top things to do in Hanoi

20+ Best Things To-Do in Hanoi That Aren’t Lame

This is our personal ranking of fun things to do in Hanoi that aren’t lame. From biking around West Lake, to DIY food tours, to indulging in arts: we give you tips and map-locations for what to do and where.

Due to COVID-19, some businesses and activities may be permanently closed.

1) DIY Vietnamese Food Tour

Street food in Hanoi: top thing to do in Vietnam
“Cuisine alley” at Tống Duy Tân, Hanoi. Photo credit: Kerry Boettcher

The food in Vietnam is so good that one could travel to Hanoi just to eat! Plus, it is a good excuse to explore the city’s streets and back-alleys.

We prefer a DIY food tour (below), but you should hire a professional food-guide if you’ve never travelled in Asia – such tours can be found on AirBnB or any small tourist shop. Why hire a guide? Because it can be difficult to know how to eat certain Vietnamese foods: e.g. a single “dish” may include multiple components that you must combine in a certain way, such as Bun Cha or Bun Nem (spring-rolls and noodles). Read more about the proper way to eat Bun Nem.

For the more experienced traveller, here is a list of delicious foods to try in Hanoi and where to find them:

  • Bún chả/bún nem, noodles and spring-rolls – Hàng Mành, Hàng Than
  • Phở, specialty slow-cooked broth and noodles – Bát Đàn or Lý Quốc Sư
  • Bánh xèo, a savory crepe with spicy innards – at 125 Đội Cấn
  • Bánh tráng Sài Gòn, a strange, delicious sweet & savory roll as a snack – Hàng Trống
  • Nem chua rán/nướng, grilled skewered pork (and faux-meat fingers for vegans) – at Tạm Thương alley
  • Xôi, delcious sticky rice for breakfast – Nguyễn Hữu Huân
  • BBQ Đồ nướngMã Mây or Gầm Cầu.
  • *Pillow phở, deep-fried flat-noodles that look like little pillows (our favourite dish in Hanoi!)- Ngũ Xã Island

Alternatively, you could just head to the “Cuisine street” (Tống Duy Tân) where there are ~30 street-food vendors in close proximity.

Learn More: For a map and in-depth description of our favourite DIY food-tour of Hanoi, see our dedicated post here.

2) Hanoi’s Museum of Ethnology

If you only visit one Museum, this is the one

Traditional house at Hanoi Museum of Ethnology
Inside an ethnic minorities hut at the Museum of Ethnology. Photo credit William @ VietnamDaily

The subject-matter of Museum of Ethnology is fascinating: Vietnam has more than 50 different ethnic groups, with distinctive, languages, religions, and architectural styles. At the museum, they have approximately 15 life-size, authentically-made traditional houses/communes that you can climb in, walk-around, or just sit and drink tea. They are very well done — you feel like you are visiting an ancient village in the jungle.

To get there, take the bus 38 or 14 from the peripheries of the Old Quarter (example route). Use Google Maps to follow your progress to Nguyễn Văn Huyên street, Cầu Giấy, or tell the bus diver Bảo tàng Dân tộc học (write it down on a piece of paper to give to the driver, so he can yell at you when to get off). It will cost approximately 7k VND for one-way fare.

3) Coffee-Crawl: DIY Tour of Cafes in the Old Quarter

Yogurt coffee, egg coffee, weasel coffee and more

Cong cafe coconut coffee a top thing to do in Hanoi
Opulent coconut coffee at Cong Cafe. Photo by Elliot Andrews on Unsplash

Vietnam is the 2nd largest exporter of coffee. Vietnamese are known for funny, experimental coffees that are delicious, like the infamous “egg coffee” at Coffee Ga. Plus, there are gorgeous boutique cafes with unusual themes to sit, be cozy, and enjoy the scenery.

On this DIY tour, you can spend a morning visiting 5 different cafes. Some have pleasant decors, and some that have strange/delicious dessert coffees. In any case, the walking-tour is a great way to see the Old Quarter on foot.

