1. Hoan Kiem Lake (The Lake of the Restored Sword)
Hoan Kiem Lake means “Lake of the Returned Sword” or “Lake of the Restored Sword”. The lake is located in the historical center of Hanoi and now considered as the center point of this city. Hoan Kiem Lake with Ngoc Son Temple and The Huc Bridge are the major scenic spots in Hanoi. So if you don't know what to do in Hanoi, just head to the Hoan Kiem Lake first as it is ideal place to hide away from the noise, chaotic and rush in the busy center of Hanoi. That’s why Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple are considered as the soul of Hanoi.
2. Old Quarter - for those who are looking for what to do in Hanoi
Located near Hoan Kiem Lake, the Old Quarter keeps Hanoi’s original street layout and architecture. At the beginning of the 20th century, Hanoi consisted of only about 36 streets, most of which are now part of the old quarter. The merchants and households on each street specialized in particular goods and trading, such as silver making, fabric or silk trading, etc. The streets were named according to these specializations, like Hang Vai, Hang Bac, Hang Bo... The street names nowadays still reflect these specializations, although few of them remain exclusively in their original commerce.
The Old Quarter now is famous for its small artisans and merchants, including many tailor shops and handcrafted souvenir.
- This area is also the best places to try local cuisine specialties as well as witness the local life of the Hanoians.
- Night market (near Dong Xuân market) opening for business every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening with a variety of clothing, souvenirs and food is an interesting activity not to be missed.
- Several clubs and bars can be found here also.
3. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is the final resting place of Ho Chi Minh, the most iconic and popular leader of Vietnam, known as ‘Uncle Ho’. The Mausoleum is situated in the center of Ba Dinh square where Ho Chi Minh read the Declaration of Independence on September 2, 1945, establishing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. This large memorial shows the gratefulness, respect and admiration of Vietnamese people to their greatest leader.
The marble memorial with the roof and peristyle evokes either a traditional communal house or a lotus flower, a national flower of Vietnam.
If you’re lucky enough, you’ll catch the changing of the guard outside Ho’s mausoleum – the pomp and ceremony displayed here rivals the British equivalent at Buckingham Palace.
4. The Water Puppet Theater
Water puppetry (puppets dance on the water) is one of the special traditional performances of Vietnam, which dates back as far as the 11th century CE when it originated in the villages of the Red River Delta in the north.
The puppets are made out of wood and then lacquered. The shows are performed in a waist-deep pool. A large rod supports the puppet under the water and is used by the puppeteers, who are normally hidden behind a screen, to control them. Thus the puppets appear to be moving over the water. When the rice fields would flood, the villagers would entertain each other using this form of puppet play. Traditional legends and historical tales are among the enchanting puppet plays performed at this popular theatre.
5. Temple of Literature & Ancient National University
Van Mieu or Temple of Literature is no doubt one of the most worth seeing places in Hanoi. This Confucius temple founded in 1070 was the main center of education for Vietnamese people during hundred years.
Temple of Literature has preserved its ancient architectural styles of many dynasties as well as precious relics. It covers an area of over 54,000 square metres, including the Literature ("Van") lake, Giam park and the interior courtyards which are surrounded by a brick wall. Going through five yards of Van Mieu, you can experience different architectures from the stone tortoise, Great Middle Gate, worship hand study houses.
Located near Hoan Kiem lake and the busy Old Quarter, Van Mieu is now considered as an oasis of tranquility amidst Hanoi's never-ending traffic chaos. It’s a must-to-see place for those who love history and culture.
6. Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, about 8 km from the city center, presents the typical culture and traditions of 54 officially recognized ethnic groups in Vietnam. Established as a modern structure, the museum has a terrific collection of well-presented tribal art, artefacts and everyday objects gathered from across the nation.
In the grounds are examples of traditional village houses – a Tay stilt house, an impressive Bahnar communal structure and a Yao home. Don’t miss the soaring, thatch-roofed Giarai tomb, complete with risqué wooden statues.
A fair-trade craft shop sells books, beautiful postcards, and arts and crafts from ethnic communities.
7. West Lake
Hanoi is famous for its lakes. Among them, Ho Tay is the largest and most beautiful one. The lake is on the northwest part of Hanoi. Originally, West Lake was a branch of the Red river but later, as the river changed course, it remained a body of water just west of the river.
West Lake covers a circumference of 17km and houses many of the city’s historic places of interest around its perimeter – including Tran Quoc pogoda, Vietnam’s oldest pagoda and one of Vietnam’s four sacred temples.
Visiting the lake, you will be attracted by its great natural beauty with plenty of quiet spots in the sizeable lush gardens surrounding. West Lake is a beautiful place to while away an afternoon, there are boats for hire and lunch on a floating restaurant makes a novel dining option. Notable points of interest at West Lake include Tran Quoc Pagoda which was built in the 6th century making it Vietnam’s oldest temple.
8. Hoa Lo Prison
Hoa Lo" literally means "stove" and was ironically known to American prisoners of war as the “Hanoi Hilton”. Built by the French in the 1880s, Hoa Lo was a prison used by the French colonists in Vietnam for political prisoners and later by North Vietnam for prisoners of war during the Vietnam War.
Most of Hoa Lo was demolished in the 1990s, but its southern part was preserved for posterity. You can now see grisly exhibits showing the sufferings of the Vietnamese prisoners (and a highly sanitized depiction of the American POWs in the 1970s).
9. Hanoi night market
At weekend, you don't need to ask what to do in Hanoi, just visit the night market and you will be busy until midnight!
The night market, spreading from Hang Dao Street to Dong Xuan Market, opens in weekend night only, from Friday to Sunday. This is a busy and crowded walking market with thousands of both local people and tourists coming to stroll or go shopping.
You can find here almost everything concerning clothes and recreation. Clothes, sweets, “o mai” (salted dry fruit), decorations, toys, stationeries, sundry goods are respectively sold on Hang Ngang, Hang Dao, Hang Buom, Hang Duong, Luong Van Can, Hang Ma, Ngo Gach and Hang Ca Streets. All goods and facilities can be found from Dong Xuan Market to Hang Giay Street.
Food stalls often sell “banh beo” (bloating fern-shaped cake), bacon, grilled “nem chua”, sausages, Hai Phong bread, Donner Kebap, cakes, sweet porridge of northern provinces or Hue city. At the end of the night market street, next to Dong Xuan market, there is a night eatery with a wide range of food, such as “lau” - hot pot, grilled food, “banh khuc” and steamed sticky rice...
10. Bat Trang Ceramic Village
If you are looking for what to do in Hanoi, we recommend you to tale a day tour Bat Trang Village. Located about 13 kilometers south east of Hanoi center, Bat Trang is a small village specializing in producing ceramic and pottery, which dated hundreds of years ago. Bat Trang’s ceramic and pottery products are famous for its high quality and unique style.
You will be amazed by many pottery and ceramic showrooms scattering all over the village. You can also visit a small family factory to see how they manufacture their products, watch the artisans form, paint and glaze their products. You will have a chance to practice your talent with wet clay and a mould or join the drawing class in the factory.