You can't talk about Vietnamese history and not discuss Hanoi. Whether we're discussing its dynastic roots or more recent wartime memories, this city has played a major role.
Once you begin walking around, you'll see just how important this role has been. In our guide to Hanoi, we hope to help you organize your trip so that you can fully enjoy all the historical sights this city has to offer.
There are a few major time periods represented around Hanoi. There's the Dai Viet and Medieval periods, which together ran from 1010-1831. In 1831 it became Hanoi (between rivers) under the Nguyen dynasty. From 1837-1936, it fell under French occupation, and this is when a lot of the architecture still present today was built.
The final period represented is the turbulent 20th century, when Vietnam was riddled with war. From about 1941-1976, Vietnam dealt with the Japanese, the French, and the US before achieving its own independence. Hanoi is where Ho Chi Minh set up his government, and Ba Dinh Square is a must-see if you're interested in him and his history.
Modern Hanoi also seems to be quite the place for expats as teaching English in Vietnam grows in popularity. The city is incredibly walkable, and the whole vibe is quite laid back even with bustling traffic. The weather is much cooler than central and southern Vietnam, especially in February, so pack accordingly before you arrive. In our quick guide to Hanoi, we hope to give you a jumpstart to your planning! This city has so much to offer within a short distance, it's easy to get overwhelmed with what to do or see!
HOAN KIEM DISTRICT
One of the places I looked at before going to Hanoi was A Pair & A Spare's guide to Hanoi. I went to two of her shopping suggestions, and Chie Handmade was easily my favorite. Everything is handmade from natural materials, and the shopkeeper was so lovely. It all looked quite unique to other souvenir shops around the city, and the prices were quite fair. I walked away with a new passport case and a few scarves because it was a little chillier than I had anticipated!
70 Hàng Gai, Hàng Gai, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
HOA LOA PRISON
I didn't get a chance to visit here, but for anyone interested in Vietnamese War History or even how propaganda works, this place is definitely worth a visit. In seemingly innocuous building with the words Maison Central, it was used by the French first for political prisoners and later by the North Vietnamese for American POWs. If you meet a veteran who was placed there, you may even hear it sarcastically as "Hanoi Hilton."
1 Hoả Lò, Trần Hưng Đạo, Hoàn Kiếm
HOAN KIEM LAKE
If you're ever lost, look for this lake to refigure out where you are. It's also just a lovely place to sit, relax, and enjoy the scenery and all the people strolling about. If you can, I'd make a little lunch and have a small picnic lakeside. In the center of the Old Quarter, it's hard to miss.
Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Hoàn Kiếm
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF VIETNAMESE HISTORY
As the name might imply, this museum has exhibits covering Vietnam's long history. Its architecture is also interesting, combining elements from both Chinese and French influences.
Open: 8:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. + 1:30 p.m.-5:00 p.m., closed first Monday of each Month, Entrance Fee: 40,000 VND, 1 Phạm Ngũ Lão, Tràng Tiền, Hoàn Kiếm
This museum is for those interested in the lesser publicized history of Vietnam--the history of its women. From familial relations to general history to fashion, this museum aims to educate visitors on these women.
36 Lý Thường Kiệt, Hang Bai ward, Hoàn Kiếm, Cost: 30,000 VND, Open 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
NGOC SON TEMPLE
This temple is located on a little islet in Hoan Kiem Lake, and is accessible by a beautifully intricate red bridge. It gets pretty busy, so try and get there earlier in the morning to avoid crowds.
Open: 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Cost: 20,000 VND, Đinh Tiên Hoàng, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm
HANOI OPERA HOUSE
If you're still interested in French architecture within Vietnam, definitely make time to stop by Hanoi's Opera House. Built in the early 1900's, it's based off of the Palais Garnier in Paris but with warm yellow and white colors. Check out their performance schedules here.
1 Trang Tien St, Hanoi, Tràng Tiền, Hoàn Kiếm
ST. JOSEPH'S CATHEDRAL
If you choose to see this Roman Catholic cathedral, you'll notice its Neo-Gothic architecture strikes a close resemblance to a certain Parisian cathedral. That's because its architects were heavily inspired by the Notre Dame as they created St. Joseph's. You might be a bit disappointed by its damaged appearance, but it's still quite striking, especially when it's last on your list of a long day walking around Hanoi.
