what to do in hanoi

Hanoi, the chaotic capital city of Vietnam, the gem of the north, is really like no other city I have ever experienced, and I am about to tell you why!

Hanoi City is one of the places that you either love or hate. However, I do advise that you go there with an open mind, loads of patience and a great smile, after all you’re on holiday!

I recently spent more than a week in Hanoi – but why such a long time? Because you cannot get bored in one of the most bustling cities of, dare I say, all of PLANET EARTH? Okay, but what should you see in Hanoi? There are literally thousands of things to do and see, so summing them up is a very hard thing to do. Nonetheless, I have done my best!

Although it is one of the oldest capitals in the world, I assure you, Hanoi will quickly become one of your favorite places in Asia! Keep reading below to get to know what to do in Hanoi, the crazy Northern capital of Vietnam!

Let’s go! Here are my top things to do in Hanoi:

1. Explore Hanoi’s Old Town and the French Quarter

things to see in hanoi

There are so many things to see in Hanoi’s Old town! Hanoi’s architecture is famous because of its influence from the French colonialists, and this is especially the case with the French Quarter in Hanoi. With its old and decadent style, it has quite a romantic vibe that will make you fall in love with it (it certainly has made me)!

FUN FACT: You’ll notice that houses are tall and thin, and this is because of the property taxes, – the more space you take on the ground, the higher your taxes are! This definitely makes for very curious and interesting buildings such as the Music House.

If you’d like to see the best that Hanoi has to offer you should book this 7-hour Hanoi tour. You will see most of the landmarks in just one day, so it is perfect for those that are in a bit of a rush!

When strolling the streets of the Old Town, make sure you visit St Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi, a stunning catholic church built by the French; it’s Notre Dame’s twin! Entrance is free!

Alternatively, if you’d like to have a tour guide all to yourself so you can go at your own pace and ask all the questions you want, check out this 3-hour Hanoi tour, where you’ll discover the best sightseeing spots and even some hidden gems!

2. Chill at Hoan Kiem Lake

Chill at Hoan Kiem Lake

One of the most famous Hanoi tourist attractions, the Hoan Kiem Lake is a 12-hectare lake located in Hanoi’s city center. It is a great spot to people watch as locals love heading there with their families or even for a run!

Once you are at Hoan Kiem Lake, you’ll be able to spot the Turtle Tower – it is a beautiful ancient tower built in honor of the tale that names the lake and is easily the cutest tower in the country! You will also be able to visit the Temple of Jade Mountain – the tiny temple on the island in the middle of the lake that is connected to land by the very picturesque red Huc Bridge!

You can also relax by the lake or have a picnic, but make sure you take the mandatory stroll around it.

3. Take a walking tour

walking tour in hanoi vietnam

Walking tours are a must in every city! And here, it’s definitely the perfect way to enjoy some of the best Hanoi sightseeing.

When I was in Hanoi, I attended a free tour that my accommodation provider offered, and we couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Our Hanoi guide’s English and storytelling skills were very poor, and we felt like we lost the whole morning. Of course, we tipped him at the end, but we would’ve preferred to have been a bit more selective with our tour choice!

That’s why, if I were to go again, I would book a tour online through this 2-hour “Hanoi like a local” private tour. The local guide takes you exploring typical neighborhoods, spots where the locals hang out and the markets where they get their food, very off the beaten path!

PRICE: $25 USD for the walking tour

4. Explore Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

top things to do in hanoi

As soon as you land in Vietnam, you’ll start realizing how much Vietnamese people love their former president, the late Ho Chi Minh, as they even named a city after him!

That’s why visiting Ho Chi Minh Museum and his mausoleum, located in Hanoi, is such an important part of your trip. You can check out the gardens and the outside area for free such as the one pillar pagoda. However, if you’d like to go inside, you’ll have to pay a fee and stand in line, so head there a little before it opens!

PRO TIP: Make sure you wear appropriate clothing, as they won’t let you in if you’re showing your shoulders or knees!

OPENING HOURS: 8am to 11am

PRICE: Around $1.75 USD for the mausoleum, $2 for the museum

HOW TO GET THERE: 15 min taxi ride from the old quartier

5. Visit the Temple of Literature

hanoi what to do

One of the best things to do in Hanoi is to visit the Temple of Literature, a beautiful temple located in the embassy area of Hanoi. Built a thousand years ago in honor of Confucius, it was Vietnam’s first university and it is now one of the most famous Hanoi attractions!

It is so well preserved you can’t even tell it was built such a long time ago! The gardens are marvelous and it is such a calm and peaceful environment that it’s a wonder they could get so much studying done!

