Hanoi: Vietnam’s Capital – The Top 10 Places of Interest
Hanoi is the beautiful capital of Vietnam and a must-see for all backpackers who want to travel through the country. Many people call Hanoi their favorite capital, and rightly so, because there really is a lot to see here. Hanoi is growing rapidly and like many other Asian cities, it has a rich history that you should not miss out on.
Additionally, the city is full of magnificent architecture that dates back to the colonial era. From its iconic monuments, such as temples and pagodas, to museums and small winding streets, Hanoi is characterized by a diversity of culture. There are also a lot of restaurants in the Vietmanese capital, adored by locals and backpackers alike.
Make sure you don’t miss any of the highlights with our ultimate guide to this Vietnamese city. From facts of Vietnam to the top 10 sights in Hanoi, we summarized it all for you!
Hanoi in a Nutshell
Ever think of where Vietnam is located exactly? If you think the country lies in Southeast Asia, then your guess is spot on. More specifically, the country is bordered by Laos, Cambodia, and China, and hugged by the Pacific Ocean in the east, meaning that Vietnam is also a coastal country with many beautiful beache. These can be found on the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea.
Vietnam is slightly smaller than Germany and is home to over 95 million people. About 8 million of them live in Hanoi, but the largest city in the country is Ho Chi Minh. So, why then is Hanoi the official capital?
Maybe this has something to do with the city’s founding and age. Hanoi is over 1,000 years old, making it the oldest capital in Southeast Asia – but with interruptions. During the Nguyen Dynasty in the 19th and 20th centuries, it was not the center of the country for 143 years. And no, it wasn’t Ho Chi Minh either, but the centrally located city of Hue. In 1973, however, Hanoi was once again made the capital.
As you can see, there is a long history behind this Southeast-Asian metropolis, even going back to the Bronze Age. At that time, the first settlements of the current metropolis were established. Years passed and Hanoi was occupied again and again by various forces, such as the Chinese Ming Dynasty or the French army. The latter had an immense influence on the cityscape, which you’ll notice during your visit.
Sprinkled throughout the city are delicious street food stands and restaurants that you should definitely give a shot. When in Vietnam, you have to try the national dish, pho. You may have heard of this exquisite soup with rice noodles, meat, and crunchy vegetables, as it is now also increasing in popularity throughout Europe. One of the most famous places to try this soup is at the restaurant Pho Bat Dan. Here, you can try their tasty pho for just a small price. But beware, it is addictive!
Not only does Vietnamese cuisine treat you to a delicacy such as pho, but it also offers you a wide variety of dishes you shouldn’t miss. Though, you may not be quite as pleased with other specialties in the beginning because in this country it is also common to eat animals such as dogs. This may seem a bit strange to us Europeans, but remember: traveling to a new country also means new customs. Culture shock aside, the wok dishes of Vietnam are to die for.
Festivals in Vietnam are also enchanting events you don’t want to miss while you’re there. Probably the largest festival is Vietnamese New Year. This typically takes place in January or February and is based on the lunar calendar. Traditionally, at this festival called Tet, chung is served while families and friends celebrate the holiday together. During these festivities, a visit to a temple in Hanoi and watching dance performances in the public squares are a must.
Conveniently, Vietnamese New Year coincides with the best travel season, which runs from November to April – the driest months in Hanoi. The climate here is described as subtropical-monsoonal, meaning that the summers are wet and hot, while the winters are rather pleasant with little rain.
Last but not least, we would like to say a few words about public transport in Hanoi. First, we have good news for you! You can easily and cheaply explore the Vietnamese capital by bus. However, mopeds are much more popular, which is why many of them whiz through the streets. There are also taxis and bicycles that you can use.
The Top 10 Places of Interest in Hanoi
Enough with the general information! We will now show you our favorite places in the city. Are you excited to see the sights we picked out for you?
Hoa Lo Prison, a.k.a. Hanoi Hilton
This prison – also called Hanoi Hilton – is one of the top places in the city. Built by the French in the early 20th century, you can still see many influences of this western country here. Hoa Lo – which means “fiery furnace” – was named after the testimonies of the American inmates during the Vietnam War, as well as a movie of the same name.
If you’re a history-buff, you’ll enjoy a visit here. There are several galleries that tell the story of the prison up to the 1950s. But even if history isn’t really your thing, you can still learn a lot about Vietnam. Other highlights of the prison include the French guillotine, which colonialists used to execute Vietnamese activists. There are also many memorabilia from the American pilots who were imprisoned here during the Vietnam War.
Old Town of Hanoi (Old Quarter)
Many tourists consider Hanoi to be the most beautiful city in Vietnam and rave about the old town’s beauty. Here, you will find yourself among the charming, crowded streets and feel the true Vietnamese vibe of the city.
Not only do you get a great cultural blast in the Old Quarter, but you can also go shopping at your leisure. For backpackers, the night market is also a highlight, which takes place in the evening from Friday to Sunday.
