cui.

11. Manzi Art Space

Cafe, Vietnamese, Coffee, Tea , Dessert, Pastries

Located in the centre of Hanoi, Manzi has established itself as one of the most reputable galleries in the city, consistently showcasing daring talents and promising young artists and holding exhibits, workshops and performances that challenge stereotypes and perspectives. Manzi funds itself through two establishments: an exhibition space/artist’s residency and a café/shop that’s housed in a quaint colonial-era villa that serves coffee as good as the art that hangs on its walls. Both are located within walking distance of each other and neither should be missed. Recommended by Chiara Cui.

12. Work Room Four

Art Gallery

Established in 2013 by Claire Driscoll and Dorian Gibb, Work Room Four is a multidisciplinary art and design studio with a primary focus on creative collaboration. Apart from its work in design consultancy, it also manages a small gallery in a modest space in West Lake, Hanoi’s expat enclave. The group is also the brains behind Art For You, an annual collaboration with Manzi that provides affordable art to the public. Recommended by Chiara Cui.

13. Green Palm Gallery

Art Gallery

Located in the heart of Hanoi’s French Quarter, just a stone’s throw away from the iconic Hanoi Opera House, Green Palm Gallery features work from a roster of local luminaries and emerging artists, with pieces that seek to challenge the status quo in the form of both traditional and conceptual art. If you’re interested in buying one of the works, you can trust their highly trained and knowledgable staff to give you the lowdown on each artist. And should you purchase a piece, each artwork will come with its own certificate of authenticity. Recommended by Chiara Cui.

14. CUC Gallery

Art Gallery

Located in Keangnam Landmark Tower, the country’s highest skyscraper at 72 storeys, CUC Gallery is committed to supporting Vietnam’s fine arts by hosting an array of events and exhibits that feature the work of local contemporary artists. It was included among 20 galleries from across Asia in SEA Focus 2020, which hosted the selected galleries at Singapore’s Gillman Barracks. Recommended by Chiara Cui.

This is a rewrite of an original article by Toni Marie Ford.

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