The capital of Vietnam, Hanoi, is known as one of the major culture hubs in the country, with centuries-old buildings that tell stories of times long past, excellent street food that keeps visitors coming for more, and a vibrant nightlife.
But of course, if you’re new to the city, all of that can be overwhelming. “What should I do in Hanoi?” and “What must I eat in Hanoi?” are all common questions we’ve been asked by international friends on many occasions.
So here we have composed a quick guide that sums up the 20 most iconic things to do in Hanoi to have a fulfilling experience if you only visit for a few days. But eventually, we plan to expand this to cover everything worth visiting in Hanoi for those who have time to stay for longer and want a more local perspective. Stay tuned!
Table of Contents
Image credit: @rizmontera
The Hoàn Kiếm Lake, with a tower on an island in its midst that we call Tháp Rùa (Turtle Tower), is the most iconic landmark of Hanoi. This is where many major events in the city take place, from music concerts to fireworks during New Year’s Eves.
Every weekend starting from Friday evening, the streets around the lake bar all vehicles, turning into pedestrian streets with many entertainment activities. Come here to have your portrait drawn by a street artist, participate in group games such as rope jumping or Jenga, and snack on grilled sausages and cotton candy sold by the many vendors around.
Of course, you can drop by on any day just for a stroll around the well-maintained pavements, surrounded by flower gardens and lush trees. The lake is also surrounded by many notable landmarks, so this is a good place to start your tour of Hanoi.
GPS coordinates: 21°01’42.3″N 105°51’06.5″E
Image credit: Savoir Aimer
Just a 5-minute walk from the Hoàn Kiếm Lake is the Hanoi Opera House, another notable landmark of the city. Erected by the French over a century ago, the magnificent building overlooks a major intersection and boasts colonial-era architecture in bright yellow.
Image credit: @duykhai94
Naturally, this is one of Hanoians’ favorite spots for pictures, be they for weddings, yearbooks, or just a nice album to keep treasured. Of course, you’re more than welcome to come gawk and snap a few shots yourself.
Inside the Opera House.
Image credit: @huyenmy255
But if you want to see what’s inside, the facility only opens a few nights each month for music performances and stage plays. Check out its official website to see if there’s any event on the day you plan to visit.
Address: 1 Tràng Tiền Street, Hoàn Kiếm District, Hanoi
Contact: 0243 933 0113 | Hanoi Opera House website
Image credit: @myhuong.1211
Just behind the opera house lies the National History Museum, which is sure to fascinate any history buff. Another building preserved since Vietnam’s colonial era when it was an archaeological institute, the museum has a façade that is already a sight for sore eyes with a tall tower painted bright yellow – a very common color for such buildings here, in case you haven’t noticed.
Image credit: @hanoi.saturdate
The inside is a large 2-story space divided into 5 sections, housing over 200,000 artifacts and relics of the many civilizations that have called the land that’s now Vietnam home. They range from tools of prehistoric people to vases and pots from various feudal dynasties.
A building at the museum is dedicated to exhibitions about the Vietnam War.
Image credit: Trang Huyền
The museum also has a second wing just across the street. Though this appears as a separate building from the main museum, you can access both with the same entrance ticket. This second area focuses on more recent history from the 19th-20th century, most prominently, the many wars our forefathers fought during this period to gain independence.
Expect to see tools, weapons, and vehicles used during the wars, and documents about key historical figures such as President Hồ Chí Minh and General Võ Nguyên Giáp.
Address: 1 Tràng Tiền Street & 216 Trần Quang Khải Street, Hoàn Kiếm District, Hanoi
Opening hours: 8AM-12PM & 13.30PM-5PM, Daily (Closes on the first Monday of every month)
Entrance fee: VND40,000 (~USD1.74)
Contact: Nation History Museum website
Image credit: @tmtrang2812
As you venture about Hanoi’s Old Quarter, you’ll probably come across St. Joseph’s Cathedral, commonly known among locals simply as the Grand Cathedral.
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And more likely than not, you’ll spot people taking pictures with its Gothic architecture with a timeworn façade featuring two bell towers – a tribute to the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris which this one is modelled after. Feel free to snap a few shots yourself to add to your Hanoi adventure album.
Inside the cathedral.
Image credit: @cat_huongthao
The cathedral is also where Hanoi’s Catholic population practices their religious beliefs. Masses are held daily at 5.30am and 6.15pm, and all day Sunday at 2-hours intervals starting from 5am.
