Next to Saigon, Hanoi is the most famous city in Vietnam. Almost every person doing a tour through Vietnam is visiting Hanoi. The city is attracting people with its historical background, interesting attractions and unique atmosphere. Below you will find a list of the best place to visit in Hanoi and also the ones that I visited and don’t recommend. They are mostly the main tourist attractions. Because of that they might be crowded but still mostly worth seeing. If you are looking for some off-the-beaten-path places in Hanoi read the blog post were I’m listing the best alterative places to visit in Hanoi.
I visited all of these places within two full days. It’s doable but you will have to be on the go the whole time, from the morning till the evening. If you want to have some more free time better plan 3 days for Hanoi. One more thing, in case you are travelling on a budget I have a very good information for you: most of the best places to see in Hanoi are free of charge! Check out also my Hanoi Travel Guide for Backpackers – you will find there everything you need to know in order to visit Hanoi on your own.
What will you find in this article?
1. OLD QUARTER
Old Quarter – (free) it’s the old city of Hanoi but don’t expect beautiful restored monuments. You rather have to prepare for Asian chaos: streets full of scooters who’s drivers are beeping the horn all the time. In this part of the city you will find plenty of hotels, restaurants and different shops, from hipster boutiques to souvenir stands. It’s worth going there for a walk during the day and in the evening when streets get filled with street food stands located directly on the sidewalk. It’s also a good district for accommodation because it’s the centre of the city so all the other best places to see in Hanoi are nearby.
2. ĐINH TIÊN HOÀNG STREET
Đinh Tiên Hoàng Street – (free) in the evening, mostly on weekends, the Đinh Tiên Hoàng Street which goes around the north and western bank of the Hoan Kiem Lake is closed to traffic. Instead of scooters it fills with thousands of people, who went out for a walk with their families or are taking part in different activities on the streets. They are dancing Cha Cha Cha or breakdance, building towers with wooden blocks, singing and playing guitar, just to name a few. It’s really nice to see how people are going out to spend time together and socialize with each other. Definitely one of the best places to visit in Hanoi.
3. HO CHI MINH MAUSOLEUM
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum – (free) it’s the tomb of the famous communistic leader of Vietnam, in which his corpse can be found. The body was mummified and it’s laying in a glass coffin so everybody can see it. You can get inside the mausoleum only in the morning (till 11:00 am). Afterwards you will be only allowed to see the building from the outside. Once a year the body is taken for 2-3 months to Russia where it undergoes the mummification process. Check before your visit if it’s currently in Hanoi. The queues are pretty long so be prepared to wait for about an hour. There are no backpacks allowed inside – next to the entrance there is a cloakroom where you can leave them.
Watching a dead person’s body isn’t my favourite activity, especially the body of a person like Ho Chi Minh who didn’t wanted so much attention after his death. But the whole visit to this place is a very valuable lesson of Vietnamese culture and history. While standing in the queues and visiting the mausoleum you can see how strong is still the admiration for Uncle Ho, who united the north and the south of the country and ended thanks to that the war. People wait in lines sometimes for several hours just to see his body for 30 seconds. And when they do, they start crying and praying. For this unusual experience it’s worth to visit this place.
4. HO CHI MINH MUSEUM
Ho Chi Minh Museum – (40.000 dong for the entrance, no student discounts) the museum is located next to the mausoleum, so you can visit this two places one after another. The exhibition upstairs is very interesting from the artistic point of view: there are a lot of sculptures and creative models. Unfortunately the exhibition is very bad from the informative side. The exhibits are described only with a few general words, like “Declaration from 1900” and the documents are only in Vietnamese. That’s why in order to really learn something about Ho Chi Minh when visiting this museum you have to take a guide. Otherwise it doesn’t make any sense. Not so long ago the museum initiated a program in which students are guides for tourists so they can practice their English. Ask about it at the counter when buying your tickets.
5. ONE PILLAR PAGODA AND HO CHI MINH’S HOUSE
One pillar pagoda and Ho Chi Minh’s House – inside the same complex of buildings there are also some other places to see. One of them is the one pillar pagoda – nothing special, you can see it while walking from the mausoleum to the museum – and the Ho Chi Minh’s house. For us the amount of admiration for Uncle Ho after his museum and mausoleum was reaching its limits so we decided to leave out the latter one.
