Places to see in Hanoi, Vietnam

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Sights around Hanoi city (Vietnam)
Sights around Hanoi city (Vietnam)

From as early as the 11th century, Hanoi has been the political center stage of Vietnam. The city, located on the western bank of the Red River, was only briefly overtaken by the imperial capital at Hue (central Vietnam) during the Nguyễn Dynasty (1802–1945). Consequently, Hanoi is home to a diverse populace with rich centuries-old cultures and architecture styles.

With Vietnam’s adoption of the “open-door” policy in the mid-1980s, Hanoi has undergone much transformation in both culture and ambiance. It is in this transformative backdrop, that foreign visitors start to cast their sights on this exotic and bustling city.

In this travel blog, we’ll help you to understand more about Hanoi and what are the places to see in your next visit!

 

Places to see in Hanoi, Vietnam

 

Hanoi Old Quarter (Vietnam)
Hanoi Old Quarter (Vietnam)

#1: Old Quarter

Ask any tourist visiting Hanoi what is the city’s most interesting area, and the likely reply would be the Old Quarter. With a history stretching as far back as the 13th century, Hanoi’s Old Quarter commonly refers to the central district sandwiched by Hoan Kiem Lake in the south and Long Bien Bridge (Cầu Long Biên) in the north.

The Old Quarter is Hanoi’s core business district and its biggest tourist attraction. Here, you will not find brightly lit wide avenues flanked with towering modern skyscrapers. Instead, it is filled with antiquated narrow streets lined with old-school shop-houses, which often have their merchandises/activities spilling onto the constricted pavements. Roads in the Old Quarter are often packed with a frenzied mix of cars, motorcycles, bicycles and the ever-present camera-toting tourist.

Unsurprisingly, most of the shop-houses host tourism-related establishments, e.g. hotels, hostels, restaurants, bars, retail shops, art galleries, spa/massages parlors and travel agents. Increasingly, with the influx of western tourist, one could find chic coffee joints/cafes, stylish indie stores and quaint boutique hotels. It is no coincidence that most visitors to Hanoi choose to stay in/near the Old Quarter.

If you’re trying to sense the pulse of this rustic yet energetic city, the Old Quarter is without doubt the best place to be.

 

Old Quarter Night Market (Hanoi, Vietnam)
Old Quarter Night Market (Hanoi, Vietnam)

#2: Hanoi Night Market

A subset within the Old Quarter, Hanoi’s popular Night Market refers to a makeshift open-air shopping street that springs up every Friday/Saturday/Sunday after 7pm (open till late). The main Night Market street stretches from the front of Dong Xuan Market down to the northern edge of Hoan Kiem Lake.

During its operation, authorities will cordon off the roads involved to create a vehicle-free
pedestrian shopping street with a row of makeshift stalls running down the middle. Commodities on sale are predictably geared towards the interest of tourists, e.g. arts/crafts, food items, souvenir, clothes, footwear, bags etc.

Get ready to soak in the festive atmosphere, shop to your heart’s content and be lost in the lively crowds!

 

Hanoi's Dong Xuan Market (Vietnam)
Hanoi’s Dong Xuan Market (Vietnam)

#3: Dong Xuan Market (Chợ Đồng Xuân)

Also located within the Old Quarter, Dong Xuan Market is an easy 10-15 minutes’ walk north of Hoan Kiem Lake. Completed in 1889, the low-rise Dong Xuan Market is famous for being the largest indoor wholesale market in Hanoi and surely one of the larger ones in the country.

The energetic market deals with a wide range of goods, including clothing/accessories, footwear, local produce, foodstuff, household item, arts/crafts, souvenir and electronics. Despite the insane myriad of goods, Dong Xuan Market is well organized into different sections, each dealing with a specific commodity. Other than wholesale, the shops do engage in individual retailing.

Given its variety and pricing, many tourists come here for their retail therapy. Even if one is not into shopping, Dong Xuan Market is a good place to learn about the local culture and engage in street and architecture photography.

 

The Huc Bridge, Hoàn Kiếm Lake (Hanoi, Vietnam)
The Huc Bridge, Hoàn Kiếm Lake (Hanoi, Vietnam)

#4: Hoan Kiem Lake (Hoàn Kiếm Lake)

On the southern edge of the Old Quarter is Hoan Kiem Lake, which means “Lake of the Returned Sword” in Vietnamese. Together with the Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem Lake as long been the focal point of the city. This is especially so for the numerous locals whom enjoy strolling along the shore. Hoan Kiem Lake is also famous for being home to a number of large soft-shell turtles.

In the southern part of the lake, a tiny islet houses The Turtle Tower (Thap Rùa). While on the northern end, a larger island houses Ngoc Son Temple (Đền Ngọc Sơn or Temple of the Jade Mountain). A striking red bridge, The Huc Bridge (Cầu Thê Húc or Morning Sunlight Bridge), links the temple to the shore.

For the interesting story of how the lake and the Turtle Tower came to be named as such, click here.

 

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (Hanoi, Vietnam)
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (Hanoi, Vietnam)

#5: Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (Lăng Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh)

The late Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969) was the most popular and iconic leader of Vietnam during his time, and arguably still is even till today. Work on his mausoleum, which was influenced by Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow, started in 1973 and was officially completed on 1975. Since then, Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body has been kept in the mausoleum’s central hall. The mausoleum is situated in the middle of Ba Dinh Square, where the momentous Declaration of Independence was read by Ho Chi Minh himself in 1945.