So, looking for souvenirs, gifts, or a nice restaurant? Then go to the Old Quarter!
Bach Ma Temple
Located in the old town of Hanoi, Bach Ma is the oldest temple in the city. According to legend, Emperor Ly Thai To built this temple in the 9th century. However, it has only been at its current location since the 18th century. Once inside the temple, take a moment or two to pause and admire the magnificent decorations. One very important statue is the magical white horse, which is said to have shown Emperor Ly Thai where new fortifications in the city should be built.
If you want to explore this place, please make sure to dress appropriately and pay attention to the opening hours, otherwise you will find yourself in front of closed doors! Since it’s not very big, it’s perfect for a short stopover.
Admittedly, Hanoi can be a bit hectic and lively. If you just want to have a great view of the capital from above, then you should head to Lotte Tower. This is the best place to view the city and its sprawling crowds. The observation deck is located on the 65th floor of the building, from which you can catch a breathtaking view of the big city and its Old Quarter. After you have taken advantage of the great panoramic view for a few snapshots, you can have a bite to eat or a thirst-quenching drink at the third-largest tower in the country. This attraction is a stark contrast to the many museums and temples, providing a welcome change of pace for backpackers.
National Museum of History
This museum dates to 1925 and was a French school during the colonial period. The building is a magnificent combination of Chinese and French designs, and an exciting place for visitors. Here, you can learn everything about the country’s history. If you only want to visit one museum in Hanoi, the National Museum of History is a great choice for a brief overview of Vietnam.
Make sure to check out the 3rd century bronze pieces from the Dong Son culture. There are also many Hindu statues from the Khmer kingdoms that are worth seeing. Not to mention, there are numerous impressive galleries with ornate Vietnamese jewelry, as well as exhibitions dedicated to the French colonial period and the Vietnam War. In short, the National Museum offers everything related to Vietnamese art and history.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
This historical attraction in Ba-Dinh-Square is a must-see because it houses the tomb of Vietnam’s modern founder, Ho Chi Minh. He proclaimed the independence of the country at this very place in 1945. By the way, admission is free, which will certainly make your wallet happy.
The mausoleum consists of a grand marble building surrounded by gardens, and holds the embalmed remains of Ho Chi Minh. After exploring the mausoleum, head to the Ho Chi Minh Museum on the same site, where you can learn more about the life of this key figure.
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
One of Hanoi’s most popular sights, this theater features a waist-high pool of water in which the puppeteers stand. The puppets are then attached to long bamboo canes, so it looks like the puppets are dancing on the water to the angelic music of the orchestra. The show offers a selection of traditional legends and folktales, as well as Vietnamese myths.
It is believed that this kind of performance was invented in the countryside as a result of the rainy season, which would flood farmers’ rice fields. Looking for entertainment, locals would make the puppets dance on the water, and thus this art form was born. Such a unique backstory, don’t you think? We’re sure it will be an unforgettable experience on your trip. And the best part? It only costs about 3 to 7 bucks!
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
The Thang Long Emperor’s Citadel was once the country’s ruling center and later a crucial site during the Vietnam War. This UNESCO World Heritage Site allows you to continue exploring the history of Vietnam.
The citadel exhibits 1,000 years of history and offers many spectacular sights, such as the 33-meter-high Flag Tower, the Temple of Literature, as well as the gates of the complex. Other highlights are the archaeological treasures, such as the foundations of the ancient palace. You can also visit some bunkers from the Vietnam War, in addition to viewing the collections of weapons and military maps.
Long Biên Bridge
French archtects designed the Long Biên Bridge, built between 1899 and 1902. This 1,700-meter-long steel bridge is special as it was the first of its kind to cross the Red River. It connects the Long Biên district of Hanoi with the Old Quarter. Surviving many attacks, this bridge also played a crucial role during the Vietnam War.
It is best to visit this bridge in the evening when it is less crowded. Plus, the sunset provides you with the perfect backdrop for some evening photos.
Train Street is a real spectacle that you won’t find anywhere else. Here, a train line runs through the middle of the Old Quarter and down narrow streets, passing through twice a day. During its passing, locals scramble to make sure none of their motorbikes, belongings, or pets are left near the tracks. This is truly a sight that has captivated many tourists. However, to avoid accidents, the photo hotspots have been closed to visitors. But you can watch the train pass by while relaxing in a café.
This Vietnamese city has completely enchanted us, and we would love to pack our backpack immediately! Whether it’s a stroll through the Old Quarter, a visit to Hoa Lo Prison, a coffee at Lotte Tower or Train Street, we are a ready to see the top 10 sights in Hanoi with our own eyes.
And you? Were we able to awaken the wanderlust in you? Great! Now you don’t have to spend hours thinking of where you should travel to next, but instead simply book your flight and accommodation in Hanoi. So, what are you waiting for?