OPENING HOURS: 8am to 5pm

PRICE: $1.30 USD

HOW TO GET THERE: Just a 20 min walk from St Joseph’s Cathedral

6. Go to the Water Puppet Show

what to do in hanoi

One of the most famous things to do when in Hanoi is to attend the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre! Located right next to Hoan Kiem Lake, this puppet show is a world famous experience!

It consists of a 1000-year-old puppet show set in water with live music and it is definitely something you only see once – and what better place to see it than in its birthplace? If you’d like to skip the line, you can buy your tickets online here. Make sure you don’t miss it!

PRO TIP: Grab the tickets a couple days in advance if you’d like to get front row seats- you’re welcome!

PRICE: $9 USD for skip-the-line tickets

HOW TO GET THERE: It is right in Hoan Kiem Lake, in the old quarter

7. Visit Thang Long Imperial Citadel

hanoi trip

Also known as Hanoi Citadel, the Imperial city of Thang Long is a complex of stately buildings built more than a thousand years ago in the center of Hanoi!

Once used as a royal home, later, in the twentieth century, it served as a prison for the Japanese forces.  It is not as well preserved as they would like it to be, as Vietnam is a country that has just started growing, economically speaking, but it is a World Heritage listed site, and well worth a visit!

OPENING HOURS: 8am to 5pm, except for Mondays

PRICE: $1.30 USD

HOW TO GET THERE: Very close to the Temple of Literature, just a 20 min walk from St Joseph’s Cathedral

8. Explore Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton)

things to do in hanoi vietnam

One of my favorite places to visit in Hanoi is Hoa Lo Prison, better known as the Hanoi Hilton (how ironic, huh!).

A former prison during the Vietnam War, it’s been converted to a museum where you can learn about the life (and death) of the Vietnamese and foreign inmates during the war. It is extremely interesting and educational!

If you’re into it, it is said that because of all the terrible things that happened there, the prison is haunted, more specifically, the high security ward is! If you’re not into it, no worries, you’ll never find yourself alone in a room, I mean, there’ll be other tourists around for sure!

OPENING HOURS: 8am to 5pm

PRICE: $1.30 USD

HOW TO GET THERE: Right in the Old Quartier, just a 5 min walk from St Joseph’s Cathedral

9. Enjoy a show at the Opera House

hanoi places to visit

Built by the French during the colonization period, the Royal Opera House is a magnificent building and one of the most important landmarks in the city of Hanoi. You can attend an opera or dance show at this Vietnamese neoclassical landmark as it is still active!

Make sure you attend the Lang Toi – My Village: Vietnamese Culture Show! Enjoy this beautiful 1-hour traditional Vietnamese show with a couple of complimentary drinks on the house!

OPENING HOURS: 8am to 11pm

PRICE: $30 USD for the Lang Toi – My Village show, when bought through this link.

10. Visit Long Bien Bridge

Visit Long Bien Bridge

Did you know that Hanoi has its own Eiffel Tower? The only difference is that it is not a tower, but a bridge! It was designed by the same architect, Eiffel!

It is a wonderful chance for a picture as this is quite an old and quirky bridge; many people pose in the middle of the railway to take those perfect Instagram photos!

Talking about Instagram, if you would like to be shown around the most instagrammable spots by a local person with a motorbike, check out this tour!

Once you’ve seen the bridge, make sure you head to the Long Bien Market as well! It is the second biggest market in Hanoi, the place where all the locals go to buy their produce and fresh veggies!

NOTE: Be careful when exploring this bridge, it is still functioning so trains do go past! Moreover, when I went there, I could see that the floor was not that trustworthy, so I wouldn’t recommend it for those afraid of heights!

11. Grab a drink at Train Street

During our first night in Hanoi, we were going for a walk when we managed to find Train Street. The most picturesque of the Hanoi streets ended up being our favorite spot to chill every evening! It is really one of the most unique things to do in Hanoi at night!

Along the street, you can find dozens of bars and restaurants that have taken advantage of the street’s reputation! As its name depicts, it is a street where the train goes through. It is such a narrow street that every time a train goes past, the bar owners lock up their doggies, pick up the chairs and make sure that everyone is safe right next to a wall!

hanoi travel guide

It makes for a great place to meet fellow travelers and also take awesome photos, so put on your favorite outfit and get ready for a night filled with happy hour and cool trains!

NOTE: Make sure you head there at least 15 min before a train goes past. I think the perfect time is either 6:45pm for the 7pm train, or 7:30pm for the 7:45pm train

HOW TO GET THERE: Just a 10 min walk east of St Joseph’s Cathedral

12. Check out Vietnamese Women Museum

what to see in hanoi

One of my favorite things to do in Hanoi is visit the Vietnamese Women Museum, which is a very affordable museum that showcases women’s roles in Vietnamese society throughout history.

