What are the best things to do and see in Hanoi?

Libby Lowe

Vietnam’s capital city has a number of attractions worth seeking out during your visit, though many visitors spend just a day or two here before moving north to breathtaking Halong Bay or to Sapa in the mountainous Lào Cai Province. Map out your sightseeing itinerary with our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for the best things to do in and around Hanoi:
 
1. Wander the Old Quarter. Hanoi’s historic city center is ideally suited to aimless wandering, window shopping and snacking. There are plenty of shops and boutiques where you can pick up souvenirs and postcards, while the delicious banh mi sandwiches served on hot, crispy baguettes from the street vendors are the perfect snack for a walk around nearby Hoan Kiem Lake. Come back during the evening for a pitcher of fresh beer at one of the many outdoor bars.
 
2. Thang Long Water Puppetry Theater. The family-friendly cultural performance at Hanoi’s famous water puppet theater is quite a spectacle and a must-see. Shows are highlighted by live musicians and singers acting out popular Vietnamese legends — with the assistance of puppets, of course — amid bursts of dazzling special effects.
 
3. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Despite his wishes to be cremated after his death, the embalmed body of Vietnam’s former president and prime minister is kept in the main building of the mausoleum, which has the somewhat wonky hours — check before you go as it’s closed in the afternoons and some days of the week. The line of locals, tourists and foreign dignitaries waiting to catch a glimpse of Uncle Ho’s remains can be a long one, particularly on Saturdays, so plan on arriving before it opens and try to come on a weekday. Long pants are required for entry.
 
4. Ho Chi Minh Museum. Decidedly less morbid than the adjacent mausoleum for obvious reasons, the Ho Chi Minh Museum provides an interesting look at the man’s life through a series of interesting and sometimes bizarre exhibits. Note that the museum is only closed on Mondays and open in the afternoon but, along with the mausoleum, it is often shuttered when Uncle Ho’s body is annually shipped to Russia for maintenance.
 
5. Halong Bay. We highly recommend an overnight trip to the impossibly picturesque Halong Bay, which is located about three hours away by bus. Countless tour companies offer bay cruises, but Emeraude Classic Cruises greets guests with a cocktail on the upper deck, which has views of the iconic karst mountains rising from the water. If you can manage to pull yourself away from that stunning scenery during this two-day cruise, onboard you can get a massage and take a tai chi or cooking class. The trip also includes a shore excursion to Sung Sot Cave, where you’ll get a chance to explore an illuminated limestone cave with 100-foot-high ceilings.

  • On September 5, 2012
    Libby Lowe answered the question: Libby Lowe

    What is the best day trip from Hanoi?

    Our Forbes Travel Guide editors recommend taking the quintessential day trip from Hanoi to magical Halong Bay, which is about a three-hour bus ride north of the city center. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, this spectacular corner of the country is marked by its iconic limestone karst formations dramatically jutting out of the Gulf of Tonkin. There are thousands of tiny islands and islets dotting the remarkable landscape — the easiest way to take in all the natural splendor is on one of the many boat tours available throughout the day. Cruise times vary, with some lasting five hours or longer, and some tours include visits to stunning illuminated caves, such as Sung Sot on Bo Hon Island. Your hotel concierge should be able to provide tour company recommendations and help arrange transportation to and from the bay. To make the most of the trip, plan on staying overnight.
  • On September 5, 2012
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    What is the best thing to bring home from Hanoi?

    While the three-story Dong Xuan wholesale market is the place to do your basic souvenir shopping, our Forbes Travel Guide editors think the best thing to bring home from Hanoi is an exquisite, hand-woven silk garment from one of the nearly 100 silk shops packed onto Hang Gai Street. Referred to as Silk Street, Hang Gai has expert tailors who can have you measured and fitted, then turn around a beautiful silk suit, shirt or skirt in 24 hours or less. Prices vary based on the type of silk, but you should be able to score a full suit for well under $100 and skirts for under $25 — plan on doing some bargaining to get the best prices.
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    What are the best Hanoi food experiences?

    Vietnamese cuisine is a real treat and one of the highlights of any visit to the country. In Hanoi, adventurous eaters can taste everything from boiled duck fetus eggs to shots of blood from a freshly killed snake — both are considered delicacies — but if you’re not quite ready to stomach Vietnam’s more exotic specialties, fill up on our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for some of the best food and drink experiences in Hanoi:
     
    1. Banh Mi. We find ourselves daydreaming about the banh mi sandwiches served in the Old Quarter, where the fresh, piping-hot baguettes rival any we’ve had in Paris. Cheap and filling, banh mi are commonly made with Laughing Cow cheese spread, cilantro, long slices of cucumber, chiles, pickled veggies and pork belly, chicken floss or liver pâté.
     
