Hanoi, Vietnam is one of those places where you just have to visit if you love history, culture, or picturesque scenery. Vietnam’s capital is an active, hustle-and-bustle kind of city that retains a lot of its history.
The streets in Hanoi are constantly filled with scooters racing about, fighting for the right of way under the loud blaring noise of horns. Everywhere you look, the buildings and streets reveal hints of the French and Chinese occupation of Hanoi, offering a unique look into the Hanoian people and their resilience.
I took a short weekend trip to Hanoi, Vietnam with the girlfriend since I’ve never been to Vietnam. We decided Hanoi would be the best spot for us to check out. Culturally significant and vibrant, Hanoi seemed small enough that a weekend would give us plenty of time to hit up the top spots that Hanoi has to offer.
While we didn’t have time to do everything on our list (traveling while working is difficult but not impossible), here are our personal Top 5 favorite things to do in Hanoi.
1. Hoan Kiem Lake (Turtle Lake)
Hoan Kiem Lake is one of those destinations that you have to check out if you’re in Hanoi. It’s centrally located and is a popular hangout throughout the day for both locals and tourists. In the center of the lake, there’s a small island called Ngoc Son Temple. You can get there by walking on a small bridge that connects the island to the mainland. While Hoan Kiem Lake is free of charge, Ngoc Son Temple has a fee of VND 20,000, so take note of that if you’re interested in seeing more of the temple. Overall, it’s a beautiful spot for photos and people watching.
We ended up walking around the lake twice during our trip. Once was on the first day we arrived and had some time to kill before we could check into our hotel. It was a very brief, casual stroll since we just got off the plane and were trying to get acclimated to the heat.
The second time we went was on a Saturday evening. If you’re planning on a weekend trip to Hanoi, you HAVE to go to Hoan Kiem Lake and the surrounding area anytime from Friday evening to Sunday. The city blocks off all of the roads around the area and changes them into pedestrian zones.
The entire area felt more lively fun. You could see kids playing on the streets, little stores set up where people sold little trinkets and goods, and even zones where you could rent a tiny toy car model for your children to ride around on the streets. This was easily one of the best things we were able to see during our weekend trip!
2. Hanoi Old Quarter
Hanoi’s Old Quarter is considered the city’s business hub and one of the main tourist attractions to visit. A typical sight you’ll see in Hanoi is a street that is swarming with scooters, bicycles, and cars that weave around pedestrians. The Old Quarter is filled to the brim with sidewalk vendors and stores that sell just about anything you can imagine.
The best thing about the Old Quarter is that travelers are able to take a trip into the past. The area still houses a lot of the older buildings from previous generations. You can walk down all of the different streets and find a ton of new things to look at. It’s even better since this area is very pedestrian-friendly. Throughout the area, window shop among the old stores that date back to about 1000 years ago, or go visit some of the interesting Buddhist shrines and markets.
If you’re looking for some interesting things to do and see during your time at Old Quarters, I would suggest you visit Dong Xuan Market, which is the largest market in Hanoi. Comprised of four floors, you can find all sorts of products there at wholesale price. It isn’t the cleanest facility, but a stroll among the stalls could net you some cool gifts to bring back home.
3. Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature in Hanoi is constantly regarded as one of the most picturesque spots for tourists. The facilities were originally built to be a university in 1070, one dedicated to Confucius, scholars, and other sages. Considering its age, the building is incredibly well preserved and shows off traditional Vietnamese architecture.
Walking around this temple exposes you to a bunch of different literature from the Ly and Tran dynasties. You’ll also have the chance to visit the Well of Heavenly Clarity and a ton of turtle steles that’s placed along the left side of the temple complex as you walk in. On the turtle steles, you can find all of the successful graduates from the university engraved onto it.
The Temple of Literature is an short distance away from the Ba Dinh Square. It’s nestled between Van Mieu Street and Ton Duc Thang Street! It costs VND 10,000 to get in the Temple. Have some fun and make sure your camera is out to take pictures of all the great features.
4. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a great spot to go visit if you’re in the area. The final resting place of Ho Chi Minh is a great area to walk around and snap some pictures. Uncle Ho, the most iconic leader of Vietnam, is preserved in a glass case at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Visitors can take a walk into the Mausoleum and see the preserved body of Ho Chi Minh. It’s an extraordinary experience to witness a part of Vietnam’s history. Make sure you dress with respect though, or you might not be allowed in.
If you do decide to visit, make sure you give yourself enough time. It’s open from 7:30AM till 10:30AM from Tuesday to Thursday. There’s a bit more time on Saturdays and Sundays, from 7:30AM till 11AM. You can also head over to the museum next to it if you’d like to learn a bit more! You can find the Mausoleum at 8 Hung Vuong, Dien Bien, Ba Dinh, Hanoi!
5. Hoa Lo Prison
Alright, so this might not be the most romantic place to go to on your adventure to Hanoi, but it’s an amazing place to visit. Hoa Lo Prison was mainly used by the French colonists in Vietnam for political prisoners, and was later used by North Vietnam for any US prisoners of war during the Vietnam War.
If you’re a huge history buff or you want to witness what it was like for American POWs during the Vietnam War, Hoa Lo Prison is the place you need to go to. We went sometime in the afternoon when it wasn’t very busy. There wasn’t too much people, though it did have a steady stream of visitors. You definitely need to read all of the excerpts and documents that they provide on display. It provides great insight into how the prison was run and how prisoners had to live behind the prison walls.
It’s open from 8AM till 5PM, so you have some flexibility in choosing when to go. There is an entrance fee of VND 30,000 for adults, but children can go in for free! Don’t miss out on this chance to learn more about the history of Vietnam.
Learn more about Hanoi!
These are just our Top 5 suggestions for what you should do, but there are a lot more fun attractions to visit in Hanoi. The food is also delicious, though we’ll talk more about that in a later post. We definitely suggest you head over to Hanoi if you haven’t. It’s a great spot for backpackers and weekend-travelers alike. There’s enough to do that you won’t get bored, but they’re all close enough that you can tackle a lot of them in succession. Let us know how your trip went!
Is there something else that you would recommend for new travelers in Hanoi? Let us know! Also make sure you subscribe to our email newsletter for all of our latest posts!