The capital of Vietnam is an ancient city with a modern heartbeat. Situated along the banks of the Red River, this cultural melting pot is home to everything from age-old pagodas (tiered towers that serve as Hindu or Buddhist temples) to glittering skyscrapers and beautifully preserved colonial structures. The city is particularly suited to exploration on foot or by bicycle and delights with epic cuisine, lively markets and plenty to see and do.
Here are a few attractions in and around Hanoi that deserve a spot on any tour through Vietnam:
1. Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature was founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong to honour one of the country’s finest scholars, Confucius (Khong Tu). The attractive complex was once the site of the country’s first formal university and represents one of the best-preserved examples of ancient Vietnamese architecture. It’s also a lovely place to enjoy some calm and serenity after you’ve braved Hanoi’s busy streets all day. It is a place of prayer and contemplation for many, including the locals.
2. Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
If you are interested in the historical and cultural aspects of the countries you visit, the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is a must. There is so much to see and explore that you could well end up spending an entire day here. Vietnam has 54 official ethnic groups and this museum has been dedicated to exhibitions that depict the lifestyle and culture of each of these groups. This includes everything from informative exhibits on the manufacture of cultural objects such as the Nón lá (Asian conical hat), to a sprawling outdoor section that features full-size homes and structures that showcase the unique dwellings of the various groups.
3. Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake is located in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. This is a great spot to do some people-watching since the locals tend to congregate here to eat their lunch, have a walk or relax with their families. Aside from the tranquillity and beauty of the lake itself, you can also explore Ngoc Son Temple. Located on an island in the lake and accessed by a beautifully built bridge, the temple is worth a visit to see the classic Vietnamese architecture.
4. Ho Chi Minh Complex
Ho Chi Minh Complex is an important pilgrimage site for many Vietnamese. They come here to pay their respects to Ho Chi-Minh, who presided as president of the country between 1954 and 1969. The large complex includes beautifully kept gardens, as well as the erstwhile president’s expertly preserved Presidential Palace, living quarters and ‘House on Stilts’, where he often relaxed. Visitors can also view his rather impressive collection of cars, many of which were gifts. However, the main attraction is definitely the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where you can see the president’s actual restored body. The Mausoleum is heavily guarded and visitors can only spend five minutes inside. The Mausoleum is only open until 10:30 each day, so go early if you want to catch it! Please note that you might see “No Photography” signs in the area, as photographs are prohibited.
5. The Old Quarter
The Old Quarter is where you go to soak up the city’s spirit, find great food and shop for keepsakes to take home. Those ‘I travelled to Asia’ pants you were looking for? This is where you’ll find it. Ideally, you want to do this part of your exploration on foot. Be ready for a multi-sensory onslaught, but also know that it will be worth your while. It’s chaotic and bustling, but this is also Hanoi at its most authentic.
Want to save some money while you’re exploring Hanoi? Here are a few top tips:
These are just five of the many amazing attractions within the city limits of Hanoi in Vietnam. We’ve just launched 3 new tours to Vietnam and Cambodia – check them out here!