Hanoi can seem very chaotic at first glance but there is much more to it than meets the eye. It’s a city filled with culture, where you can experience so much just by walking along the streets. On one corner you’ll see some chickens roaming around, on the other you’ll see some men playing chess, and on the other you’ll see an outdoor barber shop. There are tranquil lakes, parks and an array of temples to choose from. Here are the top tourist attractions in Hanoi. And once you’ve done them, there are also lots of alternative things to do.
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.
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.
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.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Located in the centre of Hanoi 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. To get to the temple you cross the Huc bridge- a beautiful red wooden bridge which lies over the lake.
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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 and enjoy a walk around Truc Bach island.
Situated next to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, this French colonial style palace was where Ho Chi Minh received guests and he lived in a house on the grounds. It’s a pretty impressive building and its colour makes it even more striking. On the grounds, you can visit Ho Chi Minh’s traditional Vietnamese stilt house, see his cars and wander round the gardens.
St Joseph’s Cathedral
While we’re on the French theme, this cathedral was built in 1886 and is the oldest church in Hanoi. You can go inside for free, but we found the outside of the building much more impressive than the inside. If you pop by on a Sunday at 6pm you’ll hear the congregation singing Vietnamese hymns.
Go to a market
Which you go to depends on your preference, if you want to see a market filled with everything you could possibly think of: clothes, electronics, homeware, baby turtles… 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. Be prepared for a feast for your senses, if you are squeamish avoid the meat section and be ready to jump quickly out of the way as motorbikes actually enter the market. The one we shopped at was Chau Long market in Truc Bach.
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
Water puppet shows are very traditional in Vietnam and have been around since the 11th century. When we went to see this water puppet show we found it rather silly and funny. The story is all in Vietnamese so you won’t understand it but it is still worthwhile and quite impressive to watch. The show includes fireworks and some amazing puppets like dragons and snakes. It’s definitely something to do once.
Have you been to Hanoi? How many of these things did you do? Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear from you!
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