Hanoi is a chaotic city, full of motorcycles and noise, which can be overwhelming at first. With this post I want to help you organize your visit to the city, so you can enjoy it as much as I do. Not only will I show you the must-see places to see in Hanoi, but you can also read several tips on where to stay, how to get downtown from the airport or how to cross the streets in Hanoi.
- WHAT TO SEE IN HANOI, VIETNAM
- Train Street, Hanoi
- Old Quater, the must see in Hanoi
- Hoan Kiem Lake
- Tran Quoc Pagoda
- St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi
- Lotte Center Viewpoint
- Thang Long Imperial City
- Excursions from Hanoi
- TIPS FOR VISITING HANOI, VIETNAM
WHAT TO SEE IN HANOI, VIETNAM
Hanoi was my first stop on my Vietnam route in 3 weeks and one of the must-see places to see in Vietnam. I had booked 2 nights in the city, but finally I stayed one more night. With 2 full days you can visit all the places I’m going to show you below:
Train Street, Hanoi
It’s not the most emblematic place in the city but it was my favorite place in Hanoi, so I wanted to start with this place, Train Street. You’ve probably seen a picture of a train track in the middle of the street or market. In Asia you can find this picture in different places. Hanoi is one of them. That’s right, in the middle of the city you can find a train track across a street. A street where the neighbours live a normal life until it is time to put the dog in the house, pick up the bar and wait for the train to pass and then return to normal.
The train passes twice a day: at 3:30 pm and 7:30 pm. I recommend going about half an hour before the train passes to get a place to sit. If you think the train passes slowly and carefully, you’d be mistaken. It goes fast, so be careful and don’t risk your life for a picture. I decided to live this experience from a cafe by the track called Ga Dong Duong Cafe. I recommend it.
Old Quater, the must see in Hanoi
The Old Quater is the most famous area of Hanoi, existing since the imperial era. It was born as a residential and commercial neighborhood, where each street specialized in one type of commerce. The most popular trades were cotton, jewellery, herbs and silk. Nowadays you can find other types of shops.
If you think of a Vietnamese city, surely you can think of lots of streets intertwined with cables hanging, a horrible traffic where motorcycles are the protagonists, shops and vendors at street level, many people everywhere, etc. This is exactly what Hanoi’s Old Town is like, a place where motorcycles, shops, locals and tourists bring Hanoi’s most popular neighborhood to life.
If it is true that your walk will not be what is described as quiet due to the amount of stimuli, to walk its streets is to get lost in Hanoi’s past and present. It is a must do in Hanoi.
Hoan Kiem Lake
If after walking through the Old Town you are tired of being dodged by motorbikes and other passers-by, I recommend you visit Hoan Kiem Lake (in English, Lake of the Returned Sword), another place you should visit on your way through Hanoi. This 12-hectare lake is located right in the center of Hanoi, and it will be impossible to miss it.
On a small islet located right in the middle of the lake, you can see the Torre Tortuga. Near one of the lake’s shores is the Jade Mountain Temple (Ngoc Son Temple), built in the 18th century. The islet on which this temple is located is connected to the mainland by the famous red bridge Thê Húc.
- Timings: from 8am to 6pm.
- Price: VND 30,000.
Tran Quoc Pagoda
On one of my afternoons in Hanoi, I walked from the Old Town to the Tran Quoc Pagoda. I enjoyed the walk there very much. It’s not far, so you can walk there too.
Tran Quoc Pagoda is the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi. It was built in the 6th century, during the reign of Emperor Lý Nam Đế (544-548). When it was built, it was located on the Red River. Due to the invasion of the river, the pagoda was moved to its present location: Lake Tây (Hanoi).
The main pagoda is 15 metres long and has a total of 11 floors. To be honest, I thought it would be bigger. Around the pagoda there are other buildings of cultural interest. I liked the visit because I found it a very quiet area and also just after I saw a beautiful sunset over Lake Tây.
- Timings: from 7:30 am to 6:00 pm.
- Price: free.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi
Something that caught my attention during my visit to Hanoi was this beautiful cathedral. The Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hanoi was built in 1886 and is in the Neo-Gothic style. It is quite common to see photo shoots of brides and grooms. I saw one myself.
What I liked most about this cathedral was its location (Nha Chung), since the surroundings are full of charming corners, restaurants and cafes. I highly recommend you to walk around this area.
Lotte Center Viewpoint
If you want to see Hanoi from above, I highly recommend visiting the viewpoint at Lotte Center. I discovered this place thanks to Instagram, something I am very happy about, as the 360º views are impressive. If, like me, you like to see the cities from a bird’s eye view, I highly recommend this place.
