Hanoi, the capital of glorious Vietnam! What an exciting city to explore! It’s full of action, rooftop bars, gorgeous street food and zillions of bikes whizzing back and forth. We run thought it all in our Hanoi city guide right here.
It seems like it’s trying to catch up, and very fast, with the rest of the world after decades of setbacks such as the devastating Vietnamese (or American as the locals call it) War.
With a place as vibrant as Hanoi, you will not be short of historic sights to explore, museums to visit and cultural monuments to admire. With vast history and modern approach, the city has something for everyone.
Hoan Kiem Lake. The city’s jewel and one of the biggest tourist attractions is surely the scenic Hoan Kiem Lake or the “Lake of the Returned Sword” as the legend has it. To reach the Turtle Tower linked to the local legend, take the luminous red bridge across the green water.
The Magical Old Quarter of Hanoi. As stunning as the lake is, the true star of the city is the Old Quarter. Complete with its French colonial architecture, street food, temples and pagodas it is the heart and soul of Vietnam’s capital.
Take your time to explore this magical place with the original street layout still preserved and some of the iconic architecture of old Hanoi.
It’s fascinating to see various trades on the streets of Old Hanoi. The Old Quarter is brimming with traditional medicine and local handicrafts, such as silk merchants and even bamboo carpenters!
The Temple of Literature also known as the temple of Confucius was built in 1070. It is also home to Vietnam’s first National Univesity where the Vietnamese elite was educated until 1779. Later in 1802 a new imperial academy was founded in the city of Hue.
One Pillar Pagoda, a historic Buddhist temple and also one of Vietnam’s iconic temples was built based on a dream of the Emperor Lý Thái Tông who was childless and dreamed of a son.
Hanoi Citadel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a fascinating place that has just recently opened to the general public. We highly recommend visiting this historic site depicting the long lost former residence of Vietnamese monarchs.
While exploring the the Citadel, take the opportunity to discover the D67 bunker constructed in 1967 as the main spot where the commanders gathered secretly to make key decisions about the conduct of their troops during the Vietnam (American) War.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Ba Đình District is the resting place of the glorious Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh. The elaborate monument was erected between 1973 and 1975 despite Ho’s humble wish to simply be cremated. Remember to dress modestly upon entering the mausoleum.
When planning the visit, remember that the late Ho Chi Minh’s body is shipped to Russia for further conservation for a whole month from 4 September to 4 November.
Located on the Nha Tho (Church) Street in the Hoan Kiem District, the Notre Dam like Neo-Gothic St. Joseph’s Cathedral is the oldest church in Hanoi. As you wander around, also pay attention to many beautifully decorated facades across the street.
For more inspiration, check out these fun things to do in Hanoi.
Drinks in Hanoi
You haven’t really been to Hanoi if you haven’t squatted on one of those brilliantly tiny chairs by the road side. Especially if you see lots of locals sitting around with a pint of golden liquid in hand.
It’s most likely fresh beer, try it! It’s usually less than 3% alcohol and costs between 3,000 and 7,000 VND ($0.13 to $0.30 USD) per glass.
We also highly recommend having a couple of beers in a chain bar/cafe Cong and feel the chilled vibe of the city while watching the bikes whiz by.
Rooftop Bar (83 Lý Thường Kiệt, Trần Hưng Đạo, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội,).
As travellers and not having cocktail attire in our backpacks, we feared we are inappropriately dressed for this kind of place. However, we were soon enjoying a beer and a rum cocktail.
To our surprise, it wasn’t shockingly expensive as we thought it might be. A total of 380,000 VND ($ 17.00) for both a beer, cocktail and fantastic panoramic views across Hanoi.
Polite Pub. The abundance of places to eat and drink makes the Old Quarter a buzzing district of Hanoi. But out of all the places we popped in to the Polite Pub for a pint. A cosy and very polite place for a drink, but far from a good old English pub.
Where to Find Best Coffee in Hanoi
Coffeeholic? Then you are in the right place! Hanoi is the place to visit if you love your coffee. With cafes scattered on every corner you will soon be sipping one cup after another, losing count of how many you already had!
Cafe Lam, one of the oldest cafes in the city. Enjoy your coffee outside with the locals.
For the ultimate ecà phê trứng experience, you need to visit Cafe Giang, a place where the iconic and very popular ‘egg coffee’ was invented. You will find the Giang cafe next door to Cafe Lam.
Cafe Pho Co offers beautiful panoramic views across the Hoan Kiem Lake. The cafe is hidden at the back of a shop filled with silk produce and touristy t-shirts.
Once you find your way through the souvenir
jungle, order your drink at the ‘reception’ area downstairs and then head upstairs to a tranquil terrace. A lovely spot to enjoy your coffee.
Cafe Indigenous, located next to St Joseph Cathedral is very easy to miss so keep your eyes peeled. A teeny tiny coffee shop offers a nice variety of vietnamese coffee as well as coffee making accessories.
