Hanoi is a bustling city full of energy, history, and culture, ranging from the old-world charm of the Old Quarter to the more recent French and American influences. To help you make the most of your visit, we’ve compiled a list of the best places to visit in Hanoi Vietnam. Related Tour: Vietnam holiday packages 2023 (17 days) Learn more: Best places to visit in Vietnam
9 Best places to visit in Hanoi Vietnam
1. Old Quarter
One of the best places to visit in Hanoi Vietnam is the ancient core of Hanoi which consists of 36 guild streets, each of which was dedicated to the sales of a certain kind of merchandise – Hang Non (Hat Street) sold conical leaf hats, Hang Manh (Curtain Street) sold curtains, and so on. Learn more: HANOI OLD QUATER & 36 STREETS
Today, the official area of the quarter spans 76 streets divided into 10 wards of Hoan Kiem District, but artisans and businesses still do brisk trade from the shophouses (iconic two-story buildings with slanted roofs where the owners live upstairs and sell their wares downstairs), as well as more modern buildings constructed postwar.
Here, you can buy souvenirs for your trip to Vietnam: shellacware, funny T-shirts, embroidered bags, silk clothing, many diverse handcrafted items, and even propaganda posters. The many shops and cafes provide plenty of options for grab-and-go, eating at sidewalk stalls, and fine dining. Related Tours: Hanoi Tours (Daily Tour)
2. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The next one of the best places to visit in Hanoi Vietnam is Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. This is a complex consisting of two areas: the Mausoleum and the Museum dedicated to Ho Chi Minh, the revolutionary affectionately known as Uncle Ho. His body was preserved with the help of Soviet experts so that the people, especially those in the South that he fought to free, as well as foreign friends, may pay their respects after his death.
The Museum preserves his place of work and living environment. It’s an extremely popular destination for school trips, and many people make it a point to visit at least once in their life, in keeping with the Vietnamese tradition of gratitude.
3. Temple of Literature & Imperial Academy
Temple of Literature & Imperial Academy is recognized as one of the best places to visit in Hanoi Vietnam. In 1070, the complex sprang to life with the construction of the Temple of Literature dedicated to the worship of Confucius and other intellectual luminaries, and the Crown Prince of the Ly Dynasty at the time came there to study. Before education was recognized as a basic human right, it was a privilege of the elite; and who is more elite than royalty?
Recognizing the fact, in 1076, Crown Prince – by then Emperor Ly Nhan Tong – ordered the construction of the Imperial Academy to educate princes and other promising noble-born sons so that they can inherit positions and become well-rounded, firm but fair authority figures.
Today, neither princes nor lowborn students tread its halls, but the buildings still throng with curious tourists and scores of students seeking academic blessings before final exams. Touching the steles bearing the names of past scholars and rubbing the head of the stone turtles carrying the steles for luck, sadly, has been banned, as this centuries-long tradition was destroying the sculptures. The Constellation of Literature Pavilion has become one of the symbols of Hanoi itself, featured in blue on the city’s emblem.
4. Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
Searching for the best places to visit in Hanoi Vietnam, you can not miss the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. On November 12, 1997, Vice President of Vietnam Nguyen Thi Binh and President of France Jacques Chirac cut the ribbon for the inauguration of the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. From the initial Bronze Drum building with exhibits on the 54 ethnic groups of Vietnam, the museum has constantly expanded and improved.
The Architectural Garden, home to ten folk architectural works from different cultures, opened to visitors in 2006, followed by the 4-floor Kite building opening in 2013 with exhibits on cultures outside of Vietnam and principally in South East Asia.
As a major museum and tourist destination of Hanoi in particular and Vietnam in general, the exhibits here are informative and accessible. Labels, signs, and infographics are written in Vietnamese, English, and French, and brochures in these languages (plus Chinese, German, Japanese, and more) are available freely.
5. Vietnamese Women’s Museum
This institution dedicated to the women of Vietnam is one of the best places to visit in Hanoi Vietnam, and has been operating continuously since 1995. Their mission is to educate on gender inequality, the immense role and contributions of women in Vietnamese history and modern society, and the difficulties they still face. The three main themes of the Museum are Women in History, Women in the Family, and Women’s Fashion.
