As the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi with a large number of must-see cultural and historic sites that attract a lot of tourists nationwide. If you plan a trip to Hanoi for the first time and hard to find where to start, please refer Vietnam Charm Travel’s top tips to help make sure you find the best things to see in the city when you visit.
1. Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake is located in the historical center of Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. The lake is one of the major scenic spots and is also a place to get away from the noise of the city. Peaceful and quiet, the lake surrounds Ngoc Son Temple, a pagoda sitting in the center on a small island where attracts many visitors. The island on which the temple is built is known as Jade Island and is accessible by the iconic Huc Bridge or Rising Sun Bridge which is a charming scarlet-painted wooden bridge of classical Vietnamese design. The lake and temple are probably the most famous places in Hanoi city in which to rest and enjoy the view and are a great place to sit back and watch the locals.
2. Old Quarter
Packed with charming colonial architecture, Buddhist temples and pagodas, the Old Quarter, located near Hoan Kiem Lake, has the original street layout and architecture of old Hanoi. At the beginning of the 20th century, it is consisted of only about 36 streets, most of which are now part of the Old Quarter. Each street then had merchants and households specialized in a particular trade, such as silk traders, jewellery, etc. Though most of the specialties have changed over time and have been replaced with a variety of modern-day commodities and services, visitors can still appreciate some of the original goods as well as get a feel of rich old Vietnamese customs. The street names nowadays still reflect these specializations, although few of them remain exclusively in their original commerce.
Expect to find plenty of hip café, bars, a variety of restaurants, bakeries, boutique shops and art galleries as well as local cuisine in this historical area. A night market in the heart of the district opens for business every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening with a variety of clothing, souvenirs and food.
3. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a large memorial to the most iconic and popular leader of Vietnam. It is the final resting place of Ho Chi Minh who also known as “Uncle Ho”. His body is preserved here in a glass case at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in central Hanoi (albeit against his wishes). Visitors are not allowed to stop and hold the constant queue up as the place is constantly busy.
If you have a chance to visit Hanoi, make sure you will not miss one of the most visited attractions in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum to discover more about history of the greatest president of Vietnam so far – Ho Chi Minh. It’s best to recheck with our hotel tour desk before visiting. Admission is free but donations are accepted.
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Thursday and weekends from 08:00 – 11:00. Closed on Monday and Friday
4. Temple of Literature & Ancient National University
The Temple of Literature is ranked often cited as one of Hanoi’s most picturesque tourist attractions. It is a temple of Confucius in Hanoi, Vietnam. Although several Van Mieu can be found throughout Vietnam, the most prominent and famous is that situated in the city of Hanoi, which also functioned as Vietnam’s first university.
Originally built as a university in 1070 dedicated to Confucius, scholars and sages, the building is extremely well preserved and is a superb example of traditional-style Vietnamese architecture. This ancient site offers a lake of literature, the Well of Heavenly Clarity, turtle steles, pavilions, courtyards and passageways that were once used by royalty. Visiting the Temple of Literature you will discover historic buildings from the Ly and Tran dynasties in a revered place that has seen thousands of doctors’ graduate in what has now become a memorial to education and literature. Originally the university only accepted aristocrats, the elite and royal family members as students before eventually opening its doors to brighter ‘commoners’. Successful graduates had their names engraved on a stone stele which can be found on top of the stone turtles.
This historic site is ranked as one of Hanoi’s most important cultural places and is steeped in Vietnamese history. The layout of the temple is based upon the birthplace of Confucius with a magnificent main entrance and a path, once reserved solely for the king, running through the center. The immaculate gardens are rich in ancient trees and are considered a serene place in which students can relax. There are stone statues and inscriptions dotted throughout the temple which has retained many of its original features as the most renowned landmark of academia in Vietnam.
The Temple of Literature is a short stroll from Ba Dinh Square and is also close to the Presidential Palace and Vietnam Fine Arts Museum. The temple is between Ton Duc Thang Street and Van Mieu Street which is about 2km west of Hoan Kiem Lake.
Opening Hours: From 08:00 – 17:00 from November until March and 07:30 – 18:00 for the rest of the year. Closed on a Monday
5. Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi offers and insight into the 54 officially recognized ethnic groups in Vietnam in an effort to preserve cultural heritage and promote socio-cultural diversity within the country. It is located on a 3.27-acre (13,200m2) property in the Cau giay District, about 8 km from the Old Quarter. It is widely considered to be the finest modern museum in Vietnam and a tourist attraction in Hanoi.
6. West Lake
West Lake (Ho Tay) is the largest of all the lakes in Hanoi. The lake is on the northwest part of the city. Long ago, the lake was a branch of the Red river but later, as the river changed course, the lake remained a body of water just west of the river. There are many legends associated with West Lake. The most popular is the legend of the golden buffalo. As the story goes, there once was a medicine man who was a giant. He is well known in Vietnam for his medicine practice and the king often used him to treat the royal family. His fame reached China and he was invited to China to treat the king. He was successful where others have failed so the king was going to reward him with great wealth.