You can learn about the different ethnic people living in Vietnam and how their traditions differ from one another. The museum displays traditional garments, typical clothing and tools!

Finally, you can also educate yourself about the role of Vietnamese women during the war, and learn about some female revolutionaries that helped the country and its people!

OPENING HOURS: 8am to 5pm

PRICE: $1.30 USD

HOW TO GET THERE: Just a 10 min walk south of St Joseph’s Cathedral

13. Explore the West Lake Area

best places in hanoi

This area of Hanoi is quite an overlooked place for visitors to the Vietnam capital city. The West Lake is the biggest freshwater lake in Hanoi City and it makes for a beautiful morning stroll when you are not fully ready to hit the city yet!

It is also quite a trendy area, booming with fine dining restaurants and cute cafés; it’s a favorite spot for all expats to hang out!

A must visit when you head to the West Lake area, make sure you check out Tran Quoc Pagoda, the oldest pagoda in the city!

14. Learn about Vietnamese society at the Vietnamese Museum of Ethnology

where to go in hanoi

A great way to learn about Vietnamese history and the history of its different ethnicities, is to visit the Vietnamese Museum of Ethnology.

In a country with 54 different ethnicities, there is definitely a lot to say about Vietnamese society. The way people live, the religion they practice or even how they get along with one another; it is the best way to learn about multicultural Vietnam!

Make sure you don’t miss this hidden gem in Hanoi as it is probably one of the most interesting and informative museums in Vietnam’s capital!

OPENING HOURS: 8:30am to 5:30pm, except for Mondays

PRICE: $1.70 USD

15. Admire the view from Lotte Observation Deck

hanoi sights

This is a real hidden treasure in Hanoi! Not many tourists know about this observation deck but I am sure that will change quite soon as it becomes more and more popular!

Lotte Observation Deck is a glass deck located on the 65th floor of the Lotte Center Building in Hanoi! Enjoy the best views that Hanoi has to offer from a glass sky walk that will make you feel just like you are “walking on Hanoi’s clouds”.

You can buy your ticket here.

OPENING HOURS: 08:30-23:00 (Ticketing Counter Closes 22:00)

PRICE: $9 USD

BONUS 1 – Top things to do in Hanoi for Foodies

Vietnam in general and Hanoi in particular, are at the center of Asian cuisine! If you consider yourself a food connoisseur, you chose the right destination! That’s why I have selected a few of my favorite things to do, from a food obsessed traveler’s point of view.

Check below for my favorite foodie activities, meals and restaurants where you can try all sorts of culinary delights in Hanoi:

1. Try egg coffee

things to do around hanoi

You’ve decided to go to Vietnam so you should know that coffee is going to be a big part of your diet during your trip; whether it is Vietnamese coffee or egg coffee, that’s up to you!

You might already know about Vietnamese coffee; it’s got quite a chocolatey flavor in my opinion and it is dripping coffee! Vietnamese usually have it with condensed milk, but you can have it black.

Check out this tea and coffee ceremony in order to become an expert! You can spend 2 hours learning the history of Vietnamese tea and coffee, and what’s even better, learning how to make them!

However, you might not have heard of egg coffee. It was invented in Hanoi and it is Vietnamese coffee with a cream made out of whisked egg yolks. Sounds a bit risky? Well, that’s what we travel for, isn’t it? You can learn more about it out here!

Honestly, it is delicious! If you like sweets or desserts, you’ll love it, and even if you’re not a fan of sweets, I think you’ll love it too!

PRICE: $10 USD for the Tea & Coffee ceremony.

2. Try the best Vietnamese street food

hanoi vietnam itinerary

The best thing about travelling through South East Asia is that you can go without cooking the whole time! The food is so cheap, even Vietnamese people eat out, every day, a couple of times a day.

Traveling in Hanoi not only consists of beautiful sightseeing but also delicious food! Street food is available literally everywhere and it’s so affordable because people specialize in making just 1 to 4 different dishes to keep costs down! Also, it is usually either noodles or rice, so that definitely helps, too!

To experience the Vietnamese food culture at its best, book this awesome 4-hour street food tour! They take you around downtown Hanoi exploring the best restaurants making traditional Hanoi dishes, and it includes a ticket to the Water Puppet Show! What a steal!

Alternatively, for a more personal experience, you should book this 3-hour Hanoi private food tour. It’ll be you, your foodie local guide and a ton of yummy traditional meals!

Check below for my list of favourite restaurants and dishes!

