12 unique things to do in Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam’s lively capital, is a city like no other. The streets are alive with scooters zipping by, and everywhere you turn, there’s something new to discover. But amidst the chaos, there’s an undeniable charm that draws you in. From tasting local street food to wandering through historic sites, Hanoi has a little something for everyone. Join us as we explore 12 unique things to do in Hanoi.

1. Join a street food tour

Street food tour Hanoi

One of the best ways to get to know Vietnamese food is by joining a street food tour, especially in Hanoi’s lively Old Quarter. We got to try all sorts of delicious treats that we probably wouldn’t have ordered on our own. Pillow cakes, to name one, are a tasty Vietnamese pastry we stumbled upon during the tour. They’re something we’d never go for ourselves but we’re so glad we got to taste them. We also tried some dry Pho, and it was our favorite find of the tour!

Of course, our guide also took us to try some banh mi. We went to Bami Bread (you can find it as Banh Mi Hoi An on Google Maps), and it turned out to be the best one we had in Hanoi! And let’s not forget about the salt coffee we tried. While we still prefer the sweeter egg coffee, trying something new was pretty cool too! It was a great experience to walk around the Old Quarter, and try all sorts of different Vietnamese foods and drinks.

Fun fact
We booked a street food walking tour through GetYourGuide, which also included a ticket to the water puppet show. We scheduled our tour for 3 PM and ended up being the only ones on it, which was such a pleasant surprise! Check availability for the street food walking tour & water puppet show in Hanoi

2. Watch a water puppet show

Water puppet show at Thang Long Water Puppet Theater

Ever since we watched the Netflix movie “A Tourist’s Guide to Love”, we knew we wanted to see a water puppet show in Hanoi. This ancient Vietnamese tradition, dating back to the 11th century, is a unique experience that you won’t find anywhere else. The puppets gracefully dance across the water, telling captivating folk tales while accompanied by music and special effects. So cool! We watched a show at Thang Long Water Puppet Theater, located on the edge of Hoan Kiem Lake. Do know that everything you hear, like stories or songs, will be in Vietnamese. If you think this will bother you, don’t worry! There’s an audio guide available so you can follow along just fine. Although we must add that we didn’t buy the audio guide and the whole experience was still just fantastic. We bought a combined street food walking tour & water puppet show on GetYourGuide.

3. Cafe hopping in Hanoi

12 unique things to do in Hanoi: cafe hopping

Neither of us are big fans of coffee, so the fact that we’re recommending cafe hopping as one of the best things to do in Hanoi says a lot! Vietnamese coffee is truly something special, flavor-wise but also just everything surrounding it. There are so many varieties to explore, like egg coffee, salt coffee, and coconut coffee to name a few. We gave them all a try, both hot and cold, but our top pick has to be egg coffee! It’s quite sweet though, so if that’s not your thing, we suggest giving salt coffee a go instead. And no matter what flavor we went for, we always preferred the hot one over the cold one because you can taste everything better. But, with Hanoi’s hot climate, we’d get it if you want a more refreshing drink. 😉

One of the most creative spots in Hanoi is The Note Coffee. This cafe is covered from top to bottom in adorable sticky notes across its four floors, how cool is that. If you stop by, see if you can spot our @tastingsunsets note! It can be found on the 3rd floor on the left, near the balcony that gives a nice view of the lake.

Another truly unique cafe is Hidden Gem Cafe, tucked away in a small alley on Hang Gai Street. What makes it special? Well, all the furniture is made from recycled materials. So cool! We also enjoyed our time at Cafe Giang. Make sure to grab a seat upstairs on their cozy balcony, those are definitely the best seats in the house. It’s such a cool spot to sip on their delicious egg coffee while watching the hustle and bustle of daily life in Hanoi! There are only 3 tables on the balcony though, so chances are you won’t find an available seat there.

4. Watch a train pass by at Train Street

Hanoi's Train Street

Tucked away in a narrow alley amidst tall, tightly-packed houses, Hanoi’s Train Street draws tourists because trains pass just a meter away from the buildings. The best spot to catch a glimpse of the train is from one of the cafes lining the tracks. To find it, we simply followed the directions to “Train Street free entrance” on Google Maps. Despite rumors of closure, we arrived on a Sunday at 5:40 PM and were quickly directed to a cafe by a local. Within five minutes, a train rumbled past. Just before it arrives, you’ll hear whistling, this is the signal to sit tight because the train is approaching fast! It can be a bit nerve-wracking as it passes incredibly close, but if you follow the instructions all will be fine. The funny thing is that, as soon as the train’s gone, everyone resumes their activities as if nothing happened.

Pro tip
We visited Train Street both during the day and at night, but our favorite was definitely at night! The whole place lights up, creating a beautiful and charming atmosphere. Also, buy a beer from one of the cafes and keep the bottle cap. Then, put it on the rails just before the train arrives and you’ll have yourself a nice, flattened souvenir!

5. Admire the murals on Phung Hung Street

12 unique things to do in Hanoi: Phung Hung Street

If you want something unique and free to do in Hanoi, check out the murals on Phung Hung Street. This project, launched in 2018 by Korean and Vietnamese artists, celebrates 25 years of diplomatic relations. The paintings create cool visual effects and 3D illusions, letting people interact with them by taking photos and posing to blend in. It’s a refreshing glimpse of Hanoi, and definitely worth a visit! It’s a fun way to see Hanoi’s artistic side over its usual hustle and bustle.