See our Map and full guide of the best DIY Coffee Tour

  • Cafe Lam (91 Nguyễn Hữu Huân) – The cafe has an eclectic collection of art that local arts used to pay for coffee during the communist “Subsidy Era”. To this day, many Vietnamese artists visit Cafe Lam as an homage and celebration of their craft. Their traditional coffee is great too!
  • Cộng Cà Phê (116 Cầu Gỗ) – Cộng Cà Phê is an ironic franchise that either celebrates or satirizes Vietnamese socialism, with a kitchy 1970’s decor. They have an amazingly decadent coconut-cream coffee The drink is simply a must for anyone visiting Hanoi. Unlike the tiny portions of traditional Vietnamese coffee, Cộng Cà Phê will serve Big Tourist portions.
  • Hanoi Coffee House (47A Lý Quốc Sư) – We love everything about the Hanoi Coffee House. The yogurt coffee is surprisingly awesome (our personal favourite), the interior decor is dark and mysterious that hints of magical medieval times.
  • Ga Coffee (map) – It may sound disgusting, but the famous egg coffee is delicious and beloved by tourists and locals alike. You can enjoy a wondrous roof-top seating with some of the best views of the lake. Part of the thrill of Ga Coffee is the old family house in which it resides. The old ornate furniture, ramparts and shrines are reminiscent of an old Chinese-style heritage, making it one of the most elegant coffee houses.
  • Nola Cafe (89 Phố Mã Mây) – I wish I could live at Nola Cafe. A preserved traditional house, with a labyrinthine interior full of interesting art-works, hidden nooks, and comfortable couches is super-fun to explore. The coffee and food is good too, but this is a place to visit, study, read, let the mind expand.

4) Drink Beers Along Tạ Hiện

Drink beers in Tạ Hiện street in the Old Quarter
Cheap beer and raucous crowds at the every-fun Tạ Hiện street in the Old Quarter. Photo by Frida Aguilar Estrada on Unsplash

Hanoi has many raucous, crowded streets for partying and drinking cheap beer. Some of the most consistently fun are:

5) Temple of Literature

The most popular destination in Hanoi

Temple of Literature in Hanoi is a top destination
A Confucian academia and temple in Hanoi. Photo by Hoang Dinh on Unsplash

Established 1000 years ago as a university for Confucian scholars, the temple and compound have a wealth of well-preserved architecture and historical remnants.

One highlight is the row of turtle-steeles with the engraved names of all graduating scholars throughout the ages. It was personally very inspiring as a student — what is more encouraging for students than to behold the manifestation of 1000 years of scholarship?

Get access here

Across the street, at Gò Kim Châu, is a picturesque lake and seasonal fair for traditional arts and crafts (especially around Mid-Autumn and Tet), such as Chinese calligraphy.

6) Wet Markets & Bazars in Hanoi

Hunt for bargains!

Wet market in Hanoi
Wet Markets are fun and interesting in Vietnam. Photo credit Will @

Part of the charm of Hanoi is hunting for bargains. It is simply fun to shop for fruits and vegetables at the bustling traditional wet-markets. You can also find great discounts on name-brand products for those brands that manufacture in Vietnam.

The vibrant street-markets are hidden throughout Hanoi, so you can just explore the non-touristy areas and will surely happen upon them. Here are some large markets that can be fun just to walk around, explore, grab something to eat, or people watch:

  • Chợ Ngọc Hà in Ngọc Hà/Đội cấn – a normal wet-market with fresh, cheap veggies, grains, home-made tofu, and meat.
  • Đồng Xuân Market – wholesale fashion and ornaments, plus lots of street food.
  • Night Market – at night, the long street of Hàng Đào turns into a pedestrian night market full of stalls for cheap fashion, accessories, and some food.
  • Chợ Trời – small electronics (speakers, phone accessories, etc.)
  • Hom Market – famous for fabrics and fashion accessories for the DIY girl.
Night market in Hanoi is fun, top thing to do
The bustling Night market in Hanoi’s Old Quater is a must-do. Photo by T.H. Chia on Unsplash

Beware scams and rip-offs. Read our guide about How to Haggle in Vietnam before venturing into the NIght Market.

7) Hanoi’s Train Street

Suicidal coffee

Do you like drinking coffee within a foot of death? Then the train street is for you. The store-fronts and cafes face inward towards the train tracks, narrowly wedged between close-built residential buildings.

