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A lot has changed for Hanoi since it was besieged during the Vietnam War. Its residents are now keen to embrace modern life. Everyone in Hanoi seems to ride a scooter: elderly fishermen transport their catch in buckets wedged between their legs while the younger generations weave unpredictably around them. Art galleries, and fashionable cafés and restaurants serving innovative Vietnamese cuisine have popped up alongside the street-food stalls and pagodas.

Hanoi has been an important city for the Chinese, French and Vietnamese since 1050, collecting an assortment of architectural styles along the way. The Old Quarter is still partially surrounded by the original city wall, and if you wander its narrow streets you can spot well-preserved Buddhist temples and shrines. The wide boulevards of the French Quarter are lined with villas and mansions, as well as the imposing Hanoi Opera House.

Hanoi is a vibrant, busy city but I always manage to find a pocket of peace and quiet, enjoying a coffee — a drink the locals are obsessed with — in a Parisian-influenced café.

Vietnam specialist Stella

Things to see and do in Hanoi

Enjoy an interactive street-food tour

Vietnamese Street FoodHanoi’s residents don’t settle down for a large lunch, preferring to graze on snacks throughout the day. On a tour with a street-food aficionado, and experienced guide, you can discover some of the city’s best culinary spots. Starting at Thanh Ha Market, you’re introduced to ingredients that have been transported from across the Mekong Delta. Try the delicate stamens of the banana flower, often used in salads or sweet custard apple, which looks like a small artichoke.

Dong Xuan Market in the Old Quarter is crammed with stalls serving bun dau — hunks of tofu served in a hot noodle soup. Banh xeo — crispy fried shrimp pancakes — make a moreish accompaniment. Your tour will finish in the Cafe Giang, a coffee house that has been running since 1946. Its signature creation is egg coffee, which was conceived during the war when eggs replaced heavily rationed milk.

Rise early to see Hanoi coming to life

Emerge from your hotel early and you’ll catch the city at its most active. The local produce markets frantically trade fresh fruit and vegetables, which will be whisked off to restaurants and cafés across the city. The parks are full of local people participating in mass exercise classes, from the slow moves of t'ai chi to circuit training.

At 6am each morning a parade of smartly dressed soldiers from the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Guard High Command makes its way to Ba Dinh Square. In front of the huge marble monument of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, a solemn flag-raising ceremony is performed. At the end of the ritual, you’re well-timed to join the queue to enter the mausoleum. Inside lies the leader’s embalmed body in a glass casket, which draws hundreds of visitors each day.

Tour the Hotel Metropole’s in-house bomb shelter

The Hotel Metropole (now the Sofitel Legend Metropole) was built in Hanoi’s French Quarter in 1901. It quickly became a draw for celebrities and diplomats — Charlie Chaplin honeymooned here, to name but one. Its white façade has gained a few more coats of paint since, but it’s now the longest running hotel in the city. Builders working on a new bar recently unearthed a 1960s bomb shelter in the hotel, used as a refuge for guests during the Vietnam War.

The shelter has been preserved and, on entering down a flight of stairs next to the pool, you can take a guided tour of the musty, narrow rooms. The only hotel in the city to have a bomb shelter, as well as an anti-aircraft gun on the roof, it hid officials and diplomats from the bombing.

Enjoy a beer in the old quarter

Across Hanoi you’ll see signs for ‘fresh beer’, or ‘bia hoi’. A foamy, low alcohol draft beer, it’s freshly brewed and delivered to each bar, restaurant and doorstep-stall daily. Visitors and locals converge at Bia Hoi Corner in the Old Quarter throughout the day to settle into low-slung plastic chairs at the open-walled bars.

The beer tends to be poured into plastic glasses straight from the barrel, served with an accompaniment of sticky barbecued chicken and fried rice. It’s worth trying the following day’s beer too, as each new brew is distinct.

Visit the Temple of Literature

Temple of LiteratureEmperor Ly Thanh Tong built the Temple of Literature in 1070, dedicating it to Confucius. It became a haven for learning, attracting scholars to Vietnam’s first university within the grounds. Confucianism, literature and poetry were taught to the noble and elite until, in 1442, students were selected for their intelligence rather than lineage. In a city ravaged by war and natural disasters, the temple is a rare survivor of the Ly king’s original city.

Entering through the gray two-tiered Van Mieu Gate, you’ve seemingly journeyed further east. The temple complex was modeled on Confucius’s birthplace in Qufu, China. Five courtyards are set around manicured gardens, separated by wizened trees and gilded pavilions.

Scholars were encouraged to view their reflection, and thus clear their soul and mind, in the Well of Heavenly Clarity, which still sits in the third courtyard.

Best time to visit Hanoi

November to April tends to be Hanoi’s dry season, with clear skies, comfortable temperatures and minimal humidity. May through to October is classified as the wet season, although, being inland, Hanoi doesn’t normally get hit by the heavy monsoon showers that can affect the coast.


Festivals, events and seasonal reasons to visit

  • On September 2nd, Vietnam commemorates two key anniversaries: the declaration of independence from France in 1945 and the death of Ho Chi Minh. Hanoi’s residents head to Ba Dinh Square to celebrate with a fireworks display and parade, and music in the streets.
  • Vietnamese New Year, known as Tet, usually falls toward the end of January or the beginning of February. In the lead up, people spend a few days cleaning their homes and decorating them with foliage. Hanoi’s buildings will be decked in banners of red and yellow, considered to bring good fortune.
  • The Mid-Autumn Festival occurs in late August or September each year. A time to celebrate the harvest and worship the earth gods, it has evolved into a festival focused on children, who enjoy lion-dance parades and carry lanterns through the streets.

Speak to someone
who's been there
Audley Travel specialist Natasha

Start planning your tailor-made trip to Hanoi by contacting one of our Vietnam specialists

Suggested itineraries featuring Hanoi

Our itineraries will give you suggestions for what is possible when you travel in Hanoi, and they showcase routes we know work particularly well. Treat them as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.

Map of Hanoi

Places & hotels on the map

    Places near Hanoi

    Accommodation choices for Hanoi

    We've selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit Hanoi. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.

    Ideas for experiencing Hanoi

    Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting Hanoi, and which use the best local guides.

    • Hanoi City Tour
      West Lake, Hanoi

      Hanoi City Tour

      Hanoi City Tour

      The tour is flexible and you choose any other sites that you may wish to visit by discussing the options with your guide. Attractions include the Fine Arts Museum, the Old Quarter and the Army Museum as well as the vast West Lake.

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    • Hanoi street food tour
       Street food tour, Hanoi

      Hanoi street food tour

      Hanoi street food tour

      Set off on a street food tour of Hanoi's best culinary spots with a food blogger.

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    • Vietnamese Water Puppet Show
      Hanoi, Vietnam

      Vietnamese Water Puppet Show

      Vietnamese Water Puppet Show

      Experience this unique Vietnamese cultural show where hidden puppeteers depict rural scenes with animated and delightful wooden puppets which, in the darkened auditorium, seem to literally walk on water.

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    • Educational Talks
      Learning about traditional music in Hanoi

      Educational Talks

      Educational Talks

      We are pleased to be able to offer clients the opportunity during their stay in Hanoi to enjoy a short talk on one of a number of subjects relating to Vietnam, its history and its culture.

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    • Museum of Ethnology
      Conical hat making, Vietnam

      Museum of Ethnology

      Museum of Ethnology

      The Museum of Ethnology is a fascinating insight into the cultural diversity of Vietnam. It is a newly built, hands-on museum with displays of art and everyday objects from various tribes.

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