Top Things to See in Hanoi / Hà Nội

by Female Abroad

Heading to the city but need a few ideas as to what to do when you are there? There is a ton of things to do in this city but here is a list of 6+ items that you will want to check out while in town.

Explore Hoan Kiem District (aka the Old Quarter)

Possibly the best representative of Hanoi as this district is regarded as the commercial and tourist centre of the city. Hip cafés, bars, restaurants, bakeries, boutique stores, and art galleries coexist side by side with preserved shop-houses from a little over a century ago that had street-facing façades and numerous courtyards inside. Walking around the neighbourhood is like travelling back in time because of these historical trade streets that have been home to the city (and sometimes the country's) original industries for over a thousand years, including cotton, jewellery, herbs, and silk. Even if many of these enterprises have been replaced by more contemporary ones, it is still possible to appreciate how things were long ago and get a sense of the rich, ancient traditions. This is also a great place to explore because scooters, vendors, and people taking leisurely strolls in the park are all common sights.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh (known to his people as 'Uncle Ho') was the Vietnamese leader who led the post-World War II uprising against the French, freeing Vietnam to be Vietnamese again. The mausoleum draws its architectural cues from the Lenin Mausoleum in Moscow, although having distinctive Vietnamese characteristics and the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh is kept in a glass case in a dimly lit central hall. This is also why the French name of Saigon was changed to Ho Chi Minh City. Note: the locals hold both Uncle Ho and the mausoleum in reverence so dress with respect (no shorts, sleeveless shirts, or skirts above the knee). You will also be required to leave your bags and cameras at the front before going in.

Watch Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre

The famed Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre in Hanoi was inspired by a practice that dates back to the 11th century, when rice paddies were flooded and locals used to stand in the water while watching puppet shows that were being performed above the surface. Both back then and today, the puppeteers are concealed behind a screen, and the large rods used to support the puppets give the illusion that they are moving across the water themselves. The orchestra also plays traditional music using drums, wooden bells, horns, bamboo flutes, and cymbals as they narrate traditional folk stories through operatic melodies.

Take in Hoam Kiem Lake - The Lake of the Returned Sword

Hoam Kiem Lake, is regarded by the Vietnamese as a mythical location. According to local legend, a turtle stole Emperor Le Loi's magic sword as he was passing the time while in a boat in the lake. The Emperor came to the conclusion that it was the Golden Turtle God who had actually come back to retrieve the magic sword that had been entrusted to him during his uprising against the Chinese Ming Dynasty because neither the sword nor the turtle could be located. The Turtle Tower, which is perched atop a tiny island close to the middle of this lovely lake, is associated with this mythology. It is also home to Ngoc Son Temple (Jade Mountain Temple) which is Hanoi's most visited temple.

Military History Museum and Flag Tower

The Military History Museum is home to artefacts and memorabilia from earlier periods of the country with a large chunk of artefacts being from the Vietnam War. Among the items on display that provide insight into the Vietnam War are fragments of American planes that were captured, along with Russian fighters, tanks, and other vintage military equipment.

Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural

To celebrate Hanoi's one thousand years as a city, a four-kilometer ceramic mosaic mural was made. The mural, which served as a reminder of the significance the city of Hanoi has held in the cultural and political affairs of Vietnam commencing in the year 1010, was formally unveiled in October 2010.

Besides the items listed above there is also:

  1. The Temple of Literature: built in 1070 and dedicated to Confucius, sages and scholars. It is also home to Vietnam's first University.
  2. One Pillar Pagoda: built in 1049, perfected in 1105, restored in 1955, this famous part of Liên Hoa Đài is a Buddhist temple built entirely on one pillar.
  3. West Lake: the largest lake in Hanoi with a number of gardens, restaurants and hotels, and other entertainment.