Tết – the Lunar New Year – is just around the corner, and as soon as the festival arrives, Hanoi will be quite different from its usual self. Most restaurants, cafes, and entertainment venues will close as people take a break from work to spend time with friends and family.
Still, if you know where to look, there are many places to go and things to do in Hanoi during Tết to enjoy the festive atmosphere. Below we’ve summed up 9 signature activities we Hanoians like to do for this occasion. Let’s take a look:
Image credit: @ticstawcs
A traditional Tết custom in northern Vietnamese provinces is to display blooming peach flowers in our houses to repel evil and bring luck and prosperity. As such, on the days leading up to Tết, hundreds of Hanoians flock to flower markets around the city to shop for a peach branch that suits their liking.
Image credit: @truongnguyen22061995
Visit these markets to see the verdant flowers in full bloom, watch people haggling and bantering with huge smiles, and just immerse in the festive atmosphere. The vibrant scene also provides plenty of opportunities for artistic pictures.
Of course, feel free to browse for your own peach branch to bring home. You’ll also see plenty of kumquat trees for sale – another common plant to use as Tết decorations.
A famous Tết flower market in Hanoi is:
Quảng An Flower Market
Address: 236 Âu Cơ Street, Tây Hồ District, Hanoi
Opening hours: 24 hours, Daily
Image credit: Vietnamplus
Welcoming the new year with a literal bang – that is, fireworks – is common in many cities around the world, and Hanoi is no exception. As the clock strikes midnight on the first day of the lunar year, there will be firework shows at multiple locations around the city, drawing crowds of spectators.
Image credit: Thanh Niên
As with any other public gathering in Hanoi, the Hoàn Kiếm Lake is the most popular venue to see this event. From young couples hand-in-hand in the evening’s cold, fascinated children perched atop their parents’ shoulders, to groups of friends laughing and chatting, everyone flocks here in their best attire and brightest smiles, wishing strangers a happy new year.
Don’t miss out on the chance to share the joy with locals on this special occasion.
Image credit: @ticstawcs
Tết is a chance to see Hanoi in a different light. As most shops are closed and many people leave the city to return to their hometowns and celebrate the occasion with their families, the usually bustling streets take on a rarely seen quiet look.
Simply take a stroll around the city’s Old Quarter during this time to appreciate the archaic beauty it truly holds. You might catch intricate colonial-style engravings on balconies normally hidden behind fancy shop signs, or timeworn house façades you might have not noticed before as you were too busy rushing through the everyday traffic.
Image credit: @hanoi.oldquarter
The smell of incense hanging in the air, the vibrant peach blossoms many houses display as decorations, and the occasional pedestrians walking the streets in traditional Vietnamese áo dài or formal suits further add to the peaceful, relaxing vibe.
Tết is a time to visit your loved ones.
Image credit: @phuong_anh0208
The true meaning of Tết is spending quality time with our loved ones. On the first days of the lunar year, people are expected to visit each other, simply to exchange good wishes and catch up over tea and mứt – Vietnamese sweet snacks made from dried fruits.
You can opt to visit someone right at the turn of the year and perhaps earn the honor of doing “xông đất” for them – meaning to become the first person to enter their house in the new year.
Giving red envelopes with money to children serves as a good wish.
Image credit: @pham.vukhoa
It’s believed that having someone with the matching Eastern Zodiac sign performing xông đất can bring great fortune to the entire household for the year. You might or might not be that someone, so wait until you’re invited first before coming in.
Also remember to prepare red envelopes with money to gift to the children of the houses you’re visiting. The amount can be as little as VND10,000 (~USD0.43) or as much as VND500,000 (~USD21.33) – anything you want. It’s simply a gesture of good will, a wish that the children will grow up healthy and successful.
For many Vietnamese people, visiting temples and pagodas during Tết to pray for a prosperous year is simply a must. Check out these religious sites in Hanoi to share the joy.
Image credit: @ochoaibz
At over 1,500 years old, the Trấn Quốc Pagoda is considered the oldest pagoda in Hanoi. Its rich history, prime location at Hanoi’s West Lake, and well-maintained space make it a major center for Buddhist activities in the capital city.
Many people come here during the Lunar New Year to pray.
Image credit: Hà Nội Mới
The pagoda boasts magnificent architecture, the centerpiece of which is an 11-storey tower surrounded by smaller stupas. There are also spacious courtyards decorated by Bodhi trees, golden Buddha statues, and antique-looking shrines.
Image credit: Báo Lao Động
Come Tết, expect the entire venue to be filled with the scent of incense and burning votive paper as hundreds of believers flock here to pray. It’s basically a cultural event in its own right, so if you’re excited to see more of the local religious activities, Trấn Quốc Pagoda is well worth a visit.
