Things to do in Hanoi
Although Hanoi is not the largest city in Vietnam, it has taken the title as the capital of the country. As a result, there are plenty of amazing things to do in Hanoi.
1. Hanoi Motorbike Tour
Join a motorbike tour and hurtle through Hanoi’s Old Quarter back streets. Hanoi Backstreet Tours is a fantastic tour that uses vintage Minsk motorcycles for the journey. Enjoy the surroundings on the back of these motorcycles, while you ride over famous bridges and stop at authentic markets.
The well-informed guides, provide you with local knowledge and plenty of information about Hanoi and its history. The tour will also take you around the green region, which is a lovely contrast from the busy morning in the metropolis. The tour covers most of the city’s highlights and is easily one of the most fun things to do in Hanoi!
2. Leave a Note at The Note Coffee
Coffee is a way of life in Hanoi and there are many excellent cafes to choose from. However, a special ‘note’ has to be made for The Note Coffee. This cute little cafe asks customers to leave a handwritten note, on colorful sticky paper, on the normally empty walls.
Hence the name ‘The Note Coffee’- a three-story building, with walls fully covered in colored notes. Read the notes from other visitors and make sure to leave one yourself!
3. Hanoi Old Quarter
No visit to Hanoi would be complete without seeing the Old Quarter! This is one of the city’s oldest areas, dating back 2000 years. Here you’ll see a perfect representation of the local life in Hanoi.
Expect to see old houses lining narrow alleys, locals transporting goods on the carrying pole, and traffic crossing from every possible road.
4. Train Street of Hanoi
Set in a narrow back street, squeezed between rows of shanty houses and cafes, there is a railway, where trains speed through twice a day. This world-famous train street is one of the most surprising things to do in Hanoi.
Previously, it was possible to sit outside the cafes and feel the air pressure, as the train came centimeters away from your body. However, due to new safety measures from the local government, this is no longer allowed. You can still get there and see the train, but the cafes on the track are closed. It’s recommended to ask the train times at your hotel as it changes often.
Mon-Fri: 6.00 AM, 7.00 PM
Sat-Sun: 6.00 AM, 9.00 AM, 11.20 AM, 3.20 PM, 5.30 PM, 6.00 PM, 7.00 PM, 7.45 PM, 8.30 PM, 9.00 PM, 11.00 PM
5. Drink Coffee!
Vietnam is, surprisingly, the world’s second-largest coffee producer. The coffee craze started due to French colonialism and has grown ever since. Because of this, you are never further than two steps away from amazing coffee shops, where Vietnamese locals gather round to enjoy the hot brew.
Here are some of our favorite coffee shops to try in Hanoi:
- Loading T Cafe
- Hidden Gem coffee
- The Note Coffee
- Cong Cafe
6. Eat at the Hanoi Night Market
If you’re visiting Hanoi over the weekend, make sure to visit the night market that takes place in the Old Quarter. Everything from ceramics to clothing is sold. Also make sure to haggle for the best price, as this is an extremely common practice in Northern Vietnam. Finally, grab some amazing street food at one of the many stands. Open from 6.00 PM – 12.00 AM on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
7. Luxury French Street (Phan Dinh Phung Street)
Phan Dinh Phung Street is, undoubtedly, one of the grandest avenues in the city. The wide road, with overhanging trees, has a very distinct feel from the rest of Hanoi and its small back streets. Take a walk down the avenue, admiring the impressive mansions and old French villas, whilst the sunlight streams through the shadowing trees.
8. Long Bien Bridge
Long Bien is an incredible steel-structured bridge connecting the Hoan Kiem and Long Bien district. Sadly, the bridge was victim to many bombings over the years of the war. Consequently, it has fallen into disrepair and is under renovation.
Now only pedestrians, cycle bikes, mopeds, and trains use the bridge, and the majority of traffic uses other routes across. Because of this, it’s possible to admire the industrial beauty of the orange rusty posts, set around the old train track.
9. St Joseph’s Cathedral
The French Colonial government built St Joseph’s cathedral, with the aim to mimic the style of the Notre Dame in Paris. Hence why it differs hugely from the other buildings in the city. Noticeably, it is the oldest church in Hanoi! The gothic style is very impressive from the outside but it is also worth taking a look inside too, for the medieval European feel, especially as it’s free entry.