    2. Pho. Along with banh mi, this savory rice-noodle soup is one of the most internationally recognizable Vietnamese dishes and certainly one of the tastiest. Hanoi is actually credited as being home to the very first pho restaurant in the country, and today you won’t have to walk too far to find a bowl of it at a restaurant, café or street stall. Ingredients vary, but locals prefer it with either chicken or thin slices of beef in a rich beef broth; garnish it with bean sprouts, chiles, hoisin sauce and fresh Vietnamese herbs.
     
    3. Bun Cha. Like many Vietnamese foods, this north Vietnamese specialty may be a simply prepared dish relatively short on ingredients, but the taste is both satisfying and surprisingly complex. Accompanied by sides of rice noodles, fresh vegetables and usually fried spring rolls, bun cha are grilled, barbecued pork balls mixed with various herbs and spices and served with a spicy fish sauce-based dip. Many street vendors tend to only serve it around lunchtime.
     
    4. Bia Hoi. Literally translated “fresh beer,” bia hoi refers to both the light, refreshing drink as well as the atmospheric spots it’s served in — clusters of plastic tables and chairs in side streets and alleyways packed with friendly locals. Enjoying a cold pitcher of this cheap, unpasteurized beer on a humid evening is a classic Hanoi experience.
     
    5. Ca Phe Nau da. If you like your coffee sweet you’re going to love the iced coffee available throughout Hanoi. Typical Vietnamese-style coffee is made by slow-dripping ground coffee through a metal filter into a glass of sweet condensed milk. It’s then mixed up and poured over ice in another glass.
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  • On September 5, 2012
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    Where is the best nightlife in Hanoi?

    While the nightlife in Hanoi is still considerably more subdued than in Ho Chi Minh City, there are plenty of lively bars and late-night restaurants where you can enjoy a drink or two while mingling with locals and other travelers. The areas around Hoan Kiem Lake and the Old Quarter are recommended bar-hopping destinations, though keep in mind that during the week most bars in these areas close by midnight.
     
    Our favorite nightlife experience in Hanoi, however, is pulling up a plastic stool at one of the many bia hoi in the Old Quarter and joining the locals for a cold pitcher of crisp, unpasteurized beer. The cost for this light beer with a low ABV is negligible, and though Ho Chi Minh City does have its own bia hoi, too, the ones in Hanoi tend to be more welcoming of foreigners.
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    What is the best way to see Hanoi in one day?

    Ideally you’ll have at least three days to explore Hanoi, but if you’re only passing through Vietnam’s capital city our Forbes Travel Guide editors recommend the top sights below to make up one full day of exploration.
     
    Though it makes for somewhat of a somber start to your tour of the city, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is usually only open to the public from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., so Uncle Ho’s final (and viewable) resting place should be the first stop on your itinerary. After proceeding past Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body, head to the adjacent Ho Chi Minh Museum to learn more about his life and to check out some fascinating exhibits and a surprisingly impressive collection of modern art.
     
    Next hop in a taxi and hit the Old Quarter to wander through the historic city center, shop for souvenirs and snack on fresh fruit, banh mi sandwiches or a bowl of pho from one of the many restaurants or street vendors. You’ll likely see a number of women wearing conical hats and hauling fruit and other foods on carrying poles — most will be happy to pose for a photo, but might ask for a small tip. After lunch take a stroll around beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake, part of the Old Quarter.
     
    Take a breather back at your hotel, then catch one of the early evening performances at Hanoi’s famous Thang Long Puppetry Theater. If you have a taste for more traditional Vietnamese food, dinner at one of the courtyard tables at popular Quan An Ngon is always a safe bet. But if you’re looking for a trendy scene, a well-curated wine list and gourmet cuisine from a seasonal menu, head to hip Restaurant Bobby Chinn. Cocktails at InterContinental Hanoi West Lake’s The Sunset Bar, which is located on its own private island in the lake, is an ideal cap to a busy day.
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    What are the best places to eat in Hanoi?

    The casual streetside food stalls found throughout Hanoi are good places for sampling a variety of tasty Vietnamese specialties, but when you’re in the mood for a more formal dining experience, our Forbes Travel Guide editors suggest heading to any one of our picks for the best places to eat in Hanoi:
     
    1. La Badiane. Expect a memorable fusion of Eastern and Western flavors at romantic La Badiane, which in four short years has quickly established itself as one of the top restaurants in Hanoi’s growing international dining scene. Grilled red tuna rubbed in Thai spices, crab risotto with Vietnamese asparagus and beef carpaccio in wasabi and sesame are just a few of the succulent offerings.
     
