Hanoi is a bustling city that is best explored on foot, so you can be charmed by its colorful streets, delicious street food and the friendliness of the Vietnamese people.
Packed with French colonial architecture, pagodas and Buddhist temples, museums, restaurants, and cafes. Hanoi is a place where you can easily spend a few days roaming around, taking pictures and absorbing its unique atmosphere.
But if you have only 24 hours…
Start the day with a Vietnamese Coffee – one of the best morning drinks in the world, with its hint of nuts and chocolate, served hot or cold beneath a thin layer of condensed milk. If you feel more adventurous try the delicious ‘egg coffee’ – or if you are on a health kick the Vietnamese make some fantastic avocado milkshakes and freshly-prepared fruit juices.
So what now?
Life in Hanoi starts early. Hawkers are busy preparing items to sell on the side of the street, and this is an excellent photo opportunity. Old streets showcase jobs that are slowly disappearing. In the early 13th century skilled craftsmen migrated to the Quarter, and artisan guilds were formed by craftsmen originating from the same village and performing similar services.
Even now each street is specialized in a particular type of item, such as baking products, silk, silver, wood and so on. Streets are interconnected so enjoy choosing one and wandering freely from there. Han Gai Street sells silk clothing ready-made and tailored, embroidery, and silver products. Hang Quat stuns the visitor by its brilliantly coloured funeral and festival flags and religious objects and clothing. To Thinh Street connects the above two and is still the wood turner's street. But those are just a few.
The centre of Hanoi, known as the Old Quarter, runs all around Hoan Kiem Lake, which is very popular among locals as a gathering place for families, nature lovers and people to hang out. People come here for ice-creams, to practice tai chi or to let their children run about. The area is particularly nice on Fridays and Sundays, because the traffic is banned between 7 pm and midnight, and the area becomes a peaceful oasis.
In the middle of the lake, there are also two tourist attractions not to be missed: Ngoc Son Pagoda and the Rising Sun Bridge. The bridge is built out of wood and colored red in classical Vietnamese fashion (entrance price: 30,000 VND / 1.30 USD).
If you have to choose one museum to see during you’re your time in Hanoi try the Ho Chi Minh complex (8 am to 4.30 pm, 10,000 VND / 0.50 USD).
This mausoleum is the final resting place of the revolution leader Ho Chi Minh, who was the President of the Communist Party of Vietnam. The complex stands in the very same place in 1945 he read the Declaration of Independence and established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The complex and museum are divided into several parts where you can see the houses and the cars from then.
In the evening you should go to see the traditional water puppet show that combines traditional live music and the skills of puppet masters. You don’t need to speak Vietnamese to enjoy the show. Admittance costs 100,000 VND (4.5 USD).
Isn’t Hanoi hot?
Vietnam weather is hot and humid. That’s why a refreshing beer is often a favorite drink. To experience the true Hanoi nightlife go to Ta Hien Street. You will be amazed at the first time they get there by the crowded and energetic atmosphere. Ta Hien Street boasts dozens of small and interesting bars from one end to the other of the street, all close together. Bier is incredibly cheap (only 5,000 VND per glass), some of the bars have even live music playing from 6 pm to 2 am.
Night market (Hàng Đào, Hoàn Kiếm, open 6 pm until late) takes place along a three-kilometer pedestrian street between Hang Dao Street and Dong Xuan Market. This street opens from 7 pm until 11 pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night and consists of more than 3000 stalls from numerous small traders selling foods, clothes, accessories, daily goods, souvenirs, and handicrafts.
Hanoi Food and drinks
This is a traditional dish from the north of Vietnam, which is grilled pork and patties over a plate of white rice noodle and herbs with a side dish of dipping sauce, usually accompanied by Nem (Vietnamese-style spring rolls).
Vietnamese street food sandwich, traditionally made with pork, coriander, cucumber, pickled carrots, and pickled daikon, combined with condiments from French cuisine such as pâté, along with chili and mayonnaise. In used to be a simple street food sold by vendors to take away and eaten in the street. It has since become a popular lunch option for tourists, sold in small shops with more filling options and nicer décor.
Vietnamese soup consisting of broth, rice noodles called bánh phở, a few herbs, and meat, primarily made with either beef (phở bò) or chicken (phở gà). It is eaten at any time of the day, including breakfast.
This might seem a strange combination to some but this coffee, made with condensed milk and egg yolks, is a delicious treat that tastes like someone whisked up a creamy meringue and added it to your coffee.
If you are not used to eating the fruit in South East Asia you will be surprised by the natural sweetness of the pineapple or the tastiness of mango. And why not trying something more unusual such as mangosteen, rambutan, and lychee? You won’t be disappointed!
Where should I eat in Hanoi?
Giảng Cafe – for the best egg coffee in town (they only serve coffee, no food – so don’t go empty stomach)
Cộng Cà Phê – a local chain that makes delicious and unique coffees with chocolate, coconut, and other local specialties. They serve small Vietnamese snacks.
Banh Mi Hoi An – A great option to try Banh mi and its different fillings.
Pizza 4P’s Tràng Tiền – If you prefer more Western options this is definitely the place to go: excellent and authentic pizzas, salads and pasta. Book in advance if you go at peak times.
Bun Cha Ta Hanoi – Hanoi has several great places where you can try Bun Cha, but most of them are very basic and crowed. This restaurant adds a little décor because, whilst looks might not be everything, they can certainly help.
Where should I stay?
The best place to base yourself is the Old Quarter around Hoan Kiem lake. There are guesthouses and hotels for most budget ranges. However, most big hotel chains and luxury hotels are located near the West Lake, for space reasons. You could always stay there which is more peaceful and take a taxi to reach the center and other areas but having only 24 hours and not wanting to spend time in traffic I would recommend finding some suitable options near the Old Quarter. Only a few will have a swimming pool to cool off from the humid heat, but if you book in advance you will be able to find them.
Wow! Is there anything else I should know?
Before going to Vietnam make sure you have a vaccine for Typhoid update to avoid an unpleasant surprise and be able to taste freely all the delicious food of Vietnam.
Although Vietnamese people are generally very kind and honest, watch out for counterfeit meter taxis which have meters that run much faster than normal ending up paying 15/20 USD for just a couple of km ride. If this happens to you call the police (dial 113). You can also avoid those problems using Grab.
In case you prefer another attraction than the Ho Chi Minh complex
Visit the Woman’s Museum (opens 8 am, 5 pm, Price: 30,000 VND/1.30 USD). The museum focuses on the position of Vietnamese women throughout history. From street merchants, mothers to entrepreneurs and scholars. The narrative focuses on their role in society, the obstacles they overcame as society changed and an abundance of information on everyday life, such as marriage, motherhood, fashion, and life-changing rituals. One of the most interesting exhibits focuses on the position women played in Vietnam’s wars. The information is available in both English and French.