In addition to these regular exhibits, the museum also organizes many specialized exhibits and events that reflect the development of modern society, aimed at different groups, particularly underprivileged and marginalized women and children.
For example, they organize traveling and virtual exhibitions to reach people who would never have been able to see them in Hanoi, including residents of remote, poor, and mountainous regions, as well as foreign friends.
6. Hoa Lo Prison
Hoa Lo prison began life as the Maison Centrale (the sign of which you can still see over its main gate), this one of the best places to visit in Hanoi Vietnam built by French authorities to jail Vietnamese patriots and revolutionaries. Under North Vietnamese control, captured American prisoners of war were incarcerated there. In the mid-1990s, most of the prison was demolished. Standing in its place are the Somerset Grand Hanoi hotel and the Hanoi Tower commercial complex (which still retains part of the French colonial walls).
The gatehouse facing Hoa Lo Street itself and a 2,000m2 area has been converted into a museum, showing the suffering its residents had to go through, using dioramas and actual historical artifacts. Amusingly, the prison’s Facebook page has been a hit with young people recently, serving to attract visitors with a mixture of interesting historical information, and staying abreast of trends and memes.
7. Hoan Kiem Lake
This gem in the heart of the Old Quarter is a place shrouded in myth and being one of the best places to visit in Hanoi Vietnam. Its most popular names are Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Returned Sword) or Ho Guom (simply Sword Lake). Legend has it that Le Loi was lent the holy sword Thuan Thien ([Following] Heaven’s Will) to free Vietnam. He succeeded and founded the Later Le Dynasty. When he went boating on this lake in peacetime, the Golden Turtle rose out of the waters and retrieved the sword.
Writer Nguyen Tuan dryly compared the green lake to “the broth of well-boiled morning glory, without a squeeze of lime juice” – favorably so, as the cheap-and-cheerful vegetables are a familiar and comforting sight at mealtime to many people, and as much a Vietnamese national symbol as this sacred site.
Photo opportunities are plenty, with the Turtle Tower in the middle of the lake, as well as quiet moments of contemplation, reflection, and prayer for good things in your life at the Ngoc Son Temple.
8. Hanoi Opera House
Not far from Hoan Kiem Lake lies the city’s Opera House – one of the must-see best places to visit in Hanoi Vietnam, modeled after the world-famous Neoclassical Palais Garnier in Paris. It was built by the French colonial administration between 1901 and 1911, and the premiere performance was the four-act comedy Le Voyage de monsieur Perrichon (The Voyage of Mister Perrichon) by Eugène Labiche and Édouard Martin.
Since then, it has served as the city’s premier destination for European-style theatre and classical concerts, introducing the Vietnamese audience to new and interesting forms of art. The 870-seat opera house has also played pivotal roles in historical moments of Hanoi, such as serving as the meeting place for the National Assembly of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam for over 15 years until the construction of Ba Dinh Hall.
Fun fact: The Phantom of the Opera has never been staged here, despite its plot being set in the fictional Opera Populaire that was also based on the Palais Garnier. However, another French/English international theatrical phenomenon had its Vietnamese premiere here to a rapturous reception: that great story of love and revolution, Les Misérables, staged by the Vietnam National Opera and Ballet (VNOB).
9. St. Joseph’s Cathedral
The stately building, modeled after Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris, is Hanoi’s oldest church, named after the patron saint of Vietnam. Even though Hanoi will never see a “white Christmas”, the local holiday spirit is in full swing around this area in December. The cathedral sets up a massive Christmas tree in the square out front and a Nativity scene. After you’ve finished marveling at the lights, you can easily grab a hot drink or a bite to eat at the many cafes in the surrounding area (including the famous egg coffee – though not by the original makers -, a few doors up from a cozy Starbucks). The cathedral has a Christmas Eve service, but due to COVID safety measures at least 2021’s event was invitation-only. Asid