6. HOA LO PRISON MUSEUM
Hoa Lo Prison Museum – (30.000 dong entry fee) also called Hanoi’s Hilton or Maison Centrale, it’s a museum located in the original building of the prison. Very interesting place with a lot of information in English about the history of Vietnam and the history of this place. The building was built during the French occupation time and was used as a place to lock prisoners of the Indochina war. After Vietnam united and got independent the prison was taken over by the communist party which locked there American soldiers during the next war. For me it was the most interesting museum in Hanoi.
However, when visiting the prison one has to read the information with a little bit of distance, because the story is told only from one point of view, the Vietnamese one. For example the name Hanoi’s Hilton is accordingly to Americans the ironic name of the prison Hoa Lo, because of the bad conditions the prisoners were experiencing. Vietnamese authorities, on the other side, are convinced that the prison was called Hanoi’s Hilton because the American prisoners were experiencing such good conditions while being there. In the museum we can read that they enjoyed great freedom, were allowed to play different games and celebrate their holidays, also the religious ones, and after being led out of the prison they got all their belonging back. Is that really the truth? Hard to say but it’s even harder to imagine that during a war anybody would treat so humanitarianly soldiers that caused the death of 2-3 million of one’s own folk.
7. TRAIN STREET
Train Street – (free) not so long ago it was one of the hidden gems of Hanoi. Currently it can be found in almost every travel guide. It’s interesting because through a narrow street with buildings on both sides several times a day a train is running. If you haven’t seen such a street already in Thailand or India then it’s worth a visit. On Google Maps there is a place called Train Street but this spot is very touristy. A lot of people go there to take the perfect Insta photo. Additionally there are many bars and restaurants for tourists which make the atmosphere less authentic. It’s better to walk a bit along the tracks to find a calmer place.
8. ST. JOSEPH’S CATHEDRAL
St. Joseph’s Cathedral – (free but you can enter only at certain times) Roman Catholic cathedral in neo-Gothic style build at the end of the XIX century by the French. That’s the reason why it’s looking very similar to the Notre Dame from Paris. It’s located in the Old Quarter near to the Hoan Kiem Lake and accordingly to some sources it’s the oldest church in Hanoi. If you are in the neighbourhood come by and take a look – it’s looking really nice from the outside.
9. NGOC SON TEMPLE
Ngoc Son Temple – (30.000 dong entry ticket, for students 15.000 dong with student ID card, for example ISCI) – it’s the temple located on the Hoan Kiem Lake, which is connected to the land with a red illuminated at night bridge. Inside you can admire beautiful bonsai trees. Nevertheless, for me it was the least interesting place in Hanoi. It’s connected to a very important legend about the city itself but there is nothing more. So if you don’t have enough time I would recommend to skip this one.
10. HANOI’S NIGHT MARKET
Hanoi’s Night Market – (free, unless you buy something) this night market is also located in the Old Quarter. For me, this place was not interesting at all because it sold only not original bags and clothes and Chinese-like plastic toys and souvenirs – no hand-made or good quality staff. There are some food stands on the way but most of them are located at the end of the market. Unfortunately, they are selling only meat and seafood. I couldn’t find a single one with vegetarian food, except for fruits.
11. OTHER INTERESTING PLACES
Other interesting places to visit in Hanoi for which I didn’t have enough time:
Vietnam Women’s Museum – I heard it’s a very interesting museum which shows female heroes who played an important role in Vietnam’s history and culture. After two wars which resulted in the death of millions of people (mainly men), women started to play a big role in society. Very often they became the head of the family after losing their husbands, sons and brothers. They had to take over family businesses and care for the remaining family. Until now Vietnam is one of the countries with the highest rate of working women in the world. If the changes in the structure of Vietnamese society are interesting to you, this is the place to visit in Hanoi.
Literature Temple – accordingly to many blogs it’s a very nice place to visit. Unfortunately, I had enough of touristic places, especially temples, so I skipped this one and chose an off-the-beaten-path place, namely the Botanical Garden near Ho Chi Minh’s Museum.
Water Puppet Theatre – it’s a traditional Vietnamese kind of theatre. Actors hidden behind a curtain are moving the wooden puppets above water’s surface playing Vietnamese histories and legends. I read that the puppets can be very heavy but it’s not so obvious because the actors moving them are trained very well. An example of a place offering such shows is Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. Tickets have to be bought in advance. For me, these kinds of attractions are not really authentic and are only for tourists, so I decided not to go there.
Here is a map on which I marked all the important places in Hanoi. It will help you to plan your stay in the city. Inside you will find the cheap guesthouse we slept in, restaurants that we visited and all the sights that we can recommend. By clicking on the star you can save it in your Google Maps Account under Your Places and use it later while travelling. Enjoy!