Hanoi Travel Guide

SD › Hanoi Travel Guide
Updated: September 28, 2019

The 99 best hotels and restaurants, bars and clubs, shops and outdoor activities, tours, classes, and things to see and do in Hanoi.

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Hanoi Hotels

Good hotel in central Hanoi, Vietnam.

View from Apricot Hotel in central Hanoi.

1. Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi • French Quarter • $$$$

Simply stunning and remarkably unique; with colonial-era design, vast gardens, and lots of old-world charm. Unique features like piano lounge, ornate elevators, and glasshouse café. Substantial pool, too. Convenient and family-friendly. • +84 (0)24 3826 6919

2. Meliá Hanoi • Inner South • $$$$

The most ultra-modern hotel in Hanoi, the Meliá is still surprisingly graceful. 22 floors, so great views are guaranteed. Luxurious and spacious, set on a shady street within walking distance to the Old Quarter. • +84 (0)24 3934 3343

3. InterContinental Hanoi Westlake • West Lake • $$$$

InterContinental has an in-city resort feel that’s reminiscent of the French Riviera, facing a lake on the edge of the city center. So stylish and serene, with whitewashed rooms and villas radiating from a walkway into the lake. Ten minutes by taxi from the Old Quarter. • +84 (0)24 6270 8888

4. Apricot Hotel • Old Quarter • $$$$

Opulent, convenient, and the most sophisticated in the area. One of very few hotels facing the lake (with a road in between) – though views here don’t amaze. Exquisite guest rooms, plus library, art collection, and sparkling rooftop pool. • +84 (0)24 3828 9595

5. Hilton Hanoi Opera • French Quarter • $$$$

Influenced by the design of the grand Opera House opposite, suites here are spacious and classically-furnished. Located in the most elegant part of the city, surrounded by bistros and boutiques and walkable to Hoan Kiem lake. • +84 (0)24 3933 0500

6. Sheraton Hanoi Hotel • West Lake • $$$$

Classy high-rise facing the lake, with fabulous views. Recently renovated, with a resort-style pool and pagoda-shaped swim-up bar alongside the lake. About 10 minutes by taxi from the Old Quarter. • +84 (0)24 3719 9000

7. Hotel de l’Opera Hanoi • French Quarter • $$$$

A tasteful colonial-style exterior belies the unique décor inside: opera-themed, with funky furniture, swirling wall art, and bathrooms resembling backstage makeup rooms. Not to everyone’s taste, but a lovely position within a two-minute stroll of the old city. • +84 (0)24 6282 5555

8. La Siesta Premium Cau Go • Old Quarter • $$

Sparkling boutique hotel, with a chic design, and convenient location. Excellent views of Hoan Kiem lake from the rooftop café. Note that thisis one of several in a chain, with confusingly similar names. • +84 (0)24 3938 0963

9. Pan Pacific Hanoi • West Lake • $$$

The most convenient to the Old Quarter among high-rises facing West Lake. Functional, spacious, and more affordable than neighboring rivals. Clever design ensures maximum possible views of two lakes from all rooms. Impressive pool. • +84 (0)24 3823 8888

10. Silk Path Boutique Hotel Hanoi • Old Quarter • $$

Alluring and understated refinement, with a brightly-colored lobby and charming guest rooms that are surprisingly spacious. Facing the lake (albeit with a road in between), but as in many other Hanoi hotels, views are patchy. • +84 (0)24 3928 5555

11. Essence Hanoi Hotel & Spa • Old Quarter • $$

Recently renovated, offering five-star rooms at a three-star price in the heart of the Old Quarter. A class above the many similar-looking hotels nearby, with helpful staff, elegant décor, and generous buffet breakfast often included. • +84 (0)24 3935 2485

12. The Chi Boutique Hotel • Old Quarter • $$

Smallish rooms, but unbeatable location one block from Hoan Kiem Lake, on a shady street near St. Joseph’s Cathedral and inviting cafés. Contemporary décor and up-to-date facilities, but views vary. • +84 (0)24 3719 2939

13. Hanoi Marvellous Hotel & Spa • Old Quarter • $$

Bad name, good facilities, with a chic and modern vibe in the real Old Quarter. Elegant suites, ideal for families, with rarities: full-length and double-glazed windows offering nice outlooks. Receives rave reviews for its affable staff and personalized service, but a little inconvenient. • +84 (0)24 3266 9240

14. Mercure Hanoi la Gare • Inner West • $$$

Handy to (and named after) the major train station, part of an international chain of functional hotels. With excellent facilities, likable vibe, and colorful rooms, some designed for families. • +84 (0)24 3944 7766

