16 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Hanoi
We may earn a commission from affiliate links ()
Dive into Hanoi's pulsating city streets, and you'll capture the essence of Vietnamese life. The country's capital is a burgeoning economic center that still clings strongly to traditional culture, managing to be a showcase of both old and modern Vietnam.
The old quarter district is Hanoi's main tourist attraction. It hums with street vendor action and the cafés and restaurants are vibrant, contemporary scenes. Just trying to cross a road here can end up being an adrenaline-fueled escapade.
When the crowds begin to wear you down, Hanoi has a bundle of places to visit where you can escape for some peace.
Hoan Kiem Lake is a relaxing respite right within the city, while the Temple of Literature and Vietnam Museum of Ethnology are two of the best places to visit to reflect on Vietnam's grand history.
For more sightseeing ideas, see our list of the top attractions and things to do in Hanoi.
See also: Where to Stay in Hanoi
1. Explore Hanoi Old Town Quarter
For many visitors to Vietnam's capital, the major attraction is strolling the streets of the city's ancient core.
This labyrinthine quarter of narrow alleys is the commercial heartbeat of town and has a history that stretches back 1,000 years.
It's a delightfully dilapidated place, where the odd piece of medieval era architecture has managed to cling on within the modern hubbub of whizzing motorbikes, street vendors, and pulsating commerce.
If you look up while you're wandering, the area has plenty of vernacular shophouse architecture, where merchants would traditionally live above their shops in very long but narrow two-storey dwellings, squeezed together on the alleyway rows.
The backstreets here are a great opportunity to soak up the buzz of Hanoi street life.
As well as there being plenty of street food on offer and lots of pavement vendors selling fruits and vegetables, there are also stalls selling traditional medicines and Buddhist religious trappings.
A relic of French Colonial rule, right in the heart of the old town quarter, St. Joseph's Cathedral (Nha Tho Street) was built in 1886 and is a fine example of neo-Gothic architectural style.
The façade is intricately decorated, with two bell towers, while inside are some delicate stained glass window details. The main entrance is kept locked except for mass. At other times, you can access the interior of the church from the back through the offices for the Diocese of Hanoi.
2. Stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake
Hanoi's most well-known landmark is tranquil Hoan Kiem Lake, nestled just on the southern edge of the old town quarter.
The major tourist attraction upon the lake is the small island (reached by a red bridge) that holds Ngoc Son Temple, dedicated to three grand figures from Vietnamese history: La To (revered as a patron saint of physicians); the renowned scholar Van Xuong; and the 13th century general Tran Hung Dao, who fought against the invading Mongol army.
Another tiny island on the southern section of the lake holds the stocky Turtle Tower - best viewed from the bridge.
Address: Dinh Tien Hoang Street
3. Admire the Temple of Literature
The city's most interesting religious building is this beautiful and incredibly peaceful Confucian temple, originally built as a university in the 11th century.
Today, the Temple of Literature stands as a tribute to the nation's scholars.
It was here, in the medieval era, that the philosophy of Confucianism and literature was taught, and near the entranceway, you can still see the names of students who studied here, etched into a series of pillars.
Inside, a series of manicured gardens lead to pavilions and a well-preserved pagoda where a statue of Confucius sits.
Address: Quoc Tu Giam Street
4. Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
A place of pilgrimage for many Vietnamese, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a sprawling complex set within the city's gardens that contains the tomb of Ho Chi Minh as well as various museums and monuments.
The actual mausoleum itself is an austere marble building where Ho Chi Minh's embalmed body sits in a glass case.
Also within the complex is the Ho Chi Minh Museum, which has an eclectic collection containing Ho Chi Minh's personal memorabilia as well as plenty of information on the history of the Vietnamese Revolution.
Also worth a visit is the stilt house, once home to Ho Chi Minh, which is excellently preserved, and the One Pillar Pagoda. This pagoda is a reconstruction of the original 11th century temple, which was destroyed by French colonial troops.
Address: Ngoc Ha Street
Official site: www.baotanghochiminh.vn
5. See the Exhibits inside the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
A must for museum fans and history lovers, Hanoi's Vietnam Museum of Ethnology houses the extensive national collection and tells the story of Vietnam's diverse cultures in a series of excellently well-curated exhibits.
Here, the huge number of ethnic minorities who call Vietnam home are highlighted with beautiful displays of artifacts and art that showcase wooden carving, metalwork, and traditional costumes.
The garden area outside the main building holds some of the most interesting exhibits. Here, you can see the rural dwellings used by different ethnic minorities across Vietnam, as well as the fascinating Giarai tomb.
