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Hanoi Travel Guide

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Boasting a history of over 1000 years, Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam which is second only to Ho Chi Minh City in size. This former French-colonial city offers a near-perfect blend of colonial history and modern hustle. It is home to thousands of well-preserved colonial-era buildings, fascinating museums, ancient pagodas, and charming cultural sites, and is also known for its fabulous street food, vibrant nightlife, modern cafes and unique art galleries. As Vietnam’s cultural center, it still appeals with its intimate and small-town-like ambiance — with tree-lined streets being dominated by buzzing motorbikes, food vendors, and eateries being scattered all across the city.

Hanoi's Train Street
Hanoi's Train Street

Top Things to Do in Hanoi

Indulge in Hanoi Street Food

Hanoi is widely considered to have some of the best street food in the world, so luckily for all of you (especially foodies) coming to the city. There is a huge street food culture in Hanoi which locals are extremely proud of, and a street food experience is undoubtedly a great way to learn more about the city’s real food culture.

The Old Quarter is one of the most popular places for newbies to grab a delicious bite to eat. Some of the most famous dishes you can try out in Hanoi include Pho (rice noodle soup), Banh Mi (stuffed baguette), Bun Cha (the most popular Hanoi breakfast), Bun Ca Ro (fish noodle soup), Hanoi BBQ, Bun bo nam bo (dry noodles with beef and vegetables).

Goi Cuon - Vietnamese Spring Rolls
Goi Cuon - Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Wander Around the Old Quarter

The Old Quarter with 36 over 1000-year-old themed streets is the culture and history center as well as the most popular tourist spot in Hanoi. This dynamic area is home to a mix of ancient architecture, shops, temples, pagodas, cafes, rooftop bars, food stalls, nightclubs, and various vendors. Besides sightseeing and sampling local food, it is also a great place to get local souvenirs. Walking around this maze is the best way to embrace and indulge in all its authentic smells, sounds, hustles, and colonial architecture. And for those who don’t like walking much, you can tour this area on a cyclo. It’s easy to find many cyclo drivers roaming around here.

Hanoi Old Quarter Flowers Selling
Hanoi Old Quarter Flowers Selling

Explore Ma May Ancient House and St Joseph’s Cathedral

Ma May Ancient House and St Joseph’s Cathedral are two great examples showcasing the difference between ancient Vietnamese architecture and French colonial buildings. Both of these two buildings are located in the Old Quarter.

Being built around the late 19th century, Ma May Ancient House is a place where you can glimpse into characteristics of a Vietnamese home and the daily life of local people in ancient times. It is now also the place where many cultural events and art exhibitions usually take place.

St Joseph’s Cathedral is the oldest church as well as the first structure built by the French Colonial government in Hanoi. Most travelers who visit here will be impressed by its ancient beauty, historical marks left by wars and time, and its structure of Gothic architecture.

Relax and People Watch at Hoan Kiem Lake

Nestled between the Old Quarter and French Quarter, Hoan Keim Lake in the heart of Hanoi is one of the most famous tourist spots in the city. Quiet and peaceful, and with pretty vistas across the water, the lake is a popular gathering place for locals to get away from the craziness and hustle of the city. Visiting the lake in the early morning, you can get a chance to join all the local joggers, yoga and Thai Chi enthusiasts who throng this place for exercise.

Go to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Don’t miss Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum if you want to understand more about Vietnamese history. It is the final resting place of Vietnam’s most notable historic figure – Ho Chi Minh. Quite impressive in scale, the complex is built in the center of Ba Dinh Square where Ho Chi Minh once read the Declaration of Independence. In the central hall of the mausoleum, visitors can see the embalmed body of the revered leader preserved in a glass case. All visitors are recommended to dress long sleeves and long skirts or pants to avoid any disappointments.

Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum
Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum

Learn Vietnamese Diverse Culture at the Museum of Ethnology

Museum of Ethnology is one of the most interesting museums in Vietnam which will offer you an insight into the history and culture of 54 ethnic groups in the country. It is worth a visit for those who are interested in the diverse ethnic culture of Vietnam. A visit to the museum is undoubtedly educational, which will introduce you to the traditional ways of life in Vietnam, religious events, rituals, a variety of Vietnamese houses, Vietnamese tribal art, a huge collection of artifacts, and items used in daily life, etc.

Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
Ethnic architecture in the Museum of Ethnology

Watch a Water Puppet Show

Whether a child or adult, young or old, a water puppet show will entertain you with its fully realized art form. This ancient Vietnamese art form is an intangible cultural heritage of Vietnam that can date back to 1000 years ago. Different from traditional puppetry, the water puppet show was performed on a water surface stage. Throughout the show, puppeteers stand in the water (behind a screen) and control the puppets through bamboo rods or string that hidden beneath the water. Most water puppet shows are about Vietnamese legends, myths, or farming stories, offering you a window into local culture.

Water Puppet Show
Water Puppet Show

Hanoi Weather: Best Time to Visit Hanoi

Hanoi is represented by North Vietnam’s mild tropical monsoon weather that divides the year into dry season and rainy season. Though has a large amount of sunlight and high humidity throughout the year, Hanoi still enjoys four seasons (spring, summer, autumn, and winter) thanks to the transitional months between monsoons.

Spring (February to April) and autumn (mid-September to late November) are the best time to visit Hanoi when it is relatively cool and rain-free. Hanoi’s summer (May to August) is usually hot and sees frequent pouring rains. December to late February is Hanoi’s winter when the city experiences cold weather (average temperature of 17.2°C/63℉) and high humidity. 

Hanoi Transportation: Getting to and Getting around Hanoi

How to Get To Hanoi

Getting to Hanoi by Air

International travelers can fly into Hanoi through Noi Bai International Airport, one of the two hub international airports in Vietnam. Currently, most direct flights are from nearby Southeast Asia countries, travelers from other regions will need to layover at Hong Kong International Airport or Singapore International Airport.

  • Getting to Hanoi from the Airport

It’s about 40 minutes’ drive from Noi Bai International Airport to Hanoi city center. You can take the airport shuttle bus, bus, minibus, or taxi to get to Hanoi’s downtown area.

Price for reference (from airport to city center):

Airport shuttle bus: 40000 VND (about 2 USD) per person

Minibus: 40000 VND per person (about 2 USD)

Bus: Bus No. 7 and No. 17, take about 50-90 minutes, 7000 VND

Taxi: about 250000 VND (about 11 USD)

Getting to Hanoi by Train

People who join in a trip to both Vietnam and China can transfer between these two countries by train. A high-speed train between the two countries will take about 7-12 hours and cost about 43-162 USD.

Getting around Hanoi

There are several ways to get around Hanoi, including motorbike/cyclo, bus, taxi, walking, biking, etc.

  • By Motorbike/cyclo

Taking a motorbike taxi is the fastest and most popular way in Hanoi to travel a short distance. Motorbike drivers usually prepare an extra helmet for their passengers. A motorbike ride within 2 km is about 1-2 USD.

You may also find some tricycles that converted from bicycles on Hanoi’s street. This kind of tricycle is referred to as cyclo. It is much slower-moving than motorbikes, but offers a unique and fun experience. The cyclo will cost you about 7 USD for an hour’s ride.

  • By Taxi

It’s easy to hail a taxi in Hanoi. The starting price for a taxi costs about 12000 VND, with every subsequent kilometer price from 10000-15000 VND. Please be noted that not all taxi drivers in Hanoi like to use the meters, so to avoid being ripped off, we recommend hailing taxis of reputable companies: Airport Taxi (+84 43 8865615), 52 Taxi (+84 43 852 5252), Hanoi Taxi (+84 43 853 5353), and Mai Linh Taxi (+84 43 861 6161).

You can also download Grab (which works like Uber) which is more reliable and easier for those with a language barrier.

  • By Bus

There are more than 100 bus routes serving Hanoi city center and towns. The bus tickets can be only paid via cash, so bring some smaller bills if you want to take a bus in Hanoi. The cost for a bus ride depends on your distance, usually about 5000-10000 VND per person.

  • Renting a Bike

Riding a bike is not recommended for those weak-kneed. Bike renting service is available in many hotels in Hanoi. Usually takes about 1 USD per day.

  • Walking

Walking is also a common way for travelers, especially when touring the Old Quarter and French Quarter areas, or some ancient streets. Most attractions are very near to each other, and walking can offer a better and more in-depth experience.

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