Hanoi, a city that beautifully captures the essence of what makes Vietnam so incomparable, invites you to immerse yourself in its iconic sensory wonderland. As you stroll through the traditional streets of the Old Quarter under a symphony of buzzing scooters, enthusiastic vendors, and the tantalizing aroma of freshly prepared pho permeates the air, creating an unforgettable experience.
Hanoi’s kaleidoscope of experiences will leave you enchanted. You’ll be left telling your friends back home, “you don’t know man, you weren’t there!“
So in that case, here are the 20 best sights to see in Hanoi!
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Table of Contents
Hoan Kiem Lake (Sword Lake)
Much like an enchanting oasis amongst the chaos of Hanoi’s streets, the emerald-green haven of Hoan Kiem Lake never fails to impress locals and tourists alike.
As you wander around the shimmering shoreline, you’ll encounter the soothing symphony of Vietnamese life. Tai chi enthusiasts gracefully perform their morning routines, while street vendors dish out steaming bowls of pho from their mobile kitchens, all under the deafening soundtrack of buzzing scooters. Yet, the lake still remains a haven of tranquillity.
For a truly showstopping view, make sure you visit when the sun begins to fall over the horizon where you’ll get to see the silhouette of Ngoc Son Temple, perched on a tiny island at the lake’s heart, behind a glowing yellow backdrop.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Ho Chi Minh, the iconic revolutionary leader who forced the Americans to retreat, is a beloved man in this nation. To commemorate his achievements and the gratitude of the Vietnamese people, this colossal mausoleum was built to give him a fitting final resting place.
The site has become a sacred pilgrimage site for Vietnamese nationals who come to join the solemn crowds in viewing the embalmed body of “Uncle Ho” lying in state.
Visiting this monumental landmark is a must-see on your journey through Hanoi, as it offers a profound glimpse into the country’s past and the enduring legacy of a beloved leader.
Hanoi feels like a city lost in time, with many of its streets remaining the same ever since the days of colonialism. As such, much of the city’s true character can be found in its Old Quarter. Every corner and back-alley seems to whisper tales of bygone eras, with its ancient temples, French colonial architecture, and traditional Vietnamese shops pervading the smell of sizzling bánh mì into the air.
This vibrant district is like a living, breathing museum of Vietnamese history and culture, often blending ancient history with its modern luxuries. Crumbling temples and humbly designed luxury hotels stand effortlessly side by side.
When the lights go down, the true show has only just begun. Locals bring out their tiny plastic chairs in force to eat and drink the night away along the district’s sidewalks. Add to that a multitude of night markets and street performances to see, this is truly Hanoi at its finest.
Water Puppet Theatre
One of the more unique events to see in Hanoi is found in the iconic Water Puppet Theatre. As you step into this quaint, historic venue, you’ll enter into a world where hidden puppeteers glide wooden puppets gracefully across the shimmering surface of a tranquil pond in a one-of-a-kind performance.
It’s a symphony of storytelling and tradition, where ancient legends and folktales come to life with each elegant move of the puppets. All the while the event is performed under the backdrop of traditional music and live singing.
A visit to this enchanting theatre is an absolute must-see on your Hanoi itinerary, offering a perfect blend of entertainment and insight into the captivating traditions of Vietnam.
Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton)
Tragically, Vietnam is only recognised by many due to the devastating war that took place here. Many of the sites that played an important role in the conflict still stand today. In Hanoi, the most spine-tingling relic of all is that of Hoa Lo Prison, also sinisterly known as the “Hanoi Hilton“.
Originally constructed by French colonists in the late 19th century to cage unruly locals, this formidable complex was later used to house American prisoners of war during the Vietnam War. It housed some notable names in its time, including the future US Senator John McCain.
Today, Hoa Lo Prison stands as a poignant reminder of Vietnam’s turbulent past, offering travellers a glimpse into the gripping narrative of the country’s struggle for independence.
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West Lake (Ho Tay)
Amongst the “City of Lakes“, Hanoi’s West Lake is by far its crowning jewel. This aquatic wonderland, spanning over 500 hectares, is yet another peaceful oasis from which the city continues to expand.
With willow trees and a whole host of characters setting up their stalls along its shores, this is no ordinary lake – it’s a treasure trove of stories, culture, and unrivalled beauty.
When the sun dips below the horizon, West Lake transforms into a dazzling display of lights, as the lakeside cafes and restaurants illuminate the shimmering reflection on the water.
Tran Quoc Pagoda
Speaking of West Lake, Tran Quoc Pagoda is the most notable site surrounding the water’s edge. With its origins dating back over a thousand years, this ancient Buddhist temple is not only Hanoi’s oldest but also one of its most recognisable attractions.
The iconic red pagoda towers above the shores and is adorned with intricate details – a testament to the harmonious blend of Vietnamese and Indian design influences. Amongst its tranquil courtyard is a humble temple, creating a visually stunning place of worship.
Better yet, arrive as the sun begins to set and you’ll have an enchanting silhouette against the gorgeous yellow backdrop with a picture-perfect reflection!
Vietnam War Museum
The 20-year-long war that ravaged this nation certainly left a big impression. Many buildings remain scarred with bulletholes and many of the city’s citizens still remember the sounds of American bombs to this day.
The Vietnam War Museum memorialises this tumultuous period in history with its thought-provoking exhibits and real-life relics from the war. Ranging from vintage military hardware to heart-wrenching personal accounts, this museum offers a window into a past that’s as haunting as it is inspiring.
