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Unique Things to Do in Hanoi
Get Lost on The Maze-like Streets of Hanoi Old Quarter
Old Quarter of Hanoi has its history dated back to even more than 1000 years ago when it started as a collective hub for handicraft guilds from all surrounding areas. As time went by, the quarter developed into a gigantic network of streets and markets where a huge number of handicrafts products were made and sold.
The common appearance of old houses in the Old Quarter is a combination of a narrow front and a 2-story long body. The streets of Old Quarter were named after the product the store-owners sell. ‘Hang Bac Street” is the street of ‘silverware’ or ‘Hang Duong Street’ is the street that sells ‘candies’, and dried fruits (o mai).
There are about 34 streets starting with the word “Hang” which indicates their specialization in selling a distinctive kind of product. Come to Old Quarter, and don’t forget to visit the Heritage House at 87 Ma May and Bach Ma Temple to appreciate the traditional Vietnamese architecture.
Admire the vintage architecture in French Quarter
St. Joseph’s Cathedral
Or in Vietnamese, the “Big Church”, is a historical and religious landmark worth visiting in Hanoi. This is a Roman Catholic cathedral with a neo-gothic style resembling Notre Dame de Paris, which was built over 100 years ago by the French.
St.Joseph’s Cathedral is important historical evidence of the French Colonialism and religious venue for Catholics in Hanoi today.
Location: 40 Nha Chung, Hang Trong, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
* For Outside visit: all time
* For Inside visit: visitors can only enter the Cathedral in Hanoi in the opening time of ceremonial practice as the following schedule:
Hanoi Opera House is the star of the French Quarter. Your French Quarter tour can’t be complete if you miss Hanoi Opera House.
Location: No.01 Trang Tien Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi.
For visiting inside:
Hoa Lo Prison
Hoa Lo Prison is a much heavier dose than the other two landmarks of the French Quarter. Hoa Lo Prison is not only a national historic landmark but also a piece of war-crime evidence during the French Colonial Period.
Hoan Kiem Lake
On the northern shore of the lake lies Jade Island where the Temple of Jade Mountain stands. The red wooden bridge called The Huc (meaning Morning Sunlight Bridge) is a popular sight in the whole complex. Come to Hoan Kiem Lake you can take a walk around the refreshing and beautiful lake to enjoy the atmosphere, cultural space, and food. Hoan Kiem Lake is absolutely a must-visit spot in Hanoi.
Temple of Literature
Come to the Temple of Literature to learn more about Vietnam under the influence of Chinese Confucianism. The Temple of Literature, besides its historical and cultural significance, shows light on how Vietnamese people appreciate education and enlightenment of the mind. You can also learn more about some of the brightest minds and literature talents throughout Vietnamese history.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum on Ba Dinh Square, by no means, should be missed by you when visiting Hanoi. The mausoleum is the final resting place of the most iconic, most beloved leader in Vietnamese history.
From 1973 to 1975, the construction of the mausoleum finished with great effort brought together from all over the country.
The building was made of granite, modeled on Lenin’s mausoleum in Russia. Around the mausoleum were hundreds of plants and flowers, among which the bamboo trees have the most meaning.
When visiting Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, visitors are required to dress with respect (no hat, shorts, sunglasses, sleeveless shirts, and miniskirts). Cameras and bags are not allowed to enter the mausoleum.
Camera rules: Cameras, mobile phones, and daypacks can’t be taken inside. The guards will collect those things before you enter the mausoleum. No shooting, and video recording in restricted areas, especially inside the mausoleum. Putting your hands in your pockets and taking photographs is prohibited.
Watch a Performance at Thang Long Puppetry Theater
Water Puppetry is a traditional folklore performance of Vietnam that showcases the traditional daily life of Vietnamese farmers with activities like cultivating, tending buffalo, catching fish, or communal entertainment such as swimming contests and dragon dancing.
Water puppetry has a certain attachment to Vietnamese people since it’s a traditional art that has been performed within the agricultural villages for centuries, by and for the farmers.
In real life, the villagers hold water puppetry performances in the village’s communal temple. Long bamboo sticks are used to control the puppets by the artisans standing behind the curtain.
Thang Long Puppetry Theater is the first place where this traditional folk art to be made on stage with light and musical effects before an international audience.
With a convenient location, just across Hoan Kiem Lake, watching a water puppetry performance at Thang Long Theater is a must thing to do in Hanoi.