Quan Hoan Kiem, Hoàn Kiếm
BA DINH DISTRICT
At 33 meter and easily visible from the street, this flag tower is one of the major symbols of Vietnam. It's an interesting juxtaposition with the franchise coffee shop right below it. I was actually looking for this when I came across the Imperial Citadel.
Lê Hồng Phong, Điện Biên, Ba Đình
An imposing structure, this mausoleum was built to commemorate Ho Chi Minh. Interestingly, he opposed to is creation, wishing for the lang to be used for agriculture instead. It's massive and heavily guarded.
Open: 8:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. + 2:00 p.m.-4:30 p.m., Closed Mondays, Hùng Vương, Điện Biên, Ba Đình,
A UNESCO World Heritage site, this citadel served as the capital of Dai Viet from 11th-18th century. It was both a residence and workplace of the Ly Dynasty, the Tran Dynasty, the Le So, the Mac, and the Le Trung Hung. While there, you can also visit one of the bunkers used during the Vietnamese war.
Open: 8:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. + 2:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m., Entrance Fee: 30,000 VND, Quán Thánh, Ba Đình
VIETNAM MILITARY HISTORY MUSEUM
If you're interested in war history, this is the museum for you. Displays a lot of the different equipment used during Vietnam's wars.
Open 8:00 a.m.-11:30 a.m. + 2:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m., closed Monday and Friday, Entrance Fee: 30,000 VND, 28A Điện Biên Phủ, Điện Biên, Ba
ONE PILLAR PAGODA
This beautiful pagoda was built in the 11th century and is a great starting place if you want to walk around Hanoi. I had a taxi driver drop me off here and then proceeded to walk around. Since its by the lake and in its own pond, it's a lovely view.
Open: 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Chùa Một Cột, Đội Cấ
Not actually open to visitors, it's hard to miss this palace from the street. Bright, bright yellow, it stands out. You'll probably see it as you're walking around this district, but it's definitely worth nothing for its color and grandeur.
Hùng Vương, Ngọc Hà, Ba Đình
QUAN THANH TEMPLE
From the 11th century in Truc Bach Lake, this Taoist temple is one of the four sacred temples of the capital. If you're interested in Vietnamese religious architecture, definitely check it out.
Quán Thánh, Ba Đình
Right across the street from the mausoleum, this museum covers all of Ho Chi Minh's life in great detail.
Open: 8:00 a.m.-11:30 a.m. + 2:00 p.m.-4:30 p.m., Entrance Fee: 10,000 VND, Hùng Vương, Điện Biên, Ba Đình
Built in the eleventh century, it was dedicated to Confucius and, now, many Vietnamese scholars. If you go in, you can walk around and learn all about the different intellectuals. It's a beautiful temple area, and if you go around graduation time (February), you'll catch all the recent college graduates posing for their photos. It's very lovely.
Open: 8:30-11:30 + 1:30-4:30, closed Mondays, 10,000 VND entrance,58 Quốc Tử Giám, Đống Đa
This museum looks at all the different ethnic groups in Vietnam and celebrates their diversity and contribution to Vietnamese culture. It's definitely on my future return trip itinerary!
Open: 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., closed Monday, Nguyễn Văn Huyên, Nghĩa Đô, Cầu Giấy
WHAT TO EAT
Truthfully, the best food you're going to eat in Vietnam is the food you order sitting on a little plastic stool along one of the busy streets. It's cheap and absolutely delicious. Don't worry about mapping out restaurants because you'll find one of these food areas wherever you go. I compiled a few foods I tried or meant to try, and then asked Michelle for a few of her suggestions (not only has she been raised on Vietnamese food from her parents, she's a total foodie, so she definitely knows her stuff!) Keep these foods in mind, and prepare to eat your weight!
-Bun Bo Nam Bo | I tried this with Laura (@_lauracollins) and her boyfriend for dinner. So delicious!