When a train comes barreling down the tracks, everyone must scurry inside to avoid being hit. Somehow, this blossomed into a popular tourism destination where risk-loving tourists could get selfies on the tracks in front of trains. The trains are somewhat slow, but still very deadly.

The Vietnamese government has attempted to shut down the cafes, only allow them to re-open after community-backlash. When you visit, don’t be surprised if they are open or closed.

Drinks and snacks along the Old Quarters bizarre train-street. Photo by David Emrich on Unsplash

To their credit, the cafes and stores along the tracks are nice-looking, fun, and the scenery is alluring. Plus, there is something undeniable exciting about watching people scurry from the trains — the heart bounds, the mind imagines other fates…

The attraction has its origins in railway workers who built the tracks and establish camps along their route. The temporary residences slowly morphed into permanent housing. Subsequent generations grew-up ducking and dodging the locomotives as if it were a normal part of life. First, other Hanoi residents became intrigued by the community’s fearless living among the trains, and then tourism followed.

8) Bike Around West Lake

15km/2hr trip around the beloved urban lake and abode of expats

West Lake Hanoi bike around for fun
Chill cafes and restaurants are everywhere along the West Lake bike path.

The large, urban lake is surrounded by many interesting communities and sights. A fun way to explore the West Lake communities is to circumnavigate the lake on bike: you can stop at botanical gardens, ghost-ships, awesome street food, funky cafes, public events, watch fishermen, and much more.

The eastern side of the lake hosts a boho community of expats with European ancestry. The west-side of the lake is for young local Vietnamese (Bưởi).

You can rent bikes near 73 P. Trích Sài, Bưởi. The rental-rate is approximately 60k for 3 hours. Expect it to be crowded on the weekends!

9) DIY Tour of Artisanal-Guild Streets

The metal workers and forges of Hanoi, Vietnam
The Hanoi iron workers, present and past

An alternative way to experience Hanoi is to explore its famous Guild streets. These streets used to be small neighbourhoods that were singularly dedicated to a traditional craft, such as wood-working, silk-making, painting, religious iconography, etc. Now, they have been absorbed into the Old Quarter’s matrix of streets.

We have a whole post and map about the guild streets and neighbourhoods of Hanoi: see Self-Guided Tour of Hanoi’s Artisan Guild-Streets [MAP].

If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, or if you are curious to see the real Vietnam according to its economic activity, these guild streets are super fascinating. 

10) Weekend Trips From Hanoi

Cat Ba Island is a top thing to do near Hanoi
Cat Ba Island and its beaches – a quick trip from Hanoi. Photo credit: Will @ VietnamDaily

When comparing Vietnam’s three big cities (Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Danang), the one with the most opportunities for exciting weekend trips is Hanoi. Here are some our favourite weekend trips to do from Hanoi:

  • Cat Ba Island – the small, rural island is a 1/2-day bus-and-ferry trip from Hanoi. It has an ordinary town bustling with seafood, and a few nice beaches near the resorts. It is a popular place for students and young people to party.
  • Ninh Binh – the land renown for the iconic karst landscape. Ninh Binh is a mere 3-4 hour bus ride from Hanoi. It has the verdant, gnarly hills and rivers that are so fondly depicted in traditional watercolour paintings. The town is large, so you should head to nearby Tam Coc or Trang An.
  • Mai Châu – at the start of the mountains that lead into the interior, Mai Chau is a quiet, pleasant, rural area and lovely escape. Rent a bike and explore the rice fields and highlands. The hills are home to a few different ethnic minority people, such as the White Thai.
  • Sapa – if you take the night-bus on a Thursday night, you can stay for the requisite 3-days and enjoy Sapa: huge mountains, rice terraces, and home to the H’mong ethnic minority people.
  • Halong Bay – famous and much-trodden archipelago.

11) Get Your Portrait Painted in the Old Quarter

Get great beautiful paintings in Hanoi, Vietnam
Beautiful “copy” painting from one of the many galleries in the Old Quarter, Hanoi.

The Vietnamese are incredibly talented artists and painters. There are plenty of “copy painters” who’ve honed their talents making splendid duplicates of Van Gogh, Klimt, and others. They also do amazing portraits for ~60-200 USD.

The copy-artists are located all around the Old Quarter, especially along Hàng Bông and Đinh Liệt in the Old Quarter. Shop around and get quotes.