Shop at Dong Xuan Night Market
Dong Xuan Market, the oldest market in Hanoi was built in 1889 by the French administration. As time goes by, the market has developed into the largest covered market in Hanoi where you can find anything from clothes, and souvenirs, to household goods and foods.
Originally, Dong Xuan is not a market for tourists but Dong Xuan Night Market is. On weekend nights (Fri-Sun), a 3-kilometer-long line of stalls spreads in the middle of Hang Dao Street.
Here you can find hundreds of things full on display: mostly souvenirs, clothes, bags, toys, accessories… The food section offers several choices for Vietnamese street foods as well as other Asian cuisines – Korean, Thai, Japan…
On Saturday evenings, traditional folk arts and cultural performances such as cheo, ca tru will be held. From 20:00 to 22:00, it’s the most crowded time. If you only want to shop, you should visit earlier.
*Tips for shopping at Dong Xuan Market:
Enjoy a Cup of Vietnamese Coffee
Vietnamese coffee is famous worldwide, this is a well-known fact. Coffee in Vietnam tastes so much stronger, sweeter, and more flavorful, with a lot of variations and combinations that will surprise you.
The French introduced coffee to Vietnam during colonialism but Vietnamese people sure have made drinking coffee culture of themselves.
It’s a sight to happen only in Vietnam – people sitting on the sidewalks and waiting for the coffee to drip. Working people spend a lot of time enjoying a cup of coffee, making it a daily habit.
Black coffee and brown coffee (a mixture of black coffee and condensed milk) are the most common and the cheapest. While variations that make use of yogurt, egg, and fruits have become so popular.
*What to try: black coffee, ice brown coffee, egg coffee, coffee smoothie
*Where to try:
In Hanoi: 117 Trieu Viet Vuong, Cong Ca Phe, Café Giang (for egg coffee), Café Pho Co
In Ho Chi Minh City: La Tamia, The Morning Café, Bang Khuang Café…
Photo Tour at Long Bien Bridge
This cantilever bridge connects two banks of Red River, and spreads over a length of 1682m, consisting of a total number of 20 piers. Long Bien is also the first bridge of railway running through Indochina and the Hanoi – Hai Phong Route. Undergoing two wars with the French and the Americans, Long Bien Bridge was bombarded many times and became a witness of history.
Nowadays, the image of the rusty red, age-old bridge spanning the green fields of Red River’s mudflats has become something so precious to the Hanoi people. If you don’t mind straying further from the crowded Old Quarter, a walking tour to Long Bien is a great thing to do. The bridge offers great landscape, angles for photography, and a new perspective on local life.
Have a Pho Hanoi
Pho Hanoi is always different from Pho from elsewhere. It’ll be a pity to not have a hot bowl of Pho while in Hanoi. The dish is just so flavorful, nutritious and delicious with meat-based broth, beef or chicken toppings, and full of fragrant herbs.
Hanoi people can eat Pho for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Pho might look simple yet to make a good Pho, meticulous preparation of the ingredients, especially the spice mix, must be done.
A bowl of Pho Hanoi consists of three parts: the broth, the noodles and the toppings which must be cooked separately and only be put together at the last minute. Don’t forget to put the herbs into your bowl before diving in. They will add a lot of flavors to the final taste.
*Where to eat in Pho Hanoi:
1. Pho Gia Truyen
2. Pho Thin
3. Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su
Learn more about Vietnam at the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
Among the rich collection of museums in Hanoi, the one that’s worthiest your visit is the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology.
The institute offers an insight into the 54 different ethnic groups of Vietnam. A visit to the museum is a great opportunity to understand more about Vietnamese diversity in culture and identity.
The museum has two sections:All the artifacts are presented in a simple way, put in their cultural context. It’s easy to imagine the life of each ethnic people through the setting and information the museum presents.
Attend a cooking class in Hanoi
Most of the cooking classes feature a market tour and 3 to 4 hours of cooking. There is always a chef to introduce the dishes, how to eat, and give instruction on the cooking process.
The standard menus feature the most essential dishes of Vietnamese cuisine such as Banh Xeo (Sizzling Pancake), Spring Rolls, Claypot Fish, or Pho. After done cooking, you can enjoy the dishes you just made. The chef will also show you how to eat each dish just like the locals do.
The average price for a half-day cooking class, including a shopping tour to a local market, ranges from $30 to $50 USD. Advanced classes have more difficult dishes, longer hours, and higher prices.