It is open from 9 am to 12 pm, although the ticket office closes at 11 pm. The entrance fee is 230,000 dong (8.75 euro). Although if you go from 9 to 10 in the morning or from 10 to 11 at night there is a 50% discount. I took advantage of this discount and went to the viewpoint early in the morning.
Thang Long Imperial City
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010, the Imperial City of Thang Long is of great historical and cultural importance. It was the political centre of the country for 13 centuries. Today, the archaeological remains of what was once the capital of Vietnam can be found there. The Doan Mon Gate stands out.
I can’t tell you how it is since I didn’t get in because when I went there it was already closed.
- Opening hours: open from Tuesday to Sunday, 8am to 5pm.
- Price: VND 30,000.
Excursions from Hanoi
From Hanoi you can make excursions to other parts of northern Vietnam. The most popular are to Sapa, where you can enjoy trekking and rice paddies; to Halong Bay, where you can take a cruise between islets; to Ninh Binh, one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam; and to Ha Giang, where you can make its famous loop on a motorbike or jeep.
If you like to go with everything organized, you can hire the excursions in advance:
- Book your tour to Sapa here.
- Book your Halong Bay tour here.
- Book your Hoa Lu and Tam Coc tour here.
- Book your Trang An and Bai Dinh tour here.
- Book your Ha Giang tour here.
↠ Other places to see in Hanoi: Hanoi Opera House, Temple of Literature, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, One Pillar Pagoda, Hoa Lo Prison Memorial, Vietnam Museum Of Ethnology, Hanoi Botanical Garden.
TIPS FOR VISITING HANOI, VIETNAM
So much for the list of places to see in Hanoi. Below you can read a series of tips that I hope you will find useful during your visit to Hanoi.
From the airport to downtown Hanoi
To get from the airport to downtown Hanoi, I recommend taking bus 86. The ticket costs 1.3 euros and it takes just under an hour to get to Old Town. You will find the bus stop just outside the airport on the left hand side. Make sure you get on the right bus, so make sure the bus has a sign with the number 86 on the front. I’m saying this because I got on the wrong bus. I asked some gentlemen where I could find bus 86 and they pointed out the bus they were working on. I trusted them, but when I saw that no one else was getting on, I looked up information on the internet and discovered that sometimes they scammed the tourists on those buses. A few minutes in the country and I almost messed up.
If you prefer, you can also go by taxi or by grab, although it will be more expensive.
Where to stay in Hanoi
I recommend you to stay in the Old Town or in its surroundings, as it is a central area and of great tourist interest. If your budget is low, I recommend you the hostel where I stayed: Backy Posh Hostel by Poshtel Vietnam
If you want to know more information about the best areas to stay in Hanoi and accommodation recommendations, I recommend this post.
How to move around in Hanoi
My recommendation is that you go to the places on foot, it’s the best way to get to know a city. If you want to go somewhere far away, I recommend the public bus. It is very cheap but be careful because sometimes they are a little rough when driving. Check out what bus you have to take on the internet or ask at the reception of your accommodation, they will help you. Another option is to use Grab (similar to Uber). If you take motorbikes instead of cars, the journey is cheaper.
Crossing the streets in Hanoi
Crossing the streets in Vietnam can be a challenge, especially in Hanoi’s Old Town. To cross, you don’t have to think about it too much, just go at the same pace and without stopping and the bikes will avoid you. It’s a little scary but that’s how you cross. If you seem to be in a hurry, my advice is to go to a place and cross with it.
Something different to do in Hanoi
If you are looking for something different and curious to see in Hanoi, I recommend you go to the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater to see their famous puppet show. Book your ticket to see the water puppet show.
Internet in Hanoi
WiFi in accommodations and restaurants works well but if you want to have internet at all times, you can buy a SIM card. I bought one at the same airport in Hanoi. If you prefer, you can buy the SIM card in advance and pick it up at the airport or at your hotel in Hanoi.
How to pay in Hanoi
As for money, in Hanoi (and the rest of Vietnam) you will need to have cash. I always travel with the N26 card, a commission-free card. The card is free and you save a lot because you can get money in other currencies with only 1.7% commission (much less than conventional banks). You can get the card through their website.
Where to stay in Hanoi: best hotels and areas
What to see in Vietnam – the country’s jewels
Vietnam on your own: organize your trip step by step
Travel Itinerary: Vietnam in 3 weeks
My accommodations in Vietnam – Low budget
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I hope this post about the must-see places to see in Hanoi, along with tips, will be very useful when visiting Hanoi. If you have any questions or want to add something to the post, feel free to leave a comment or contact me by email. See you next time, travelers!