Address: 40 Nhà Chung Street, Hoàn Kiếm District, Hanoi
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 5.30am and 6.15pm | Sat 6pm | Sun 5am-11am & 4pm-8pm
Image credit: @limp.nguyen
The Thăng Long Imperial Citadel carries monumental historical significance in Hanoi. Its history dates all the way back to 1010, when Hanoi – then named Thăng Long – was first established as the capital of Vietnam.
Image credit: @cujuns
Throughout several centuries, the citadel continued to serve as the seat of power for many Vietnamese feudal dynasties, until the 19th century when the emperors of the time moved their court to Huế City in the central region.
Image credit: @limp.nguyen
Though a large part of the citadel has been destroyed, you can still see glimpses of its former glory in the mighty gates and solemn walls. To learn more about the history of Hanoi over the ages, visit the many exhibition rooms here, which hold ancient artifacts and information in both Vietnamese and English.
There are objects used in the Vietnam War here as well.
Image credit: @i.amhuyn
The citadel was also the headquarters of the People’s Army of Vietnam during the Vietnam War (1954-1975), so those interested in more recent history can also find here bunkers, emergency escape tunnels, and conference rooms where important military decisions were made.
Address: 19C Hoàng Diệu Street, Ba Đình District, Hanoi
Opening hours: 8am-5pm, Daily
Contact: 084 845 5222 | Thăng Long Imperial Citadel website
Admission fee: VND30,000 (~USD1.21)
Image credit: @kim_syril
While over 85% of Vietnamese people nowadays belong to the Kinh ethnicity, we’re but one of the 54 ethnic groups that call this S-shaped land home. The other 53, though small in population, all have their own customs, beliefs, and languages that contribute to Vietnam’s diverse culture. The Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi pays tribute to all that.
Image credit: @candy_keovilay
The museum’s main building features 12 sections containing daily life items and traditional attire of all these ethnic groups. You can also find pictures and videos with captions depicting their everyday activities, as well as festivals and ceremonies.
Image credit: @davenguyen1989
Outside in the spacious yard are several life-sized models of buildings signature to each ethnic community. Some notable ones include nhà Rông – a building with a massive thatched roof commonly seen in the mountainous region of Tây Nguyên – and a recreation of the Gia Rai people’s tomb, which is surrounded by statues of people performing intercourse.
This practice reflects the Gia Rai people’s custom of paying tribute to their dead with celebrations of life and birth.
A souvenir shop selling items with the signature colorful pattern of Vietnam’s ethnic communities.
Image credit: @chi_aaa_ki_vn
Check out this article for an in-depth look into this museum.
Address: Nguyễn Văn Huyên Street, Cầu Giấy District, Hanoi
Opening hours: Tue–Sun 8.30AM-5.30PM | Closed on Mondays
Contact: 02437562193 | Vietnam Museum of Ethnology website
Admission fee: VND40,000 (~USD1.73, adults), VND20,000 (~USD0.87, college and university students), VND10,000 (~USD0.43, high school students or younger)
Image credit: @julie.phuongthao
The Heritage House on Mã Mây Street is a century-old residential house that Hanoi’s authorities have painstakingly preserved to serve as a historical attraction. Here, visitors can get a glimpse of the old Hanoian lifestyle.
Image credit: @haibull
Past the gates, the house’s former living room is now an administrative area, where you’ll find a ticket counter and some stalls offering souvenirs for sale. Still, there’s a set of antique-looking table and chairs prominently displayed. You can easily imagine this was where the homeowners used to welcome guests.
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The living room opens to a courtyard decorated with plants, behind which are the kitchen and the bathroom. This layout is considered a signature traditional Vietnamese design.
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On the second floor are the living quarters, again equipped with traditional-style furniture. Strong Buddhist influence is seen in the many Buddha statues and paintings that decorate the space.
There’s also an altar where the homeowners would pay tribute to their ancestors – a must-have for any Vietnamese household even to this day.
Address: 87 Mã Mây Street, Hoàn Kiếm District, Hanoi
Opening hours: 8AM-5PM, Daily
Entrance fee: VND10,000 (~USD0.43), free for children under 6
Image credit: Wikipedia
Water puppetry is a traditional Vietnamese art form that no culture enthusiast visiting Hanoi should miss out on.
Image credit: @shih.cheng
It’s often performed on a stage decorated to resemble a Vietnamese temple. Performers stand behind the screen in waist-deep water and use underwater sticks to control puppets, making them appear as if they’re gliding on the water surface.
Image credit: @janekelly999
The plays are usually retellings of various Vietnamese folk tales and legends. In certain theathers specifically catered towards tourists, such as at the Thăng Long Water Puppet Theater next to Hanoi’s Hoàn Kiếm Lake, there are English brochures summarizing the stories for foreign visitors to follow what’s going on.