Address: Nguyen Van Huyen Street
Official site: www.vme.org.vn
6. Visit Hoa Lo Prison Museum
Built by the French colonial government in the late 19th century, Hoa Lo Prison Museum was originally used to harbor Vietnamese revolutionaries and any dissidents of the French rule.
For many foreign visitors though, it's better known as the prison where American POWs were held during the Vietnam War (known as the American War in Vietnam). The most famous foreign ex-resident of the prison is John McCain.
The prison grounds contain the communal jail cells, solitary cells, and courtyard, and the guillotine used by the French is also on display.
There is a plethora of information here on Vietnam's long battle against France's colonial rule that details the brutal regime prisoners here were kept under.
Two rooms also tell the story of the American POWs held here, with a video documenting their imprisonment and eventual release along with personal mementos of the prisoners.
Address: Hoa Lo Street
7. Watch a Show at the Water Puppet Theatre
Hanoi's water puppet shows are a great way to sample traditional Vietnamese artistry and entertainment and are an excellent evening activity if you have children in tow.
This ancient art form first evolved in Vietnam's rural areas during the months of the monsoon paddy field flooding, and today, it is now mostly performed in custom-made water pools rather than outside.
Performances usually center around well-known local legends and are accompanied by a live band using traditional Vietnamese instruments.
Hanoi is the heartland of contemporary water puppet theater with five shows daily at the Municipal Water Puppet Theatre.
Address: Dinh Tien Hoang Street
Official site: www.thanglongwaterpuppet.org
8. Explore the Imperial Citadel
Although it may not look like much at first, Hanoi's Imperial Citadel area was once the vital seat of military power here, and continued in an important strategic role right up to the 1960s and the Vietnam War.
The site achieved UNESCO World Heritage Site recognition in 2010 for its long role in Hanoi's past, and the area's 1,000 years of history are highlighted by archaeological work that has unearthed the foundations of various palaces that once stood on this spot.
There's also a bunker here that dates from the Vietnam War where military maps and implements are displayed.
Address: Hoang Dieu Street
Official site: www.hoangthanhthanglong.vn
9. Photograph Hanoi's Train Street
This skinny alley and its train line, about halfway between the Imperial Citadel and St. Joseph's Cathedral in central Hanoi, has become world famous in recent years due to the fact that passing trains run with only around a 20-centimeter gap between the train and the alley's houses.
Due to tourists acting dangerously and not getting out of the way of oncoming trains, the government decided to ban tourism on the street in 2019, and shut down the alley's cafés due to safety fears.
Since then there has been some relenting of attitude, and some cafés along the route have been reopened. If you're here to photograph the trains, make sure to obey the street locals and café staff just before the train passes.
The train schedule changes regularly, but there are usually more opportunities to see the trains go by on the weekends.
Address: Tran Phu Street
10. Boat Trip to the Perfume Pagoda Complex
Set on the slopes and clifftops of Huong Tich Mountain, this Buddhist temple complex (also known as Huong Pagoda) with several pagodas is a popular day tour from Hanoi as much for the scenic journey there as to visit the pagodas themselves.
After a 60-kilometer drive south from the city, you access the Perfume Pagoda by first taking a one-hour boat ride on a river rimmed with lush karst mountain scenery all along the way to Huong Tich Mountain, and then either taking a cable car with excellent aerial views of the mountains up to the temple complex or hiking your way up the slopes.
The pagoda complex is an important place of pilgrimage for Vietnamese visitors, who come here to leave offerings for cures for childlessness and health issues as well as other problems.
11. View Hanoi's Military History Museum
The courtyard outside this museum displays an eclectic mix of weaponry and military machines including downed French and US planes, tanks, and a Soviet MiG fighter plane.
Inside the actual building is a huge amount of information on the wars with both France and the USA, along with exhibits of weaponry, which will be of interest to those with a penchant for Vietnam's 20th century history.
For the average visitor though, the displays and information panels are not particularly well set out, and many find the museum most worth a look for its courtyard clutter of planes around a stocky flag tower.
Address: Dien Bien Phu Street
12. Visit Hanoi's Fine Art Museum
Art lovers and museum fans definitely need to make a pit stop at this museum that holds a collection of Vietnamese artistry from the prehistoric age right up to the country's contemporary artists.
Some of the treasures on display here include terracotta and stone sculptures dating from the Tran Dynasty and Champa Dynasty, Buddha statues from the Mac and Le Dynasties, and the intricate statues of the goddess Guan Yin.