RELATED: Beautiful and eerie paintings of Hanoi – our favourite artists

12) Red-River Hike & Banana Plantations

Access to the path is along the Long Bien bridge: blink and you may miss the small set of stairs/motorcycle-ramp that lead down below the bridge to the farmland and banana plantations along the Red River.

hike along the red-river in hanoi
Access to banana plantation and Red River path on the Long Bien bridge. Photo John Chalmers

While the banana plantations and farmland won’t attract photographers form National Geographic, it is nonetheless a pleasant excurion to escape the city and walk in greenery. Plus, there are lots of unusual things to see: floating communities, chicken farms that double as local taverns, outdoor community gyms, even swimming spots for brave residents (male-only).

There are legends that the floating communities have been inundated with the Vietnamese mafia — this is speculated because the Red River communities operate within an ambiguous legal jurisdiction. Some floating favellas are not officially sanctioned, making residents weary of police and desperate for the protection by mafia-types. Is it true? We don’t know. But, what we do know is that NGOs like Blue Dragon have charitable programs to help the undocumented, favella-residents around the Long Bien bridge.

13) Get a Tailored Suit in Hanoi

High quality suit tailors of Hanoi, Vietnam
There is no reason not to get a custom tailored suit in Hanoi

There are many talented tailors all over Hanoi. The quality of the fabric and tailoring can vary a lot, but on the whole, you can get a very nice 3-piece suit in Hanoi for approximately $200-$500 USD.

Gone are the days of $75 USD suits: the international community has caught-on to the quality of Vietnamese tailors. They now supply big orders for Korean companies, among others, and this has driven up the price.

If you are more adventurous, you can find the best deals in Vân Từ . It is a small town approximately 35km outside of Hanoi, where almost everyone is singularly dedicated to making suits for mass markets, as well as custom tailoring. It is also a fun drive into the country side, surrounded by rivers, duck-farms, rice-fields and local Vietnamese life.

14) St. Joseph’s Cathedral

The 1886 Gothic-Revivalist French Cathedral beloved by locals

St. Joseph's Cathedral in Hanoi is a popular hang-out
St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi is a popular hang-out. Photo credit: Miên Trần

No trip to the Old Quarter would be complete without a trip to the 19th century French cathedral of St. Joseph.

Despite being an officially atheist nation, the Cathedral is a popular hotspot with the locals. On a weekend night, the Cathedral attracts a huge crowd of young Vietnamese hanging-out, snacking, and drinking along the street-pubs that face the Cathedral.

Take a few hours in the evening to walk around Hoam Kiem Lake, enjoying the lights and local festivities, then make your way to the Cathedral. There are lovely establishments surrounding the cathedral to explore: we particular like the Hanoi Coffee house with its amazing yogurt coffee, and the Pasteur Street Brewery.

The Cathedral is absolutely amazing during Christmas, and locals can’t snap enough selfies with its decorations. Learn more about Christians in Vietnam, and Vietnamese religions more generally.

15) The Vietnamese Women’s Museum

Have you ever seen a street-vendor slogging around a pair of over-the-shoulder wicker-baskets and thought “I want to try that!” Well, you can! The Vietnamese Women’s Museum has interactive exhibits that let you play with the tools and burdens of Vietnamese women throughout the ages and from different ethnic groups.

The museum isn’t a petulant rad-fem homage to the SCUM Manifesto, like an equivalent museum would be in the West. Instead, the Woman’s Museum is surprisingly fun for both sexes, young and old, with well-done and unique exhibits covering everything from religion, to work, to rights, to war and more.

One of our favourite exhibits is the collection of traditional clothing and tools from all the different ethnic minorities and tribes in the mountains and highlands of Vietnam (Vietnam has over 50 ethnic groups). Before you travel to Sapa or Ha Giang, you should consider studying these outfits so you can better identify and appreciate the different groups.

The museum is walkable from the Old Quarter’s Hoàn Kiếm Lake: only 2 big blocks south on Lý Thường Kiệt. There are some nice dessert shops and cafes in its vicinity as well.
Address: 36 Lý Thường Kiệt, Hàng Bà Official website:

16) Foot Massage by Fish

Top thing to do in Hanoi: fish massage feet.
Tiny fish bite/massage your feet. Photo credit: Duy Ng.

