🍜 Hanoi Travel Guide: 13 Great Things To Do, Eat and Maybe Skip

The blog author standing on a bridge in front a decorated Asian gate.

The capital of Vietnam, Hanoi is a bustling city with historical and cultural significance. Centrally located in Northern Vietnam and with the only international airport in the region, Hanoi is one of Vietnam’s most visited destinations.

Here, I share practical tips on things to do, eat and maybe skip in Hanoi based on hours of research and actual experience.

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Quick Travel Facts for Hanoi

🏍️ Vibe: Hanoi’s vibe can seem chaotic to visitors, with motorbikes honking and zooming along the streets. It’s a city with lots of open businesses in a vibrant community.

📍 Location: Centrally located in Northern Vietnam and with the only international airport in the region, Hanoi is the ideal entry point to other popular areas (e.g., Ninh Bình is 2 hours south, Ha Giang City is 6 hours north, Ha Long Bay is 3 hours east).

✈️ How to visit: Visitors usually fly into Hanoi’s airport, Noi Bai International Airport. Once you’re in Hanoi, expect to mostly walk in the Old Quarter area. You can use the Grab app to call a car or motorbike.

☀️ When to visit: The most popular time to visit Hanoi is from October to April, when humidity is low and the weather is not too warm. June to October is considered the rainy season.

⏳ How long to visit: 2-4 days is the recommended time to visit Hanoi. I stayed for 2 full days which gave me enough time to see some of the popular sites.

This Northern Vietnam guide has more quick basics and general tips.

4 General Tips for Visiting Hanoi

Here are four general tips when traveling to Hanoi:

  • Tip #1: Bring toilet paper for bathrooms. Many bathrooms in Hanoi don’t have toilet paper and a lot of them are squat toilets. They also won’t have paper towels to dry your hands.
  • Tip #2: Learn to cross the streets with confidence. Vehicles, especially in Hanoi, don’t stop for pedestrians. Step into the street while keeping an eye on traffic and walk straight in a predictable path with a consistent pace so that vehicles can go around you.
Woman crossing a street while many cars and motorbikes drive around her.
Here’s me crossing a street in Hanoi.
  • Tip #3: Download the Grab app (iOS, Android). This is the Uber of Southeast Asia. Calling a Grab is usually more affordable than flagging down a taxi. I paid $16 through Grab to get a ride into Hanoi after landing in Noi Bai International Airport.

Hanoi also has tuk-tuks and other negotiation-based methods of transportation. Grab generally has competitive pricing; a pro tip is to use Grab as a baseline for negotiations when tuk-tuks and other transportations are more convenient.

5 Great Things To Do in Hanoi

I did 9 popular things in Hanoi and below are the 5 things I recommend in approximate order of priority.

This Google Map has all the Hanoi locations mentioned on this list.

A map of Hanoi with red pins highlighting certain locations mostly in Old Quarter.
Map of Hanoi, Vietnam.

1. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Why: Arguably Hanoi’s most famous site, this big complex contains the preserved body of the revolutionary President Ho Chi Minh who united Vietnam. The complex also contains other buildings, like the Ho Chi Minh Museum.

The blog author standing in front a box-shaped, gray building with columns that says "Ho Chi Minh."
Looking at the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum from the outside where cameras are allowed.

Getting there: The entrance is on the southwest side; here on Google Maps.

Ho Chi Minh mausoleum enforces a dress code (knees and shoulders must be covered), so dress accordingly. I saw people denied entry otherwise.

Also, no cameras are allowed in the mausoleum, but they are allowed in the surrounding grounds. They stow cameras in a bag and keep it at station that you can pick it up from when you exit the mausoleum.

Duration: 1 hour is sufficient to visit the mausoleum. Security and the line can take a bit and you can only view the body of Ho Chi Minh for ~20 seconds (there’s a line that loops around the display and there are guards that keep the line moving). Budget more time if you want to visit other buildings in the complex.

Cost: Free; Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum does not have an entrance fee. Other places within the complex, such as the museum, may have an entrance fee.

My take: Viewing the preserved body of Ho Chi Minh is a brief, but interesting and unique experience. Given Ho Chi Minh’s role in Vietnam’s history and the importance of this site, I would recommend visiting the mausoleum.