Thăng Long Water Puppet Theater
Address: 57B Đinh Tiên Hoàng Street, Hoàn Kiếm District, Hanoi
Opening hours: 3PM-8PM, Daily (Last performance begins at 6:30PM)
Ticket price: From VND100,000 (~USD4.30) per person
Contact: 024 3824 9494 | Thăng Long Water Puppet Theater website
Image credit: @mei_duduu
Erected in 1896, the Hỏa Lò Prison, then named Maison Centrale, was used by the French occupation to hold political prisoners. Today, it stands as a major historical site in Hanoi and a testament to the struggles our forefathers went through for independence.
Image credit: @akochan38
Across the many old cells, mannequins now sit where living people once did, in shackles and chains, providing a look into the harsh environment prisoners had to endure. Many items are also preserved as exhibits, from prisoners’ personal belongings, to torture devices – even a guillotine.
Get an audio guide for extra stories.
Image credit: @anhtu_le__
Naturally, there are signs in both Vietnamese and English telling the history behind each exhibit. Still, we highly recommend paying VND100,000 (~USD4.26) for an audio guide for extra details and stories, such as recordings of testimonies from former prisoners.
Address: 1 Hỏa Lò Street, Hoàn Kiếm District, Hanoi
Opening hours: 8am-5pm, Daily
Admission fee: VND30,000 (~USD1.28) per adult
Contact: 024 3934 2253 | Hỏa Lò Prison website
Image credit: @eatth_eworld
You have probably heard of phở as an iconic, must-try dish in Vietnam, and Hanoi is one of the best places to sample northern-Vietnamese-style phở.
The name phở refers to a type of flattened rice noodles. These noodles are traditionally served with beef in a broth made by simmering beef bones with cinnamon, star anise, fish sauce, and other spices, though there are also other versions of the dish that use other meat such as chicken.
A quick Google search of phở restaurants in Hanoi will turn up famous tourist places such as Phở Lý Quốc Sư or Phở Thìn, but for a local taste, we also recommend checking out one of these other phở stalls in Hanoi.
Image credit: @ha_nho0811
While phở cuốn is technically still phở, this dish is vastly different from its broth-based cousin that it merits its own entry in our list.
Here, the phở pieces are not shredded into thin stripes, but rather left as whole sheets. You wrap one of these sheets around stir-fried beef and veggies into a roll, then dip the whole thing into an accompanying sauce for a flavorful yet fresh bite.
Image credit: @today.phanh.eats
The sauce used in this dish is made from fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, chili, and other condiments. Depending on the ratio of the ingredients, the sauce can turn out differently, which can have a huge impact on the overall taste.
For a good place to enjoy this version of phở, we recommend:
Phở cuốn Chinh Thắng
Address: 7 Mạc Đĩnh Chi Street, Ba Đình District, Hanoi
Opening hours: 9AM-11PM
Image credit: @eat.cook.eat
Next to phở, bún chả is another signature dish of Hanoi, so much so that even former US President Barack Obama couldn’t pass on the chance to sample it during his visit to Vietnam in 2016.
Former US President Barack Obama eating bún chả in Hanoi with Anthony Bourdain in 2016.
Image credit: Thanh Niên
The name bún chả comes from what makes up the dish: bún is a type of rice vermicelli, and chả is meatballs grilled on charcoal. They are served together with a bowl of sauce made from fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and other condiments, and often accompanied by fresh herbs.
Chả – meatballs grilled on charcoal
Image credit: @myhanoikitchen
Put everything in the bowl of sauce, and eat them together to savor the flavorful meat, the tasty sauce, and the refreshing aroma of the veggies.
Try this dish at:
Bún Chả Hàng Quạt
Address: 74 Hàng Quạt Street, Hoàn Kiếm District, Hanoi
Opening hours: 10.30AM-2PM, Daily
Price: VND30,000-VND50,000 (~USD1.29-USD2.15)
Image credit: @kennytaste
As we touched on above, chả is a type of food in Vietnam that refers to any type of meat minced, squeezed into shapes, then wrapped and baked or grilled. Therefore, the term chả cá at its basic meaning refers to many types of baked fish cakes – as cá means “fish” in Vietnamese.
You can have chả cá with fish innards as well.
Image credit: @bluewebkq
But when talking about Hanoi-style chả cá, we’re talking about a very specific version of the dish, where the fish is marinated with turmeric, galangal, and other spices, then served sizzling in a pan with scallions and dill on top. It is then dipped in shrimp paste and eaten with rice vermicelli and peanuts.