10. Hanoi Trompe L’Oeil Murals
The Trompe L’Oeil murals are a community art project, painted on the railway arches of Phung Hung Street. The project began between South Korea and Vietnam, in order to celebrate 25 years of diplomatic relations. ‘Trompe L’Oeil’ is a visual illusion, within the artwork, and these murals are exactly that!
The artwork displays acts of local life, in a way so that the artwork blends in with the day to day goings-on of the city. The visual illusion, and 3D elements to the paintings, mean that people can interact with the art by taking photos, positioning themselves to make it look like they are part of it.
11. Hoan Kiem Lake
Make your way to Hoan Kiem lake at dawn, to watch the sunrise over the misty water. Sit amongst the trees, while watching locals enjoying their morning tai chi or yoga. Beautiful!
As a result, Hoan Kiem lake feels like a spiritual haven amongst the chaos of the city. Even better it sits right in the center, so you are never far away! Don’t miss out on one of the most famous things to do in Hanoi.
Ngoc Son Temple
Ngoc Son Temple is a stunning Vietnamese pagoda that sits in the center of the lake. Named the ‘rising sun’ bridge, it’s painted in bold red and pictured on many postcards. Walk across the bridge and enter the pagoda between 8 AM – 6 PM.
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
On the edge of Hoan Kiem Lake is the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, where you can watch the ancient tradition of Vietnamese puppetry played out on a pool of water.
12. Day Trip to Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay, one of the natural wonders of the world and of UNESCO status, is an absolute must-see on any trip to Vietnam. It is unique because of its limestone karsts, rising up out of the ocean, amongst beautiful bays and luscious greenery.
Take a boat trip and watch locals fishing from floating villages, or kayak along the bay’s many white-sand beaches. Ha Long Bay is located only a few hours to the east of Hanoi, by bus, and for that reason, it is the perfect spot for a day trip. Check with your hotel what options they offer, as most accommodations in Hanoi offer Ha Long Bay trips as part of their service.
Getting to & Around Hanoi
Hanoi is one of the easiest places to travel to in Vietnam because of its capital city status.
Noi Bai International airport serves the city with international flights from all over the world. From the airport to the Old Quarter is approximately a 1-hour journey by public bus/shuttle bus or taxi. This is due to the traffic in the city.
Domestic flights also leave Noi Bai for other destinations in Vietnam. Make sure to check which airport your domestic flight is leaving from, as there are other airports in Hanoi.
Once in Hanoi, it is relatively easy to get around. Use apps like ‘Grab’ to hire a taxi or bike to take you between destinations. It’s best to opt for a motorbike, over a taxi, because they will find it easier to avoid traffic jams. Choose a hotel or guesthouse in the Old Quarter or Hoan Kiem, in order to be able to explore the main sights on foot.
Restaurants in Hanoi
Hanoi is world-famous for its mind-blowing street food! The choices are endless, and travelers will eat some of the best food of their lives here. Whether it’s a steaming bowl of hot pho, or a banh mi sandwich, there is a street food favorite for everyone. These are some of our favorite places to eat in Hanoi:
- Hanoi Night Market
- Pizza 4Ps
- The Hanoi Social Club
- Banh Mi 25
- Hoang’s Restaurant
- Madam Tran
- Tung’s Kitchen
Where to stay in Hanoi
Vietnam is still reasonably cheap. As a result, the quality of guesthouses and hotels in Hanoi is extremely high, for the money you’ll pay. Situate yourself in the Old Quarter or near Hoan Kiem Lake, so that you can see all the things to do in Hanoi on foot.
There are also some lovely neighborhoods further out, like Tay Ho, which has great options. However, expect to have to take grab motorbike, in order to reach the center.
These are the best hotels to stay in Hanoi.
Best time to visit Hanoi
Unlike other areas in Vietnam, Hanoi is very seasonal. This means winters can be very cold and summers very hot and humid. Because of this, it’s best to visit in the Spring (Feb-April) or the Autumn (October-November).