Change of guards ceremony at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (Vietnam)
Change of guards ceremony at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (Vietnam)

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is open on most mornings (except Mondays and Fridays) for the public to pay respect. However, his body will be sent to Russia for maintenance every year between September and November. As such, do check with your hotel on the opening hours/dates before visiting. Note that strict rules regarding dress code and behavior are enforced for all visitors to the mausoleum.

Tip: An interesting sight at the mausoleum is the guard changing ceremony, which lasted only 5-10 minutes. During our visit in Mar-2017, we observed the ceremony twice, at 12pm and 1pm. However, online searches for the schedule of the ceremony didn’t turn up any results. Thus, the best bet would be to check with your hotel when in town.

 

Ho Chi Minh Museum (Vietnam)
Ho Chi Minh Museum (Vietnam)

#6: Ho Chi Minh Museum (Bảo tàng Hồ Chí Minh)

Adjacent to the mausoleum is Ho Chi Minh Museum, which predictably by its name, is dedicated to recording and presenting Ho Chi Minh’s life and his gallant efforts in leading Vietnam in her path to independence.

Ho Chi Minh Museum was officially opened on 19-May-1990, as part of a wider ceremony marking the 100th birthday of the late leader.

Website and opening hours

 

One Pillar Pagoda (Hanoi, Vietnam)
One Pillar Pagoda (Hanoi, Vietnam)

#7: One Pillar Pagoda (Chùa Một Cột)

Nested between Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum, is the famous One Pillar Pagoda. It was built in 1049 by Emperor Lý Thái Tông and is considered one of Vietnam’s most iconic temple.

The One Pillar Pagoda is a small Buddhist temple built of wood, standing on a single stone pillar (hence its name) which is raised in the middle of a pond. It was designed to resemble a lotus blossom in a pond, which represents purity in Buddhism.

The pagoda was destroyed (and subsequently rebuilt) a few times over the centuries, the last being in 1954 by withdrawing French forces.

 

Ho Chi Minh Presidential Palace (Hanoi, Vietnam)
Ho Chi Minh Presidential Palace (Hanoi, Vietnam)

#8: Presidential Palace (Văn phòng Chủ tịch nước)

The Presidential Palace in Hanoi was completed in 1906 to house the then French Governor-General of Indochina. The palace architecture is based upon European styles as it was designed by a French architect.

Interestingly, Ho Chi Minh refused to live in the palace when Vietnam gained its independence in 1954. Instead, he stayed in a traditional stilt house (present till date) on the grounds and used the palace to host foreign dignitaries.

Nowadays, the Vietnamese government still utilizes the palace for important events and visits. As such, the palace building is permanently closed to public while the grounds are open.

Operating hours and price

 

Transport from Noi Bai Airport to Hanoi City (Bus 86)

(accurate as of Mar-2017)

For those whom are worried about being ripped off by errant taxi drivers or other transport providers, Bus 86 is a simple, safe and cheap way of getting to downtown Hanoi.

The bus stop can be found along the bus boarding area between the international and domestic terminals of Noi Bai Airport. Simply look for an orange colored signpost (the bus itself is painted orange).

Being a relatively new service (as at time of writing), the buses are new and clean. Frequency is good (~20-30 minutes). The journey is approximately 1 hour and cost 30,000VND/pax. Payment (cash) is via a bus conductor onboard. Change are given if one does not have the exact amount. There are no additional charges for luggage.

  • BUS 86 Route Map (with stops): Click here
  • BUS 86 Facebook page (with bus pictures, timetable etc): Click here
  • For a more detailed write-up on Bus 86, refer to this blog
Transport from Noi Bai Airport to Hanoi City (Bus 86)
Transport from Noi Bai Airport to Hanoi City (Bus 86)

 

Getting around within Hanoi city

For tourist, Hanoi is a compact city that is easy to explore on foot. Many of the notable tourist attractions are close to one another within the city centre. Alternatively, there are plenty of cyclo on the streets for hire.

 

Map view of the Hanoi attractions

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Places to see in Hanoi, Vietnam (map view)

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#1: Old Quarter (Hanoi, Vietnam): 21.033733, 105.850922
#2: Hanoi Night Market: 21.033327, 105.851061
#3: Dong Xuan Market (Chợ Đồng Xuân): 21.038855, 105.850632
#4: Hoan Kiem Lake (Hoàn Kiếm Lake): 21.028991, 105.852263
#5: Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (Lăng Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh): 21.036832, 105.834646
#6: Ho Chi Minh Museum (Bảo tàng Hồ Chí Minh): 21.035310, 105.832822
#7: One Pillar Pagoda (Chùa Một Cột): 21.035896, 105.833622
#8: Presidential Palace (Văn phòng Chủ tịch nước): 21.039276, 105.834593
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#1: Old Quarter (Hanoi, Vietnam)
#1: Old Quarter (Hanoi, Vietnam)
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#2: Hanoi Night Market
#2: Hanoi Night Market
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#3: Dong Xuan Market (Chợ Đồng Xuân)
#3: Dong Xuan Market (Chợ Đồng Xuân)
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#4: Hoan Kiem Lake (Hoàn Kiếm Lake)
#4: Hoan Kiem Lake (Hoàn Kiếm Lake)
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#5: Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (Lăng Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh)
#5: Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (Lăng Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh)
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#6: Ho Chi Minh Museum (Bảo tàng Hồ Chí Minh)
#6: Ho Chi Minh Museum (Bảo tàng Hồ Chí Minh)
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#7: One Pillar Pagoda (Chùa Một Cột)
#7: One Pillar Pagoda (Chùa Một Cột)
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#8: Presidential Palace (Văn phòng Chủ tịch nước)
#8: Presidential Palace (Văn phòng Chủ tịch nước)

 

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