Where culture, history, and food meet.
As the vibrant capital of Vietnam, Hanoi is a melting pot of Vietnamese, Chinese, and French cultures along the banks of the Red River. The architecture, religion, history, and food have all been influenced by the clashing of these cultures and this makes for a well-deserved top travel destination in South East Asia.
Whether this is your first visit to South East Asia or you keep coming back for perfect bowls of phở, this list will have something new and exciting for everybody. Here are the 10 things you must do in Hanoi:
1. Start Your Day with Coffee
Vietnam is world-famous for its coffee. And for good reasons: stronger tastes, thicker brews, unique variations. There’s no wrong place to grab a cup. Just walk outside your hotel and choose any of the multitude of cafes and coffee shops around the city. If you like it strong, order the black coffee (cà phê đen). If you like it sweet or over ice, get the Vietnamese iced coffee (cà phê đá).
If you are ready for something a little more unique to Vietnam, you cannot miss the egg coffee (cà phê trứng). The story goes that when there was a shortage of fresh or condensed milk in Vietnam, someone had the brilliant idea of using hand-whipped egg yolks. Although now a machine is usually used on the egg yolks and condensed milk was added, it’s still an incredibly tasty and special drink. You can order egg coffee at most cafes or, for a truly unique experience, learn how to make it yourself:
2. Visit the Vietnamese Women’s Museum
Opened in 1995, the museum was created to promote the public’s understanding of women’s important roles in the culture and history of Vietnam. There are three permanent exhibits and two special exhibits that change at the museum. “Women in Family” tells of the different roles women play in the local traditions around Vietnam and how marriages and families are structured. “Women in History” tells of the influence women had in all the major historical eras of Vietnam. “Women’s Fashion” shows what women wore and what their hygiene and daily activities looked like throughout history.
Entrance fee: General admission for the museum is 30,000 VND per person.
3. Stroll Around Hoan Kiem Lake
Just a few blocks from the Women’s Museum you’ll find a beautiful freshwater lake in the middle of historic Hanoi. Strolling along the path around the Hoan Kiem Lake, numerous historic and fascinating structures will be seen. Near the south end (by the museum) is Hoa Phong Tower, the only remaining structure from a 1700s pagoda. Across the water, you’ll see a small island with Turtle Tower dating from the 1800s.
As you make your way north, you’ll see a red wooden bridge leading to a larger island. This island has the Temple of the Jade Mountain, Hanoi’s most visited temple. There is an entrance fee of 30,000 VND if you would like to visit this temple.
4. Eat Pho (Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner)
Now three meals a day might be an aggressive suggestion for some but most hotels will offer pho with their breakfast selections so it is doable. That said, you might just want to pick one meal for this incredible noodle soup. Assumed to have been created in Hanoi originally, you’ll find numerous variations of this soup depending on the time of day and the region of Vietnam you happen to be in. At face value, it’s a very simple dish: delicious broth, noodles, herbs, and freshly sliced cuts of meat (usually beef or chicken).
If you want to truly experience what makes pho and all Vietnamese food special, why not get more hands-on and take a cooking course? You can take cooking classes that include market tours to really learn about all the ingredients used to make everything so scrumptious.
5. Learn in the Temple of Literature
This large temple complex was originally built in 1070 and 6 years later Vietnam’s first university, the Imperial Academy, was established within the complex. Five courtyards, multiple buildings, and dozens of carved stone turtles listing graduates can all be found while roaming around the temple grounds.
While you make your way through and around the buildings, make sure you do not miss the large drum in the 5th courtyard. The size alone is worth checking it out.
Entrance Fee: General admission into the temple is 10,000 VND.
You’ve seen the street foods as you walk around. You’ve tasted pho and other dishes at different restaurants. Now is the time to really get up close and personal with Vietnamese food. A cooking class is the best way to truly understand the traditions and culture around the food in Hanoi and to finally see what ingredients are making everything so delicious. Also, you’re guaranteed to bring home skills and tricks to expand your cooking repertoire at home.
There are so many options when booking a cooking class: some will include a market tour or a farm tour, others will include a bike or cyclo tour around town. You can cook with local families or top chefs. Learn some of the Vietnamese language or just drink as much rice whiskey as you can. No matter what you’re looking for, there’s a class for you:
7. Go Shopping at Dong Xuan Market
A huge covered market selling spices, produce, clothing, and souvenirs, Dong Xuan Market is a must-stop for any shopper. Whether you’re buying wholesale or single items, souvenirs or gifts for friends and family, you’ll be able to find it amongst the aisles and floors of the market. Or just spend your time going stand to stand to see all the beautiful produce and aromatic spices.
If you show up closer to the evening, make sure to stay for the night market in front. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights the street is closed off to traffic so the night market can expand. It’s a perfect place to taste some more street food or grab some last-minute gifts before heading home.
Motorbikes are the preferred method of traveling for most in Hanoi. You’ll see motorbikes used by everybody, whether it’s a dad with his kids, a worker carrying large amounts of supplies, a moto-taxi bringing somebody home, or a tourist trying to remember where their hotel is. You can hire a motorbike driver to bring you around or rent one yourself. Just be sure to wear your helmet!
The absolute best way to see the city from a motorbike and try as much street food as possible is to book a food tour with a local by motorbike. They’ll pick you up at your hotel and bring you around to all the best street food spots that only locals know about. You’ll eat, drink, and motorbike your way around the city in an unforgettable evening experience:
9. Explore Surrounding Areas
While Hanoi has so much to offer, there is a chance you might want to get out of the city for a day or two. Luckily, northern Vietnam has endless amounts of experiences to choose from. The most common would be Halong Bay (pictured above). A UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its rock formations and emerald waters, you can visit on a day trip or book an overnight cruise to stay on the water. If you prefer hiking, two hours west of Hanoi is Ba Vi National Park.
For those interested in history and the traditional ways of Vietnam, Duong Lam Ancient Village is a must-see. There are homes, communities, and temples that are many centuries old. Any shoppers looking for unique crafts to buy need to head to Bat Trang Village. Here you will find high quality and traditional designs of porcelain and ceramics.
10. Have a Cocktail at a Local Pub
It’s always nice to end a night of exploring a new city with a cocktail at a local pub. At the Unicorn Pub you’ll find all the cocktails you’d expect and then some that you would never believe could taste good. A pho cocktail? Another cocktail named “Crazy Hanoi Traffic”? The pub has numerous cocktails influenced by Vietnam’s culinary traditions and cultures.
If you’re not in a big group, try to sit at the bar so you can watch all the magic that goes into creating these cocktails. You’ll see smoke, fire, and structures they’ve created just to help them get the taste they were looking for. Unexpected fruits, vegetables, and spices will be plopped into different cocktails. It’s an experience worth having for any cocktail enthusiast.
Hopefully you found a new and exciting activity here that is perfect for your travels. If cooking classes are exactly what you’re looking for, don’t forget to book one now for a truly unforgettable experience to remember Hanoi.