NOTE: While travelling I usually advise going all the way, trying everything you want to because we are here to enjoy it! You might get a little upset stomach at the beginning, especially if you’re coming right from your home country (it might be a good idea to bring some medicine for food poisoning too, just in case). But as soon as your stomach gets used to it, you’ll be able to enjoy all the Vietnamese flavors like a pro!

RELATED READ: Things to do in Ho Chi Minh

3. Visit Dong Xuan Market

How many days should I spend in Hanoi

What would an Asian trip be without a trip to the market? Even though it can be a bit of a shock for your nostrils, it is definitely a must do!

Dedicated more to local businesses, it is one of the few places in Hanoi where you won’t feel pressured by the shopkeepers, which is, to be honest, such a relief!

It somehow feels like one of the best non touristy things to do in Hanoi, because there are hardly any tourists around, at least when I was there!

OPENING HOURS: 7am to 9pm

PRICE: Free

HOW TO GET THERE: Just a 15 min walk north of St Joseph’s Cathedral

4. Take a food tour

non touristy things to do in hanoi

If there’s a place where you should do a street food tour, that’s Hanoi! North Vietnam is such a culinary rich area that there is not enough time in the world to try it all, so a street food tour is a great option. It is such a good value, keeping in mind all the different things that you get to try, and you can learn a lot about the Vietnamese culture from the local guides!

This was my first street food tour ever and it was such an awesome experience that I cannot recommend it enough! Such a good value for 3 hours of eating!

Alternatively, check out this 3-hour food tour with a cyclo ride included, can it even get more Vietnamese than that? Or you can take this Old Quarter Food tour, for the best food in the best Hanoi neighborhood!

NOTE: Make sure you do it as soon as you get to Hanoi. That way, if you love something you can order it again some other time! Also bring an empty stomach!

PRICE: $20 USD

BONUS 2 – Day trips from Hanoi

hanoi guide

Vietnam has been quite a popular destination for the last 20 to 30 years, and Hanoi as well! That’s why it’s quite easy to navigate as a tourist since most of the sights are accessible by train, bus or boat. It’s all been very well thought of!

When thinking about day trips to take from Hanoi, the variety is quite diverse! You can just head to a tour office and check it out for yourself, although I always recommend comparing prices between companies as plenty of times, they sell the same thing. 😉

1. Halong Bay

things to do around hanoi

Before you start your trip it might seem quite hard to believe that it is possible to do Halong Bay as a day trip, but it is! And you’ll see in Hanoi that plenty of tour operators offer this day trip! For instance, check out this Halong Bay tour, where you’ll be able to admire the beautiful views of Halong Bay, explore a limestone cave in one of the islands and have a yummy seafood lunch!

hanoi travel guide

Halong Bay is a stunning group of little islands that you typically explore on a cruise. There is literally every type of cruise available, such as one to three-day cruises, party cruises, luxury cruises or adventure cruises! Because each is tailored to a different type of traveller, it is likely that you’ll have the experience of your life!

For the adventurous ones, check out this Halong Bay Tour, that includes a trek to the summit of the Titop Island and that takes you exploring the Luon Cave. I’ve done it and the view is unbelievable!

UPDATE: I have also written about my experience taking a Halong Bay tour here. Check it out if you want to know all the details!

2. Cat Ba Island

best places in hanoi

If you really want to see how Vietnamese people have fun, head to Cat Ba Island, located next to Halong Bay! It is more of a party spot than a scenic one! Vietnamese love taking their families to this island and enjoying the many restaurants, seafood, alcohol and overall good weather.

For more info about Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island you should definitely read my Halong Bay post where I explain the best way to explore this little slice of heaven on earth!

Cat Ba Island also has a beautiful National Park, quite easy to get to by public transportation and if you wake up early enough, you’ll have it all to yourself! Do not hesitate to climb to the peak of the mountain, it’s on my top 3 most beautiful views in Vietnam!

However, if you really want to focus on nature and you want to do Cat Ba and Ha Long Bay all in one, this 10 hour-tour/cruise is honestly the best option out there. You get to swim in Ha Long Bay, kayak through Lan Ha Bay and cycle around Cat Ba National Park. It’s truly such a good deal!

PRICE: $70 USD for the tour

3. Hoa Lu & Tam Coc

hanoi guide

It is so easy to explore North Vietnam while based in Hanoi, however many of these day trips would be impossible to do in one day without a tour. The tour operators organise everything and make it run smoothly so you can make the most of the day!