He refused offerings of gold and only requested that the king give him all the black copper in the king’s vault. The king agreed and the giant left for Vietnam with vast amounts of black copper. In Vietnam the giant molded a giant bell of black copper. The giant rang the bell and the sound resonated all the way to China. In the king’s vault there was a golden buffalo. Upon hearing the sound of the bell, the buffalo came to life (because he thought that his mother was calling him) and charged southward. Upon reaching Hanoi, the buffalo trampled the land in the area near Red river. Over the years, this area filled with water and became Ho Tay or West Lake.
7. Hoa Lo Prison
The Hoa Lo Prison, later sarcastically known to American prisoners of war as the “Hanoi Hilton”, was a prison used by the French colonists in Vietnam for political prisoners and later by North Vietnam for prisoners of war during the Vietnam War.
8. Hanoi night market
This market spreading from Hang Dao Street to Dong Xuan Market creates a busy and crowded walking street. on weekend evenings, a lot of people come here to stroll or go shopping, which becomes a habit.
As a commercial street, you can find everything concerning clothes and recreation. Clothes, sweets, “o mai” (salted dry fruit), decorations, toys, stationeries, sundry goods are respectively sold on Hang Ngang, Hang Dao, Hang Buom, Hang Duong, Luong Van Can, Hang Ma, Ngo Gach and Hang Ca Streets. All goods and facilities can be found from Dong Xuan Market to Hang Giay Street.
People come here for shopping or just strolling in the crowd to feel the atmosphere of the night market and the habit of Hanoians. Children are excited about going shopping with their family, sitting on their father’s shoulders, holding their mother’s hand, walking in a stream of people, playing with sand pictures and painting statues. It is so romantic to see lovers hand in hand walking on the street, smiling, taking pictures, buying some pieces of clothes at weekends. There are lots of foreign tourists who go sight-seeing or shopping. It is easy for them to find Hanoi or Vietnamese style souvenirs at low prices.
Food stalls often sell “banh beo” (bloating fern-shaped cake), bacon, grilled “nem chua”, sausages, Hai Phong bread, Donner Kebap, cakes, sweet porridge of northern provinces or Hue city. At the end of the night market street, next to Dong Xuan market, there is a night eatery with a wide range of food, such as “lau”, grilled food, “banh khuc” and steamed sticky rice.
9. Bat Trang Ceramic Village
Bat Trang, a small village in the north of Vietnam, is about 13 kilometers south east of Hanoi center, on the other side of Chuong Duong bridge. Why is its name popular to most tourists to northern Vietnam? The answer is its ever famous ceramic and pottery products of high quality. If you have known about Vietnam, you may not be surprised that Bat Trang’s vases, bowls, dishes, and many other kinds of ceramic products have been exported worldwide. Should you would like to contemplate workers making ceramic products by hand, just come here! What’s more, you can also try it yourself!
10. Tran Quoc Pagoda
One of the oldest pagodas in Vietnam, Tran Quoc Pagoda is on the eastern shore of Ho Tay, just off Thanh Nien Street, which divides this lake from Truc Bach Lake. A stela here, dating from 1639, tells the history of this site. The pagoda was rebuilt in the 15th century and again in 1842.
With all the historical and architectural values it possesses, the Pagoda is not only worth visiting as a sacred sanctuary of Buddhism attracting countless Buddhist believers; but also an indispensible destination for cultural explorers to Vietnam. If you have time to visit Hanoi, don't miss come to Tran Quoc Pagoda to explore the culture of Vietnamese Buddhism and to sightseeing view of West Lake.
11. Saint Joseph Cathedral
Hanoi's neo-Gothic St Joseph Cathedral was inaugurated in 1886, and boasts a soaring facade that faces a little plaza. Its most noteworthy features are its twin bell towers, elaborate altar and fine stained-glass windows. Entrance via the main gate is only permitted during Mass: times are listed on a sign on the gates to the left of the cathedral.
At other times, enter via the Diocese of Hanoi compound, a block away at 40 Nha Chung Street. When you reach the side door to the cathedral, to your right, ring the small bell high up on the right-hand side of the door.
12. Hanoi Opera House
Amid the flow of Hanoi’s history of 1000 years old, Hanoi Opera House proudly stands at the heart of central Hanoi as one of its most famous architectural, cultural and political symbol.
13. Hanoi Ancient House at 87 Ma May Street
The Hanoi ancient house at 87 Ma May street is located in the North of Hoan Kiem lake. The current Ma May street was once the two streets: Hang May street – where rattan products were sold and Hang Ma street. In the French colonial period, it was also called Quan Co Den (black flag army).