    2. Quan An Ngon. Head to popular Quan An Ngon if you’ve come to Hanoi with an adventurous palate. First walk around a buzzing courtyard, which is lined with a small army of chefs preparing all sorts of Vietnamese delicacies, then grab a table and order whatever looks good from the restaurant’s huge menu. Bring your appetite. 
     
    3. Restaurant Bobby Chinn. You won’t only be dining at one of the trendiest spots in town during a visit to this award-winning restaurant — you’ll also be at the chef’s actual home. Furnished with art from Chinn’s private collection and whimsically decorated with silk-lined walls and white roses hung from the ceiling, Restaurant Bobby Chinn features one of the best wine lists in Hanoi and a constantly changing seasonal menu.
     
    4. Tamarind Cafe. The menu may be strictly meat-free, but vegetarians and carnivores alike rave about the delicious cuisine, friendly service and fresh fruit drinks at this funky Old Quarter eatery. The menu is surprisingly ambitious, with dishes laden with everything from Indian to Italian flavors. Don’t leave without trying a plate of Tamarind’s delicate rice paper rolls.
     
    5. Pho Gia Truyen. While Pho Gia Truyen’s service may be hit or miss and the ambience isn’t particularly memorable, this is the place to go for what’s arguably the best bowl of authentic pho in Hanoi. Take your spot in the long line, place your order at the front counter, then squeeze into one of the outdoor tables to slurp down every last drop of the rich, heavenly beef broth.
  • On September 5, 2012
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    What are the best places to stay in Hanoi?

    Though Hanoi doesn’t (yet) have as many upscale accommodation options as Ho Chi Minh City, there are still a number of excellent hotels worth the splurge. Here are the Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for the best places to stay in Vietnam’s capital city:
     
    1. Hotel Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi. Beautifully decorated in elegant French-colonial style and regularly rated one of the top luxury hotels not only in Vietnam, but in all of Southeast Asia, the Sofitel Legend Metropole is routinely the choice of visiting dignitaries and celebrities. All of the 364 guest rooms and suites here are immaculate — some decked out with antique furnishings and polished timber floors — and all feature a flat-screen television, DVD player, Sofitel’s signature MyBed and more. Unwind in the award-winning Le Spa du Metropole, and indulge fantastic French cuisine at Le Beaulieu Restaurant.
     
    2. InterContinental Hanoi West Lake. The InterContinental’s picturesque location on West Lake is one reason to book a room at this luxury Hanoi hotel. Take full advantage of your serene surroundings by opting for one of the 359 spacious guest rooms or suites in the hotel’s island pavilion, though regardless of where you stay you’ll be treated to views of either the lake or city skyline from a private balcony. Facilities include an outdoor pool, fitness center, and six bars and restaurants — our favorite, The Sunset Bar, is on its own island.
     
    3. Hotel Sofitel Plaza Hanoi. Sofitel’s “other” Hanoi hotel is every bit as stylish as its sister resort. Located minutes away from the romantic Old Quarter, just off West Lake, Sofitel Plaza features 317 lavishly decorated guest rooms and suites with amenities that include free Wi-Fi, daily newspaper, luxury bath products from Hermes or L’Occitane and evening turndown service — splurge on one of the Junior Suites and you’ll also get laundry service, late check out and access to the club lounge. The hotel’s all-weather pool is the only one in Hanoi covered by a retractable roof.
     
    4. Hotel de l’Opera Hanoi. An attractive boutique hotel situated near Hanoi’s Opera House, trendy Hotel de l’Opera gets high marks for its swanky guest rooms and suites that feature 32- to 40-inch flat-screen television, complimentary Wi-Fi access and mod Asian-inspired décor. The hotel’s chic signature bar, La Fée Verte, is a cozy spot to linger over cocktails whether you’re staying here or not.
     
    5. Golden Legend Hotel. If you’re budgeting for a longer trip through Vietnam and hesitant to book one of Hanoi’s pricier accommodations, this delightful little hotel in the Old Quarter is sparkling clean and offers everything you need. The location is ideal — close to many restaurants and attractions, yet situated on a quiet street — and the staff is outstanding. Guest rooms are modest in size and bathrooms aren’t particularly modern by Western standards, but this is a common characteristic of many mid-range hotels in Vietnam.
  • On September 5, 2012
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    Where is the best shopping in Hanoi?

    Our Forbes Travel Guide editors think the best shopping in Hanoi can be found at the Old Quarter’s three-floor Dong Xuan Market, the largest covered wholesale market in the city. Originally opened in 1902 but later rebuilt in the mid-90s following a fire, Dong Xuan is an ideal place to pick up all sorts of souvenirs, from cheap t-shirts to Vietnamese housewares and decorations. If you’re in Hanoi on the weekend, plan on visiting the market during the evening, when the streets around Dong Xuan are only open for pedestrians and are packed with scores of vendors ready to bargain — you might even catch a free cultural performance.
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    What are the best things to do and see with kids in Hanoi?