If you love coffee as much as I do, you might find it useful to have a look at this Hanoi Coffee Guide, complete with maps making it easier for you to locate the hidden cafes.
Food in Hanoi
Our food recommendations in Hanoi are simple. As in many cases when visiting Vietnam, we’d say eat the local street food where possible.
The Old Quarter will greet you with a hot broth bubbling away in a pot over a fire, steaming dumplings, crispy duck and veggie spring rolls. For breakfast in Vietnamese capital you will find the tasty Pho Bo (beef noodles) and my favourite Pho Ga (chicken noodles) garnished with fresh cilantro, tangy Thai basil and bean sprouts.
Hey, and use the chopped up fresh lime on the table to disinfect your spoons and chopsticks, that’s a top tip we picked up from the locals!
Banh Mi, a Vietnamese sandwich, is a good option for the travellers on the go. A fresh baguette loaded with sweet, spicy, meaty or vegetarian flavours is a saviour once you’ve had enough already of the slippery rice noodles falling off your chopsticks every time you try to have a bite.
While we enjoyed street food in many places in Hanoi, it was the local areas such as Do Hanh where we sampled some of the best noodle soup for breakfast, beautifully tender beef for lunch and chocolatey smooth coffee.
Where to Stay in Hanoi
One of the best experiences a traveller can have is the truly local experience. Choosing accommodation within walking distance from the sightseeing attractions gives you a better idea of the ‘real city’. It’s quieter and almost always provides a better deal.
To enhance our personal experiences we always check other travel blogs for best advice and search Airbnb to see what apartments or rooms we can find in a new city.
As well as valuing the local experience we also search for places that represent good value for money. After much research we found the Cozy Studio in the Old Quarter at 515,000 VND ($23 USD) per night.
This modern apartment came complete with a furnished living room, equipped kitchen, bathroom with a separate shower (yay!), a roof terrace and even a friendly security guy!
Located on the Do Hanh street, around 20 minute walk from the Old Quarter, the apartment was perfect for us. An easy walk into the town meant that we could have a stroll at any time and explore hidden passageways.
Also, the studio is located very close to the Hanoi Railway Station, which is always handy as we prefer trains to busses. In fact it was so handy that we walked to the station to buy train tickets to Sapa a day before.
Alternatively, you can search Agoda for other lovely accommodation in the city.
Getting In, Out and Around Hanoi
By Plane. When flying to Hanoi, you will arrive to the Noi Bai International Airport, about an hours drive from the city centre. We flew into Hanoi from Laos capital Vientiane, and had a very pleasant 50 minute flight.
To avoid the the hassle, we suggest taking a taxi at the airport for around $10. We had a very good experience, the driver was very friendly and got us to our accommodation smoothly and effortlessly.
It’s always a good idea to look around and see if any other travelling couples are seeking transportation too and then split the taxi costs.
Otherwise you can take a shuttle or a local bus which takes a whole 1.5 hours to get into the city centre.
By Rail. You can easily reach Hanoi from Hue, Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City also from Sapa including Lao Cai, right next to Chinese border.
We really enjoyed rail journeys in Vietnam. To check information and routes we used the excellent Seat61.com rail travel website.
Then we booked our Vietnam train tickets using the super friendly 12GoAsia website. Book online and there’s no need to print your tickets, just show them to the station staff before you board on your smartphone. No running around looking for a place to print anything. Nice.
Read more: Sleeper Train From Hanoi to Sapa, Vietnam
Getting Around Hanoi
Vietnam’s capital is pretty easy on foot if you are only going to explore the main touristy sights.
Otherwise taxis are a good way to get from place to place. A couple of times we took a taxi from the Old Quarter back to our accommodation on Do Hanh street at a cost of around 35,000 VND ($1.57 USD) off peak. However, bear in mind that the prices can be inconsistent.
The mighty Uber is now available to book in Hanoi, just download the app and you are good to go!
Alternatively, you can get a Cyclo, great fun but we don’t recommend as they can be a real rip off as just transport!
If you are brave enough to whizz around the streets of magical Hanoi, you could rent a bike at your accommodation. But mind you the traffic in Hanoi can seem a little crazy for the first timers in Vietnam so be careful (see below!).
Still curious to see what it’s like to be on a bike in Hanoi, but want to avoid driving the bike yourself? Well, you can always jump on one of the ever popular Vietnamese xe om (motorbike) for a quick journey.
The Traffic in Hanoi
The volume of motorbikes on the streets make Hanoi seem like a really crazy place. It seems like there’s no order on the streets, but somehow it all works most of the time.
Crossing the streets is challenging in Hanoi, especially for first timers. We struggled to get to grips with it to start with, but don’t worry, you’ll get used to it, eventually. The best advice we got from a local Vietnamese was ‘just close your eyes and walk’. Yikes!
Here is a quick video that Charlie took during the rush hour. And no, you are not safe even on the pavement.
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Planning on visiting Hanoi? If you have, what was your favourite thing? Let us know in the comments below…