Hanoi Restaurants

15. Green Tangerine • Old Quarter

European cuisine fused with Vietnamese flavors, well-regarded for the villa setting, complete with terrace courtyard and spiral staircase. Better value at lunchtime, and children’s meals are also available. An absolute gem, but no longer a secret – reservations are recommended for dinner. • +84 (0)24 3825 1286

16. KOTO Van Mieu • Inner West

KOTO stands for ‘Know One, Teach One’ here, where underprivileged youngsters learn about cooking and the hospitality industry. Authentic local food and set-priced menus, as well as yummy Western delights; several levels, with a bar upstairs. Great paired with a visit to the Temple of Literature, located opposite. (See #67.) • +84 (0)24 3747 0337

17. Club Opera Novel Restaurant Bar Lounge • Inner South

Between the magnificent Sofitel Hotel and Opera House, popular for its old-world setting and fine dining – as if translocated from the Left Bank in Paris. Extensive menus of local food and imported wines, that staff is happy to help diners choose from. Live traditional music most nights. • +84 (0)24 3972 8001

18. Hanoi Garden • Old Quarter

Rare setting within a garden courtyard along a tranquil street (there are also tables inside with air-conditioning). Great Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine for over 20 years; varied menu, with plenty of seafood and vegetarian options. • +84 (0)24 3824 3402

19. La Badiane • Inner West

Regarded by astute locals as the finest French restaurant in town. Haute cuisine mouth-wateringly fused with Vietnamese flavors in a converted colonial villa, with good-value specials at lunchtime and soothing live music at night. Also popular for the hearty portions and comprehensive wine list. • +84 (0)24 3942 4509

20. Spices Garden • French Quarter

Exquisite Parisienne setting within the super-stylish Sofitel Hotel. Popular for their elevated take on Hanoi street food – even more so for their buffet lunches and barbeque dinners. Watch maestros at work in the open-plan kitchen. Reasonably priced for what you get. • +84 (0)24 3826 6919

21. L’Artiste • Old Quarter

Quintessential French cuisine in the lobby of the classy Apricot Hotel, with live music, chandeliers, and wrought-iron mezzanine. Popular among knowledgeable expats for their Viet-French cuisine, exquisite service, and open-air kitchen showcasing the chefs. • +84 (0)24 3838 9595

22. Red Bean • Old Quarter

contemporary Vietnamese, with impressive service and astounding views of Hoan Kiem lake. Five-course set-price menus are an excellent value and a superb way to sample local food without ploughing through a lengthy menu. Cooking classes also offered. • +84 (0)24 3926 3641

23. Quan An Ngon • Old Quarter

Such a great idea: a food court of stalls offering a range of authentic Vietnamese cuisine. Busy during the day with local workers, but more relaxed at night. Adorable courtyard setting; an ideal way to try street food without worrying about a possible lack of hygiene. • +84 (0)24 3942 8162

24. Ly Club Hanoi • French Quarter

Vietnamese, Asian, and European cuisine with innovative twists. Try the Steamed Farm-Raised Snapper or Grilled Beef in Bamboo Pipes. Set inside a gorgeously-renovated three-level villa with patio dining. Live traditional music adds to the appeal. • +84 (0)24 3936 3069

25. Uu Dam Chay • Inner South

Strictly meat-free, but still very flavorsome, meals in a restful setting full of Buddhist images. Graceful courtyard setting inside a colonial villa, open all day from breakfast onwards. Heaven for vegetarians and anyone seeking the healthiest meals in town. • +84 (0)98 1349 898

26. Café Lautrec • French Quarter

Inside the remarkable Hotel de l’Opera, this refined brassiere offers all-day dining, including buffets more affordable than at competing top-notch hotels. The gracious staff and distinctive operatic décor are icing on the cake. • +84 (0)24 6282 5555

27. The Hung Snake Restaurant • Inner East

A memorable experience for adventurous eaters. Try the snake egg soup, fried snake spring roll, or snake porridge. Highly rated by dumbfounded diners for the delicious food and effusive owner. Located in Le Mat, one of the Handicraft Villages (see #36), 10 minutes by taxi from the Old Quarter. • +84 (0)98 9331 012

28. Wild Lotus Restaurant • Inner South

Chance to try a range of Vietnamese food from across the country, where cuisines do differ substantially. Magnificent setting with a creek, courtyard, ‘waterfall’, and soothing lounge area. • +84 (0)24 3943 9342

Hanoi Local Food & Drink

29. Pho

This noodle soup (pronounced “fer”) is a countrywide staple, offered at both street-side stalls with huge boiling pots and ridiculously low plastic tables and elegant bistros. Served with beef or chicken, and spiced according to the whims of the cook, it’s invariably delicious and always filling. Diners can enhance it with basil, mint, or cinnamon leaves, and add a dash of chili or lemon. Often eaten by locals for breakfast, but available all day for tourists.