There is also an extensive collection of 11th- and 12th-century ceramic work and a substantial gallery devoted to folk art.
Address: Nguyen Thai Hoc Street
Official site: www.vnfam.vn
13. Take in the City Views at West Lake
Tay Ho (West Lake) is Hanoi's largest lake, and its shoreline stretches for 15 kilometers.
Many locals come here to exercise by walking or cycling the pathway that rings the shore, but there's also two interesting temples in the vicinity.
Tay Ho Pagoda is exceedingly pretty and dedicated to the mother goddess and Tran Quoc Pagoda is one of the oldest still-standing temples in Vietnam (although it has been rebuilt several times).
For most travelers, West Lake is a great place to get a skyline view of new Hanoi, as well as to feast on fresh seafood at one of the many restaurants that sit close to the shore. West Lake lies off Thuy Khue Street.
14. Admire Hanoi's Memorial House
For anyone interested in what life must have been like for Hanoi's locals during an earlier age, a trip to Memorial House is a must-do while in the city.
This finely-restored merchant house sits in the old town quarter and has been furnished to look like a typical merchant's home, brimming with antiques and everyday objects from centuries prior.
The house has plenty of traditional architectural features, set between courtyards to give outdoor space and set out according to the ancient tradition of feng shui, which allows good energy flow into the house.
In some of the rooms, you can watch traditional craftspeople in residence work at calligraphy and basketry crafts.
Address: Ma May Street
15. Day Trip to Co Loa Citadel
Just 16 kilometers northeast of central Hanoi, Co Loa Citadel makes a great day trip destination out of the city. This fortified settlement is one of the most important archaeological sites in the surrounding area and has been a site of habitation since the Bronze Age.
As it was capital to the northern Vietnamese Kingdom of Au Lac in the 3rd Century BCE, it is thought to be the earliest capital in Vietnam.
The settlement includes remains of the earthen ramparts, which once stretched for five kilometers, and a group of temples from different eras, with the youngest one dating from the 16th century.
16. Shop in the Artisan Villages of Hanoi's Hinterland
Several villages on the outskirts of Hanoi are known for their traditional craftwork production, so they make for worthwhile trips out of the center if you're looking for souvenirs.
If you want to purchase some silk products, head to the village of Van Phuc, 10 kilometers southwest from central Hanoi. The silk clothing and accessories for sale in the shops here are all produced by Van Phuc's many weavers.
Bat Trang, about 16 kilometers southeast of the central city, is renowned as a center for ceramic work, and you'll find plenty of huge ceramic stores here selling the same pieces you've probably seen in all of central Hanoi's boutiques, for cheaper prices.
Where to Stay in Hanoi for Sightseeing
We recommend these high-quality hotels in Hanoi close to top attractions like the Old Town Quarter:
- Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi: Located near the opera house, this hotel offers colonial-style luxury, multiple restaurants, sumptuous linens, a beautiful garden, and an outdoor heated pool.
- Hanoi Emerald Waters Hotel Trendy: This mid-range hotel is in a fantastic location, has amazing staff, along with stylish rooms. Breakfast is included.
- Little Hanoi DX Hotel: For affordable rates, check out this elegant boutique hotel. Expect to find friendly staff and fresh roses in rooms.
- Hanoi Holiday Center Hotel: Located in the city center, this budget hotel features modern rooms, and exceptional staff.
Frequently Asked Questions
When is the best time to visit Hanoi?
Located in the north of the country, Hanoi actually enjoys a "cold" season, when temperatures drop into the teens.
With changes in humidity and sometimes strong winds coming from the river, nights can feel chilly in Hanoi in the months between November to February. This is usually the best time to visit Vietnam in general, as the weather is dry and pleasant, ideal for long walks around Hoan Kiem Lake and the narrow alleyways of Old Town Quarter.
If you'd rather experience warmer days, March, April, and October are good options as well. You'll get plenty of sunshine, temperatures in the high 20s, and a more bearable level of humidity - you'll also see higher prices, as these are popular months to visit Hanoi.
Strong rainstorms and sometimes flooding hit Hanoi in August and September - but rains start as early as May and sometimes run into early October. These are the months to avoid, as heavy downpours make it difficult to spend lots of time outside.
In addition, June, July, and August are considered Hanoi's summer months. This means temperatures that often climb into the 40s and lots of mosquitoes. The rains only make it worse, as they raise the humidity level and make the air heavy and outdoor activities difficult. As a general rule, if you're going to visit Hanoi, visit at any time except these three months.