Hanoi was our first introduction to Vietnam, its people, culture, and cuisine. Although we had to get used to the number of scooters and the way to cross a street we loved the food and the attitude of the people.
Central in Northern Vietnam, Hanoi is a great start if you want to explore this part of Vietnam. A lot of people head to Ha Long Bai from Hanoi, but the connection to Ho Chi Minh City is good as well. Walk around the Old Quarters and admire all the stalls with similar merchandise or simply take some time to learn about the history and the food by joining a food tour.
We’ve collected our favorite things to do in Hanoi to help you plan your trip. Be prepared to walk a lot, it’s the best way to get around.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Walking through Hanoi to visit the highlights in the city you can’t get around Hoan Kiem Lake. There are always people hanging out and enjoying the views. In the middle of the lake, you’ll find Ngoc Son Pagoda which you could visit as well.
The lake covers an area of approximately 12 hectares and is surrounded by a walking path, shaded trees, and benches. The path around the lake is a popular place for locals and tourists to take a leisurely walk or do some exercise.
To get to the Ngoc Son Pagoda you have to find the red wooden bridge called The Huc Bridge at the edge of the French Quarter.
Dong Xuan Market
We love local markets where you can get lost and Dong Xuan Market is just that. It is one of the oldest and busiest markets in the city and is named after the Dong Xuan district, which is where it is located. This district is part of the Old Quarter in Hanoi.
Dong Xuan Market was established in 1889 during the French colonial period. It is a four-story building that houses a wide variety of shops and stalls selling everything from clothing and electronics to food and souvenirs.
The word on the street is this is where you will find the best street food in Hanoi, so don’t forget to try it. If you’re looking for souvenirs, don’t forget to bargain to get the best price. But most of all, just enjoy the experience!
Learn to cross the road
Travel in Vietnam is unlike any other country in the world. The amount of scooters is crazy and although they have traffic lights and pedestrian crossing the traffic never stops. There is a system to the madness though, you just need to take some time to understand the local rules.
We’ve learned to watch traffic and start walking as soon as there is an opening. Don’t start running, just walk at a regular pace. The scooters will find their way around you. A bit scary at first, but it works every single time.
Take your time and if you don’t know what to do follow local pedestrians or find someone who will help you cross the street. People are very friendly and don’t mind helping you.
In Hanoi, you will find a lot of small restaurants that serve all kinds of local food. A good way to learn more about the food and where to eat is by joining a food tour. We went with Friends Travel Vietnam and had the best night ever.
Not only did we get to try all sorts of local delicacies but we learned a lot about the Vietnamese culture as well. On foot we explored small alleys and unique buildings and our guide told us about the way of life. The buildings are so small for example because people had to pay taxed based on the size of the building.
During the food tour we got to try Bánh xèo (springroll), Bánh cuốn (pancake), Pho (soup), Bánh mì (sandwich), and Egg Coffee. It was a great way to try something new and know where to go to get the best version of that dish.
Explore the Old Quarter
Walking through the Old Quarters is a lot of fun because every street has its specialty. It’s called the 36 streets of Hanoi and it’s a lot of fun to see a street filled with bamboo and turn a corner to find only silk items.
The Old Quarter covers an area of approximately 100 hectares and is known for its narrow streets, ancient architecture, and vibrant street life. The Old Quarter was founded over 1,000 years ago during the Ly Dynasty (1010-1225), and it has been the commercial hub of Hanoi ever since.
There are a lot of restaurants and bar in the Old Quarter but the most fun is to find one with a rooftop terrace or a balcony so you can watch the busyness down below. If you are looking for anything specific, this part of Hanoi is your best bet.
Ha Long Bay
Halong Bay is a beautiful natural wonder located in the Gulf of Tonkin, about 170 kilometers east of Hanoi, Vietnam. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is known for its thousands of limestone islands and islets, towering rock formations, and clear turquoise waters.
If you want to travel onward to Ha Long Bay Hanoi is a great start. You could hop on a bus, train, or private car. But you could book a tour from Hanoi as well, so you don’t have to worry about anything. It all depends on what you are looking for.
What are your favorite things to do in Hanoi?
We loved a peak into the history of Hanoi and Vietnam and the food surprised us a lot. We hope these free and fun things to do in Hanoi give you an idea of what the city has to offer. Stay at least 3-4 days to get a good understanding of the layout and the local food.
Please share your favorite fun and free things to do in Hanoi in the comments below and let us know what we need to visit next time we’re in Hanoi. Let’s enjoy as many fun and free things as we can so we can travel long-term and budget-friendly!
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