    From water puppet shows to water park rides, here are our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ recommendations for some of the best things to do with kids in Hanoi:
     
    1. Thang Long Water Puppetry Theatre. A delight for kids and adults alike, the cultural shows at Thang Long Water Puppetry Theatre feature a mesmerizing mix of singing, drumming and puppetry depicting rural life and ancient Vietnamese legends. It’s highlighted by lots of vibrant colors sure to keep kids tuned in from beginning to end.
     
    2. Museum of Ethnology. A visit to this museum gives kids another chance to learn about the local culture and country’s minority tribes while traipsing around traditional Vietnamese houses spread out along the grounds. Admission for kids under the age of six is free.
     
    3. Cyclo Ride. Vietnam’s famous three-wheeled bicycle taxis have essentially been replaced by motorbikes and other quicker ways of getting around town, but rides around Hanoi’s Old Quarter in a two-seater cyclo are still a lot of fun. Before you or your child hops into the cyclo, however, it’s essential that you first negotiate the journey’s cost with your driver — if you don’t you’ll be grossly overcharged afterwards. In general, the initial asking price will be at least double what you should pay after bargaining.
     
    4. Ho Tay Water Park. Located on the West Lake shore about 20 minutes from the city center, Ho Tay Water Park is a great place for everyone in the family to cool off on a hot day. Here you’ll find a lazy floating river, water slides, swimming pools and areas for younger kids. The facilities are adequate, but they do feel a bit worn and dated.
     
    5. Halong Bay. Kids will be fascinated by the dreamy karst-filled landscape of Halong Bay, which is located about three hours north of the city. In addition to cruising around the bay on a boat tour, during your visit you can also see massive illuminated caves, such as Sung Sot on Bo Hon Island. Plan on staying in Halong Bay overnight; Emeraude Classic Cruises is one recommended luxury cruise provider that offers two-day, one-night packages that include posh accommodations and a host of onboard activities.
  • On September 5, 2012
    Libby Lowe answered the question: Libby Lowe

    What are the best things to do and see in Hanoi?

    Vietnam’s capital city has a number of attractions worth seeking out during your visit, though many visitors spend just a day or two here before moving north to breathtaking Halong Bay or to Sapa in the mountainous Lào Cai Province. Map out your sightseeing itinerary with our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for the best things to do in and around Hanoi:
     
    1. Wander the Old Quarter. Hanoi’s historic city center is ideally suited to aimless wandering, window shopping and snacking. There are plenty of shops and boutiques where you can pick up souvenirs and postcards, while the delicious banh mi sandwiches served on hot, crispy baguettes from the street vendors are the perfect snack for a walk around nearby Hoan Kiem Lake. Come back during the evening for a pitcher of fresh beer at one of the many outdoor bars.
     
    2. Thang Long Water Puppetry Theater. The family-friendly cultural performance at Hanoi’s famous water puppet theater is quite a spectacle and a must-see. Shows are highlighted by live musicians and singers acting out popular Vietnamese legends — with the assistance of puppets, of course — amid bursts of dazzling special effects.
     
    3. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Despite his wishes to be cremated after his death, the embalmed body of Vietnam’s former president and prime minister is kept in the main building of the mausoleum, which has the somewhat wonky hours — check before you go as it’s closed in the afternoons and some days of the week. The line of locals, tourists and foreign dignitaries waiting to catch a glimpse of Uncle Ho’s remains can be a long one, particularly on Saturdays, so plan on arriving before it opens and try to come on a weekday. Long pants are required for entry.
     
    4. Ho Chi Minh Museum. Decidedly less morbid than the adjacent mausoleum for obvious reasons, the Ho Chi Minh Museum provides an interesting look at the man’s life through a series of interesting and sometimes bizarre exhibits. Note that the museum is only closed on Mondays and open in the afternoon but, along with the mausoleum, it is often shuttered when Uncle Ho’s body is annually shipped to Russia for maintenance.
     
    5. Halong Bay. We highly recommend an overnight trip to the impossibly picturesque Halong Bay, which is located about three hours away by bus. Countless tour companies offer bay cruises, but Emeraude Classic Cruises greets guests with a cocktail on the upper deck, which has views of the iconic karst mountains rising from the water. If you can manage to pull yourself away from that stunning scenery during this two-day cruise, onboard you can get a massage and take a tai chi or cooking class. The trip also includes a shore excursion to Sung Sot Cave, where you’ll get a chance to explore an illuminated limestone cave with 100-foot-high ceilings.