It’s not really fair to write up a list of the top 10 things to do in Hanoi. A city with over a thousand years of fascinating history to explore, endless cultural sites and a vibrant arts scene, Hanoi has far more than 10 ways to spend a day. Said to draw in over 2 million visitors per year from all over Asia and the world, Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and the country’s second largest city. It would have been easier for me to write a top 100 things to do in Hanoi but, for your pleasure, I have whittled down my list and taken my pick of the top 10.
Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum
The final resting place for the revered Ho Chi Minh, or ‘Uncle Ho’ as he was commonly called, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is located on Ba Dinh square, next to the Presidential Palace. Opened in August 1975, the mausoleum houses Ho Chi Minh’s preserved body and allows visitors to pay their respects each morning.
This one is cheating a little as Hanoi’s Old Quarter is huge and has many attractions within it but if you’re looking for a good way to spend a day you can’t go wrong with a wander around the Old Quarter. Near Hoam Kiem Lake, the Quarter is shaped more like a triangle than a square and sells every souvenir you can imagine as well as some authentic artworks and delicious street food.
Vietnamese Women’s Museum
The Vietnamese Women’s Museum is a fascinating museum located on Ly Thuong Kiet Street. Dedicated to a theme so often ignored from mainstream historical narrative, this museum is houses collections and creates exhibitions focused solely on women and their historical and contemporary role in Vietnam. The temporary exhibitions are always interesting and well put together and tackle difficult social issues that often affect women such as single parenthood and prostitution.
Temple of Literature and National University
You can’t visit Hanoi without stopping by the stunning Temple of Literature. Built over 1000 years ago, this temple is a monument to literature and the site of Vietnam’s oldest university, the ‘Quoc Tu Giam’ or ‘Temple of the King Who Distinguished Literature’.
Lake of the Restored Sword
One of the most beautiful sights in Hanoi, ‘Hoan Kiem Lake’ or the ‘Lake of the Restored Sword’ is a picturesque oasis away from the city centre that is popular amongst locals. The lake has its own temple that is connected to the lakeside via an iconic red-painted bridge. The interesting name of the lake comes from Hanoi’s own foundational legend concerning an Emperor who drove the Chinese from Vietnam using a sword given to him by a magic turtle at the lakes edge. Why not?
The gorgeous Hanoi Opera House is one of the best examples of Art Nouveau French colonial architecture in Hanoi. Built in 1911, the Opera House is said to be a miniature version of the Paris Opera House and is the beating heart of Hanoi’s high art performance scene.
Ba Vi National Park
Centred around the three peaks of the mountain summits Dinh Vua, Tan Vien and Ngo Hoa, Ba Vi National Park is one of the most exceptional areas of natural beauty in the north of Vietnam. The park features a temple, a bird garden, hot springs and various hiking and trekking trails. Definitely an all-day excursion.
For a fun family day out, you can’t beat a zoo and, luckily, Hanoi has one of the best zoos in Vietnam. Located within Thu Le Park, Hanoi Zoo looks after almost 800 animals and over 90 species. The zoo is committed to improving standards and is currently undergoing a huge conservation and breeding project to help protect Vietnam’s wildlife.
Tran Quoc Pagoda
When travelling in Asia it’s easy to begin feeling a touch of temple-fatigue but the Tran Quoc Pagoda is different as it’s the oldest temple in Vietnam and sits on an island in the West Lake. Built in the tall, many layered Chinese-style, this temple is a must-see and the surrounding areas have bars and restaurants where you can enjoy the stunning view.
Water Puppet Theatre
You may have witnessed puppet theatre performances in other parts of Vietnam, but the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre in Hanoi is one of a kind. With roots dating back to the 11th century, this is the original water puppet theatre and offers an historic visual feast that takes you right back to a time when Kings fought with swords and dragons roamed free.