Hanoi, Vietnam, also written as Ha Noi, is the capital and second most populous city in the country. It’s a vibrant, lively and often chaotic place that continues to thrive and draw in tourists from all over the globe. With French and Chinese influences, the architecture is incredibly appealing and colourful, making it ideal for both budding and professional photographers. Hanoi is a fantastic destination for any curious traveller to immerse themselves in a different culture and observe a different way of life.
This Ultimate Guide to Hanoi Vietnam will introduce you to all of the top Hanoi highlights, and hopefully get you inspired to start planning your trip as soon as possible!
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Table of Contents
How to get to Hanoi
Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport (HAN) is 25 kilometres away from the heart of the city. The 86 Express Bus takes 40 minutes to an hour to get to Hanoi and costs only 35,000 dong. It stops at both airport terminals and will drop you off in the Old Quarter. Vietnam Airlines, VietJet and other airlines also offer their own shuttle buses which typically cost 40,000 dong.
If you’re coming from Danang, you can also catch an overnight train into Hanoi. Although they take much longer, sleeper trains are a cheap, scenic and memorable alternative to flying. Upon arrival, you’ll find yourself at Hanoi Railway Station in the Dong Da district.
What to expect in Hanoi
Vietnamese is spoken in Hanoi, although over half of the country’s population is able to speak some basic English. In the touristy areas like the Old Quarter, you’ll always be able to find someone you can communicate with.
The currency in Vietnam is Vietnamese dong, with one euro currently equaling about 26,000 dong. Be careful with your money and try to use smaller banknotes when possible. The 20,000 and 500,000 dong notes look remarkably similar, so you can end up accidentally overpaying and not having the correct change returned to you.
Tipping isn’t too common Vietnam, so don’t feel pressured to leave a tip if you’re from a country where it’s not the norm.
How to get around Hanoi
Getting around Hanoi can be tricky for a number of reasons. Firstly, the roads are notoriously busy and can be intimidating to cross as a pedestrian. Regardless, you’ll quickly realise that walking is the best way to see the real Hanoi and adapt to the crazy traffic in no time. Although you won’t be able to walk everywhere in such a large city, you should definitely explore the Old Quarter on foot.
Secondly, the many local buses throughout Hanoi aren’t too convenient for getting to many of the tourist attractions. They can also be confusing if you’re new to the city and can’t speak Vietnamese. Your best option with buses is to board a hop-on hop-off city bus tour.
Lastly, if you’re catching a taxi, you need to be aware that various scams are common. The best way to avoid being ripped off is to download Grab on your smartphone, which will allow you to book and pay for taxis in the app. In addition to cars, you can also book a ride on the back of a motorbike if you’re on your own. If you can’t find any Grab cars available, stick to reputable taxi companies like Taxi Group (Taxi CP and Taxi Hanoi) and remember to discuss the fare in advance.
The best time to visit Hanoi
Unlike many other Southeast Asian destinations, Hanoi has four distinct seasons that will affect your experience in the city.
Spring and autumn are both gorgeous seasons to spend in Hanoi. The temperatures are warm and pleasant, and the blooming flowers and fall leaves transform the city. April, May, October and November are the ideal times to visit to get the most out of your trip.
The summer months of June, July and August are the hottest, as you’d expect. Temperatures are generally in the mid-30s with high humidity, making it not so ideal for exploring the city and being touristy. Not only that, but the middle of the year is considered the rainy season. You can expect regular downpours each day that will halt your plans for a few hours.
It gets quite cold during the wintertime, and temperatures can fall to around 10ºC. If you prefer this type of weather or want to visit during the quieter period, book a trip between December and February.
Things to do in Hanoi
Explore the Old Quarter
Hanoi’s Old Quarter is the place to be, and there’s no better way to see it than by wandering around on foot. If you’re looking for cheap things to do in Hanoi, you can spend the day exploring the Old Quarter’s maze of streets and observing the historical architecture.
Here you can also visit the infamous Dong Xuan Market, the largest covered market in the city, and shop for clothing, jewellery, souvenirs, and just about anything you’d want.
Try an egg coffee
One of the many unique things to do in Hanoi is to have an egg coffee. This concoction was created during a milk shortage caused by the French War, but remains a beloved drink to this day. Most agree that Giang Cafe has the best and most authentic egg coffee in the Old Quarter, so be sure to stop by and try it for yourself.
Wander around Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake, also known as the Sword Lake, is a serene area near the historical district of Hanoi. The pedestrian path around the lake attracts both locals and tourists looking for some peace and quiet away from the city.
In the middle of the lake are two stunning attractions: the Ngoc Son Temple and the Turtle Tower. You can get to the Ngoc Son Temple, aka the Temple of the Jade Mountain, by crossing the vibrant red Welcoming Morning Sunlight Bridge. Built on the tiny Jade Island in the north of the lake, it is dedicated to Confucian and Taoist philosophers. The Turtle Tower, on the other hand, can only be seen from a distance from the southern part of the lake. The small stone temple was built in 1886 and commemorates Le Loi, one of the greatest heroes in Vietnamese history.
While visiting the lake during the day is recommended, you should come back at nighttime as well. With the lights of the bridge colourfully illuminated and reflecting on the surface of the water, a stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake is one of the most beautiful things to do in Hanoi at night.
Places to visit in Hanoi
St. Joseph’s Cathedral
The neo-Gothic St Joseph’s Cathedral was constructed by the French government in 1886 and is often referred to as the Notre Dame of Hanoi. The Gothic revival architectural style and 31-metre-high twin bell towers will leave you in awe. Inside the church are extraordinary stained glass panels leading up to the Medieval rib vaulted ceiling. Pay it a visit on Nha Tho Street in the Hoan Kiem District.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The resting place of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam’s revolutionary leader, is one of the most visited Hanoi attractions. The stone mausoleum is 22 metres high and 44 metres wide. Make your way to Ba Dinh Square early in the morning and catch the changing of the guard ceremony.