Hanoi Nightlife – Enjoy a beer at Ta Hien Street
Just like any touristic city, Hanoi also has a street for foreign tourists to enjoy the city night scene – an ‘international crossroad’. Ta Hien Street, once called Geraud, is only 200 meters long, yet every night, especially on weekends, it hosts crowds of tourists from all over the world coming here to enjoy a glass of drought beer and street snacks, packed on the sidewalks.
One thing that has made Ta Hien Street so famous and special is its atmosphere. It is a street where the old and the new meet on a background of French colonial vestige.
The dishes you can enjoy in Ta Hien are definitely the highlight of Vietnamese cuisine.
In the morning, Pho and other noodle soups are the main dishes. A chain of restaurants, pubs, and clubs offers even more choices for your lunch/dinner. But if you want to stick to the sidewalk, you might find a plate of basil roasted peanuts, a serving of meatball skewers and fried potatoes are excellent choices to accompany ‘Bia Hoi’ – a popular local cheap beverage (yet it tastes so good in a hot day).
Ta Hien is the best place to spend a night out in Hanoi!
Ride on Hanoi Hop-on Hop-off City Bus
Officially opened in 2018, the brand new Hanoi Hop-on hop-off bus service offers city tours to at least 15 attractions around the capital of Vietnam. Visitors can hop on and hop off at any stop during the tour.
Highlighted attractions are Hanoi Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem (Sword Lake), Ngoc Son temple, Hoa Lo prison, historical relic site, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Quan Thanh Temple, West Lake, Temple of Literature, Thang Long Royal Citadel, and Hanoi Opera House.
The bus is equipped with an automatic interpreting system in many languages like English, French, Russian, Chinese, Indonesian, and German, giving detailed information on every historical landmark of Hanoi.
*Tickets vary depending on the hours:
Day Trips From Hanoi
Located 65km from the center of Hanoi, Chua Huong or Perfume Pagoda Complex would make a great destination for a day trip. Due to the unique shrine and temple setting inside of a karst structure, Perfume Pagoda has become the most famous religious site in Vietnam.
The day trip to Perfume Pagoda includes boating on the Yen Vi river, caving to Huong Tich Grotto, and visiting Thien Tru Pagoda. The landscapes change from a winding river with lush rice fields on the sides of the limestone mountain to karst-structured caves. It’s a feast to the eye.
Every year, Perfume Pagoda Festival lasts for at least a month, starting from the second lunar month following Tet. Even though the atmosphere is incredible but it’s not recommended to visit during this time if you want to avoid crowds.
Ba Vi National Park
Bat Trang Ceramics Village
Only about 20 minutes away from Hanoi’s center, Bat Trang pottery village is a wonderful place for a short trip for a half-day. With its history dating back to the 14th century, Bat Trang is one of the most ancient pottery villages in North Vietnam.
Bat Trang local artisans have developed their handicrafts by combining traditional techniques and modern technology. A wide variety of pottery and ceramics products are available for you to purchase at many levels of prices. You can also try making your own artwork under the instruction of real artisans! It’s a great activity for groups and families, especially for kids!
>> See our: Hanoi Cycling Tour to Bat Trang Village
Duong Lam Village
Located in Son Tay town, 40km away from Hanoi, Duong Lam ancient village is another spot for a weekend getaway. The village preserves an entire community of the traditional Vietnamese way of life – agriculture-based and Buddhism-influenced.
The gate of Mong Phu village was kept intact as the representative of the old-styled Vietnam village, with red roof tiles, a banyan tree, a paddy field, and a lotus pond. While the whole structure of the village was built like a fishbone where all the alleys are dead-end and only leads back to the main road, advantaging the villagers when outside invaders intrude.
There are almost 1000 traditional houses in Duong Lam, many of which have been preserved and opened for visiting. Besides the houses, when in Duong Lam, you shouldn’t miss Mia Pagoda, the communal house, and the village’s temples.
Only 100 kilometers south of Hanoi, Ninh Binh is an excellent destination you can visit and get back to within a day. Blessed with the wonders of karst structures and limestone mountains and rich local culture, Ninh Binh is home to the world’s cultural and natural heritage Trang An. Come to Ninh Binh, you can’t miss riding a boat in Tam Coc or Van Long, visiting Hang Mua and climbing the Dragon Lying Mountain, enjoy the delicious Ninh Binh delicacies.
>>> We suggest a heritage trail of north Vietnam tour from just $339, see here: Hanoi – Halong – Ninh Binh Tour – 4 Days
The above are our best suggestions for your trip to Hanoi, a city in which you can enjoy both cultural activities and exciting nightlife! But it’s not all to talk about what are the best things to do in Hanoi, please let us know your own thoughts and suggestions!
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