Things to do in Hanoi

Despite its political and historical importance, and the incessant noise drummed up by a population of over six million, Hanoi exudes a more intimate, urbane appeal than Ho Chi Minh City.

Hoan Kiem Lake, Lake of the Restored Sword
Located right in the heart of the city, Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Restored Sword) is surrounded by the streets of Dinh Tien Hoang, Le Thai To, Hang Khay.
Every weekend, from Friday evening to Sunday evening, the streets around the lake are closed to motor traffic and pedestrians of all ages flock to the lake to take a stroll, jump rope, visit with friends, or learn to rollerblade.
Hoan Kiem Lake is a place of meeting, exercise, and general life-living for both visitors and locals alike. If you get there early, you’ll likely see older Hanoians out, in their silk pajamas, for their morning walk.

Ngoc Son Temple
It was built on Ngoc Islet of Hoan Kiem Lake in the 19th century and is dedicated to General Tran Hung Dao, who defeated the Mongols in the 13th century, La To, the patron saint of physicians, and the scholar Van Xuong.
Renovations were carried out in 1864 by Nguyen Van Sieu, a famous Hanoian Author, to build Thap But (Pen Tower). On the top of the tower are three Chinese characters: Ta Thanh Thien which translates to, write in the blue sky and means, always be truthful. Just past the first gates, the 10 meters tall Thap But stands on a small mountain known as Dai Nghien, or Writing Pad.
Before entering the temple, visitors cross the red The Huc Bridge (Morning Sunlight Bridge) to reach Dac Nguyet Lau (Moon Gazing Pavilion). Dac Nguyet Lau is a small room adorned with Taoist symbols and serves at the true entrance to the temple.

Tran Quoc Pagoda
Located on the West Lake, travelers can visit Tran Quoc Pagoda. West Lake (Tay Ho) is the largest lake in Hanoi covering an area of 500ha. This lake was once part of the bed of Red River.
Tran Quoc Pagoda is home to an impressive statue of Buddha in Nirvana, an undisputed masterpiece of Vietnamese sculpture. Within the walls of the pagoda, there is a lush sacred fig tree (Bo De). In April 1962, Tran Quoc Pagoda was recognized as historical and cultural heritage and is well worth a visit.

Quan Thanh Temple
Also located on the edge of West Lake is Quan Thanh Temple. Legend states that the temple was built during the reign of King Ly Thai To (1010-1028) to honor Tran Vu, the Deity of the North in Taoism. After nearly a millennium, the historical and cultural value of Quan Thanh Temple remains intact with residents of Hanoi.

One Pillar Pagoda
One Pillar Pagoda is located in the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex. This pagoda was originally built in 1049 by King Ly Thai Tong. A quick bit of history, according to legend, King Ly Thai Tong, already old and with no heir, frequented pagodas (as you do). One night, he saw in a dream the goddess Quan Am (Buddha of Mercy), sitting on a lotus in the middle of a lake and proceeded to hand him an infant. Later, the Queen gave birth to a boy (of course). So, the King built One Pillar Pagoda to thank the goddess. The pagoda was reconstructed after it was destroyed by French forces, in 1954, before their withdrawal from Vietnam.

Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
Located in northwestern Hanoi, Cau Giay district, the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology was officially approved on December 14, 1987. Construction lasted from 1987 to 1995, and it was opened to the public on November 12, 1997. The museum is the result of French-Vietnamese cooperation.
As the name suggests, it is dedicated to the study of Vietnamese people. This thorough museum explores the daily life, religious customs, and history of Vietnam’s 54 officially recognized ethnic groups. Traditional costumes, musical instruments, jewelry, weapons, and even reconstructed traditional homes, all illustrate habits and customs of Vietnam’s ethnic minorities.
Written explanations are available in Vietnamese, English, and French.

Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts
Created in 1966, Museum of Fine Arts is just opposite the Temple of Literature. It is divided into five sections: prehistoric art, Vietnamese Art from the 11th to 19th centuries, Vietnamese Art in the 20th century, collections of folk arts, Vietnamese Ceramic Art.
Wooden Buddha and monk statues, influenced by Chinese paintings and sculptures during the 12th and 13th centuries, paintings on silk and lacquer, charcoal drawings and woodcuts, scenes of peasant life and pottery offer visitors a panoramic view of the features of Vietnamese art evolution.

Ho Chi Minh Museum
Located near the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, the museum of the same name was opened in 1990 on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the late President’s birth.
Visiting this museum is a must for anyone looking to learn about the life and revolutionary activities Vietnam’s beloved first president. The presentations on the life of Uncle Ho, his fondly used nickname, provide political and social context and illustrate how Ho Chi Minh came to lead the Vietnamese people to freedom.

Vietnam Museum of Revolution
Created in 1959, the Vietnam Museum of Revolution is mainly devoted to the War of Resistance against French colonialism and the Vietnam War. With 29 exhibition halls and thousands of objects and documents, the museum illustrates how and why a small country could resist and defeat two world superpowers.
Some of the other topics explored are: the history of French anti-colonial movement, Ho Chi Minh’s entrance into politics, stories of the struggles of the Vietnamese, the creation of the Communist Party in 1930 and the creation of the Viet Minh, American bombing in the North, the victory of 1975 and the reunification of the country.
For those who are especially interested in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the last battle of the first Indochina War, a visit to the Vietnam Museum of Revolution can be complemented with a visit to the Vietnam Military History Museum.

National Museum of Vietnamese History
Housed in the beautiful old building of the French School of the Far East, the National Museum of Vietnamese History was created in 1958 and has an exposition area of 2,000m2. It is divided into four main sections: prehistory, the foundation of the country to Tran dynasty (1225-1400), the Ho dynasty (1400-1407), the Nguyen dynasty (1792-1945) and Champa Culture.
With nearly 7,000 objects (drum, bronzes, weapons and pottery, funerary stelae, terracotta relics, household objects, carved stone, Cham sculptures, remains of temples, etc.) and extensive documentation, the museum traces the entire development process of the country, a process marked by numerous wars of resistance throughout the centuries.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral
St. Joseph’s Cathedral was built by the French in the late 19th century in the Gothic Revival architectural style. The cathedral loosely resembles Paris’ own Notre Dame Cathedral and is Hanoi’s oldest church. Mass is still held here several times a week and the impressive exterior of the cathedral is a popular backdrop for wedding photos.

Temple of Literature
Van Mieu-Quoc Tu Giam (Temple of Literature) was constructed in 1070 to worship Confucius and served as Vietnam’s first university. Housed here are 82 stone steles perched on stone tortoises that honor the 1307 Vietnamese scholars that passed prestigious royal exams between 1442 and 1779. The complex today has been well restored and consists of a series of peaceful courtyards, pavilions, and halls that offer visitors a rare example of traditional Vietnamese architecture.
With its beautiful buildings and the shade of hundred-year-old trees, the Temple of Literature is a popular destination for young scholars to take photos in their graduation garb, for parents to pray for the academic success of their children and for visitors of all nationalities to explore.

The Old Quarter
Hanoi’s Old Quarter is an area of 36 bustling streets, narrow alleyways, that is the historic heart of the city.
Traditionally, the Old Quarter was an economic hub and its streets were named after the type of good that was made or sold on that street. Though the streets retain their historical names, there are very few that still provide their specialized goods or service. But there are a few that do, so be on the look out!
Today, the Old Quarter is still a booming commercial area with shops of all kinds including hotels, restaurants, and cafes. Some businesses, such as craft silk shops and jewelry makers, have experienced a boom, as demand for high-quality handicrafts has increased. Popular with locals and visitors alike, it can be easily explored on foot or by cyclo and offers a glimpse at daily life.
The Old Quater was classified as a National Historic Site by the Ministry of Culture and Information of Vietnam on 5 April 2004.

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