2. Day Trip to Ninh Bình

Why: Just 2 hours south of Hanoi, Ninh Bình is called “Ha Long Bay on Land” for its green rice paddies and limestone cliffs. Their big attractions include the Bai Dinh Pagoda, the second largest pagoda in Vietnam; the Lying Dragon Mountain that gives a panoramic view; and the Trang An or Tam Coc rivers.

A high view of small green mountains surrounded by water fields.
The view from Lying Dragon Mountain in Ninh Bình.

Duration: The tour I did lasted 3.5 hours and we ate at 7 different locations. Note that some visitors spend 2-3 days in Ninh Bình and they generally also visit the top 3-5 attractions.

Cost: Most Ninh Bình day tour will cost $50/person and include transportation and lunch. I paid $55 for my tour.

My take: Ninh Bình is beautiful and a nice day trip to get away from chaotic Hanoi. As a heads up, visitors generally amass in the same popular places at around the same times (e.g., there were dozens of boats in the water in Trang An and the view from Lying Dragon Mountain had a line).

3. Street Food Tour in Old Quarter

Why: Hanoi is one of Vietnam’s foodie spots. Old Quarter is the main business and tourist hot spot of Hanoi, composed of 36 streets where you can see many historical sights, shop, eat, etc.

This was one of the most valuable things I did in Hanoi. Going on a street food tour early in your Vietnam trip is a great way familiarize yourself with Vietnamese food. The tour also gave me other authentic restaurants to eat at.

Two people sitting at a table eating noodle with a dark broth.
Eating at the 6th restaurant stop of my Hanoi food tour.

Duration: Most street food tours will last 3-5 hours. The tour I did lasted 3.5 hours and we ate at 7 different locations.

Cost: My Old Quarter street food tour cost was $26, which I thought was worth it given the large quantity of food.

My take: Local street food in Vietnam is difficult to navigate so a tour is likely your best bet to eat very authentic food. The tour was a great combination of popular tourist restaurants with local places where no one speaks English.

4. Hoan Kiem Lake

Why: Located in the heart of Hanoi, this lake is surrounded by pagoda gateways (Ngọc Sơn Temple is the most popular) and gives visitors a break from the chaotic streets.

One of the most interesting things in the Ngọc Sơn Temple are the giant, preserved turtles, an important animal in Vietnamese culture.

A red bridge surrounded by trees and an Asian gate.
The entrance to Ngọc Sơn Temple on Hoan Kiem Lake.

Duration: 30 minutes to 1 hour is enough time to walk the bridge, look at the temple and take photos.

Cost: The Ngoc Son Temple on Hoan Kiem Lake has a ~$1 entrance fee.

My take: This lake provides a good place to get away from the more chaotic side of Hanoi. That said, it’s not going to be the most beautiful lake you’ve ever seen.

5. Water Puppet Theater Show

Why: Water puppet is a traditional Vietnamese performance that’s difficult to experience elsewhere. This show consists of a dozen puppeteers controlling puppets while in water, accompanied by traditional instruments.

Note that there are several water puppet theater shows in Hanoi. The popular one is Thang Long, which is located here on the northeast side of Hoan Kiem Lake.

An indoor theater with an Asian-building prop and 10 performers standing in water.
The water puppet show’s stage.

Duration: The Water Puppet show is 50 minutes long.

Get to the show on time. If you’re late, you’ll have to nudge your way through very tight seats. Also, don’t forget to pick up your English translation device.

Cost: The Water Puppet Theater offers different pricing tiers based on seat. I chose the middle tier, which cost ~$6. This is a popular show with sometimes long lines; you can pay to skip the line.

My take: The show doesn’t have a complex plot or dialogue. What made it interesting to me is trying to figure out how exactly the puppeteers are controlling the puppets, which is not straightforward.

4 Things To Potentially Skip

Below are popular things in Hanoi that I did that I recommend skipping if you’re pressed for time or want to prioritize something else.

1. Temple of Literature

What it is: Dating back to 1,000 years and constructed in honor of Confucius, this is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in Hanoi and is a popular place to take photos.

My take: I found it underwhelming compared to other buildings and temples I saw in Vietnam. It’s a nice, accessible complex for Hanoi, but not for Vietnam overall.

Cost: Temple of Literature has an entrance fee of ~$1.25.

A big pool of green water inside a large complex surrounded by an Asian gate and trees.
Inside the Temple of Literature.

2. Vietnam Military History Museum

What it is: A popular museum, it showcases the multiple wars, including the Vietnam War, from Vietnam’s perspective. It also has cool artifacts (e.g., planes, tanks).

My take: I had high hopes for this museum as I was interested in learning about the war from different perspectives, but I found the museum a bit poorly-designed and therefore confusing.

Cost: The Vietnam Military History Museum has an entrance fee of ~$1.50.

A large, green tank sitting on a red carpet display.
A tank featured in the Vietnam Military History Museum.

3. Nhà Thờ Lớn Hà Nội Church

What it is: Located at the center, this is the oldest church in Hanoi.

My take: The church is located in a touristy area of Hanoi so it’s easy to walk by it and take a look. I didn’t find the church’s design that impressive or unique.

Cost: Free; the church does not have an entrance fee.

4. Dong Xuan Market

What it is: A local market that shows up as a tourist attraction when you research it.

My take: This is more of a wholesale market aimed at locals, not visitors.

Cost: The Dong Xuan Market does not have an entrance fee.

The popular Train Street where trains run extremely close to houses was closed when I visited in October 2022. However, you can have locals “sneak” you in.

Train tracks running through a street of closely-placed buildings.
Closed signs for Train Street.

Vietnam overall is very affordable, even in bustling cities like Hanoi. This Vietnam cost breakdown details all my trip’s travel expenses.

4 Great Places To Eat in Hanoi

One of my favorite things to do in Hanoi was eating authentic Vietnamese cuisine for very affordable prices.

1. Xôi Gia Truyền Bà Thu

What it is: A super local place that serves delicious sticky rice (called xôi) with pork belly, sausage, egg, etc. and soy milk. This is a no-frills place that’s great for breakfast.

Cost: I paid ~$2 each time I got a bowl and soy milk.

A bowl of rice with sausage and pork belly.
Amazing rice bowl at Xoi Gia Truyen Ba Thu.

2. Bánh Mì 25

What it is: Popular with tourists, this place serves great bánh mì, a baguette sandwich filled with savory ingredients.

Cost: I paid ~$3 for a watermelon juice and bánh mì.

Two baguette sandwiches with pork belly and vegetables.
Amazing bánh mì at Bánh Mì 25.

3. Bánh xèo, Nem cuốn

What it is: Bánh xèo is a crispy, stuffed rice pancake. I ate it at 4 different locations and this local place was my favorite.

Cost: A bánh xèo here costs less than $1.

A lettuce wrapped around a crispy pancake with vegetables inside.
Eating bánh xèo at Bánh xèo, Nem cuon.

4. Cafe Giang

What it is: Egg coffee is a Vietnam specialty and more similar to a dessert than coffee. I had egg coffee at four different places and strongly recommend going to Cafe Giang, which is also said to be the inventor of egg coffee. I tried their egg coffee (hot and iced), egg hot chocolate (hot and iced), and egg beer.

Cost: Each Cafe Giang drink was ~$1.50.

A cup of coffee with yellow-milky coloring.
Hot egg coffee at Cafe Giang.

Where I Stayed In Hanoi

Here is where I stayed in Hanoi and my thoughts on the places.

Factors I considered:

  • Proximity to Old Quarter. I wanted to be within walking distance of Old Quarter.

Most of the action and tour pickup spots will be in Old Quarter, so I recommend staying in or near it.

  • Laundry availability. I traveled to Vietnam as part of a longer trip, so I needed access to laundry while in Hanoi.

Where I stayed:

Hotel: I stayed at Bi Eco Suites Hanoi and paid ~$19/person/night.

  • Pros: The entry way was tucked away in a nice alley, away from all the Old Quarter street honking. The rooms were modern, huge and had a decent view. The laundry service was fair and flexible.
  • Cons: I don’t have any complaints about this place, given the price. One nit-picky thing was that I arrived late at night and concierge wasn’t immediately available to open the gates for me (I had to wait for ~10 minutes, worrying if I could even get into the place that night).
The blog author standing in a nice alleyway with lots of plants.
The entrance to Bi Eco Suites Hanoi.

Airbnb: I also stayed at this Airbnb in Old Quarter and paid $21/person/night.

  • Pros: The place was as pictured (e.g., modern, beautiful, clean) and very spacious. It was also built in such a way that it was very quiet even though it was near the streets.
  • Cons: The street this accommodation is located on is very busy and full of motorbikes the moment you step outside. This is a common experience in Hanoi Old Quarter.
A modern, underground room with a couch and queen bed.
The inside of the Airbnb in Hanoi.

If you have any questions or thoughts, feel free to leave them in the comments below!

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