Heading to Vietnam? We share the best things to do in Hanoi to help you plan your trip.
Often the stopover city for those wanting to see Halong Bay, Hanoi can easily get overlooked as a place of interest in itself. Hanoi is actually the capital of Vietnam, is home to some unique historic sites, a vibrant developing culture and so much amazing food.
Reasons to visit Hanoi
Hanoi is known as Vietnam’s cultural capital. It has plenty of historic landmarks and museums, beautiful pagodas and temples as well as a thriving restaurant scene. There are plenty of amazing restaurants in Hanoi to choose from, whether you are looking for local or western food. Plus, the maze of streets in the Old Quarter are home to artisan and boutique stores that offer homemade souvenirs and art work for you to remember your trip.
Hanoi is a great place to fly into and start your Vietnam Itinerary; many use this as a place to visit before heading to the breathtaking Halong Bay but it also makes a great starting point for a trip along the coast from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City.
How to save money in Vietnam
Eat local – There is no better place that this tip applies to. Eating local food will always save you money and in Vietnam it can make a huge difference. The local street food is delicious so stick to the stalls, vendors and hole-in-the-walls.
Bia Hoi – Beer is cheap in Vietnam but Bia Hoi is said to be the cheapest beer in the world. You can get this for as little as 30 cents (or 10p).
Haggle – When buying items in markets, make sure you haggle the price. We found it easier to buy items from those that advertise their prices but if you want to buy something without a price, make sure you haggle for it.
Get walking – Hanoi offers many attractions to see and do (most of which are free). Save money on taxis by walking everywhere or renting a bike for as little as $1.
Pay in VND – VND and dollar are accepted everywhere but pay in VND. When we first visited Vietnam in 2013, everyone preferred dollars, but now in 2020, we found everyone preferred VND. Some places would accept dollars but would massively overcharge you.
Things to do in Hanoi, Vietnam
Hoan Kiem Lake
Take a break from the city and head to Hoan Kiem Lake for some lovely views and some giant turtles. In the centre of the lake you will find Ngoc Son Temple, built in the 18th century whilst ‘Turtle Tower’ stands on the edge of the lake in memory of the legend surrounding the lake. The temple is open from 8am to 5pm and the lake can be found in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Found in Ba Dinh Square, the Mausoleum is a popular attraction in Hanoi. Ho Chi Minh was an iconic and loved leader of Vietnam, making his resting place popular for both tourists and Vietnamese residents. Entrance is free for the Mausoleum but is only open from 8am to 11am.
NOTE: A strict dress code is in place at the Mausoleum with no short skirts or tank tops allowed and bags are required to be put in a safe deposit before entering. Photos, talking and finger-pointing is also strictly prohibited whilst you are inside the Mausoleum.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral
An impressive Roman Catholic Church found on Nha Chung Street is definitely worth a visit for those interesting in Neo-gothic architecture. The entrance is free and the church is open from 8am to 5pm.
Tran Quoc Pagoda
Found on Thanh Nien Road, next to West Lake, the Tran Quoc Pagoda is a tower of beauty standing alongside a tranquil backdrop of greenery.
Tran Quoc Pagoda is the oldest of its kind in Hanoi, dating back to the 6th century. The Buddhist shrine can be found on the edge of West Lake, surrounded by lush greenery. The pagoda stands at 15 meters tall with 11 elevens inside. It is surrounded by a burning house, carved statues, and a museum of historic relics. Each carved state has unique facial features, dating back to 1639.
The Pagoda is free to enter all year long and opens at 7.30 am every day. Remember to dress appropriately in this place of worship, avoiding short skirts and vest tops.
Take a day or overnight trip to Halong Bay, a natural wonder of the world with some fascinating caves and cliffs. Cruises offer various activities and itineraries – we loved our trip to Marguerite Junk. Various trips are available from one-day trips to 1, 2, or even 3-night cruises to explore the Bay. The cruise we booked is available from Agoda.
One day in Hanoi?
If you only have one day in Hanoi, you can actually see a lot in the city!
Start your day off by heading to the Tran Quoc Pagoda at 8 am whilst enjoying the nearby West Lake. This ancient temple is stunning, free to enter, and gives you a taste of the history and religion in the country of Vietnam.
A short walk from the Pagoda is a cafe called Paris Baguette, which is a great place to get brunch and a coffee before catching a Grab to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
NOTE: It is worth noting that the Mausoleum is only open in the morning (until 10.30 am) – so, if you aim to be in the Pagoda for only an hour or so, you can still get to the Mausoleum in the morning but, if you think you may be a little longer, visit the Mausoleum first.
Next, head down to the Old Quarter. There are lots of restaurants in this area but, if you are getting a Grab, get dropped off at St Joseph’s Cathedral. This Cathedral is stunning and is surrounded by very nice restaurants and cute boutique stores. We loved visiting the art stores, picking up some posters and magnets, and some hand-crafted pieces too.
Spend the afternoon wandering the streets of the Old Quarter; visiting the Ngoc Son temple on Hoan Kiem Lake and trying some of the local food in the area.