30. Bun Cha Hanoi

This classic Hanoi street food is devoured by locals at lunchtime. Served in several bowls: grilled pork flavored by fish sauce, lime juice, and vinegar; cold noodles; leafy herbs; and spices, such as garlic and chilies. Often also served with spring rolls. Mix and match ingredients to your heart’s – and stomach’s – content.

31. Ca Phe Da

No local starts the day without at least one cup of coffee. Stronger than expected for western tastes, this iced coffee is addictive, and best enjoyed at one of the 100s of street-side cafés. Plonk on a stool, sip, gasp, and watch the world go by, just as the locals do.

32. Bia Hoi

Try what is probably the world’s cheapest alcoholic drink: bia hoi (fresh beer). It’s cold and refreshing, if a little weak at times, but outstandingly inexpensive. Only sold in low-key cafés and bars set up for locals, enjoy a mug or three at Bia Hoi Junction/Corner in the Old Quarter.

Hanoi Shopping

33. Old Quarter

Built over 600 years ago and extending far beyond its original 36 streets, the area is now far more oriented towards tourists, especially nearer to Hoan Kiem lake. But some streets maintain the tradition of selling items according to its name: eg Hang Dau street sells almost nothing but shoes; Hang Dao specialises in silk; and Hang Bac is the place for silver. Just accept the inevitable and become hopelessly lost; otherwise, hire a cyclo rickshaw or join a tour (see Tours & Classes).

34. Dong Xuan Market • Old Quarter

Rebuilt in 1996 after a major fire, the three floors spill out onto the streets, especially on weekends. Chaotic, yet strangely charismatic, providing fresh produce, as well as souvenirs and clothes. Haggle hard, but with a smile. Open daily from 6am to 6pm.

35. Handicraft Villages

Established for the tourist market, these villages still maintain a semblance of authenticity. Located on the city outskirts, the shops and workshops specialize, among other things, in pottery (at Ba Trang village) and silk (Van Phuc village). And at Le Mat Snake Village, cafés offer meals and drinks made from the namesake reptiles. These villages are close enough to reach by taxi, but better on an organized and informative tour (see Tours & Classes).

36. Craft Link • Inner West

Not-for-profit shop within the Museum of Ethnology, providing a wonderful array of authentic art, weavings, and carvings. It also ensures that artisans – especially those from tribal regions – receive proper payment and that materials are sustainably sourced. Also, admirably involved in community development programs. • +84 (0)24 3733 6101

37. Apricot Gallery • Old Quarter

Well worth searching out, Apricot Gallery showcases the amazing talents of artists across the country – from the already renowned to newcomers otherwise lacking widespread coverage. Also, plenty of Buddhist sculptures and arty books, and special exhibitions held across several narrow levels. • +84 (0)24 3828 8965

38. Maison des Arts Hanoi • Old Quarter

Part gallery, part museum, and part workshop in a delightful old building exuding class and history. Mostly contemporary art, but not too avant-garde, as well as sculptures and photographs. Shoppers can also meet and chat with artists at the regular exhibitions and cultural events held there. • +84 (0)43 7478 096

39. Trang Tien Plaza • Old Quarter

A stylish six-level building dominating a corner in the Old Quarter, this shopping center retains more charm, charisma, and convenience than others. With designer-label stores and more affordable souvenir stalls on the upper floors, Trang Tien Plaza also houses a cinema complex and food court. Open 9.30am-9.30pm daily. • +84 (0)24 3937 8599

40. Hanoi Moment • Old Quarter

For over 20 years, this shop and showroom has offered a massive range of handicrafts fashioned from lacquer, lace, bamboo, and porcelain, as well as woodcarvings. Experts in shipping larger items back home. • +84 (0)24 3928 7170

41. The Bookworm Hanoi • West Lake

Long-established bookstore, providing a vast selection of new and second-hand titles in English and other European languages. But just as popular for the courtyard café. English-speaking staff can help locate the hippest novel or newest guidebook, and management are actively involved in local charities. • +84 (0)4 3715 3711

