In this article we want to guide you through the places to see on a first trip to Hanoi.
Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is the city that is almost always the point of entry when traveling to Vietnam. It can be a great surprise to the traveler, as it happened to us, due to culture shock, and depending on the time, to the humid heat. In this article we want to guide you through the top things to see on a first trip to Hanoi.
We will present you the top things to see and visit in Hanoi, grouped by type of place:
Temples and pagodas
Hoan Kiem Lake
The north of Vietnam is mainly Buddhist, while the south is Catholic. So in the city of Hanoi we can find many temples, although not only of the Buddhist religion, such as the first one we talked about.
Hoàn Kiếm Lake is the heart of old Hanoi, going around it is a very pleasant walk, it is one of those essential places to see in the city. Hoàn Kiếm means “the lake of the returned sword”. Legend has it that a sacred turtle gave a fisherman the sword with which he would save the kingdom from the invaders of the Ming dynasty. The fisherman would have become a hero leading the Vietnamese people to victory. The sword managed to keep the Chinese at bay, and when peace came, it is said that the turtle returned to the lake to take the sword. A metaphorical way of saying that “everything has an end”.
In the middle of the lake you can see the island of the turtle, with its square-shaped stupa.
Jade Mountain Temple
In the northern part of the lake is the Jade Mountain Temple, or Ngọc Sơn, admission: 30,000 dong, open 7 AM to 6 PM in summer and 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM in winter. It is a small temple, of Taoist worship, which is accessed through a charming red bridge, one of the points to take a photo on a visit to Hanoi ^^
n the temple you can see the shell of a tortoise, which is said to be the tortoise of the legend.
Tran Quoc Pagoda
Located on a mini peninsula, is the Trấn Quốc Pagoda. It is the oldest pagoda in the capital, typical of northern Vietnam. The entrance is totally free. In the brick tower are displayed various passages from the life of Buddha. A place where you can escape for a moment from the hustle and bustle of the city and one of the must-see places in Hanoi.
Quan Thanh temple
A few steps from the Trấn Quốc Pagoda is the Quan Thanh Temple, of Taoist worship, it was built in the 12th century and is dedicated to Tran Vo, the guardian of the north. Tran Vu is represented by a huge bronze statue dating from 1677 😮 . Here, as in many temples, we find citrus fruits called “Buddha’s hands” as an offering. The entrance fee to this temple is 10,000 dong.
The temple of literature
One of the largest in Hanoi, the Temple of Literature that is, measuring 70 x 350 meters. It was built in 1070, which makes it one of the oldest in the city in a good state of preservation. Dedicated to Confucianism, it was a university that educated princes and sons of mandarins. The entrance fee is 30,000 dong.
One Pillar Pagoda
The One Pillar Pagoda is a mini pagoda that sits in the middle of a lake. An essential visit if you go to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, since it is very close and you can visit it for free. Legend has it that it was built in the 11th century by King Ly Thai To to give thanks to the goddess Quan Am who helped him produce a male heir. The pagoda is very small but it is worth seeing, so much so that it is the emblem of the city. The idea, in fact, when building this pagoda was to emulate a lotus.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
To visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, you have to get up early. The huge mausoleum is located in the square where Vietnam’s independence was declared in 1945. It is interesting to visit it, not because of the curiosity of seeing the remains of the late leader, but to see how people visit it and the atmosphere that results from it in the square, seeing the women with colorful Ao Dais, the traditional dress of Vietnam and the families who are going to spend the day there. The mausoleum is free to visit, and for obvious reasons, photos cannot be taken inside the mausoleum.
Since one visits the mausoleum, it makes sense to visit the presidential palace complex, which is located next door, for 40,000 dong we can see various objects that belonged to the late president. The mustard-yellow palace itself is not to be visited. But you can see his two cars, including a peugot 404, as well as a teak house where he worked from 1958 until his death in 1969. Be careful with the schedules as they close for lunch, which is why we had to visit very quickly at the end since we did not know that they were about to close.
Thang Long Citadel
The citadel of Thang Long, which has been registered as a UNESCO heritage site since 2010, is considered the cradle of Hanoi. It is a huge green esplanade with several buildings, which today function as a museum. Emperor Ly Thai To decides that the capital will be in Hanoi, which at that time was called Thang Long. It was the imperial capital until 1806, at which time it was transferred to the city of Hue. The name of Hanoi arrived until 1831. The place is large, but nothing near with what it was, in its time the citadel covered about 50 hectares.
Inside the citadel you can visit an underground bunker, used during the Vietnam War, we can see various equipment and furniture from the time, the feeling of visiting it is rare.