Such is the case of Hoa Lu, which used to be Vietnam’s capital during the X and XI centuries and it’s no wonder why! It is surrounded by rice fields and limestone mountains which make it look like Halong Bay on earth! Very close to it, and one of my favorite places in Vietnam, would be Tam Coc! It is a little village located outside of Ninh Binh that is the perfect spot to start your exploration of the Hoa Lu region!

You can check out this 1-day Hoa Lu and Tam Coc tour. They take you on a boat trip to Tam Coc, you get to visit Hoa Lu as well and the top of the Mua Caves where you can climb to the top of the mountain and get a great view of the whole valley! And you’ll be back in Hanoi at night!

PRICE: $48 USD for the tour

4. Trang An and the Bai Dinh Pagoda

hanoi places to visit

The area that covers Tam Coc and Hoa Lu is called the Trang An Landscape Complex. It is on the UNESCO World Heritage list and is quite a popular spot for its incredible nature and unbelievable sights! It also contains the largest and oldest pagoda in Vietnam, the Bai Dinh Pagoda!

Make sure you check out this 8-hour Trang An tour; it takes you rowing down the river through this stunning landscape and you get to visit the unique Bai Dinh Pagoda!

If you’re looking for a full on experience check out this 11-hour Trang An tour. You will be doing the same activities as the tour above but you will have more time to soak in Vietnam’s natural beauty and culture!

5. Perfume Pagoda

visit hanoi

One of my favorite things to do around Hanoi is to visit the Perfume Pagoda or Huong Pagoda – it’s definitely another must on my list of day trips from Hanoi. It’s a beautiful Buddhist temple complex set in a super scenic landscape that makes it the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city!

On this 1 day Perfume Pagoda tour, you’ll get to enjoy the Huong Tich Cave, stunning landscapes and a row boat ride down the stream to the Perfume Pagoda; they will also pick you up and drop you off from your hotel!

PRICE: $34 USD for the tour

6. Mai Chau Valley

hanoi attractions

I have heard so many good things about Mai Chau Valley that I really wish I wouldn’t have missed it! Sapa’s little sister wouldn’t have disappointed, but unfortunately, we couldn’t make it.

However, my friend went there and she has told me all about it! And honestly, she was raving about Mai Chau Valley! It’s just a short distance from Hanoi and you can join this 12-hour Mai Chau tour for a great chance to escape the polluted city and get a breath of fresh air from the countryside while enjoying the stunning landscape on a bike ride and getting to meet the local tribe!

PRICE: $60 USD for the tour

7. Ba Vi National Park

Ba Vi National Park is a great place to spend the day! Just a couple hours’ motorbike ride from Hanoi, it is centered around a mountain with three peaks.

The lush scenery and gorgeous tropical forest won’t disappoint when you visit it. It is also a famous spot for nearby tribes to find their medicinal plants as there’s a great diversity of plants and trees which is quite obvious when you visit it!

HOW TO GET THERE: On public transportation, there are 2 public buses from Hanoi: number 74 from My Dinh station or 214 from Yen Nghia station. It takes 2 hours to reach the final stop and from there you can either walk the 5km until you reach the park or get a taxi.

CAUTION: If you choose to ride a motorbike there, be very careful when driving it through Vietnam. It is not the safest of places, and accidents are common!

Hanoi Tourism – Practical Information about the city

things to see in hanoi

In order to enjoy all the good things Hanoi has to offer to the fullest, it is important to be savvy about your trip and know all the essentials before getting there! That’s why I have listed below my recommendations regarding practical information about the city.

Keep reading below to learn everything you need to know about Hanoi:

Where to stay in Hanoi – best hotels for all budgets

hanoi travel

The great thing about Hanoi being the capital of a South East Asian country is that there is a wide range of accommodation for every type of budget! Being that Vietnam is the backpacker destination that it is, there’s no shortage of budget accommodations, however, it’s becoming a family destination as well, and a luxury destination, so they’re catering to all types of clientele.

UPDATE: Please check out my post on Where to stay in Hanoi where I give more accommodation options not only broken down by price, but also by areas to stay and accommodation types!

Luxury ($160 USD and up):

Why not stay at a five-star hotel during your trip to Hanoi? You can check out the Oriental Jade Hotel, a stunning Asian styled hotel, with an infinity pool and great views of the city. Or why not stay at the O’Gallery Classy Hotel and Spa where you can relax in the evenings at their rooftop bar and see how the city comes to life underneath you! Guests find it exceptional!

Middle-priced (from $56 to $160 USD):

If you’re looking for more of a middle range option you can stay at the JM Marvel Hotel & Spa, one of the most sophisticated looking hotels in Hanoi. Enjoy the best customer service and their Vietnamese coffee as a welcome present! Otherwise, check out Acoustic Hotel & Spa, right in the French Quartier, where you’ll be able to soak in the jacuzzi and relax at the spa, but don’t forget to check out their rooftop!