In fact, chả cá is so iconic that we actually have an entire street named Chả Cá Street after the dish. Drop by here to find the original restaurant said to have invented the recipe at:
Address: 14 Chả Cá Street, Hoàn Kiếm District, Hanoi
Opening hours: 11AM-2PM & 5PM-9PM, Daily
Price: From VND175,000 (~USD7.53)
Image credit: @hungrybes
Bánh mì is another signature Vietnamese dish that has made it to many other countries. The basic idea is as simple as stuffing meat and veggies into a loaf of bread, but the sheer variety behind the dish makes it a food category by itself.
In some versions of bánh mì, the bread can be served as a side dish to beef stew.
Image credit: @djyeri
You can have bánh mì with the usual pork, pate, and veggies, or go for less conventional fillings such as grilled kebab or vegetarian options. Sometimes, the bread is served separately as a side dish to beef stew or a sizzling pan of meat. The possibilities are just endless.
We have summed up some notable bánh mì stores in Hanoi in this article. Check them out and let us know what you think!
Image credit: @khoixphanh
Gà tần is a dish that unfamiliar eaters might find intimidating due to its pitch-black broth. However, take one bite of this specially-cooked chicken – infused with the pleasant aroma of mugwort, wolfberry, red dates, lotus seeds, and other medicinal herbs – and you’ll find that the meat is flavorful and tender to the point you barely need to chew.
Gà ác cooked inside empty cans.
Image credit: @nagasawa8
Some people like to have gà tần made from a breed of smaller chicken called gà ác. The whole chicken is cooked inside an empty beer can with the herbs. It’s said that this method helps the herbs’ aroma permeate the meat thoroughly. We’ll leave it to you to decide whether that’s true.
Due to the dish’s nature of being made with medicinal ingredients, it’s believed to boost one’s vitality and help the body recover faster after a sickness.
Try this dish at:
Gà Tần Mai Hương
Address: 12C Hàng Cót Street, Hoàn Kiếm District, Hanoi
Opening hours: 9AM-10PM, Daily
Price: VND60,000-VND100,000 (USD2.58-USD4.30)
Image credit: @docamle
On the way from the Hoàn Kiếm Lake to the Opera House, you’ll come across Kem Tràng Tiền – or Tràng Tiền Ice Cream. This is a 70-year-old ice cream shop that generations of Hanoians grew up loving.
Take pictures with murals on the walls.
Image credit: @mphuongkkxus
The breezy but always crowded entrance underneath the prominent sign leads into a spacious courtyard surrounded by murals depicting simple, endearing Hanoi street scenes that make for good picture backdrops. Around the yard are multiple counters offering all sorts of fancy ice cream flavors such as matcha and strawberry.
Some original Tràng Tiền ice cream flavors.
Image credit: @yohip
That said, we always go for either a cocoa ice cream stick (VND12,000, ~USD0.48) or a scoop of vanilla ice cream in a cone (VND12,000, ~USD0.48). These are some of the OG flavors from way back in the day, and to us, they are the taste of nostalgia, of a simpler time, and of all the beautiful things in this city. Try them out and taste Hanoi the way we do!
Address: 35 Tràng Tiền Street, Hoàn Kiếm District, Hanoi
Opening hours: 8am-10.30pm, Daily
Contact: 0986 257 979 | Kem Tràng Tiền website
Image credit: @cigar.panda
Café Phố Cổ is a good place to introduce newcomers to a very satisfying aspect of café-hopping in Hanoi: discovering awesome venues hidden behind the most unassuming of façades.
Image credit: Masaaki Aihara
Unaware travelers might pass right through the small alley leading to this café without a second glance, never knowing what they’re missing out on. But if you do manage to find it, you’ll see the end of said alley open into a century-old house with impressive height, with antique-looking seats on several floors to hang out at.
Views of the Hoàn Kiếm Lake from the top.
Image credit: @thuyanhbui68
Head all the way to the top, and you’ll find a roofed outdoor seating area, with an elevated view directly down to the Hoàn Kiếm Lake.
Image credit: @chriscasim
In terms of what to have here, Cafe Phố Cổ offers many options for tea and coffee. This is a good place to sample Vietnam’s renowned coffee (VND35,000, ~USD1.41), served hot or cold over condensed milk.
There are food options here as well.
Image credit: Siddhesh Mangela
There is food here as well, ranging from snacks such as beef jerky (VND50,000, ~USD2.02) to full meals including phở (VND70,000, ~USD2.82) and bún chả (VND70,000, ~USD2.82). Still, we’d highly recommend going to the dedicated food stalls we mentioned above to enjoy the best tastes of these dishes.