Temple of Literature
This Confucian temple is easily one of the most picturesque attractions in Hanoi. Built in 1070, it contains various pavilions, statues and halls surrounded by five courtyards. The first and second courtyards are luscious, landscaped gardens, and the third contains a large pond. The fourth courtyard is used for ceremonies, while the last is known for its large drum and bell tower.
What to eat in Hanoi
One thing Vietnam is famous for is its cuisine. You’ll find an abundance of street food everywhere you look in Hanoi, and you won’t be disappointed with what’s on offer!
Of course, you’ll want to eat banh mi. While you’ve likely already had a variety of this baguette sandwich in your home country, no one makes them better than the Vietnamese! Banh mi is an incredibly affordable on-the-go lunch, usually costing between 20,000 to 35,000 dong.
Your trip won’t be complete without also enjoying a delicious bowl of pho. Although this rice noodle soup is traditionally a breakfast food, it’s perfect for lunch and dinner too. The best pho in Hanoi is found at small, humble shops like Pho Gia Truyen in the Old Quarter.
The perhaps lesser-known bun cha is a meal that originates from Hanoi, so don’t miss trying it while you’re there. It’s a wonderful mix of rice noodles, grilled pork, fragrant herbs, pickled vegetables, and a dipping sauce.
The ultimate drink to wash all of this delicious food down is bia hoi. This draught beer is one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in Vietnam and can be ordered at every street corner bar in Hanoi.
Where to stay in Hanoi
If you’re visiting Hanoi for the first time, you’ll want to stay as close as you can to Hanoi’s city centre. The most popular areas to stay are the Old Quarter, the French Quarter, and west of Hoan Kiem Lake. Airbnb is another great option.
Hanoi Guest House is a charming place to stay in the Old Quarter. The warm and cosy interiors will welcome you home after a busy day amongst the hustle and bustle of the city. There are singles, doubles, triples, and a romantic honeymoon suite available. The friendly staff will ensure you have the best trip possible. They offer airport transfers, assist with booking transportation tickets, and even help with acquiring your visa approval letter to get into the country.
Splendid Star Grand Hotel is a surprisingly affordable boutique hotel. Located on a small and quiet street near St Joseph’s Cathedral and Hoan Kiem Lake, you can enjoy a peaceful night’s rest away from the noise. The impressive rooms are modern and uniquely designed, and the suites come with spacious private balconies. Fresh fruit is offered daily, and bicycles can be rented from the front desk.
Tours to do in Hanoi
As mentioned earlier, Vietnam is all about the food. What could be better than a food tour then? Take a private food tour during the day, a group tour by night, or even a dinnertime tour that includes karaoke. If you’re overwhelmed by all the food options and don’t know what to try, a food tour is for you.
Although it may seem like every Vietnamese dish contains meat, a vegan food tour is offered as well. It skips the restaurants that cater to Westerners and shows you the best local veggie options. No matter your dietary requirements, you’ll be able to enjoy Vietnam’s delicious cuisine.
While there are many rivers in Hanoi, the Red River is the largest and most significant to the local culture. You can take a half-day tour along the river, either by bike or a private car. If you choose the latter, you’ll be taken to the Bat Trang Ceramic Village to learn about traditional crafts, and enjoy a typical Vietnamese lunch with your hosts. On the biking tour, you’ll pass rice paddies and meet farmers on the way to the Co Loa Citadel.
Day trips from Hanoi
A popular day trip from Hanoi is to the serene and picturesque Halong Bay. Depart at eight in the morning for a three and a half hour road trip to Halong City. Once you’ve arrived, you can enjoy a cruise around the remote archipelagoes and the Ba Hang Fishing Village. Spend the day swimming, kayaking, and taking a million photographs! You’ll also have the opportunity to walk up Limestone Mountain and check out Thien Cung Grotto, also known as the Heavenly Cave. A gourmet seafood lunch is always served.
You might also like to take a calming day trip out to the gorgeous province of Ninh Binh. It’s about a two-hour drive from Hanoi and is the ultimate relaxing excursion to take to escape the noise of the city. You’ll be taken to the ancient Hoa Lu Temple and three natural limestone caves. You’ll also hop on a traditional sampan boat and take a trip along the Ngo Dong River, where you’ll spot farmers tending to their paddy fields. A bicycle ride to conclude the day will allow you to discover more luscious green valleys and regional villages.
Want to learn how to travel on a Budget? Check out our dedicated “Budget Conscious Travel Guide”
Recommend budget tours in Hanoi
- Hanoi Street Food Walking Tour
- Old Quarter Street Food Walking tour from Hanoi
- Bai Dinh and Trang An Day Trip with Lunch and Electric Car
- Ninh Binh and Ancient Hoa Lu Temples Tour from Hanoi
- Dragon Legend Halong Bay 2-Day Cruise from Hanoi
- Private Tour: Vientiane City Sightseeing and Buddha Park
- Private Day Trip to Pak Ou Cave and Kuang Si Waterfall from Luang Prabang
- Full Day Halong Bay Islands and Caves with Kayaking from Hanoi
- 3-Day Cruise Relaxing and Kayaking on Halong Bay from Hanoi
- 6-Day Off The Beaten Track Tour of North Vietnam from Hanoi (extremely affordable!)
- 3-Day Ba Be Lake and Ban Gioc Waterfall Tour from Hanoi
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