Budget (up to $56 USD):

If you are travelling on a budget, don’t panic! Hanoi is the place to go because you’ll be able to have an awesome experience for a very low price.

For instance, you can check Bonsella Prestige Hotel & Spa, located in Hanoi’s old city. It’s the place to go if you are not ready to give up on luxury even if your budget is tight! Stay at the Smile Homestay and Hostel, if you’re looking for a hostel vibe and to meet new people; it’s super clean and has great staff!

Money and Prices in Hanoi

what to do in hanoi for 3 days

The type of currency used in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND), and it is the only currency used. It is quite safe to withdraw money at the Hanoi airport, and I would advise you to! It’s going to be helpful if you haven’t booked a transfer to the city and need some cash to get a taxi or to pay for your hotel.You will also find some ATMs from reputable banks on your way out of the airport.

Usually, travellers find Vietnam an affordable place, and Hanoi, being the capital city, a place with a wide variety of options that are suitable for every budget! You can definitely find luxurious hotels and fine dining restaurants, but more often than not, the greatest of the experiences are the most affordable ones that locals use.

  • A meal in an inexpensive restaurant for 1 person – $2.50 USD
  • Dinner for 2 in a restaurant – $20 USD
  • A night in a hotel (very approximate) – $40 USD
  • Taxi – $0.50 per km + $0.45 USD initial charge
  • A bottle of water – $0.80 USD
  • Domestic beer – $0.50 USD
  • Average price for a museum – $3 to $5 USD
  • 1 l of gas (1/4 gallon) – $0.80 USD

Is Hanoi a safe city

As you can see, Hanoi is a really affordable city and so is Vietnam overall. My advice when you head there is for you to splurge and enjoy your holiday! There are only so many times one goes to Hanoi!

TIPPING CULTURE: Tipping is not a big thing in Vietnam; however, it is very much appreciated! Take into consideration that workers’ rights are not at the very best in Vietnam, and many people work 7 days a week without a day off. So, if you like how someone has treated you show it!

NOTE: You might notice that many employees in Vietnam are usually on their phones and don’t look too amused or interested in serving you but be patient because many of them are overworked and have to show up at work for sometimes more than 12 hours a day!

How to get from the airport to the city

hanoi travel guide

Whether you are arriving from another country in South East Asia or from back home, chances are that you are getting to Hanoi by air. Road connections with other countries such as Laos are not so good, so flying ends up being the most common option.

You are going to land in Noi Bai International Airport (HAN), which is Hanoi’s biggest and only airport. Below you’ll find several options for you to choose from, if you’d like to know how to get from the Hanoi airport to the city center.

By Taxi 

As you leave the airport you will have some taxi drivers that will try to get your business; try to politely decline it, as they will overcharge you.

You can instead head to the taxi counters where different taxi companies offer you their services and the prices are way more reasonable. It should cost around $15 USD per trip, for the whole taxi (4 ppl).

By Public Shuttle

A very popular option among tourists is the public shuttle. The price is around $2 USD. It takes around 1 hour to reach the Old Town and then you can either walk or get a Grab, a South East Asian form of Uber, to your lodging!

You can pick up the shuttle right outside the arrivals gate, there’s no way you can miss it!

By Public Bus

If you’re feeling adventurous you can take the public bus for as little as $0.30 USD! If you’re heading to the French Quartier or Old town, you should get number 7 or 17.

Bear in mind that they take around 1h 30 min to get there if the traffic is not too jammed! But it is a very popular option among locals and tourists alike!

By Private Shuttle

You can arrange this with your accommodation; just get in touch with them right after you make your booking and they can arrange it for you! Usually each one of them has their own rates that also depend on where your hotel is located, so feel free to drop them an email with all the info.

You can also book a shuttle through this link, a really good option when you are travelling in a group. It is a door to door service for a pretty good price!

Transportation in Hanoi City

Oh, the crazy Vietnamese traffic, am I right? You’ve probably heard of it, but you have no clue until you get there! And Hanoi is no exception, really chaotic! However, most of us learn to navigate it after a couple of days!

PRO TIP: The key to crossing the road safely is eye contact and a slow but steady walk. Just go for it, look at the drivers and walk slowly without stopping unnecessarily. Usually the bikes don’t stop, they just drive around you! If you are travelling with your family or group of friends, stick together! If I scared you a bit don’t worry, it is hectic but it is also quite slow!

Regarding modes of transportation, my advice is to walk around town, as I consider it safer and faster than riding a motorbike! And for those occasions that we really need transportation, get a phone app called “Grab”!

