9 Best Things To Do In Hanoi Starting From The Top Down

Things to do in Hanoi in 2023

There are a ton of fun things to do in Hanoi this 2023 even when you’re on a budget!

Enter Vietnam’s golden gates through the enchanting city of Hanoi! Filled with historical backgrounds, influenced by Chinese, French, and Vietnamese cultures, this city has so much to offer that a day is simply not enough!

There’s simply so much to do in this 1000-year-old city! Revel in Vietnam’s culture and old traditions, walk through the paths taken by the ancestors, and immerse yourself in architectural wonders. Hanoi highlights both traditional and modern as this city in the land of the blue dragon has greatly progressed over the years!

Sure, the crowd might get overwhelming and traffic might get in the way, but Hanoi has some of the most peaceful escapes in the country. You can also have a taste of the vibrant food scene in Vietnam here in Hanoi as this city houses some of the greatest Vietnamese cuisines! A day is definitely not enough to explore this gem!

So, if you’re planning on going on a trip to Vietnam, here are 9 things you can do in the capital city, Hanoi!

Things to do in Hanoi!

1. Hanoi Old Town Quarter

Every Hanoi tour starts by strolling along the Old Town Quarter. It’s no surprise since this ancient core shows you the beautiful hustle and bustle of the locals as they go along from shop to shop, with vendors selling fruits and vegetables, silk, and pretty much everything.

The street signs tell you where to go specifically for the product or service that you’re looking for. But basically, the architectural designs of the shops and shophouses in Old Town Quarter are a mixture of colonial and traditional styles merged into one. No matter where you go, you’ll see remnants of old Vietnam now being blended into modernity.

Shop houses in Hanoi Old Quarter
Shop houses in Hanoi Old Quarter, credit: Ha Food Tours

The streets in Old Town Quarter are great for people who want to walk around despite the presence of modern vehicles and if there’s a safe place to enjoy the buzzing lifestyle of Vietnam, it will be here in Old Town Quarter.

Coming here at night won’t be a bore since the night market pops up! You can eat dinner here with the locals and munch on some local food!

Entrance Fee: Free

Address: Hanoi, Vietnam

2. Hoan Kiem Lake

Hoan Kiem Lake is Hanoi’s prominent landmark with its beauty that looks like it came straight out of a fantasy movie. This magical lake features the Ngoc Son Temple a.k.a the Temple of the Jade Mountain, built on a small island that connects to the mainland through the Huc Bridge.

The Ngoc Son Temple wasn’t meant to be a tourist attraction. It was originally built in the 19th century to commemmorate the greatest military commander of the Tran dynasty, Tran Hung Dao who spearheaded the Vietnamese Army’ against the ‘s many victories against the Yuan Dynasty back in the 13th century. This temple is also a tribute to the Chinese God of Prosperity and Taoist philosophy, Van Xuong De Quan.

Ngoc Son Temple on Hoan Kiem Lake
Ngoc Son Temple on Hoan Kiem Lake, credit: Trip.com

At night, Hoan Kiem Lake illuminates with lights which makes for a romantic atmosphere perfect for dates with a special someone or with your family.

Also, check out the turtle tower which is believed to be home of a mythical turtle that swims the waters of the lake. But you can spot real life turtles swimming around too.

Just be careful of the traffic around the area as it can get chaotic!

Entrance Fee: $1 per person

Address: Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam

3. Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature is oddly named as some would say but actually, this temple is a tribute to the scholars in Vietnam.

Back in the 11th century, the Temple of Literature was ordered by Emperor Le Thanh Tong to be built as a university focused on the philosophical beliefs of Confucianism and literature, hence the name. Six years after, it became a prestigious academic institution becoming the first national University in Vietnam.

Entrance to the Temple of Literature
Entrance to the Temple of Literature, credit: Eastin Hotel

The Temple of Literature is surely one you cannot miss especially if you’re a student, a future writer, or a publisher since this temple is dedicated to you. There’s an entrance fee but it only costs $1.28!

Entrance Fee: $1.28 per person

Address: 58 P. Quốc Tử Giám, Văn Miếu, Đống Đa, Hà Nội 100000, Vietnam

4. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

For those who do not know, Ho Chi Minh is not just a city, but it’s a real person! President Ho Chi Minh was the former President of Vietnam in 1945 to 1969. He was the founding father of modern Vietnam and was the leader of Vietnamese nationalist movement for over 30 years!

A beautiful picture of Uncle Ho (President Ho Chi Minh)
A beautiful picture of Uncle Ho (President Ho Chi Minh), credit: Chao Hanoi

Upon his death, he wished to have a simple cremation but because of the love and admiration that the Vietnamese people had for him, a mausoleum was built by the people as a symbol of their dedication to the late President.

Today, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is pilgrimage site for many Vietnamese people and the complex is surrounded by beautiful gardens. The embalmed body of the late President is displayed in the central hall, guarded by military honor guards. The President still plays a significant role in Vietnam’s modern ideologies and foreign dignitaries are brought to the mausoleum to pay their respects.

The grand Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The grand Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, credit: Vinpearl

The Mausoleum is definitely a place you must visit as this symbolizes a new Vietnam! Entrance fee is only $1 so this is perfect for all budget travelers!

NOTE: Make sure that you’re wearing decent clothes as this is a place to pay respect and is not just a tourist attraction.

Entrance Fee: $1 per person

Address: 8 Hùng Vương, Điện Biên, Ba Đình, Hà Nội 100000, Vietnam

5. Water Puppet Theatre

If China has shadow puppetry called Pi Ying, Vietnam has water puppetry locally known as Mua Roi Nuoc!

Yes! This form of puppetry is done on water and it’s a performance you should never miss if you’re visiting the city of Hanoi!