-Bun Rieu | This soup is made of different kinds of meat and thin rice noodles in a tomato broth. Often the meat is crab.
-Banh Xeo | Similar in appearance to a French crepe, Banh Xeo is a savory fried pancake. It's stuffed with vegetables, meat, and often turmeric powder.
-Ca Phe Trung | Also known as egg coffee, it's like drinking dessert. So delicious. When I met up with Laura, she took me to a little place called Cafe Pho Co(11c Hang Gai Street). It's behind a souvenir shop, so if she hadn't show me, I would have never guessed it existed! You order and then climb up to the top and can get a bit of a view of the city.
-Che | This dessert soup is totally sweet, and made of different ingredients seeped in sugary broth. The one I tried had was soft tofu.
-Goi Cuon | Spring rolls! These rolls are filled with noodles, pork, and a variety of vegetables for a delicious meal.
-Mi Vit Tiem | This dish is roasted duck in an egg noodle soup. It's definitely a savory soup, and perfect for cooler days.
-Pho | I mean, this is probably the most classic of Vietnamese dishes! Even people who have no concept of Vietnamese food, know pho (pronounce f-uh, not f-oe). Generally a combo of beef, noodles, vegetables, and broth, pho is delicious. In fact, you might find yourself craving it as a comfort food (I definitely do sometimes, and I've only had it a few times!).
-Xoi Xeo | This dish is made of sticky rice, thin slices of beans, and fried shallots.
-Xuan Xuan (Vietnamese BBQ Restaurant) | "It is similar to korean bbq but instead served with a tub of butter and french baguettes to dip in the grease & butter! We were regulars at this place during our month stay in Hanoi!" - Megan of Bobo and Chichi 47 Mã Mây, Hàng Buồm, Hồ Hoàn Kiếm
WHERE TO STAY
We recommend staying somewhere in Old Quarter (near Hoan Kiem Lake) as it's incredibly central to most of what you'll want to do and see in Hanoi. While I personally stayed in New Vision Hotel because I was alone, wanted a private room, and on a budget, I thought I'd ask some ladies in one of my travel groups where they stayed and what they thought! Below are some options from budget to luxury. I'm pretty sure if I return Hanoi, I'm splurging and staying at Metropole!
-Hanoi Central Backpackers Hostel | "I stopped in Central Backpackers in Hanoi! I absolutely loved it! Tucked away in a back street that was right in the heart of street living in Hanoi! An awesome little street food chef and some beer for £1.50! Beers were just 12p! The man on the desk in Central Backpackers was just awesome and we had an awesome trip to Halong Bay booked by him too!!" - Sophie of Footprints in the Sand
-Hanoi Rocks Hostel | "Here's 'Hanoi Rocks' which is located in old town and perfect for the younger backpacker or solo traveller who is open to meeting new people. The dorms were large, reasonably priced, and well looked after with everything you need. There was always something going on in terms of themed nights, drink offers, etc. They have a large travel desk that offers a few good tours (I did Sapa through them). Food was great and the price of the room includes free buffet breakfast. I enjoyed it here. Great way to meet new people. The place is big! The private rooms were very expensive though." - Jo
-Hanoi Light Hostel | [It] is located right next to the Cathedral. The private room we had is spacious, the staff is really friendly, and it's also super cheap- $15 for room with a private bathroom!" - Carol of KarolinaPatryck.com
-Vietnam Backpacker Hostels- Downtown | "I stayed in the Hanoi Backpackers on Ma May street... My fav ever hostel! Lots of activities so it's easy to meet people and they have double bed bunk beds lol. Really cool place"- Megan of Half This World Away
-Hanoi Golden Moon Hotel | "Golden Moon hotel is totally recommended - it is relatively cheap for a large hotel room with en suite bathroom, comfortable, with great hot shower (it is not so common in Hanoi) and very courteous personnel." - Elena of TravelabilityBlog
-Hanoi Serene Hotel | "I stayed at the Hanoi Serene Hotel, and it was lovely! On a little backstreet in the old town, big rooms, cooked to order breakfast included and the staff were so nice (all of the staff remembered our names every time we saw them!). They were also great with luggage storage while we did trips to Halong Bay and Sapa. An ideal place to stay for someone who wants something a bit nicer than a hostel but still cheap." Yasmine of Peeking Duck
-New Vision Hotel | I booked a private single room (I wound up with a double bed and a single bed in my room) and thoroughly enjoyed how lovely the staff was. While the room isn't the most photogenic, the staff was extremely lovely and the breakfast each morning was delicious.