By taxi/Grab

I must admit that during my stay in Hanoi I never got a taxi, I always went for Grabs when necessary! I am a little shy when it comes to haggling so I avoid it at all costs!

Grab is the South East Asian Uber and it is, literally, a life saver! You can download the Grab app, and you don’t even need to enter your card details if you don’t want to. Once you select your route, it shows you the price, and once you accept the price you just have to wait a few minutes for your Grab and pay with cash at the end of the ride!

RELATED READ: Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh

By public bus

traveling by bus in hanoi

If you’re adventurous you can try to get the public bus in Hanoi! It is definitely an experience, and if you reach the destination that you meant to reach, that’s something to be proud of! It is definitely a great choice if you’re travelling by yourself and you can’t split a Grab fare, plus it’s also eco-friendlier!

It costs $0.30 USD (paid in VND obviously) and you can find out the routes by downloading the Hanoibus app or searching directly through Google maps. Watch out for pickpockets and always carry change and you’ll be fine!

NOTE: When getting public transport or taxis, better have lots of change because your driver is quite likely “not to have any”, whether you believe it or not 😉

Rent a motorbike

best things to do in hanoi

I don’t think my conscience would be at peace if I recommended you rent a motorbike in Hanoi! We personally didn’t, even though we had been doing it for the whole of South East Asia, and I think we made the right choice!

Most of our friends that rented a motorbike in Hanoi had some kind of accident, not extreme accidents as the traffic is quite slow, but an accident nonetheless. I also think it’s not a very smart way to travel in Hanoi because there are traffic jams all the time, you’ll be breathing in all the pollution first hand and locals are way more experienced than you are!

UPDATE: Yulia, the founder of this site, says they did rent a motorbike and it was indeed an adventure! Riding a motorbike in Bali or Thailand is NOTHING compared to Vietnam, so she only recommends you rent one if you REALLY know what you are doing.

what to do in hanoi

However, if you are really keen on riding one but you are not confident in your driving skills, you can book this Motorbike tour where you will be driven around town checking out the most important landmarks of the city, just like a local!

CAUTION: If you do decide to get a motorbike, I’m sure that if you exercise a lot of caution and wear your helmet, you will be fine. You can rent them literally anywhere in the city. Ask you hotel/hostel and they will help you arrange it. Alternatively, you can rent them online through this company or this one.

8 MUST try food in Hanoi

hanoi places of interest

This part of the post was the hardest bit for me to write because Hanoi is such a foodie heaven, reminiscing about all the traditional meals makes me miss it so much!

I have to say that Vietnamese food is not vegetarian or vegan friendly. However, you can find veggie restaurants throughout the city but it will be a bit different from the traditional meals.

Check below my list of food to try while in Hanoi:

  1. Bun Cha – Probably my favorite Vietnamese dish is this noodle soup with barbecued pork, and fresh veggies and herbs! The taste is just indescribable!
  2. Pho – Vietnamese noodle soup that consists of rice noodles and beef, it’s an iconic dish and a must try!
  3. Egg Coffee – Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk and whisked egg yolk – delicious!
  4. Mien Luon – Eel soup, a local delicacy!
  5. Banh Mi – Super affordable baguette sandwich with veggies, meat and pate! A great dish when you just can’t eat another soup!
  6. Banh Cuon – Steamed rice rolls filled with minced mushrooms and pork, super soft and perfect for breakfast!
  7. Goi Cuon – The classic Vietnamese spring rolls; can’t leave Vietnam without trying them out!
  8. Bun Bo Nam Bo – beef noodle salad, really yummy for meat lovers!

There is definitely lots more dishes to try; I think you could safely stay in Hanoi for a month and never repeat a meal! However, the dishes above are either my favorite or the most traditional ones. Let me know what you think of them when you return!

Great Hanoi restaurants and cafes

hanoi city

Choosing a place to eat is a daunting task in a city where even locals eat out at least once a day, if not twice, on a normal basis. You can imagine the number of restaurants and street food available in Hanoi!

But, where do you go in Hanoi for the best food? I have created a list with my favorite spots for breakfast, lunch or dinner! But before I get into it, you should know that many restaurants in Vietnam are just called by what their signature dish is called! This can make it a bit confusing for you to find the place, however, I have linked you to their website when needed!

Here you go!