Hanoi Bars & Cafés

42. La Terrasse • French Quarter

Within the ultra-elegant Sofitel Hotel, a slice of 19th-century Paris, complete with street-side wrought-iron tables smothered with spotless linen. No better place for gazing at the frantic street scenes while sipping a coffee or cocktail, or chewing on oysters or fondue. • +84 (0)24 3826 6919

43. One36 Bar • Old Quarter

The best of Hanoi’s rooftop bars, if only because of its proximity to Hoan Kiem Lake and because patrons can use the hotel pool. But the jaw-dropping views of the water, parks, Old Quarter, and city are exquisite (more so at night), and it offers an eclectic range of cocktails and beers. In the Apricot Hotel. • +84 (0)24 3838 9595

44. Jojo Bar Hanoi • Old Quarter

Trendy and popular due to the affable owners and broad range of beers and cocktails. The sheesha pipes, TV sports, and occasional live music also ensure that some return night after night. • +84 (0)165 555 5366

45. Cyclo Bar & Restaurant – Old Quarter

Unique setting as diners and drinkers squat in replica cyclo bicycle rickshaws. Such a memorable and photogenic spot for a cocktail, coffee, or tasty feed of French and Vietnamese food. • +84 91 510 18 81

46. Press Club Hanoi – French Quarter

A former media headquarters during the War, this adorable rooftop bar in the elegant part of the city offers imported wines and signature cocktails. Colonial-era vibe where chic locals congregate inside or along the terrace. Regular live music, sophisticated meals, and drink specials make this even more appealing. • +84(0)24 3934 0888

Hanoi Night Life

47. Hanoi Opera House • French Quarter

Built over 100 years ago and modelled after the Palais Garnier in Paris, Hanoi Opera House hosts performances of music, ballet, and drama, including the renowned Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra. It’s worth exploring for the marble interior and exquisite courtyard gardens, but is only open for performances. • +84 (0)24 3933 0113

48. Swing Café, Lounge & Bar • French Quarter

A café from 8am, it morphs into a trendy nightclub 12 hours later, becoming packed with well-dressed locals dancing to live music. Tourists may not understand the lyrics, but the Viet vibe is fascinating nonetheless. • +84 (0)90 855 2121

49. Cool Cats Jazz Club • Inner West

A jazz club that’s as dark, atmospheric, and sophisticated as anywhere in Europe. Mostly local artists (though no less impressive), from solo piano to sax ensembles. Prices are reasonable despite being in the top-notch JW Marriott Hotel. • +84 (0)24 3833 5588

50. R&R Tavern • West Lake

Cozy and convivial, with an affable staff, pub-style food, and evening entertainment – including quiz nights. And live music far better than average. • +84 (0)24 6295 8215

51. Hanoi Rock City • West Lake

Spacious enough that patrons can chat comfortably and watch the live music easily, making this a top spot to find new friend. Popular for its open-fire during chilly evenings (December to March) and cultural events, such as art displays and film shows. • +84 (0)94 357 1984

Hanoi Tours & Classes

52. Hanoikids • Old Quarter

Explore the city for a half or full day with an enthusiastic student. Each guide provides the service for free – in return, they get to practice English. Experience the ‘real’ Hanoi while getting to know some likeable locals. Book ahead, because they’re understandably popular. Tours are flexible and adaptable. • +84 (0)162 743 8686

53. Metropole Cooking Class – French Quarter

Haggle at a local market, cook in the kitchen at the super-swish Sofitel Hotel, and devour the results in the hotel restaurant. Adapted to clients’ tastes and steered by enthusiastic chefs. • +84 (0)24 3826 6919

54. LVP Travel • Inner West

One of the finest of many tour companies that organize day trips to Perfume Pagoda (see #93) and longer excursions to Sapa (see #95) at unexpectedly reasonable prices. Also offers a vast range of tours across northern Vietnam and beyond. • +84 (0)24 6687 2212

55. Adventure Indochina • French Quarter

Long-established and well-regarded company offering tours to lesser-accessible areas like the Handicraft Villages (see #36), Halong Bay (see #92), and Sapa (see #95). Even more interesting are trips on two-wheels: DIY cycling, or on an old motorbike. • +84 (0)90 3299 389

56. Hidden Hanoi • West Lake

For real cultural immersion, with informative and interactive classes in Vietnamese cooking and language. The former enables guests to try out their newfound culinary skills at home, the latter is held in small groups from 2 to 18 hours. Their walking tours of the city are also popular. • +84 (0)91 225 4045

