Hanoi can seem very chaotic at first glance but there is much more to it than meets the eye.
There are some things you simply can’t miss out on like visiting a temple and eating street food.
And when you’ve had enough of visiting tourist attractions there are also some great alternative things to do, from a live escape game to spending the afternoon in a chilled cafe.
Here are the Best Things To Do In Hanoi.
1. Temple of Literature
This temple is dedicated to Confucius and was the first university in Vietnam, built in 1070. It’s a really pretty area to walk around especially on a sunny day and there’s also a nice park next to it.
2. Museum of Ethnology
Our favourite museum in Hanoi. This is a really interesting museum where you can learn a lot about Vietnam’s 54 ethnic groups and see many artefacts from their traditions.
The highlights for us were the traditional stilt houses in the outside area.
3. Best Things To Do In Hanoi – Hoa Lo Prison
Both Vietnamese and American prisoners were held here, including John McCain.
This is really interesting for its propaganda factor and is definitely worth a visit if you are interested in learning more about the treatment of prisoners and day-to-day life there.
4. Hoan Kiem Lake
Located in the centre of the city this is a great place to go when you want to get away from the craziness of the old quarter streets.
There are many things you can do here: walk, watch exercise classes (maybe even join in!), enjoy a refreshing ice lolly or visit the Ngoc Son temple.
5. Visit a temple/pagoda
Hanoi is certainly a city filled with temples and pagodas so take your pick! Our favourites were Tran Quoc pagoda and Quan Thanh temple which are both situated on the causeway between Truc Bach lake and West Lake.
If you visit them, make sure you grab an ice cream on the way too.
*Tip: Explore the pagoda temples surrounding Hanoi on a full-day trip to the Perfume Pagoda and Thien Tru Pagoda.
6. Go to a market
Which you go to depends on your preference, if you want to see a local market filled with fresh food or one filled with everything you could possibly think of: clothes, electronics, homeware, baby turtles…
If the latter is more your cup of tea then head to Dong Xuan market on the outskirts of the old quarter, it is crazy but also very impressive!
And if you want to see a local market there are plenty around but the one we shopped at was Chau Long market in Truc Bach.
7. Play board games @ The Cube, Truc Bach
This lovely little board game café opened while we were living in Hanoi and once we discovered it we couldn’t keep away!
If you are a board games enthusiast or even just want to try a few games this is a brilliant place to visit. The staff are English speaking and happy to teach you any game you want.
There are hundreds of games to choose from (mostly free), and they also serve delicious milkshakes and smoothies. You can check it out here.
8. Visit a rooftop bar
There are lots to choose from but our favourite was the Summit Lounge at the top of Pan Pacific hotel.
Cocktails are pricey (for Hanoi standards) at around 200,000 dong (~£7) each but totally worth it for the incredible view.
From there you can see both Truc Bach Lake and West Lake and the causeway between them.
9. Relax @ To Chim Xanh- Bluebirds’ Nest
This was our all-time favourite café in Hanoi.
A relaxing haven nestled amongst houses down a tiny alleyway, it is filled with plants, cushions and books and accompanied by some chilled music. There is also a lovely roof terrace which is great for evenings/ cooler days.
It is the perfect place to enjoy a coffee, read and take a break from the chaotic Hanoi streets.
Another great option if you are in the old quarter is Nola Café on Ma May street. If you are interested in discovering more ‘hidden’ cafés’ visit Hanoi Hideaway.
10. Eat street food
Street food is such a big part of Hanoi’s culture you can’t miss out on.
Our favourite places to go to were not traditional street food in the sense of sitting on the little plastic stools, but still very cheap options: Pho Cuon 31 (on Truc Bach island) and New Day (in the old quarter).
Also if you fancy something a bit more unusual head to Mau Dich 37 where you can eat in an old communist state-run food shop.
Read also: Best Vietnamese Food in Hanoi
11. Go for a swim @ Thang Loi hotel/ Sao Mai
Two perfect options for when you need to cool off from the Hanoi heat.
The pool at Thang Loi is situated right next to West Lake so it’s a great spot to watch the sunset. Sao Mai is a much bigger pool and better if you want to do lengths.
12. Cuddle some cats @ Ailu Cat House Club
If you are a cat lover this is definitely the place to be.
There are about 20 cats here, most of which are rescued.
You pay a small entrance fee which goes towards looking after the cats and you can order drinks too.
13. Do a live escape game @ Trap!
This is a fun and challenging way to spend an afternoon.
It is also budget friendly at less than £3 per person if I remember correctly. We did this on my birthday and we really enjoyed it. It was quite difficult with just the two of us so I would definitely recommend doing it with a group of friends.
There are two options- an Egyptian room and a basement room. You can find more information here.
14. Go book shopping @ Bookworm
This is the place to go if you are looking for a second hand book in English.
This place has an amazing selection that spans over two floors and even calls itself the ‘best little bookshop in South East Asia’. Pop in and have a browse, who knows what you could find!
15. Walk through some beautiful gardens, Tay Ho
We never even knew these gardens existed, until one day we happened to drive past.
We couldn’t help but stop and have a look when we saw the field of brightly coloured flowers. It’s such a beautiful area to wander through, it makes you feel like you’re in the Netherlands, surrounded by tulips and windmills.
There is a small entrance fee and you can also have a drink while looking out at the gardens. You can find the exact location here.
We are Ryan and Janine from the UK. After graduating university in 2015 we decided to start travelling and teaching English abroad. First we spent over a year living in Hanoi and now we are in Valencia, Spain. We started our blog a few months ago and came up with our name ‘Same Same But Different’ when we were living in South East Asia, as people there say this a lot. You can follow our adventure on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
More Hanoi Internet Resources:
- Ever heard about Halong Bay? It’s only a 4 hours drive from Hanoi and with its spectacular limestone cliffs one of the highlights of Vietnam.
- 5 of the best places to eat street food in Hanoi
This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.