  • Check out Bun Bo Nam Bo, a great place to try the famous Vietnamese beef noodle salad!
  • Head to Bun Cha Ta restaurant for the best Bun Cha in town. If it doesn’t become your favorite food in the world, we just couldn’t be friends!
  • Eat at Pho Suong for a taste of the best Pho out there. Why not have it for breakfast just like Vietnamese people do? I have even had it in summer. It’s delicious!
  • Banh Cuon Ba Hanh is an awesome place to have some banh cuon, with some vegetarian options available! This is also a breakfast food or mid morning snack!
  • For our lovely vegan readers, you can check out this restaurant called Minh Chay Vegan Food. Heck, even if you’re not vegan you should go because it has the best vegan food with a Vietnamese twist!
  • Gourmet Corner Restaurant is for more of a fine dining experience with the fanciest version of Vietnamese food around!

RELATED READ: Best Tours to Take in Halong Bay, Vietnam

When to visit the city

hanoi sightseeing

The recommended times to visit Hanoi are spring and autumn, which is from September to November or from March to April. This is the time when temperatures are milder and it is nicer to walk around the city.

However, I visited Hanoi in July. It was rather hot and we had a couple of stormy days, but that’s pretty much it! It didn’t deter us from going anywhere. You’ll realize that Hanoi comes alive at night so, waking up late is even recommended!

We also found that there were quite a lot of tourists so I imagine that it would be quite packed in high season but still worth it! It still is one of the most populated cities in the world so you’ll be able to see plenty of Vietnamese people 😉

Insurance for traveling in Vietnam

Getting traveler’s insurance is a must when travelling to Vietnam! It’s such a fun and chaotic country so there are chances you’ll be taking a few risks! There are so many fun things to do that you don’t want your vacation to be spoiled by a silly accident and a large bill.

World Nomads is a very popular insurance company chosen by all types of travellers when travelling to South East Asia. It is super reliable and it can cover you literally anywhere. Have a look at their reviews, they’re always fantastic!

How safe is Vietnam and Hanoi in particular?

is hanoi safe

But, is Hanoi a safe city? Vietnam is quite safe, so if you’re thinking about travelling solo through Vietnam, go ahead! It’s a country that it is very used to tourism and super easy to navigate.

However, you have to be quite wary of scams. South East Asia is, in my opinion, a big hub for tourist scams, especially Vietnam. Pretty much everywhere you are charged more because you are a tourist; that’s a fact, and unfortunately, there’s not much to be done about it. Just make sure you know the price that you should be paying and haggle!

Many times, travellers pay for add-ons that end up not happening, so if you are going to purchase a VIP bus for instance, make sure you check the reviews beforehand! Usually, buying online is a little bit safer in those cases.

When in Vietnam, I found that the internet was my best friend to find out prices and such, and also asking fellow travellers! Please see the section below on getting a sim card in Vietnam.

My advice is that if you can buy your souvenirs somewhere else in Vietnam, do that! Hanoi is usually a bit more expensive. Also, be mindful when you go into a shop- if you’re the first client of the day and you don’t buy anything, it’s a bad omen for the business owner! Some Vietnamese people are superstitious like that!

SIM cards

things to do in hanoi

Many of us head to Vietnam for at least a month, if not three! That’s why getting a SIM card is a great idea if you’d like to enjoy the convenience of having internet at any time and therefore being able to get a Grab anytime 😉

That being said, I found that throughout all South East Asia, there was free Wi-Fi in plenty of places and Hanoi is not an exception. And, in a worst case scenario, there’s always a hotel reachable where you can borrow some Wi-Fi.

However, if you’d like to purchase a SIM card because you are going off the grid a bit, I’d advise you to get Viettel. It’s one of the three most largest phone providers in Vietnam, and it offers good coverage at reasonable prices.

For your convenience, you can purchase this SIM card when you arrive at the airport. However, some people are wary of these stalls as there’s a rumour that cards sold for tourists in unofficial places end up breaking after a while. You can always take that risk if you’re not staying for a long time, but if you are, head to one of the official stores in the city.

The prices and offers vary a little between phone providers, but overall, it’s usually around $8 USD for the SIM card and a decent amount of data per month.

NOTE: Always make sure your phone is unlocked, otherwise it will not work!


Conclusion

hanoi what to do

Thank you for reading this crazy long article!

Actually, it was my pleasure writing it for you! It really made me relive all my happy memories from when I visited Hanoi a couple of months ago, and I hope you can’t wait to visit Hanoi now!

By now, you must be an expert on things to do in Hanoi and you’ll be like a Hanoi travel guide with legs when it comes to day trips from Hanoi or practical information when travelling to Vietnam’s capital city.

I hope you found this article useful for your Hanoi trip, and you follow my advice. Let me know what you think in the comments below, and let me know about your experience when you come back (no need to tell me about how much you loved Bun Cha, that’s just plain cruel).

Happy travels!

Arantxa


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things to do in hanoi

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things to do in hanoi