Hanoi Capital - Best Places to Experience and Attractions

Hanoi is a sensorial city. From the moment you arrive, you are stormed with noise, smells, and flavours. To find your way in this huge and busy city, follow our recommendations to interesting things to do in Hanoi, best places to stay in Hanoi,  tourist attractions and a bunch of local experiences.

There are so many things to see in Hanoi that I could write at least three posts about it, but they would be damn boring. So, what you gonna find here is a travel guide to Hanoi giving you two different tips: a tourist and a local. We’ll give you recommendations on where to stay in Hanoi, attractions, and local things do in Hanoi. Don’t be surprised if most of them involve eating & drinking. That’s the first thing you must learn: food, coffee, and local beer are serious business in Hanoi.

Things to do in Hanoi, Attractions, Local Tips & Delicious Food!

The city is huge, but most of the interesting places are located in the old quarter or around it. Most of Hanoi’s tourist attractions are a walk distance from each other, or a quick taxi ride will do the job. There are plenty of things to do in Hanoi, here are the ones we liked the most, some delicious food you should try and local tips.
Hanoi Capital - Best Places to Experience and Attractions
Photo by katiebordner
Let’s start our tour in Hanoi by the historical sites, learn about the ancient empire, the French colonization, the Vietnam War and the Communism. You can do all this by visiting 6 important attractions in Hanoi:
  • Imperial Citadel of Hanoi
  • Vietnam Military History Museum
  • Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
  • Ho Chi Minh Museum
  • Temple of Literature
  • One Pillar Pagoda

If you want to enter the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, go early in the morning. The place opens just a few hours per day and the queue can be huge. We skipped the Mausoleum and  visited two other attractions nearby.

The One Pillar Pagoda is located between Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and the Ho Chi Minh’s Museum, it’s a tiny and beautiful temple that you can visit in 15 minutes.

Hanoi Local Tips:  Coffee break with diplomats

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Photo by kantnews1
Coffee Time! Vietnam is famous for its coffee, and they produce it a lot. Although, the way of roasting, serving, and the taste are a bit different from western coffee. On the streets around the mausoleum, you will find many coffee shops, simple places selling good coffee for a well-dressed clientele. This area of Hanoi is known for the embassies and governmental buildings. Sit, order a coffee and you might end up overhearing some political gossips!

Hanoi Local Tips: Feed your stomach and soul!

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Photo by blue_quartz
If you like to try local places and food, here it goes a special recommendation. At the Trang Tien street, beside the Museum of Vietnamese Revolution, you will find a small restaurant, Moc Cafe,  with a sign  “Hoi An Mì Quảng”. Enter and order one! Don’t forget to order a local beer to it wash down! So far, one of the best dishes I ate in Hanoi. Homemade noodle, peanuts, boiled egg, greens and spice. Yummy!

In front of the Hanoi Opera House is Hanoi’s stock market building, and a bit further is a luxurious shopping mall selling international and expensive brands. A strange scenery if you think that Vietnam is a communist country and most of the people there live a simple life. Contrasting with all the luxury and gold that comes from the windows of the mall, there is a place of happiness for ordinary people like us.

Hanoi Local Tips : Kem Trang Tien, ice cream heaven!!

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Photo by Vietnam Typical Tours
The ice cream is delicious, however the way they sell it, the small alley that ends in an ice cream complex, the crowded shops, and endless queue that are really amazing. The ice cream is served in a production line, you can’t choose the flavour, each stall serves their speciality. Choose a shop, wait in the line and delight yourself with a sweet treat. Local people might stare at you, we were the only foreigners there.  If you miss the sign “Kem Trang Tien” on Trang Tien street, just look for the crowds.

One of the top things to do in Hanoi is to walk around the Hoan Kiem Lake and visit the temple there. The red bridge is super cute and the Ngoc Son temple is impressive, but be prepared to fight for space, the place gets packed, that so dreamed photo of  you alone on the red bridge is almost impossible. But even though it is a must see in Hanoi.

Hanoi Local Tips: Choose between jogging or people watching!

Instead of visiting the Hoan Kiem lake in the middle of the day, wake up early and go there around 7am. The place is completely different, the fog covering the lake gives a mystic look to the place. Plus, early in the morning you can see local people running, practicing Tai-chi-chuan, old ladies exercising in some interesting and  funny way.

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Photo by Brian Johnson & Dane Kantner
Wander around is a must thing to do in Hanoi, especially in the old French quarter. Get your city map and go searching for the temples. Most of them are beautiful, with outstanding wooden carving work, paintings, and impressive statues. This is the most touristic area in Hanoi, be prepared for crazy traffic, street vendors, food and garbage smell.

Hanoi Local Food Tip:

At the old quarter don’t forget to try the traditional and famous Bánh mì. The baguette sandwich is delicious and you can choose the filling. Chicken, pork, bacon, eggs and a secret mixture, a kind of patê made from insides and herbs. Rob tried and like it, I ate only the vegetarian Bánh mì with egg & veggies.  

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Photo by Minh Nguyen
The happy hour with  Bia Hoi is one of the top things to do in Hanoi. From 6pm to midnight some streets in the old quarter become a huge open-air bar. The shops stretch their tiny tables and chairs over the streets trying to accommodate tourists and locals. It’s a sea of people drinking delicious  fresh brewed beer.  

Most of the tourists will stop by the fancy or hipster bars, order a beer and eat some BBQ or hot pot. That’s good, and you should do it. The hot spot for the hot pots is the  Ta Hien street. But if you wanna experience the Bia Hoi scene in a local way here is what you should do:

Hanoi Local Tip for Bia Hoi:

On the corner of Ta Hien street and Luong Ngoc Quyen street are the local bars. The tables are simple, there is no decoration on the bar, and most of the time the beer kegs will be outside of the shop sitting on the path walk. On the menu will be chicken feet, fried or marinated, nuts and BBQ snacks. All them served by passing vendors. An important thing: Bier Hoi on Sundays are not the best, the local breweries produce beer from Monday to Saturday and the delivery is daily, so on Sunday the beer is not  that fresh.

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Photo by collect on the internet
We crossed the city on a rickshaw, passing by local houses, shops and street barbers. We visited historical places like the gate of the Citadel that still have on the wall the bullets holes from the French invasion; a hidden Chinese temple; stopping at a local eatery for some fresh spring rolls and homemade rice wine.

He took us through a small door and we discovered a huge wet market inside, selling everything from veggies, frogs, spices and strange herbal medicines. Then we walked along the wedding cake street and tried some local dessert made with black rice, yogurt, and coconut milk.

Our final hour was devoted to the touristy Cho Dong Xuan market, but we did it in a different way, in a local way. We squeezed ourselves between the back alleys, passing by some doggy doors, small streets that were packed with food, goods, people selling and people buying. To wrap up the day we sipped egg coffee, a traditional and strange local recipe. Our like a local tour was an intense and sensorial experience as only Hanoi can be.  

Hanoi is a unique city and if you get the chance to experience the local life and hidden places you will enjoy it much more. Did you like our suggestion of what to do in Vietnam? Any doubt? Cheers!!