6. Visit the Hoa Lo Prison Museum

Hoa Lo Prison Museum

Visiting the Hoa Lo Prison Museum might not be the most enjoyable or fun activity, but it’s a must-see when in Hanoi. It offers insight into Vietnam’s darker history. The prison, ironically called the “Hanoi Hilton”, held political prisoners during the French colonial period and later American prisoners of war during the Vietnam War. You can view original cells and artifacts from its past. You will be able to walk around freely, everything is kept intact (or rebuilt) so you get a pretty good view on what prison life was like, back then. We suggest getting an audio guide to hear the prisoners’ stories, it’ll make the whole experience much nicer. We spent about two hours here and left feeling moved by the experience!

Good to know
The entry ticket to the Hoa Lo Prison Museum costs 50,000 VND, which is nearly € 2. If you want the audio guide, it’s an extra 100,000 VND.

7. See the Temple of Literature

12 unique things to do in Hanoi: Temple of Literature Hanoi

The Temple of Literature, called Văn Miếu in Vietnamese, is Vietnam’s first university complex. Today, it’s a popular tourist attraction and a place where students pray for success in their studies. It’s a peaceful spot to wander, thanks to its beautiful architecture and serene setting. The entry fee for the Temple of Literature is 70,000 VND, which is a little over € 2,50. We found it a little on the expensive side because we only spent around 45 minutes here. That being said, it’s just so different from anything else you can do and see in Hanoi so we still recommend visiting.

Pro tip
Right across from the entrance of the Temple of Literature, you’ll find Mia Khong Lo, the perfect spot in Vietnam to enjoy a tasty sugarcane juice. It’s just the right amount of sweet and incredibly refreshing! And the best part? One of those juices costs only 20,000 VND, which is about € 0,75. We liked them so much that we went back immediately after finishing our first one!

8. Stroll around Go Kim Chau Lake

Go Kim Chau Lake

One of our top spots in Hanoi for some peace and quiet is Go Kim Chau Lake. Located just across the Temple of Literature, it’s incredibly serene! Take a stroll around the lake and cross the bridge to reach its center. There, you can sit back and soak in the tranquil atmosphere. It’s easily the most peaceful and romantic spot in the city!

9. Explore the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long

Imperial Citadel of Thang Long

The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and cannot be missed on your Hanoi itinerary. For 13 centuries straight, the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long has stood as a hub of political might in the region. It all began with a Chinese fortress in the 7th century, marking the Dai La era. But when Chinese reign decreased in the 10th century, they built the grand citadel of Thang Long on top of all this. That’s not the only thing you can see here, though. There are tons of historic structures you should check out, like the majestic northern gate erected from 1805 or the steps of Kinh Thien Palace from 1428.

Good to know
The entry fee for the Thang Long Imperial Citadel is 70,000 VND, which is a little over € 2,50. It is money well spent because you can wander on the grounds for hours and hours!

10. Admire Tran Quoc Pagoda

12 unique things to do in Hanoi: Tran Quoc Pagoda

If you’re only planning to visit one temple in Hanoi, make it Tran Quoc Pagoda! It’s the oldest in the city, and definitely our favorite. With its stunning surroundings of water and lush greenery, it’s no surprise it’s one of the most photographed spots in Hanoi. You can find Tran Quoc Pagoda on a small islet in West Lake, and the best part is… admission is free. It’s such a great spot to walk around for a bit and unwind. Just remember to dress appropriately by covering your knees and shoulders.

11. Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum stands as the final resting place of Ho Chi Minh, the revolutionary leader and former President of the Communist Party of Vietnam. His embalmed body lies in the central hall, guarded by soldiers, with the temperature kept cool to preserve it. We’ll tell you straight away: we have never experienced anything like this before. Although we’ve been to many mausoleums before, we’d never seen a preserved body like this. On top of that, there’s also all the rituals and rules surrounding it, but more on that later. If you’re not comfortable with that idea, we suggest skipping the visit to the mausoleum.

There are strict rules for visiting: dress formally, store your backpack and camera, enter silently in two rows, refrain from using your phone (no photos, texting, or calling), and once inside, remove sunglasses and hats. There are countless guards to keep you in line, and they will tell you if you’re not following the rules.

Good to know
You can visit the Mausoleum for free. Keep in mind it’s closed on Mondays and Fridays. From April to October, it’s open from 7:30 AM to 10:30 AM. From November to March, it’s open from 8 AM to 11 AM. On weekends and public holidays, the visiting hours are extended by 30 minutes. 

12. Walk around Hoan Kiem Lake

12 unique things to do in Hanoi: Hoan Kiem Lake

Hoan Kiem Lake sits right in the heart of Hanoi, so chances are, you’ll stroll past it at some point. But trust us, it’s worth more than just a passing glance. We recommend taking a leisurely stroll around the lake, it’s incredibly serene! In the center, there’s Turtle Tower (Thap Rua) perched on a little island. Want to explore further? Cross the picturesque Huc Bridge to reach Ngoc Son Temple. And here’s a tip: the bridge looks absolutely enchanting at night!

Bonus recommendation: learn to cross the road

Including this might seem like a strange thing to add to a guide to Hanoi, but those who have visited Vietnam will understand. When you first arrive, crossing the road can be pretty stressful, especially dealing with the wild traffic in Hanoi! There aren’t many crosswalks, so the best advice is to go with the flow. Don’t stop suddenly, run, or try to go back, because that’s how accidents occur. We discovered another trick for crossing the road: simply follow a local’s lead. If the local thinks it’s safe to cross the road, who are you to doubt him? 😉

Where to stay in Hanoi

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