57. Sapa Tours From Hanoi • Old Quarter

Hundreds of agencies in Hanoi offer trips to Sapa, but this outfit arranges authentic experiences in Sapa itself. These tours can also include transport by train and/or bus from Hanoi, which alleviates that hassle. Specializes in trekking, cycling, and village tours for small groups, as well as customized tours for couples. • +84 (0)24 3722 8767

58. Explore Indochina • Old Quarter

For something completely different: travel the backroads of northern Vietnam as far as Sapa (and even Ho Chi Minh City) on a historic Minsk motorbike. Visit remote villages along narrow winding roads that are inaccessible by public transport, with flexible routes, experienced guides, and remarkable mechanics. • +84 (0)24 3938 2245

59. Hanoi Street Food Tour • Old Quarter

A brilliantly informative way to explore the old city. Haggle at markets, taste authentic (read: less sanitized) versions of street food, and learn about Vietnamese cuisine. Day or night-time tours are offered; lasting about three hours on foot or on the back of a scooter. This company is also popular for general city tours and cooking classes. • +84 (0)966 960 188

60. Hanoi Cyclo Tours • Old Quarter

Getting lost in the old city is inevitable, and becoming frustrated about the lack of street signs is unavoidable – so escape the overcrowded footpaths in the back of a cyclo bicycle rickshaw. Dealing with a company rather than hiring a cyclo yourself ensures the itinerary is thorough, and the driver is reputable and speaks a modicum of English. • +84 (0)24 3993 1368

Things to See in Hanoi

61. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum • Inner West

Pay respects to the national hero who didn’t live to witness the end of the War or unification of his beloved country. Get there early, line up obediently, and file through silently. No one is allowed more than a few seconds to view his body; beautifully embalmed or just a wax dummy, locals don’t care. Also, dress modestly and behave piously, because guards are extremely intolerant of any behavior contrary to the given instructions. • +84 (0)24 3804 4529

62. Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House • Inner West

The second part of the pilgrimage to Uncle Ho is his home, which is modest despite his having been President. The two-room house is sparsely furnished, with everything left the way it was. To ensure orderliness, everyone must walk (usually briskly) in the same direction through the house and around the pretty gardens with its carp-filled lake. The adjacent Presidential Palace is handsomely restored, but off-limits. • +84 (0)80 44287

63. Vietnam Museum of Ethnology • Inner West

The finest of several museums around the city, this is lovingly maintained with extensive collections of weaving, costumes, art, and tools from the country’s 54 tribal groups. Nicely presented and informatively labeled in English, with relocated traditional houses to explore among pleasant gardens. Worth a short taxi trip from the Old Quarter. • +84 (0)24 3756 2193

64. Thang Long Water Puppet Theater • Old Quarter

Admiring a roi nuoc water puppet show is obligatory in Hanoi. This theater is the finest and most accessible, located alongside Hoan Kiem lake. With up to 5 performances a day; amazingly choreographed, with live orchestral music and dazzling special effects. All are in Vietnamese, but this doesn’t detract an iota from the spectacle. Seats near the front are worth the splurge. • +84 (0)24 3824 9494

65. Temple of Literature • Inner West

Home to the country’s first university. Nearly 1000 years old and marvellously restored and maintained, with five courtyards full of temples, gateways, lotus-filled ponds, and bell towers. Guided tours (in English or French) are recommended. Home to regular musical performances, the gardens are also a welcome respite from the city. • +84 (0)24 3845 2917

66. Fine Arts Museum • Inner West

A charming colonial-era mansion houses three levels of art, carvings, and sculptures from the Stone Age to now, as well as plenty of traditional handicrafts from Vietnam’s divergent ethnic groups. Better and more interesting than the name implies, and likely to impress the most jaded visitor. Guided tours are worthwhile. • +84 (0)24 3733 2131

67. Imperial Citadel of Thang Long • Inner West

Heritage-listed by UNESCO and only recently opened to the public, this vast military complex showcases historical artifacts from the 11th century to the Vietnam War. Displays are modest, but the sheer size of the complex and substantial gardens are reasons enough to visit. • +84 (0)24 3734 5427

68. Vietnam National Museum of History • French Quarter

Located inside an elegant and colorful colonial-era mansion, with two floors of local and national history that spans pre-historic times to the end of the War. Surrounded by pretty, shady gardens. • +84 (0)24 3824 1384

69. Quan Su Pagoda • Inner South

The most impressive and accessible among several pagodas across the city. Highly revered and attractively maintained, the ‘Ambassador’s Pagoda’ is the epicenter of Buddhist studies in Vietnam, so many monks live there.

