Visitors to Hanoi are spoiled for choice when it comes to sights. The city has everything from ancient pagodas to restored colonial mansions, museums of military history and of ethnic minorities, narrow streets that buzz with traffic and huge green parks set around tranquil lakes.
You could easily spend a week taking in a new section of the city or different type of attraction every day, and when you’ve finished there are still lots of places within a day’s journey of the city that have a unique appeal. Plus there are plenty of great restaurants and bars to relax in during the evening, plus atmospheric night markets to pick up quality souvenirs.
The city’s mad traffic makes getting around Hanoi a bit of a problem, but there are plenty of companies that offer half or full-day tours, taking in the city’s most popular sights. These can be great value for money when the additional cost of shelling out for multiple taxi journeys is taken into account.
But if you’d rather move around more independently, ask your hotel staff to hook you up with a cyclo or motorbike rider and establish an itinerary. All the city’s major sights are dealt with in greater detail on our Attractions page, but following is a glimpse of what to expect at the most popular sights.
Hanoi sightseeing guide
Hoan Kiem Lake
Not many cities can boast a big lake in their geographical heart, much less one attractively fringed with the drooping foliage of ancient trees. The three-tiered Tortoise Tower in the middle of the lake and the Den Ngoc Son Temple, accessible by a bright-red arched footbridge, give the lake a distinctive character.
Perfect for a spontaneous stroll, the Old Quarter is a maze of narrow streets that is a hive of activity, with everything on sale from traditional medicines to funeral plaques. This is Hanoi’s historic heart, and a favourite spot for tourists to stay because of its vibrant feel.
Temple of Literature
A visit to Vietnam’s oldest educational establishment, dedicated to Confucius, is a must for anyone eager to immerse themselves in this city’s impressive history. It’s worth paying attention to the exquisite architecture, and hanging around for a music performance on traditional instruments.
Hanoi is all about history and culture, and the best place to soak it up is at the city’s many museums. Don’t miss the History Museum, which helps to make sense of the country’s turbulent past, the Ho Chi Minh Museum, full of unexpected and surreal exhibits, or the Museum of Ethnology, where you can learn about the country’s 54 minority groups.
In contrast to the crowded streets and cramped shophouses of the Old Quarter, the French Quarter is all wide, tree-lined boulevards and colonial mansions tucked away behind tall hedges. Great for a ride in a cyclo to look at sights like the Opera House.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The importance of a visit to Uncle Ho isn’t to admire the architecture of this severe Soviet-style building. It’s to witness the raw emotion on the faces of the Vietnamese who line up to walk past the preserved image of the country’s greatest hero.