Address: Thanh Niên Street, Tây Hồ District, Hanoi
Opening hours: Tue-Sun 8am-11.30am & 1.30pm-4pm | Closed on Mondays
The main yard of Phủ Tây Hồ.
Image credit: @nguyengiahuy90
Like the Trấn Quốc Pagoda, Phủ Tây Hồ is another notable worship site next to the West Lake, but it serves a very different purpose. While there are still shrines paying tribute to Buddha, the main altar is dedicated to the Mother Goddess – one of the four Immortal Saints in Vietnamese folklore.
The altar of the Mother Goddess.
Image credit: @fourpalaces.mothergoddess
The Goddess is the central worship figure of Đạo Mẫu – a folk belief system in Vietnam characterized by shamanic rituals where priests would invite the Goddess and other deities to ceremonially inhabit their bodies and give out blessings to spectators.
Phủ Tây Hồ is teeming with visitors during Tết.
Image credit: @brojeann
These summoning rituals won’t be held during Tết and people simply come here to light incense and pray, but nonetheless, Phủ Tây Hồ offers a glimpse into the traditional spiritual life of the Vietnamese people.
Address: 52 Đặng Thai Mai Street, Tây Hồ District, Hanoi
Image credit: @thedreamingyou
At a millennium old, the Temple of Literature is known as Vietnam’s first university, an esteemed place where brilliant minds throughout history dedicated themselves to scholarly pursuits. Today, it stands as a major historical attraction and place of worship in Hanoi.
Image credit: @luu_hien
During Tết, many people like to come here to pray for academic or career success. It is also the custom for visitors to ask for a piece of calligraphic writing from the calligraphers who’ll set up shop here for the occasion.
Image credit: @missyhien
The writings are of auspicious phrases such as Lộc (祿, or Fortune), Thọ (壽, or Longevity), or Tài (才, or Talent), written in either Vietnamese or Sino-Vietnamese characters on bright red paper. They are to be displayed in one’s house for good luck.
Address: 58 Quốc Tử Giám Street, Đống Đa District, Hanoi
Opening hours: 8am-5pm, Daily
Image credit: @trangavocado
Chùa Hương, or the Perfume Pagoda, is another Buddhist site you can visit from Hanoi, but this one also doubles as a travel destination and sightseeing spot. Located 60km from Hanoi’s center, amidst beautiful landscapes, it’s in just the right spot for a one-day trip from the city.
Though we call it a pagoda, Chùa Hương is actually a huge complex of several shrines and temples built around the Hương Tích Mountains – a limestone mountain cluster with a charming river winding its way in between.
Image credit: @bestpricevn
You’ll have to take a ferry ride through the river to appreciate the rustic scenery and visit shrines dedicated to historical figures and folk heroes, before arriving at the base of the main mountain, at the top of which is the Hương Tích Cave – a massive cave with Buddhist altars that serves as the complex’s centerpiece.
The Hương Tích Cave attracts huge crowds during Tết.
Image adapted from @milivista
Dedicated worshipers can scale the hundreds of stairs leading up to the cave to show their faith, while casual visitors can opt to ride a cable car to the top for a more relaxing trip.
Unsurprisingly, Chùa Hương receives a substantial number of visitors on the first days of the lunar year, to the point where simply visiting it during this period is considered attending a Tết festival.
GPS coordinates: 20°37’08.3″N 105°44’52.3″E
Image credit: Công An Nhân Dân
If you’re in Hanoi during Tết, consider dropping by the Đống Đa Mound on the 5th day of the new year to attend the Đống Đa Festival. It commemorates Emperor Quang Trung, who lived in the 18th century and played a crucial role in defending Vietnam’s sovereignty against foreign invaders.
Performers portraying Emperor Quang Trung and his attendants.
Image credit: Công An Nhân Dân
For the main ceremonies, respected elders dress up as feudal government officials carrying palanquins of offerings to Emperor Quang Trung’s temple at the venue to make their tribute. Performers in colorful attires then take the stage to recreate the emperor’s great victories.
The festival features traditional folk dances.
Image credit: Lao Động
Visitors will also get to watch folk dances, lion and dragon dances, and music performances, as well as participate in traditional group games such as tug-of-war.
Address: Tây Sơn Street, Đống Đa District, Hanoi
Most locals take Tết as an opportunity to relax after a long year, and if you happen to visit Hanoi during this period, drop by these places to share in the jubilant atmosphere and see how we celebrate this most important event of the year.
For more things to do in Hanoi, check out:
Cover image adapted from @thibichngocle, @thedreamingyou, and Thanh Niên
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