Visiting Hanoi – A City Guide
Located on the banks of the Red River, Hanoi is the second-largest city in Vietnam, and a multicultural hub due to its Chinese, Vietnamese and French heritage. Ancient temples and pagodas sit alongside modern shopping malls, and Hoan Kiem Lake offers a tranquil sanctuary away from crowded streets and markets.
Hanoi is made up of several districts but has four main areas: Hoan Kiem, Ba Dinh, Hai Ba Trung, and Dong Da. The streets around Hoan Kiem are lined with shops and restaurants, and lead to the Old Quarter with preserved architecture and French colonial buildings and St Joseph’s Cathedral. South of Hoan Kiem is Ba Dinh (French Quarter), with French colonial buildings, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum & Presidential Palace, the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long Hanoi, a range of museums and Hanoi Opera House.
Hanoi’s street markets are a great place to experience local life and the buzz of haggling. The Hanoi Weekend Night Market has hundreds of stalls selling traditional conical hats, embroidered clothes and Vietnamese street food. Many streets are known for their trade, and Hang Gai Street (Silk Road) is worth a visit for high quality silk cushions, scarves and dresses.
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Eating Out in Hanoi
Food in Hanoi has been influenced by its former rulers, and combines traditional Vietnamese, French and Chinese dishes. On most streets you’ll find restaurants, cafes, and street food vendors, selling everything from rice dishes to coffee and ice cream.
Old Quarter is a great area to sample fresh Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches at lively street markets like Hanoi Night Market. Wafting aromas from street food vendors in the Old Quarter lure you from the main streets down cobbled alleyways where diners sit on plastic stools.
Fine dining can be enjoyed in restaurants in restored colonial building in Hanoi’s Old Quarter or near Hoan Kiem Lake. Many western dishes are available, and there are pizzerias and sophisticated French restaurants in the Hoan Kiem district.
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Shopping in Hanoi
Shopping is varied in Hanoi, and you can reach the city’s traditional markets and modern malls by foot. Many streets are dedicated to specific products, from clothing and souvenirs to fresh food and spices, and haggling is as normal as saying good morning.
Dong Xuan Market in the Hanoi Old Quarter is the largest indoor market with hundreds of stalls selling anything and everything. Hang Gai Street (Silk Street) has boutiques selling high quality silk goods like scarves and bags. Art lovers can explore Vietnamese contemporary art by visiting local galleries on both Hang Gai Street and Hang Bong Street. You can buy authentic silver jewellery from shops on Hang Bac Street, one of Hanoi’s oldest streets. Hanoi’s night markets are energetic and crowded, and the Weekend Market on Hang Dao Street offers exotic food and souvenirs.
Trang Tien Plaza mall on Trang Tien Street sells luxury brands including Cartier and Louis Vuitton, while Hang Da Shopping Mall has affordable clothes and shoes and haggling is welcome. For fashion items, Nha Tho Street and Nha Chung Street are lined with boutiques.
Best gifts to buy in Hanoi
Culture & Nightlife in Hanoi
Due to influences from its Chinese and French rulers, Hanoi is one of Vietnam’s main cultural hubs. It has many museums, European-style theatres, and ancient temples like Ngoc Son Temple, and the city’s modern developments and traditional values have fused well.
You can learn about Vietnam’s historic struggle against foreign rulers at the National Museum of Vietnamese History. The Temple of Literature in Dong Da district was Vietnam’s first university, dedicated to Confucius and attended by royals.
Hanoi Opera House was built by the French between 1901 and 1911 and boasts striking neo-classical architecture, offering numerous ballets, operas, classical symphonies and pop concerts. Minh's Jazz Club in the French Quarter offers live music, while Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre near Hoan Kiem Lake has unusual performances accompanied by music.
Most nightclubs and bars are in the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake district, where many tourists and expats drink local Bia hoi beer until midnight.
Best museums in Hanoi
Leisure in Hanoi
If you want a break from sightseeing, there are many places to enjoy new activities away from the crowded streets. You can play golf, learn how to cook traditional Vietnamese dishes at Hidden Hanoi, or take a trip to beautiful Halong Bay.
Hoan Kiem Lake is a peaceful oasis where you can jog, walk, or practise Tai Chi on the shore, or visit Den Ngoc Son on Jade Island. No trip to Vietnam is complete without visiting Halong Bay where you can kayak or sail along jade lagoons beneath soaring jagged limestone cliffs and emerald-forested isles.