70. Bach Ma Temple • Old Quarter

Not the largest or most attractive, but more conveniently accessible, and reputedly the oldest in Hanoi. Dedicated to a white horse (after which the temple is named), Bach Ma is now heavily influenced and revered by Vietnamese of Chinese descent. The exquisite interior is lined with lacquerware, artwork, and intricate woodcarvings.

71. Lien Phai Pagoda • Inner South

Built nearly 300 years ago, this pagoda is revered by those who follow the Lotus Sect of Buddhism, more popular in China and Japan. A busy temple, with multiple levels, plenty of incense, monks, and worshippers from the surrounding labyrinth of lanes. Even those suffering from ‘pagoda-overload’ should save time and energy for this one.

72. St. Joseph’s Cathedral • Old Quarter

This late 19th-century Gothic building looms large, acting as both a landmark and respite. It’s worth a look at any time (Sunday mass is held in Vietnamese and English) and surrounded by a fine selection of quieter-than-normal cafés. • +84 (0)24 3825 4424

73. One Pillar Pagoda • Inner West

Originally built nearly 1,000 years ago, dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy, and shaped like a lotus flower. One Pillar Pagoda was destroyed by French colonialists, but has been rebuilt since. Made of wood and standing on a single pillar within a lotus pond, this temple is iconic but underwhelming to some.

74. Hoan Kiem Lake • Old Quarter

This major old city landmark is easy to walk around. Jogging expats and locals practicing morning tai chi are later replaced by crowds relaxing under shady trees and sipping lattes at one of the few cafés. Just across a red, arched bridge is an islet dominated by Ngoc Son Temple, first built in the 13th century. On the southern end of the lake is Thap Rua (Turtle Tower) – iconic but dilapidated.

75. West Lake (Tay Ho)

A former swamp, converted to a huge and well-enjoyed lake. Paddle-boating, sunsets viewing, and walking/cycling around its 13km-long shoreline are hugely popular among local couples. A lane lined with market traders and amorous teenagers separates this lake from another, Truc Bach. Allow time and take a map to find the shady Quan Thanh temple and Tran Quoc pagoda, one of Vietnam’s oldest – and maybe stop at one of the seafood restaurants along the southern edge of Tay Ho. Located about 10 minutes by taxi from Hoan Kiem lake.

76. Hanoi Botanical Garden • Inner West

More about the peaceful setting than the quality of the flora, there are lakes for paddleboats, benches for enjoying the tranquillity, and enough space for kids to run around. Also some bizarre sculptures and, dishearteningly, caged monkeys. Popular with locals for strolling and cycling, this is a top spot for people-watching. • +84 (0)24 3845 5114

Hanoi Family Fun

77. Hanoi Water Park • West Lake

Modest compared to water parks in Thailand and Bali, but still heaps of fun for all ages. Enough pools, slides, and rides to please most youngsters, Hanoi Water Park earns bonus points for being convenient: only 15 minutes by taxi from the Old Quarter. Shady seats for parents and plenty of lifeguards; avoid lengthy lines by coming on a weekday. • +84 (0)24 3718 4222

78. Royal City • Inner West

For rainy or sweaty days, this mega-mall has more than enough to occupy the younger ones for hours. Much more than a cluster of shops – there’s a cinema, bowling alley, games arcade, and ice-skating rink. • +84 (0)24 6276 7799

79. Hanoi Central Circus • Inner South

An old-style circus, with performing animals, fabulous acrobats, astounding jugglers, and of course clowns. Geared toward and catering to locals, it’s as much fun watching the reactions of the Vietnamese spectators. The young ones will love it. • +84 (0)968 989 985

80. Thu Le Park & Zoo • Inner West

This zoo is better than you might expect, and improving all the time – but there are still too many caged animals. Featuring extensive gardens around the lake, with plenty of swan-shaped paddleboats. • +84 (0)24 3834 7395

81. Swimming in

Only the very top-end hotels offer a swimming pool, and these are for guests only (and swimming in the lakes or river is a no-no). The exceptions, where the public can pay to splash about and lounge around, are: Hanoi Daewoo Hotel (next to the zoo) and Thang Loi Hotel (in West Lake, with lovely views). Otherwise, head to Hanoi Water Park (see #78).

82. Boating

Where there are lakes there are usually boats – but not so on Hoan Kiem. The following places offer sedate paddleboats (often shaped like giant swans) for leisurely lake rides: West Lake (see #76); Hanoi Botanical Garden (see #77); and Thu Le Park (see #81). The finest boat ride in Vietnam is at Perfume Pagoda (see #93), where local women take visitors gliding along the river on traditional sampans.

