The best places to visit in Hanoi give visitors a window into the unique and diverse culture of Vietnam’s capital city
Vietnam’s capital city is known for many things: its historic and beautiful Old Quarter, its tumultuous history, and the seemingly endless wave of scooters, for a start. No visit to Hanoi can be complete without seeing a traditional water puppet show, eating mountains of mouth-watering street food, sipping specialty coffee and exploring ancient temples. There is a lot to love about Hanoi, and here are our top tips on how to make the most of your time here.
1.Hanoi Old Quarter
What is it? A thousand years on, Hanoi’s cultural and economic heart still beats with hundreds of specialty stores, quirky cafés and buzzing markets.
Why go? At the northern end of Hoan Kiem lake is Hanoi’s Old Quarter. The busy streets are packed with cafés and shoppers looking for a bargain from the many knock-off stalls. Each street has its own specialties – for example, Han Gai Street is a popular spot for custom-made silk clothing, whereas Lan Ong Street is home to traditional herbal medicines.Afterwards, pick up a bargain at Dong Xuan Market (Vietnam’s largest and oldest market) or head to Bach Ma, reportedly the oldest temple in the city. Bach Ma is filled with decorative art and ornate statues. Be sure to see the famous white horse shrine and dragon-embellished entrance.
2. Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple
What is it? A beautiful island temple dedicated to war hero General Tran Hung Dao who defeated an army of 300,000 Mongolian soldiers in the thirteenth century.
Why go? Legend says that Emperor Ly Thai found a magical sword in Hoan Kiem Lake, which he then used to help drive the Chinese from Vietnam. Upon his victory a huge golden turtle retrieved the sword, thus giving the lake its name ‘Lake of the Returned Sword’. On the edge of the lake is a decorative gate and bright red bridge, which leads to Ngoc Son temple. Be sure to visit the ancient courtyard’s bonsai and decorative shrines. Surrounding the lake is a long tree-lined walking path and busy road. Early each morning locals practice tai chi by the tranquil shore. On weekend evenings between 7PM and midnight, the streets close to traffic and make way for street food, games, hawkers and families enjoying the pleasant night air.
3. Hoa Lo Prison
What is it? A jail in which Vietnamese prisoners – and later, American prisoners of war – were incarcerated.
Why go? Grim but thought-provoking, the Hoa Lo Prison museum (dubbed by American prisoners as the ‘Hanoi Hilton’) is all that remains of this site. Built by the French in 1896, the old building has gruesome reminders of the torture and executions held here including a well-used guillotine. The museum is carefully curated, and will leave you with a good insight into Hanoi’s history from the early years of colonial rule to the end of the American war.
4. The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
What is it? The site where locals pay tribute to ‘Uncle Ho’, the national hero and leader in the fight for an independent and unified Vietnam.
Why go? The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a place of pilgrimage and quiet respect for many Vietnamese people. The queue to see his embalmed body can sometimes be hours long, and once inside any disrespectful actions such as photography, loud noises and even hands in pockets is strictly a no-no. If the relentless heat and long lines make you feel a little faint, then head to the wonderful landscaped botanic gardens next door. There’s a replica of Ho Chi Minh’s stilt house, and the lush gardens, ponds and ornamental bridges are a great place to unwind.
5. Temples of Literature
What is it? A traditional and very picturesque Vietnamese temple dedicated to Confucius, which was the site of Vietnam’s first university in 1070.
Why go? This former university focused on poetry, philosophy and literature for anyone rich enough to study here. A magnificent gateway leads to a grand path past large, decorative ponds, topiary animals and carefully landscaped gardens. The series of ornate pagodas contain interesting shrines to Confucius, as well as decorative lanterns and statues. There are great photo opportunities to be had here and you will need at least a few hours to make your way around the grounds.
Read also: Best places to visit in Hanoi 2020 (Part 2)