-The Hanoi Old Town Hotel | "I stayed in 'Old Town Hotel' in a private room. This is ideal for a quieter experience, low budget, but still meet plenty of travellers. The rooms were nice (can't speak for the dorms), friendly staff and perfect for couples or backpackers not looking for party hostels! You can also book tours with this hotel (more like hostel). I did Halong Bay through this place. It's also ideally located" -Jo
LUXURY ($100 +)
-Apricot Hotel | "Apricot Hotel is new and is owned the guy who owns Apricot Art Gallery, so it's full of beautiful art, and is an oasis next to Hoan Kiem." - Sarah
-Intercontinental Hanoi Westlake | "Intercontinental is first rate service with beautiful sunset bar on West Lake. Even if you don't stay there, worth the views." - Sarah
"Intercontinental by the lake is fab, a bit out of town but a lovely setting by the lake, pretty views, lovely luxurious property and colonial feel."- Mar of Once in a Lifetime Journey
-Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi | "Staying in the Metropole in the old wing is a once in a lifetime experience. Having the afternoon chocolate buffet in Le Club is like visiting the 1920s. The bunker underneath the hotel is intense and only available to guests. Plus both their Charlie Chaplin drink and sundae are extraordinary." - Sarah
"The Sofitel Metropole is also great with a perfect location, lots of charm and colonial past and it is indeed an iconic place. I stayed at both and they were both fantastic (metropole is more expensive)" - Mar of Once in a Lifetime Journey
-Sofitel Plaza Hanoi | "The Sofitel Plaza was beautiful and service was great. We were able to check in very early. When we left we had to catch an early flight and they made us breakfast to go. Not as well located as the Metropole but very quiet." - Sharon of A Ticket to Anywhere
*Please note that these links contain affiliate links, so if you choose to book via them, I earn a very small commision. I appreciate the support :)
Getting In | There are a few ways to get into Hanoi. If you're coming from elsewhere in Vietnam, you can either take an overnight train or an overnight bus. Unless it's a holiday around when you're traveling, you don't need to worry about booking ahead (however if it is, I recommend using Baolau to book early so you're not stuck in hard seats!). If you're coming from Cat Ba Island, you can take a bus with Hoang Long Asia and schedule it online or at their offices on the island. Hanoi also has an international airport, so it's very easy to fly in as well.
Motorbikes | Motorbikes are definitely an option, and the expats I met up with had one. Keep in mind Hanoi traffic is definitely a little crazy (not sure if it's the same or better than HCM), so ride at your own risk! Never having ridden a motorbike before, I obviously did not utilize them.
Taxis | The easiest and sometimes fastest way to get around is by taxis. They're very cheap, and you can arrange for them with your accommodation and sometimes places will comp your taxi ride in an effort to get you to consider their business.
Walking | Walking! The absolute best way to get around to get a map and figure out where you are. I barely took taxis while in Hanoi because it was pretty easy to navigate, and, hey, walking was free plus I got some exercise in. What I did, basically, was take a taxi to the furthest point I wanted to go, and then I walked back, stopping at all the places I wanted to see. And don't worry, crossing the streets was easy.
Beyond This Guide to Hanoi
-The PDF version is coming! For access, subscribe to our e-mail list here.
-Prefer a map? Check out our map here.
-Vietnamese Name: Hà Nội
-Also book trips to Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay from Hanoi (Thanks, Megan!)
-Hanoi's Official Site
-Hanoi via Vietnam Online
-Sunkissed Suitcase | Sarah was recently an expat in Hanoi, so her site is filled with goodies and insider looks.
-"Vietnam Travel Guide" via CityGirlSearching
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