Imagine a pool full of tiny fish. You put your feet in with the fish, and they preen your feet. Their tiny mouths bite you, but they are so small and harmless that it doesn’t hurt — in fact, it is like a hundred tiny fingers touching you gently.

It is claimed that the fish eat your old dead skin and that is good for your feet — we seriously doubt such claims, but the experience is still fun to try!

Some establishments are very spa-like, with a cozy interior and nice drinks. Unfortunately, the spa close to the old quarter has permanently closed due to Covid-19, so there nearest alternative is at the “Koi Coffee and Showroom” at 646 Đ. Láng, Láng Hạ, Đống Đa

17) Citadel and Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh

Thang Long Imperial Citadel in Hanoi. Top destination
Thăng Long Imperial Citadel in Hanoi. Photo credit: Isabel Schulz

No list of things-to-do in Hanoi would be complete without the Mausoleum & Museum of Ho Chi Minh and the Thăng Long Imperial Citadel. The three places are close to each other in the French Quarter, about 3km from the Old Quarter, so you might as well spend a day ticking them off from your to-do-list.

The citadel has excavations, buildings and artifacts that span many different dynasties, from the 800 AD and beyond. Unfortunately, most of the citadel was destroyed during various wars, so only a few buildings and structures remain. A lot of mystery surrounds the citadel, due to the ongoing excavations and newly uncovered artifacts and structures. It is very much a work-in-progress and thus interesting.

The Museum of Ho Chi Minh is an homage to the avuncular founding father of the Socialist Republic, with a great number of famous Vietnamese artists contributing fantastic and quasi-psychedelic multimedia exhibits on his life and travels across the world. It took over 20 years of preparation and construction, completing in 1980 on the anniversary of his death. You can see other interesting structures like his humble Stilt House, gardens, and more.

18) Kim Mã: Experience Japanese Culture in Hanoi

Lotte tower in Kim Ma Neighbourhood, Hanoi, lots of Japanese expats
Lotte tower in Kim Mã, a second city centre outside of Hanoi

Vietnam has a large Japanese and Korea expat community. These aren’t the funky gap-year expats from the West — they are serious businessmen and employees working for major Asian firms relocating their supply-chains to Vietnam (read more about brands that manufacture in Vietnam). Likewise, their neighbourhood (Kim Mã) is more modernist and consumerist than the boho West Lake, with large office-buildings, condos, and mega-shopping malls.

You can experience a bit of Japanese culture by trying the numerous Japanese restaurants, Japanese fashion stores, spas, and much more. Kim Mã also has a great night-life!

Things to do in Kim Mã:

  • Shopping – for international brands and high-end luxury products, there are many streets dedicated to fashion stores; plus, there are the Lotte Tower and Vicom Centre, which offer the familiar mall-experience like in the USA or Japan
  • Eat: there are many delicious, authentic Japanese restaurants.
  • Pamper: visit Japanese spas.
  • Night-clubs & live-music – check out the New Square Club at the Daewoo 5-star.

19) Hanoi Social Club and Hanoi Rock City

Funky establishments for foreigners

Check out what the expats are up to at two establishments that primarily target funky Westerners.

Hanoi Rock City has DJ sessions and live music from local amateurs: imagine a dude-in-dreadlocks wailing a reggae cover-song. The beer flows and it is reasonabily crowded on weekend nights. The club is in West Lake, which you should also explore [UPDATE: due to Covid, HRC may have permanently closed. Keep an eye out for changes].

Hanoi Social Club is a cozy place with couches and board-games and tasty Western slow-food. Occassionally there is live music. Otherwise, it is a chill place to study, socialize, and people-watch (or, foreigner-watch). The cafe is a short walk from the Old Quarter, at 6 Ngõ Hội Vũ, Hàng Bông.

Monitor their facebook pages for events and openings.

20) Hanoi Grapevine for Community Events

Monitor the English-zine for a list of exhibitions and community events, including:

  • art exhibits
  • film festivals
  • workshops
  • city walks
  • grants

… and more! This is the best way to keep abreast of Hanoi’s culture.

Other city guides and destinations:

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply