The Top 16 Things to See in Hanoi
If you’re traveling to Vietnam, Hanoi is often the first stop. People use it as a base to check out Halong Bay, and as the entry point as they check out Sapa, Nha Trang, Hue, Nim Binh, Ho Chi Minh, and Phu Quoc. But, just like Bangkok in Thailand, people often skip through this city and move on. But there are so many things to see in Hanoi, amazing things!
I’m going to keep my blog post simple so you can use it easily. Here are the 16 best things to see in Hanoi, how much they cost, and how to organize it. Don’t miss it on your Vietnam itinerary.
I won’t drone on about myself any longer! Hanoi is the largest city and the capital of the country. It has a fine blend of both the West and the East. It has a rich historical and archaeological background, not to mention the Bia Hoi (fresh beer) they flog in the city center at $0.16 a glass. When you make it to this chaotic city, make sure you check out the 16 best things to see in Hanoi:
Table of contents
- The Top 16 Things to See in Hanoi
- 1) Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
- 2) Temple of Literature
- 3) Hoan Kiem Lake (Turtle Lake)
- 4) Hoa Lo Prison or the Hanoi Hilton
- 5) Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
- 6) Drink Bia Hoi on the street
- 7) Hanoi Opera House (and the French Quarter)
- 8) Hanoi Old Quarter
- 9) The Imperial City of Thang Long (The Hanoi Citadel)
- 10) The view from the Lotte Observation Deck
- 11) Dong Xuan Market
- 12) Long Bien Bridge
- 13) Tran Quoc Pagoda
- 14) Bai Dinh Pagoda
- 15) One Pillar Pagoda
- 16) Perfume Pagoda
- BONUS: Bai Vi National Park
- Thoughts on things to see in Hanoi?
1) Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Probably the number 1 thing to see in Hanoi is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the icon of the city. Ho Chi Minh was the President of the Communist Party of Vietnam, and the guy who declared Vietnam’s independence from the French, and you can see his embalmed body inside his mausoleum.
Although Ho Chi Minh city is in the south, the main man is buried here, supposedly against his wishes. It has a huge historical significance and is a real place for seriousness though. Understandably, tourists are not allowed to show any form of disrespect inside the mausoleum. Bear in mind the dress code too folks, no flipflops and shorts here so dress up smart if you want to get inside and see his body.
On a brighter note, you can enter the mausoleum for about $2, although you may want to pay and get a guide. Also, make sure that you enquire properly before going there, as for two months towards the end of the year the body is taken aboard, mainly for maintenance.
HO CHI MINH MAUSOLEUM OPENING HOURS: Tuesday – Thursday 07:30 – 10:30, Saturday & Sunday 07:30 – 11:00
HO CHI MINH TICKET PRICE: 40,000VND
TOP TIP: Combine with both the water puppet show and the pagoda (both listed below) AND the Mausoleum, including hotel pick up HERE for $35!
2) Temple of Literature
Escape the madness of the city and head to the Temple of Literature for some welcome respite.
A beautiful temple complex dedicated to Confuscious, the Temple of Literature was Vietnam’s first university (and arguably the world’s first!) over 1000 years ago! Bring a book and chill for a while before you venture back outside and get accosted by a million rickshaw drivers.
TEMPLE OF LITERATURE OPENING HOURS: Tuesday – Sunday 8:30 – 11:30 & 13:30 – 16:30
TEMPLE OF LITERATURE TICKET PRICE: 10,000VND (less than $0.50!)
TOP-TIP: If you can ride a scooter, take a MOTORBIKE TOUR around Hanoi for $50 or so, including the Temple of Literature. A MUST-TRY!
3) Hoan Kiem Lake (Turtle Lake)
Walking distance from Uncle Ho’s Mausoleum, the lake is the definition of serenity. It’s favoured by locals and tourists alike to go for lunch, listen to music, chill with your friends. If you go there early in the morning, you can watch the people practising the art of Tai Chi. Often people also sit there and read in the afternoon, if you’re lucky you might spot a turtle swimming freely.
The place also has an important historical background – “Hoan Kiem” means the “returned sword”. The story goes which says that a sword was returned by the Gods to King Le Loi to drive out the Chinese invaders back in the day. Spooky.
You can also visit Ngoc Son Temple for a small fee.
HOAN KIEM OPENING HOURS: Daily 08:00 – 17:00 (but you can essentially visit the side of the lake any time of course!)
HOAN KIEM TICKET PRICE: Free to chill at the lake. 20,000VND (about $1) to enter the Ngoc Temple temple in the centre of the lake.
4) Hoa Lo Prison or the Hanoi Hilton
Don’t be fooled – this is no hotel. The infamous prison was established by the French in the 20th century but used by the Vietnamese to house American prisoners of war, including one time would-be president John McCain. It’s worth a view for the propaganda alone, both a sombre and fascinating insight into the brutal Vietnamese war.
HOA LO PRISON OPENING HOURS: Daily 8am to 5 pm
HOA LO PRISON ENTRANCE FEE: 30,000VND) ($1.30)
TOP-TIP: If you’re really into Vietnamese War history, you can take a private jeep tour of the prison, AND the downed-B52 plane here.
5) Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
Live music, Vietnamese history and lots of wooden men bouncing around in water, what more could you need? You have to book at least one day in advance, tickets are about $5 and it’s one of THE things to do while in Hanoi. The songs are all generally in Vietnamese so don’t expect to understand too much! Great experience all the same.
The stories often revolve around the story of the returned sword, from Turtle lake, where you went to above.
THANG LONG WATER PUPPET SHOWTIMES: Every day at 15:00, 16:10, 17:20, 18:30 & 20:00
THANG LONG WATER PUPPET TICKET PRICES: 100,000VND (about $5)
TOP-TIP: Guarantee your seat AND skip the queue, by buying the ticket online for $9 instead. Well worth the extra $4 not to have to go and get tickets yourself!
6) Drink Bia Hoi on the street
Mmmmm, perhaps my FAVOURITE thing to see in Hanoi, or thing to do in Hanoi – drinking fresh Bia Hoi on tiny plastic chairs, outside, in the middle of the city. Not only that, it’s less than $0.20 a glass! It starts each day in the city centres any time after 4pm, there can be live music and the whole thing is a Hanoi rite-of-passage. Remember it’s ONLY in Hanoi, so don’t miss your chance!
Where to drink bia hoi in Hanoi? Th”Bia Hoi corner”
7) Hanoi Opera House (and the French Quarter)
Often cited as Hanoi’s most beautiful building, the Hanoi Opera house is slap-bang in the middle of the beautiful French Quarter. There are shows most nights, so you can either simple admire the beautiful building from outside, and in, for free. Or you can catch a show for between $5-$15 each night.
TOP-TIP: For $39, you can cycle all around the French Quarter, including the Opera House AND check out the Water Puppet theatre show too HERE.
8) Hanoi Old Quarter
For me, I’m a walker when I visit any new city. Especially Asian cities. I love to roam, get lost, try local food, and in this case Vietnamese Coffee, and there is NO WHERE better to do all that in Hanoi, than in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Just expect chaos. Crossing the road is an activity in itself. Give yourself a couple of hours here to soak it up, it’s a brilliant experience. Don’t miss the gorgeous St Joseph’s Cathedral while here.
TOP-TIP: For $20 you can talk a walking-food-tour of Hanoi’s Old Quarter for 3 hours. Crazy value.
9) The Imperial City of Thang Long (The Hanoi Citadel)
Over 1000 years old, the Hanoi Citadel was once the Royal Palace, then it became a prison during the Vietnamese War. The building itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so it’s worth an hour of your time for sure. If you’re pushed for time though, this would be the one I skip personally.
HANOI CITADEL TICKET OPENING HOURS: 08:00 to 17:00 every day except Monday
HANOI CITADEL TICKET PRICE: 30,000VND (about $1.50)
10) The view from the Lotte Observation Deck
Apart from getting lost in new cities, the 2nd thing I love most in new cities, is a cracking view! There are a number of Skybars in Hanoi, so feel free to choose any. Personally I think the view from the Lotte Observation Deck is right up there with the best.
LOTTE OBSERVATION DECK OPENING HOURS: 08:30-23:00
LOTTE OBSERVATION DECK TICKET PRICE: About $5
11) Dong Xuan Market
Hanoi’s largest market is housed in a huge 4 story building, built in the Soviet-Style as a mark of respect to their politics of last century. The market is a blend of local traders, and tourist-rubbish, but the energy of a Vietnamese market has to be seen to be believed.
The DONG XUAN MARKET OPENING HOURS: 7am to 9pm
DONG XUAN MARKET TICKET PRICE: Free!
12) Long Bien Bridge
If you’ve seen any Insta pics of Vietnamese bridges, this is the one! Long Bien Bridge is an active railway too, so watching the local train whizz past the Long Bien market is a sight to behold. It’s also in Central Hanoi, so if you’re wandering around downtown check it out.
13) Tran Quoc Pagoda
Hanoi’s tallest, and most famous, pagoda is the Tran Quoc Pagoda, dating waaaay back to the 6th century. It’s a photographer, and Instagrammer’s dream, and is found in the West Lake area. The area is home to the higher-end restaurants, so think about grabbing lunch while out this way.
TRAN QUOC PAGODA OPENING HOURS: 8 AM – 4 PM EVERY DAY
TRAN QUOC PAGODA TICKET PRICE: Free
TOP-TIP: Be lazy, and have someone do the hard work for you here AND the Mausoleum for $35 half-day tour.
14) Bai Dinh Pagoda
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Bai Dinh Pagoda is the largest pagoda in Vietnam. It’s found within the Tran An Landscape Complex, in the foothills of Dinh Mountain, dotted around the epic limestone karst formations. Hike to the top of the hill to check the gold statue Sakyamuni Buddha and soak up those views.
TOP-TIP: Take a day to explore the Trang An Temple Complex, and row to the grottos of Tran An.
15) One Pillar Pagoda
Just a few minutes walk from the Mausoleum is Hanoi’s famous One Pillar Pagoda. It’s always busy wth worshippers, partly due to its fame, partly due to how close it is to the Mausoleum, and partly because of the story behind it. An Emperor with no kids dreamt of a Goddess who would give him a son, to be present on a lotus blossom. The Emporor built this temple as the Lotus flowers blossomed, hence the One Pillar. Or so the story goes. Really beautiful area.
ONE PILLAR PAGODA OPENING HOURS: Tuesday – Sunday 8.30 AM – 11.30 AM, 2 PM – 4 PM (closed on Friday afternoons)
ONE PILLAR PAGODA PRICE: Free!
TOP-TIP: Tick off lots of the 16 places to see in Hanoi, including the One Pillar Pagoda (and including lunch!) for about $25 here.
16) Perfume Pagoda
Northern Vietnam’s most sacred spot, the Perfume Pagoda is breathtaking. Not only is the scenery around the place exactly how you wished and dreamed Vietnam would be, the Pagoda and the temple complex look like something from a forgotten Asian past. Pure perfection. The Paddy fields in the Yen stream add further still to the atmosphere.
TOP-TIP: For $34 or so, you can take a day-trip to the Perfume Pagoda.
BONUS: Bai Vi National Park
Ba Vi National Park is just a couple of hours outside Hanoi and makes an EPIC day-trip. Majestic landscapes breathtaking views, mini-hikes, Vietnamese countryside and culture. Hanoi will feel a world away.
TOP-TIP: Avoid the hassle of trying to organise a hiking day-trip, and go with these guys. They go every day!
Thoughts on things to see in Hanoi?
Hanoi is a brilliant place to start, or finish, your time. Whether you’ve got 10 days in Vietnam or more/less. Getting to and from Hanoi is pretty easy, you can organise all your online tickets here. But how long should you stay in Hanoi? AT LEAST 2 nights. Personally, I stayed 3 nights and 4 days and it was perfect. You really don’t want to miss out on any of the 16 best places to see in Hanoi that I listed above, and you’ll need 3 days to get through that last at least. I hope you guys enjoy it!
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