Address: 11 Hàng Gai Street, Hoàn Kiếm District, Hanoi
Opening hours: 8am-11pm, Daily
Contact: 024 3928 8153 | Cafe Phố Cổ Facebook
Café Giảng is hidden in an alley, with only a sign outside.
Image credit: @_.dece._
Another coffee shop we highly recommend you check out is Cà Phê Giảng – again hidden inside an alley with only a sign showing passers-by its location.
A humble space where you’ll enjoy your drink at low stools and tables.
Image credit: @iamtrang.97
Unlike Café Phố Cổ, however, Cà Phê Giảng has a pretty humble space with low wooden stools for guests to sit at. What it is massively famous for, however, is the signature egg coffee (VND35,000, ~USD1.41), where egg yolks are wiped with sugar into a thick cream and served over coffee.
Image credit: @tmjune21
The drink was first invented nearly a century ago at this very same café to combat a shortage of milk at the time, but it was so well-loved that it went on to be a signature of Hanoi itself. Of course, many other shops have since replicated the recipe, but sampling it at its root surely makes for a pleasant experience with all the stories of its origins.
Address: 39 Nguyễn Hữu Huân Street, Hoàn Kiếm District, Hanoi
Opening hours: 7am-10pm, Daily
Contact: 091 700 2299 | Café Giảng’s Facebook
Image credit: NOLA Cafe & Bar
Right next to the aforementioned Mã Mây Heritage House is Café Nola, another hidden gem of the Hanoi Old Quarter. You know the drill: enter the deep dark alley, then gasp as its obscured wonders unfold before your eyes.
Image credit: NOLA Cafe & Bar
The 3-storey space is practically a maze of several rooms with an eclectic assemblage of furniture and ornaments. You can spot hard wooden chairs across the table from comfy sofas.
In another area, old fans and rotary phones that wouldn’t look out of place in a 70s Vietnamese house stand next to abstract paintings and European-style lamps.
Image credit: NOLA Cafe & Bar
Tall windows provide a look down to the streets outside. On the top floor is a garden covered by the shades of the many colorful umbrellas hanging overhead. Even empty plastic bottles are painted bright colors and used as decorations.
Yes, that is an actual life-size knight armor.
Image credit: NOLA Cafe & Bar
In terms of what to have here, on top of delicious Vietnamese coffee (VND35,000, ~USD1.49), Café Nola also has a bar offering craft beer on tap (VND70,000, ~USD2.98/glass), and common cocktails such as Long Island Iced Tea, Cosmopolitan, and Margarita (from VND100,000, ~USD4.26).
Image credit: NOLA Cafe & Bar
Snacks such as French fries (VND50,000, ~USD2.13) are available as well.
Address: 89 Mã Mây Street, Hoàn Kiếm District, Hanoi
Opening hours: Mon-Thu 10am-11pm | Fri-sun 10am-12am
Contact: 097 773 8835 | NOLA Café & Bar Facebook
The Cộng Cà Phê outlet just across the street from Hanoi’s Grand Cathedral.
Image credit: @rimpic.s
Cộng Cà Phê is a massively popular café brand in Vietnam, boasting over 50 outlets all over the country. It’s characterized by its deep green façade, antique interiors, and easily accessible locations. No matter where you are in Hanoi, chances are there’s a Cộng Cà Phê outlet within walking distance.
Image credit: @bettiepagefanclub.mx
At any of Cộng’s stores, you can expect a dimly lit space equipped with low wooden chairs and tables, and propaganda posters hanging on the walls. Old TVs and cassettes, and worn books displayed on shelves further create the feeling you’ve stepped back through time into a 20th-century Vietnamese home.
Image credit: Cong Caphe
In terms of drinks, Cộng Cà Phê attempts to localize many popular coffee drinks. The Vina-cappu (VND41,000, ~USD1.75), for example, uses Vietnam’s signature filtered coffee to make cappuccino. The result? A hot creamy cuppa perfect for a cold winter day.
Image credit: Cong Caphe
Many of Cộng’s outlets also have a souvenir shop, selling items such as t-shirts, thermos bottles, and board games such as Monopoly – all with the brand’s decorations and logos.
See full list of Cộng Cà Phê locations here.
Again, this is just a quick guide that covers the most iconic things to do and food to eat in Hanoi for those who only visit for a few days.
But if you’re planning a longer stay, we’ll eventually expand this article to eventually cover everything of note in the city, so stay tuned!
In the meantime, check out some other Hanoi recommendations here:
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