The house is built in the pipe- shaped architecture which was so popular in the past. It has three apartments. Each apartment is separated by a small space called “Gieng Troi” (Well of heaven). The house frame bears the main force of the house. The stair are made of ironwood and carved. The sloping roofs are covered with two layers of tiles: Flat tile inside layer and toe- cap tile outside layer.
The harmonious decoration creates more space for the house, though it preserves its original state, with regard to both family and commercial life in the capital city.
14. Vietnamese Women’s Museum in Hanoi
This excellent, modern museum showcases women’s role in Vietnamese society and culture. Labelled in English and French, it’s the memories of the wartime contribution by individual heroic women that are most poignant. If the glut of information sometimes feels repetitive, for visual stimulation there is a stunning collection of propaganda posters, as well as costumes, tribal basketware and fabric motifs from Vietnam’s ethnic minority groups. Check the website for special exhibitions.
15. Van Phuc Silk Village
Situated on the bank of Nhue River, about 10km southwest of Hanoi Old Quarter, Van Phuc silk village is renowned for its traditional weaving and premium quality silk products. At the age of more than 1,200 years, Van Phuc is proud to be the most ancient silk village which provides the best silk in the north of Vietnam.
Visitors to Van Phuc village will be impressed by typical manner of an ancient village in the north of Vietnam with banyan tree, well, communal house, and the sound of power-looms everywhere. Walking on the main road in Van Phuc, tourists will be lost in the world of silk with various products like shirts, ties, crafts, dresses… made of silk available in the village
16. Dong Xuan Market
Hanoi's oldest market of Dong Xuan mainly sells bulk food items, clothing and accessories targeted towards locals in its three storeys of packed aisles.
Dong Xuan takes up an entire city block. It's huge and really does sell pretty much everything, though it's not really a tourist market. If you’re looking for gifts to take home then you’re better off hunting around Hang Gai and Hang Hom. A few stalls do sell the usual tourist paraphernalia—silk cushion covers, chopsticks—so it won’t be a wasted trip if that’s what you’re after, but don’t go expecting a wealth of options.
17. The One Pillar Pagoda
To the right of the Ho Chi Minh Museum is the unique One-Pillar Pagoda, a wooden structure built in 1049 that sits on stilts over a lake. A king of the Ly Dynasty, Ly Thai Thong King had it built after having a dream in which Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, the goddess of mercy, presented him with a lotus flower. The existing pagoda is a miniature reproduction of the original, which was said to represent a lotus emerging from the water. It is certainly interesting, and a prayer here is said to bring fertility and good health. It's best to wear something full-length (skirt or trousers), not shorts.
18. Perfume Pagoda
The Perfume Pagoda, known locally as Chua Huong or ‘inner temple’, is at the centre of a very revered and sacred site featuring a maze of mainly Buddhist temples built into the limestone cliffs of Huong Tich. At the heart of this complex lies the Perfume Temple or Perfume Pagoda in the Huong Tich Cave.
There are many pagodas to visit, each offering a different shrine, most of which are Buddhist although one or two are animist. The Perfume Pagoda attracts pilgrims and tourists seeking good luck from the stalagmites and stalactites inside the cave which have been named according to the individual blessing they can bestow. Dun Tien offers prosperity and Nui Co offers the chance of giving birth to a girl whilst Dun Gao translates as a ‘rice stack’ to those hoping for a bountiful harvest.
19. Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, is an intriguing relic of Vietnam’s history and, signifying its historical and cultural importance, was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010. Also known as the Hanoi Citadel, many artefacts and items dating back to between the 6th and 20th centuries were excavated in 2004, including foundations of old palaces, ancient roads, ponds and wells.
On top of these discoveries, archaeologists also found bronze coins, ceramics and pottery from China and many places in Asia, all of which demonstrate a close trading relationship in the area. Visitors should head for the display room that features interesting excavated items and mock-ups of the citadel itself.
20. Fine Arts Museum of Vietnam
This excellent Fine Arts Museum is housed in two buildings that were once the French Ministry of Information. Treasures abound, including ancient Champa stone carvings and some astonishing effigies of Guan Yin, the thousand-eyed, thousand-armed goddess of compassion. Look out for the lacquered statues of Buddhist monks from the Tay Son dynasty and the substantial collection of contemporary art and folk-naive paintings. Guided tours are available for 150,000d.
21. Museum of Vietnamese History
Built between 1925 and 1932, this architecturally impressive museum was formerly home to the École Française d’Extrême Orient. Its architect, Ernest Hebrard, was among the first in Vietnam to incorporate a blend of Chinese and French design elements. Exhibit highlights include bronzes from the Dong Son culture (3rd century BC to 3rd century AD), Hindu statuary from the Khmer and Champa kingdoms, jewellery from imperial Vietnam, and displays relating to the French occupation and the Communist Party.