Beginning your Vietnam adventure in a Hanoi is the best decision. It’s possible to spend weeks in the capital city exploring the side alleys and offshoots, finding all the hidden local spots, and befriending the other expats that have made Hanoi into their temporary home.
Of course, there are many things Hanoi is famous for that should also be experienced by someone visiting the city for the first time. What makes Hanoi such an exceptional starting point for traveling the country is its proximity to many other must-see attractions.
Below, we’ll guide you through some of the coolest, craziest, can’t-miss attractions in and around Hanoi!
Hanoi in all its glory….
Arriving in Hanoi can be overwhelming. Finding a cool hostel or guest house that hosts lots of activities makes discovering Hanoi a whole lot easier. Search for accommodation in the Hoàn Kiếm district for a high concentration of popular hostels with lively atmosphere.
*Many of these backpacker-friendly guest houses hook their guests up with access to a free city walking tour. Taking one is strongly recommended! This is the best way to discover a few hidden spots, learn a little something about the country from your local guide, and get your bearings in Hanoi.
Must-see attractions in Hanoi…
After your city tour, be sure to check these attractions off your list:
Hoan Kiem Lake
This is like Hanoi’s equivalent to New York City’s Central Park. Popular with both locals and tourists during all hours of the day and evening, this oasis serves as an escape from the otherwise frantic pace of the city. The Ngoc Son Temple sits on a small island in the middle of the lake, connected to the land by a brightly-painted bridge. This is a great place to come to relax and people watch.
See a water puppet show
The best place to experience this one-of-a-kind Vietnamese art form is at Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. Located on the iconic Hoàn Kiếm Lake, this theater has the best reputation in town. The stage is water and the puppets glide across the surface, telling ancient legends, folklore and stories of the rice harvest. A (loud) orchestra accompanies the puppets as they put on their show.
Have a snake dinner
Yes, you read that right. In Hanoi, it’s possible to go to a snake restaurant. Here you’ll be introduced to your snake and watch it killed in front of you. The wildest part is you’ll also have the opportunity to eat the heart right out of the snake after it’s been cut! Afterwards, a multiple course meal is prepared entirely from the snake – including snake ribs. What’s on the drink menu? Snake blood, bile, or a mixture of the two. Of course, this activity is not for everyone, but it’s certainly a crazy way to spend an evening in the city.
Wander around the Old Quarter
This area is fascinating and fun. Wander around and admire the colonial architecture, observe the organized chaos of the traffic, and browse the numerous fruit and vegetable street markets and small shops. This is also the best place to enjoy cheap eats, like the famous Vietnamese Pho or Bánh Bao, a soft white bun with savory filling.
Drink a $.25 beer
While you wander, you’ll likely stumble across several makeshift corner bars. These bars pop up on corners all around Hanoi and consist mainly of a keg of Bia Hoi and plastic tables and chairs. Take a load off with the locals and grab a plastic cup of the cheapest beer you’ll ever pay for.
While Hanoi is a super fun and exciting city, there’s also so much else to do nearby. Check out our picks for the two trips that are an absolute must:
This enchanting World Heritage seascape is definitely one of Vietnam’s most breathtaking sights. Halong Bay’s emerald-green water dotted with 1,600 limestone karsts and topped with vivid greenery is like a page straight out of a fairy tale. It’s a truly unbelievable sight – rain, shine, or fog – Halong Bay must be explored.
How to see it:
Halong Bay is about 3.5 hours from Hanoi, however it is possible to squeeze the whole experience into a day trip. The best way to see Halong Bay is, of course, by boat. There are plenty of options for boat tours, ranging from budget to super-luxury. Some boats may offer overnight packages. Mid-range to high-end cruises typically offer sea kayaking as part of the deal.
Way up in the northern corner of Vietnam, over 300 kilometers from Hanoi, travelers find a welcome relief from the frenzied city’s heat and grime. Sa Pa, nestled deep in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range, is the trekking mecca of Vietnam. Sa Pa’s famous landscape of bright-green rice paddies rising and falling between the mountains and valleys carry on as far as the eye can see. The lush vegetation of the region’s countryside emanates the kind of peaceful serenity that accompanies the simple lives still led among the village tribes that call Sa Pa home. Trekking through the area and spending the night in a homestay is the best way to discover this captivating area.
How to see it:
Most people take the night train from Hanoi to Lao Cai Railway Station. The journey is about 8 hours and most have sleep beds in each car. You can also take an overnight bus or express bus (day time) from Hanoi.
From the hectic city life of Hanoi, to the mysterious waters of Halong Bay, to the tranquility of Sa Pa; no trip to Vietnam could be considered complete without experiencing them all.