Water puppet performance at Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
Water puppet performance at Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, credit: Atlas Obscura

The performance at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre features puppets that seem to be dancing on the surface of the water but are really operated by puppeteers who stand in the waist high pool of water. The shows are serenaded with live traditional Vietnamese instruments!

Tickets are actually inexpensive and costs about $5 per person! You can buy tickets at the site but if you don’t want to wait in line, you can purchase a ticket online through Klook or other booking websites for tours and attractions that we recommend!

Entrance Fee: S5 per person

6. Hoa Lo Prison Museum

Would you like to go to prison? Because if you’re up for it, you can visit Hoa Lo Prison Museum in Hanoi!

Hoa Lo Prison has seen some of the gruelest sights in Vietnamese history. This was built by the French colonial government to imprison Vietnamese revolutionists in 1896.

During the Vietnam War in 1955 to 1975, North Vietnam used Hoa Lo Prison to lock up U.S. prisoners, earning the nickname, “the Hanoi Hilton”. John McCain was one of the most famous ex-residents.

Statues depicting the prisoners in Hoa Lo Prison
Statues depicting the prisoners in Hoa Lo Prison, credit: Hyperallergic.com

The Hoa Lo Prison museum preserves the remnants of the wars that have come before. Here, you’ll find the original solitary cells, communal jail cells, and courtyard as well as the guillotine used by the French. Just remember not to shout, “Off with his head!” as to not have people looking at you weirdly.

This trip is more than just a look back at Vietnam’s history, you’ll also learn a lot about Vietnam’s struggle against colonialism and how the country has fought back relentlessly!

Entrance: $1 per turn

Address: 1 P. Hoả Lò, Trần Hưng Đạo, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam

7. Hanoi Imperial Citadel

We’re pretty sure that by now you’ve realized that a lot of the places we’ve recommended you to go to in Hanoi are historic places.

Another historic spot on our list which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site is Hanoi Imperial Citadel a.k.a the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long. This 1000-year-old fortress has stood the test of time. It served as a symbol of military power in Vietnam for 8 centuries but most especially during the Vietnam war.

Full view of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
Full view of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, credit: TripAdvisor

Artefacts found in the Imperial Citadel dates back to 6th century and even showcases a bunker that displays military maps used in the Vietnam war.

The location of the Imperial Citadel is conveniently close to other popular tourist spots, so you definitely do not want to miss coming here.

Entrance: $1.50 per person

Address: 19C Hoàng Diệu, Điện Biên, Ba Đình, Hà Nội 100000, Vietnam

8. Perfume Pagoda Complex

Going to this 15th century temple complex is a journey on its own but we can assure you that it’s worth it!

The Perfume Pagoda is a Buddhist temple fixed on the clifftop of Huong Tich Mountain and is also known as the Huong Pagoda.

The majestic Perfume Pagoda in Vietnam, credit
The majestic Perfume Pagoda in Vietnam, credit: Lux Travel DMC

The reason why we said that it’s a journey getting there is because after driving 60 kilometers south from Hanoi, you have to take an hour boat ride through the Yen river, then you can take a hike up the Huong Tich Mountain and enjoy the view as you go up the slopes.

You can book day tours to the Perfume Pagoda online and they usually cost around $40-$50, complete with the boat ride and lunch.

Entrance: $40-50 per person

Address: Hương Sơn, Mỹ Đức, Hanoi 100000, Vietnam

9. West Lake (Tay Ho)

The last on our list takes the crown as the largest man-made freshwater lake in Hanoi, measuring up to 17 kilometers, is Tay Ho or West Lake.

Tay Ho is a great place to surround yourself with culture without the chaos of Hanoi’s city life. Some of the things you can do in this lake is to take a boat ride or explore the ancient temples, Tran Quoc Pagoda. and Tay Ho Pagoda.

Aerial shot of Tay Ho district in Hanoi
Aerial shot of Tay Ho district in Hanoi, credit: itourvn.com

Tran Quoc Pagoda is one of the oldest temples in Vietnam dating back to 1500 years ago. This pagod stands at an island southeast of the shore of Tay Ho and is easy to spot with its tall structure pointing towards the sky.

The Tay Ho Pagoda was built in dedication to the mother goddess also known by the name, Princess Lieu Hanh, one of The Four Immortals of Thanism.

Tay Ho (West Lake) illuminated at night
Tay Ho (West Lake) illuminated at night, credit: Hanoi Times

Other than visiting the temples and boat riding, you can also try out some of the local cuisines in the restaurants or go [window] shopping at the boutiques surrounding the lake! Don’t forget to look at the beautiful sunset and stroll along at night as the lights illuminate Tay Ho!

Just don’t be surprised to see a lot of high-end brand stores around as the area houses some of the wealthiest people in Vietnam!

If you’re travelling with your family, you visit the Ho Tay Waterpark and see the lake from above on a Ferris Wheel! Entrance fee to the water park costs around $6 for adults and $3 for children.

Entrance: Free

Address: Hanoi, Vietnam

Final thoughts on Hanoi

Hanoi is one of the first cities that we recommend you to visit. If it’s your first time in Vietnam, it’s great to learn the history behind its progress and to actually see for yourself what the locals do on a day-to-day basis!

Hanoi is also an awesome tourist destination for people who want to visit Vietnam but do not want to spend a lot since the tourist spots here are either free or do not usually cost a lot! But, we think that no amount of money can buy the true beauty of Vietnam!

You can also check out our blog where we talked about how to save more on your trip to Vietnam this year!

Which destination do you want to go to first in Hanoi? Do you know a spots that you recommend but we have not mentioned in this article? Let us know in the comments!

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