Hanoi Festivals & Events

83. Tet (Lunar New Year) • late January or early February

The country’s most important festival can be a terrible time to travel to Hanoi: Think Christmas, New Year, and Thanksgiving rolled into one. Transport is overbooked for two weeks before and after; hotel rates often double (or more); and many businesses, including major tourist attractions, will close or become impossibly overcrowded. However, Tet is magical, with fireworks, drum-beating, and dogs barking all night in excitement.

84. Perfume Festival • February/March

Staggeringly popular ritual at the revered Huong Tich temple at Perfume Pagoda (see #93). Lasting for up to one month after Tet, the Perfume Festival is a wonderful time to visit, but avoid visiting on weekends, when a one-hour hike to the pagoda turns into a three-hour crush. Around the area, there are parades with Chinese-style dragons, and gatherings of Buddhist devotees praying for prosperity.

85. Mid-Autumn Festival • September/October

Celebrated with gusto for thousands of years across Asia. Around the Old Quarter, lanterns dangle everywhere, and all over Hanoi families flock to parks to release balloons, watch impromptu puppet shows, eat from food stalls, and listen to music. Especially adored by children, on whom the festival is focused, with events held at the Citadel (see #68). As vibrant as Tet, but without the hassles.

86. Lim Festival • February

A delightful, traditional festival held in Lim, about 25km northeast of Hanoi, focused on quan ho folk songs performed by males and females in traditional costumes. Other old-fashioned demonstrations include weaving and wrestling.

87. Vietnam National Day • 2 September

Public holiday commemorating the declaration (nine years prematurely) of Vietnam’s independence from French colonial rule in 1945. With somber military parades at and around the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, boat races on Hoan Kiem lake, and fireworks in the Old Quarter.

Hanoi Spas

88. Le Spa du Metropole • French Quarter

As exquisite as expected inside the Sofitel Hotel. Overlooking the hotel gardens, all facilities are ultra-private, with special rooms for couples. Exhilarating treatments, massages, and scrubs not offered elsewhere within a setting unique to Hanoi. • +84 (0)24 3826 6919

89. SF Spa • Old Quarter

Atmospheric, with a highly professional staff providing heavenly massages, facials, and body treatments. Regarded by many guests (and by the company itself) as the best in Hanoi. Serene and intimate, ideal for couples. • +84 (0)24 3926 2032

90. Just Massage • Old Quarter

Training and employing the disadvantaged, poor, and vision-impaired, this outfit provides a wide range of treatments at affordable rates. Hot stone and pregnancy massage are offered, as well as locally-made oils, candles, and balms for purchase. • +84 (0)24 3718 2737

Short Trips from Hanoi

91. Halong Bay – 175km east

Too distant and much too majestic for just a daytrip, this UNESCO-listed bay contains 200+ karst columns that rise impressively from 150 sq km of emerald waters. Each day, hundreds of boats with thousands of people launch from the jetty (about three hours from Hanoi by bus) to visit Halong Bay’s caves, islands, beaches, and floating villages. But this area is best experienced over two or three days on a traditional-style junk boat excursion, including all transport, activities, and meals. Truly one the world’s greatest sights.

92. Perfume Pagoda – 60km southwest

A collection of shrines, caves, pagodas, and karst columns jutting heavenward from rice-fields. Equally popular with Buddhist pilgrims as with tourists, this area becomes absurdly overcrowded. The most revered Huong Tich pagoda, one of 30 in the area, is set inside a cave on a mountain; getting there (1-1.5 hours one-way on foot) is steep and often slippery. Experience the indescribable setting on a 90-minute sampan ride, paddled by a local woman. Best visited on an organized tour.

93. Ba Vi National Park – 65km west

Dominated by a 1275m high mountain and surrounded by rainforest of rare flora and fauna, this park contrasts starkly to the Hanoi city chaos. Hiking is possible, but maps and signs are often not in English. Accessible by public transport, but also reachable on organized daytrips; nearby are several modest hotels, such as Bavi Homestead.

94. Sapa – 310km northwest

For some, Hanoi is just a gateway to this mountainous region of rice-fields and limestone karsts. Hugely popular for the remarkable tribal groups and for Vietnam’s premier hiking – from three-hour walks to multi-day treks with local guides. Tours can be arranged in the town of Sapa or from Hanoi (see #58), including transport by bus or, usually, overnight train.