You’ll have the unique opportunity to walk beside the iconic “huey” helicopters that once roared through the skies, and recovered aircraft that were once responsible for delivering death to the citizens of Hanoi. The museum gives a whole new context to the devastation that this war brought to so many.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral
Amongst the authentic Vietnamese streets, the last thing you’d imagine coming across is a Catholic church! Naturally a result of French colonialism, it is still considered a true architectural gem and beloved by many in the city.
This neo-Gothic masterpiece stands tall and proud with its twin spires reaching to the sky. Inside you’ll enter a contrasting European era with its intricately crafted arches and stained-glass windows. It’s a true testament to the rich cultural tapestry of this city.
Temple of Literature (Van Mieu-Quoc Tu Giam)
In the days of scholars and sages, 1070 to be exact, this ancient complex was built to preserve knowledge and wisdom throughout the ages. Today it’s open to the public to delve into the knowledge like never before!
Behind the ornate gates is a collection of lush courtyards, where stone turtles cradle engraved stelae bearing the names of Vietnam’s brightest minds.
Bun Cha Obama
Fans of the late great Anthony Bourdain might be well aware that he shared quite a unique meal with then-President Barack Obama along the streets of Hanoi. But what were they eating? It was this!
Bun Cha Obama, as the restaurant is now called, still serves the very same dishes that those two legendary men shared. Since that faithful day, the restaurant has become a pilgrimage site for foodies across the world!
Bun Cha are effectively Vietnamese meatballs, made up of grilled pork patties, succulent slices of grilled pork belly, and fresh rice vermicelli, all swimming in a sweet and tangy fish sauce-based broth. The dish comes with an abundance of fresh herbs and fiery chillies, allowing you to customize your flavours.
Along with the restaurant’s rustic wooden tables and bustling street-side location, it’s Vietnamese cuisine at its very best!
Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
Vietnamese history extends far beyond the war and French colonialism, extending for thousands of years and across numerous cultural boundaries. There’s no better place to learn about it than at the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology.
This hidden gem is like a passport to a kaleidoscope of Vietnam’s heritage, with its numerous exhibits. From life-sized ethnic village replicas to collections of intricate Hmong silver jewellery and the Cham’s ancient temple architecture. Undoubtedly, the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is the best representation of the country’s captivating cultural mosaic.
Dong Xuan Market
The Dong Xuan Market is the home of Hanoi’s beating heart of commerce. Providing yet another glimpse into Hanoi’s history, the market has stood since 1889 when the French still ruled the lands.
Since those days, the market has been a bustling beehive of stalls and shops in a sensory overload of aromatic street food and colourful textiles.
Locals and tourists alike descend upon this colossal market to uncover treasures that range from traditional silk garments to quirky souvenirs. It’s an experience that encapsulates Hanoi’s unique blend of history and modernity. It’s a place where you can haggle your way to a bargain while drinking a refreshing Vietnamese coffee all at once.
Nestled on the outskirts of Vietnam’s bustling capital, Le Mat is also known by a different name – Snake Village.
This village has a storied history dating back centuries, where snake farming and snake-related activities are a way of life. Many of the age-old traditions remain to this day, including the eating of snakes!
Visitors can dine at local restaurants that specialize in snake-based dishes. Expect to try mouth-watering dishes such as snake spring rolls or fried skin. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can even try drinking some snake blood and even consuming the snake’s still-beating heart.
One Pillar Pagoda
The One Pillar Pagoda is a captivating jewel of Vietnamese architectural and spiritual heritage. This iconic structure boasts a history that spans over a thousand years, making it one of the oldest and most revered religious sites in the country.
Built in 1049, it was designed to resemble a lotus blossom emerging from the water – a symbol of enlightenment in Buddhist culture. The single stone pillar, upon which the entire pagoda delicately balances which is said to represent a lotus stem.
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Long Bien Bridge
Evidence of the Vietnam War is on display in more than just the city’s museums. Stretching across the Red River, Long Bien Bridge has witnessed over a century of the nation’s triumphs and tribulations.
Built by none other than the French in 1903, the bridge still holds scars from the American bombing raids to this day. Since those days, the iron-arched bridge and its weathered wooden planks still serve as a vital lifeline connecting the bustling streets of Hanoi with the rural communities on the other side of the river.
There is even clearer evidence of America’s unrequested influence deep amongst the city’s suburbs.
Amongst a serene and picturesque little lake standing beside a local school sits the remnants of an American B-52 bomber that crashed during the Vietnam War. Rather than removing what they believe to be a painful reminder of past tragedies instead stand as a proud symbol of their defiance and resilience, and ultimately, their undeniable victory.
You won’t find many structures as grandiose as this one! Stepping through the palace’s ornate gates, visitors will find a harmonious blend of architectural styles that tell a story of the nation’s evolution.
As you explore the opulent halls and regal chambers, you’ll gain insight into the country’s political heritage, with artefacts, portraits, and historical displays that vividly recount the past.
Quan Thanh Temple
This ancient Taoist temple dates back to the 11th century and stands as evidence of the vast range of influence that left its mark on this great nation.
The temple’s architecture is a masterpiece of Vietnamese artistry, with intricate details adorning its wooden pillars that contrast beautifully with the surrounding lush greenery. Inside the temple’s peaceful courtyard, you’ll also find worshippers lighting incense and offering prayers, creating an atmosphere of spiritual reverence.
Truc Bach Lake
Tucked up beside the exceedingly larger West Lake, is a little slice of paradise for an intrepid traveler.
Much like its neighbour, its shorelines attract tourists, opportunistic vendors and street snacks abound. Above all, it’s a beautiful piece of tranquillity amongst the bustling streets.
The lake’s main attraction is the historic Chau Long Pagoda, which stands on a small island at its centre. This ancient 15th-century temple, adds a touch of spirituality to the area and is the perfect way to see the rich cultural heritage of Hanoi.
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