Hoa Lo Prison
A place that we did not manage to visit is the Hoa Lo prison, the entrance costs 30,000 dong, and it is a place built in 1896. Several American pilots were imprisoned there, one of the best known was Senator John McCain and Douglas Peterson who after After being released, 23 years later he returned to Vietnam as United States Ambassador.
On a trip to Hanoi, the options of museums to see and visit will not be a problem. In fact the problem will be choosing. In my opinion the only museum we visited is one of the top things to see in Hanoi if we want to understand Vietnam’s history.
Museum of the revolution
We visited the museum of the revolution, it helps to understand how the Vietnamese managed to defeat both France and the United States. Of course, you have to go with an open mind and always keeping in mind that neither of the two parties has the absolute truth. The museum is divided into several rooms, beginning with the French anti-colonial movement and ending with the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, in the last rooms we had to go faster than we would have liked. So keep in mind that it opens from 8 AM to 12 PM and from 1:30 PM to 5 PM. The entrance fee is 40,000 dong.
Museums I would have liked to visit
Other museums that sounded interesting, but that we didn’t have time to visit are: the history museum (40,000 dong) that covers from prehistory to the Vietnamese dynasties, before the French arrived. The Vietnamese Women’s Museum (30,000 dong) shows how the women of Vietnam lived through the wars, heroic stories, photos, objects and testimonies, but not only war, they also show traditional dresses, customs, etc.
Dedicated to the leader of the same name, there is the Ho Chi Minh museum, (40,000 dong), on the second floor of the enclosure, his birthplace is entirely recreated, and just to see that I would have liked to visit it, but the timing was really short even though we were practically at the door, since it is near the mausoleum. Finally, the museum of ethnology, if you have time, go visit it, I couldn’t, but it helps to understand the ethnic groups that exist in the country (which are something like 54!), objects, customs, and various other things on display.
The neighborhood of the 36 guilds and corporations
In the northern part of Hoam Kiem Lake, is this neighborhood, the oldest in Hanoi. Formed during the 5th century, each street is supposed to have a different specialty. In this neighborhood a curious fact will be very visible: a tax had to be paid for the width of the façade. What results in having very tall and deep houses but very “thin”. The neighborhood is one of those where walking will be an adventure and every step you take will surprise you.
Curious places and things
Obama’s restaurant… one of the top things to see in Hanoi?
We visited the same restaurant that Barack Obama went to 🙂 it’s the Huong Lien, where we ate the delicious Bun Cha. Thanks to the fact that we had already done the Vietnamese food tour the day before, we already knew exactly what to expect. The food is delicious. But the most curious thing about the place is to see that the table where Obama ate has been closed and is on display to visitors, who, like us, came out of curiosity. Former US president managed to convert, perhaps unintentionally, this restaurant in one of those top things to see in Hanoi no matter what, at least to say “I was there too”.
The train and the coffee shop
After the bun cha, we went to a coffee shop that is right on the train tracks. It is a super curious street where people put and remove their things depending on the time the train passes. We weren’t lucky and we didn’t get to see the train go by, if you want to go on the safe side, ask your hotel, they will surely know the timetables.
More curiosities to see in Hanoi
In the street we found some miniature chickens, the girl with whom we had done the Vietnamese food tour had already told us that chickens in Vietnam are small in size. Wow, she was right. And just after the chickens we find a most colorful park, at least at the entrance because with an entrance fee and not much time we decided to keep going our way. On the way we stopped every so often to see the tide of motorcycles, they seemed to have no order, but at the same time they all seemed to walk at the same pace, an ordered chaos. Another curious thing was the sellers of Bo Bia, which are fresh spring rolls, I don’t know, it caught my attention to see the “Bo Bia” written, without knowing what it was.
Hoan Kiem Lake at night
It is worth taking a walk around the lake, again, at nightfall as the views of the red bridge and the colored turtle island stupa are very beautiful. And if you can, since you’re out there, you have to take the opportunity to see the water puppet show, unfortunately we didn’t have time to see it in Hanoi and we left it for the end of the trip, without success.
Conclusion: Hanoi, a city with a lot to see
For us Hanoi was the gateway to Vietnam and I have to say that for us it was a success. It is a city with much to see and learn, to begin to get used to the country. But there is no single formula, it can be the last part of the trip too, if you prefer to visit from south to north. The important thing is to take the time to visit it calmly. There will be times when we will need to take refuge from the city chaos, from the incessant heat. Or simply go calmly to each temple or museum that we have set ourselves the goal of visiting. It is a city worth savoring slowly.
If you have time, do not miss a visit to Halong Bay, it is a trip that can be done both round trip the same day or staying one night or more.