Hanoi is a bustling capital with a ridiculous amount of motorbikes and cars driving around the city. It’s quite chaotic for a newcomer, but in reality it’s more like an organized chaos. And I guess, either you love it or you hate it.
Here is my list with top things to do in Hanoi.
A visit to the old quarter is something every visitor in Hanoi should write down on their list with things to do in Hanoi. This is the heart of the city, and also the least polluted one. In the old days every street sold a specific item, and for some streets this is still true. The Old Quarter is bustling like the rest of Hanoi, but it’s a lot more nicer and cozier.
There is plenty of hotels and guesthouses available in the Old Quarter.
Water Puppet Show
This is an unique and ancient art form in Vietnam, and despite that this particular show is pretty touristy, it’s actually a cool experience. If you see reviews on Tripadvisor, you will see that people have some mixed feelings about this, some find it magically and some find it boring.
For me, I’m somewhere in between, it wasn’t exciting all the way, but it was something new and funny, and something I could recommend other travellers to do in Hanoi.
Address: 57B Dinh Tien Hoang.
Eat Local Food
Vietnam offers a very unique food culture, and I guess, either you like it or not. Vietnamese is not something that I would ever eat again if I didn’t have to, but on the other hand I have heard lots of people who loves the food in Hanoi.
I think you should definitely try for yourself and see if you like it or not. The best way to do this is to join the famous street food tour, which takes you around some of the best places. It costs 20 USD, but the food is included, and the tour guide is informative and professional, and also pretty funny.
Address: 74 & 76 Hang Bac Street at Kim tours’s building.
Tour to Halong Bay
This was one of my favourite things to do in Hanoi and a once in a lifetime experience. I did the 3 days 2 nights tour and can highly recommend everyone to do the same. On that tour you will enjoy kayaking in scenic and beautiful nature, boat trip in between the islands, viewpoints and a visit to the Cat Ba Island.
You will sleep one night on board, and one night in a bungalow or hotel, the choice is yours.
I paid around 2.5 million dong with food included. I know you can get this tour for a cheaper price, and also a lot more expensive, but in Hanoi you don’t want to choose the wrong tour operator, since there are so many fake companies that offer packages to Halong Bay.
NOTE: be sure that you are on the right address when booking a tour. It’s very common in Hanoi that reputable names get stolen and it’s very easy to be confused. A good example is the legendary Sinh Travel Company, where you will find perhaps 20 tour operators on the same street, using their name. Therefore you should always be certain that you are on the right address.
Coffee is a huge deal in Vietnam, and the country is in fact one of the world’s major coffee producers. You will see plenty of cafées while strolling around the city. The coffee comes in a range of varieties with everything from egg coffee (yes, you read that correctly) to yoghurt coffee and of course normal coffee and the Vietnamese style coffee.
I have tried egg coffee, coconut coffee, Vietnamese coffee and yoghurt coffee. I liked the egg coffee the most along with the coconut coffee. The Vietnamese coffee was okay, but really strong, and not so tasteful (I’m used to drinking strong coffee). The yoghurt coffee on the other hand was not something that I would like to drink again, but hey it’s fun to try new things!
If you want to try egg coffee, you should go to Giang Cafe and for the coconut coffee, go to Cong Caphe.
Chua Tran Quoc
The oldest pagoda in Hanoi, and also perhaps the most beautiful. While I found the Pagoda very nice, there is some business here that I don’t support. Before you go over the bridge to the Pagoda, you will see Vietnamese people selling turtles to tourists and locals. The idea is that you release the turtle and get luck, but the turtles will be caught by the seller again, and then sold again.
I’m not very fond of animals getting abused or mistreated, and this was horrible to watch. I even saw baby turtles that had been trampled to death.
Address: Thanh Nien, West Lake area.
Buy New Nike Shoes
Vietnam is a major producer of Nike shoes, and you will find lots of them to be sold in the shoe district next to the water puppet show and the Hoan Kiem Lake. I don’t think all of them are real though, but many of them are and they cost around 500-600 000 dong.
Trekking Tour in Sapa
The amazing Sapa is definitely one of the must things to do while you visit Hanoi. Sapa is not actually located in Hanoi, it’s around 6 hours by train from Hanoi. However, many travellers combine a trip to Hanoi with some trekking in Sapa. It’s easy to do, and all of the tour operators offers trips to Sapa from Hanoi.
This was one of the best things I did while visiting Hanoi, that also has given me memories for life. I can highly recommend everyone to go to Sapa. The trekking is moderate, but if you need you will get help from the local tribes that lives in the area.
Duong Lam Ancient Village
If you want a break from the chaotic streets of Hanoi, Duong Lam is the place to go. Here you will find a serene place and some authentic Vietnamese culture. It’s not one of the must things to do in Hanoi, but it’s certainly something one should do if you have some time to kill, or if you are interested in Vietnamese culture.
Buy cheap beer and party
Hanoi has the world’s cheapest beer, and you can get draft beer for as little as 10-20 cents (USD). There is plenty of bars who serves cheap beer and during the weekends it’s really crowded. So if you like cheap beer and party you will find lots of it in Hanoi, especially if you go and pre-party at some of the cities more popular hostels, like Splendid Jupiter Hotel or Hanoi Backpackers Hostel.
Other things to do in Hanoi
These things is among the top things to do in Hanoi on Tripadvisor, and several other travel blogs and websites. However, they weren’t anything special in my opinion, and only worth a visit if you have some spare time.
Some might disagree, but if you’ve been travelling for a while, I’m pretty sure you won’t be especially impressed by these sites in Hanoi.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum – An important site where the legendary Ho Chi Minh is resting. However it’s not allowed to go inside, in fact you need to stand outside the yellow line, or else the guards will blow their whistle and approach you. The mausoleum itself might be worth taking a picture, but other than that here is nothing to do.
One Pillar Pagoda – The only pagoda with one pillar left in the world. So it’s definitely something unique, but in terms of sightseeing value I would probably give it 2 out of 5.
Hoan Kiem Lake – This lake is actually quite dirty, and in the evenings you will see weird and creepy people stroll around trying to scam tourists that is walking along the lake.
Temple of Literature – Sure, it’s a very old school, and an important place in Vietnamese history, but to someone who isn’t from Vietnam there is not much to do here. Sure you can do some reading, and enjoy when the students throw their hats for the tourists, but it’s really nothing special in my opinion.