Hanoi Areas

95. Old Quarter

Historic, compact, and vibrant, the ancient part of Hanoi is also very crowded – overwhelmingly so for some visitors who are unused to teeming Asian cities. Access can be difficult by vehicle, and footpaths overflow with anything but pedestrians. Only budget-priced guesthouses and midrange boutique hotels are available here. Many want to stay alongside the landmark Hoan Kiem lake, but it is encircled by a busy road (which does become traffic-free on weekends), so no hotel has direct lake frontage.
Best Stuff: Apricot HotelLa Siesta Premium Cau GoSilk Path Boutique Hotel HanoiEssence Hanoi Hotel & SpaThe Chi Boutique HotelHanoi Marvellous Hotel & SpaGreen Tangerine restaurant • Hanoi Garden restaurant • L’Artiste restaurant • Red Bean restaurant • Quan An Ngon food court • Dong Xuan MarketApricot GalleryMaison des Arts HanoiTrang Tien Plaza shopping center • Hanoi Moment handicrafts • One36 BarJojo Bar HanoiCyclo Bar & RestaurantHanoikids city tours • Sapa Tours From HanoiExplore Indochina tours • Hanoi Street Food Tour • Hanoi Cyclo Tours • Thang Long Water Puppet TheaterBach Ma TempleSt Joseph’s Cathedral • Hoan Kiem Lake • Ngoc Son Temple • Thap Rua tower • SF SpaJust Massage

96. French Quarter

Styled by colonists to remind them of home, this former swamp now boasts broad boulevards, welcome patches of greenery, and elegant buildings like the Hanoi Opera House. Home to top-notch hotels, enormous embassies, and chic cafés, it’s only a few minutes on foot from the Old Quarter.
Best Stuff: Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi HotelHilton Hanoi Opera hotelHotel de l’Opera HanoiSpices Garden restaurant • Ly Club Hanoi restaurant • Café LautrecLa Terrasse bar & café • Hanoi Press Club bar & café • Hanoi Opera HouseSwing Café, Lounge & BarMetropole Cooking ClassAdventure Indochina tours • Vietnam National Museum of History • Swimming at Army Guest HouseLe Spa du Metropole

97. West Lake (Tay Ho)

Extensively developed since the Vietnam War, this vast lake district is home to many international-brand high-rise hotels. About 10 minutes by taxi from the Old Quarter, hotels here offer lake views and more space than those in the city center, but there are fewer facilities nearby.
Best Stuff: InterContinental Hanoi Westlake Hotel • Sheraton Hanoi HotelPan Pacific Hanoi HotelHome – Vietnamese Restaurant (quaint, villa setting, reasonable prices) • The Bookworm Hanoi bookstore • R&R TavernHanoi Rock City nightclub • Hidden Hanoi tours • Walking • Cycling • Paddle-boating • Quan Thanh Temple • Tran Quoc Pagoda • Seafood restaurants • Hanoi Water Park • Swimming at Thang Loi HotelViet Lotus Spa (well-regarded, extensive treatment menu)

98. Inner South

West of the French Quarter and south of the Old Quarter, the leafy streets here are lined with high-rise banks and government offices. Walkable to the other districts mentioned above, it’s a more authentic slice of Hanoi, without being nearly as chaotic and claustrophobic as the Old Quarter.
Best Stuff: Meliá Hanoi HotelThe Lapis Hotel (stylish, old-world charm) • Club Opera Novel Restaurant Bar LoungeUu Dam Chay restaurant • Wild Lotus Restaurant • Quan Su Pagoda • Lien Phai Pagoda • Hanoi Central CircusShi Beauty & Spa (popular, friendly, professional)

99. Inner West

Directly over the train line from the Old Quarter, this area – which includes suburbs such as Ba Dinh and Van Mieu – is home to several major attractions, but few facilities cater primarily to tourists. There are plenty of great places to eat, drink, and shop, but staff are far less likely to speak English.
Best Stuff: Mercure Hanoi la Gare HotelJW Marriott Hotel Hanoi (very opulent, but quite inconvenient) • KOTO Van Mieu restaurant • La Badiane restaurant • Craft Link shop • Cool Cats Jazz ClubLVP Travel tours • Ho Chi Minh MausoleumHo Chi Minh’s Stilt HouseVietnam Museum of EthnologyTemple of LiteratureFine Arts MuseumImperial Citadel of Thang Long • One Pillar Pagoda • Hanoi Botanical Garden • Boating • Royal City shopping and amusement center • Swimming at Hanoi Daewoo HotelThu Le Park & ZooDalink Spa (authentic and affordable)

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