Get out onto the bustling streets of Hanoi and you'll experience real Vietnamese culture. The capital of Vietnam is a bustling metropolis that has managed to preserve its rich cultural heritage while still embracing modern development.
The historic sector of Hanoi is the city's top draw. You can hear the bustle of street vendors and see cutting-edge art in the windows of the trendy cafes and restaurants. Even the simple act of crossing the street here may turn into a hair-raising adventure.
When the hustle and bustle of the city becomes too much, there are several quiet spots to explore in Hanoi.The Temple of Literature and the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology are two of the greatest sites to visit to reflect on Vietnam's magnificent past, while Hoan Kiem Lake provides a tranquil break right in the city.
Browse our recommended places of interest and activities in Hanoi for additional vacation inspiration.
1. Ha Noi Old Town Quater
The historic district of Ho Chi Minh City is the main draw for many tourists to Vietnam's capital.
The city's economic lifeblood for the past thousand years has been concentrated in this maze of winding streets.
It's charmingly rundown, with a few remnants of ancient buildings clinging to life among the buzz of modern business, whizzing motorcycles, and hawking street sellers.
Look aloft as you explore the region to see the many examples of the vernacular shophouse architecture, which is characterized by very long but narrow two-story residences that are crowded together on the alleyway rows and where merchants typically lived above their stores.
You can really get a feel for the bustle of Hanoi life in these alleys.There is a wide variety of cuisine available from street vendors, as well as many vendors along the streets selling fruits and vegetables.
Built in 1886 on Nha Tho Street, St. Joseph's Cathedral is a beautiful example of the neo-Gothic architecture and a legacy of the French colonial era in the center of the old town sector.
There are two bell towers and ornate detailing on the exterior, while the interior features beautiful stained glass window work. Except while mass is being held, the main entrance is always locked. During non-service hours, the offices of the Diocese of Hanoi provide a rear entrance to the church itself.
2. Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake, located on the southeastern fringe of the historic area, is the city's most recognizable landmark.
Ngoc Son Temple, located on a tiny island that can be reached via a red bridge, is the lake's most popular tourist destination. The temple honors three prominent figures in Vietnamese history: La To (a saint venerated by doctors), the great scholar Van Xuong, and the 13th-century general Tran Hung Dao, who fought off the Mongol invasion.
Across the lake towards the south, on a little island, is the bulky Turtle Tower, which is best observed from the bridge.
3. Temple of Literature
This stunning Confucian temple, which dates back to the 11th century but served first as a university, is the city's most fascinating religious structure. The Temple of Literature is a modern monument honoring the nation's intellectuals.
Near the entranceway, you can still see the names of students who studied here in the Middle Ages engraved into a series of pillars, a tangible reminder of the institution's role as a center for the study of Confucian philosophy and literature.
Upon entering, visitors will see a beautifully landscaped garden leading to a pagoda with a statue of Confucius within.
4. Ho Chi Minh President Mausoleum
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a huge structure in the city's gardens that houses the tomb of Ho Chi Minh as well as many museums and monuments, and is a destination of pilgrimage for many Vietnamese.
Ho Chi Minh's remains is preserved in embalming fluid and shown in a glass coffin inside the mausoleum's somber marble structure.
The complex also houses the Ho Chi Minh Museum, an eclectic collection that includes both personal artifacts from Ho Chi Minh and extensive documentation of the revolutionary movement in Vietnam.
In addition to the pagoda, it is recommended that you check out Ho Chi Minh's former residence, a stilt house that has been meticulously kept. After the ancient temple in the 11th century was demolished by French colonial troops, this pagoda was built in its place.
5. Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi is a must-see for museum aficionados and history buffs alike, since it is home to Vietnam's large national collection and chronicles the narrative of Vietnam's different cultures via a succession of superbly well-curated displays.
Stunning exhibitions of art and antiquities, including woodwork carving, metalwork, and traditional costumes, demonstrate the wide variety of ethnic minorities who make Vietnam their home.
Some of the most captivating displays are located in the garden area just outside the main structure. In addition to the intriguing Giarai tomb, this area is home to the traditional homes of Vietnam's many ethnic communities.
6. Hoa Lo Prison Museum
In the late 19th century, the French colonial authority constructed Hoa Lo Prison Museum to house Vietnamese revolutionaries and other opponents of French control.
The jail is more well-known to international tourists as the location where American prisoners of war were imprisoned during the Vietnam War (known as the American War in Vietnam). John McCain, the most well-known former foreign inmate, is a U.S. senator.
There are group cells, individual cells, and a courtyard on the prison grounds; the French guillotine is also on show.
POWs were subjected to a harsh regime, and the history of Vietnam's lengthy struggle against French colonial power is documented in great detail here.
The American prisoners of war who were housed here are also memorialized in two separate rooms with a movie chronicling their incarceration and ultimate liberation as well as personal souvenirs from the inmates themselves.
7. Water Puppet Theatre
Hanoi's water puppet performances are a terrific evening activity if you're traveling with kids since they provide a glimpse into traditional Vietnamese art and entertainment.
Originally developed in Vietnam's rural areas during the months of the monsoon rice field floods, this traditional art form is currently usually performed in specially designed water pools rather than in the open air.
The stories of the region are often the inspiration for the shows, and a live band playing traditional Vietnamese instruments provides accompaniment. There are five presentations every day at the Municipal Water Puppet Theatre, making Hanoi the epicenter of modern water puppet theater.
8. Perfume Pagoda Complex
This Buddhist temple complex, also known as Huong Pagoda, is located on the slopes and clifftops of Huong Tich Mountain, and is a popular day trip from Hanoi, both for the pagodas themselves and the beautiful surroundings.
Accessing the Perfume Pagoda requires a 60-kilometer drive to the south of the city, followed by a one-hour boat ride along a river surrounded by lush karst mountain scenery all the way to Huong Tich Mountain, and finally either a cable car with excellent aerial views of the mountains or a hike up the slopes to the temple complex.
Pilgrims from Vietnam travel to the pagoda complex to pray for help with anything from infertility and illness to financial woes and domestic strife.
9. Hanoi's Fine Art Museum
Museum-goers interested in seeing works by Vietnamese artists from antiquity to the present day should make a detour to this institution.
Terracotta and stone sculptures from the Tran and Champa dynasties, Buddha statues from the Mac and Le dynasties, and elaborate statues of the deity Guan Yin may all be found here.
The ceramics from the 11th and 12th centuries are also rather significant, and there is a large exhibition dedicated to folk art.
10. Co Loa Citadel
Located about 16 kilometers northeast of Hanoi's downtown, Co Loa Citadel is easily accessible for a day excursion. This walled town has been inhabited since the Bronze Age, making it a significant archaeological site in the region.
This site is considered to be Vietnam's first capital since it served as the seat of power for the Kingdom of Au Lac in the north during the third century BCE.
Remains of the earthen ramparts, which once ran for five kilometers, and a collection of temples from various time periods can be seen in the village, the newest of which dates back to the 16th century.