Hanoi is a city with charm. Whether you’re eating a local delicacy in the Old Quarter or relaxing on a cruise along the limestone islands, you’ll never find Hanoi’s ambiance anywhere else.
On this page I talk about 12 things to do that you shouldn’t miss during your stay. Once read you should have a good idea about the best parts of the city and its cultural attractions, plus you’ll discover some hidden gems.
These things to do are organized by third parties. Some of them are in Hanoi, while others will take you just outside of the city for outdoor treks and cruises.
Explore Ha Long Bay with a Luxury Cruise
Explore this famous UNESCO world heritage site with a luxury cruise. It’s one of Vietnam’s most popular things to do, and for good reason. Attractions vary from the beautiful limestone islands to beautiful sunsets, water activities and floating villages.
Cruise options vary from a day trip to a 4D3N option, but I recommend staying at least one night so you get to see all that Ha Long Bay has to offer.
Discover the Hidden Side of Hanoi
This guided tour lets you explore the hidden side of the Old Quarter on foot, and via the cyclo rickshaws bicycle taxis. You’ll visit ancient buildings and sample some popular Vietnamese snacks and foods from street cafes along the way.
The whole tour will take about four hours, and it’s a join-in group tour. It’s a great way to get to see the city and make friends, especially if you’re a solo traveler.
Go on a River Adventure and Explore Hoa Lu City
If you enjoy taking pictures you’ll love this tour. The tour takes you on a voyage through the Tam Coc river, bringing you to Hoa Lu, Vietnam’s ancient capital city.
There are many scenic landscapes and cultural landmarks to take photos of along the way. So don’t forget to bring fully charged batteries for your camera.
This tour has the option for join in or a private tour, and takes about 10 hours.
Trek the Sapa Mountains
The Sapa Mountains are about 6 hours away from Hanoi by express bus, but worth the travel time. Once you arrive, you’ll trek through Vietnam’s scenic natural terrain where you’ll encounter beautiful valleys, green meadows and waterfalls.
You can choose to spend the night at a homestay or a hotel. I recommend staying in a homestay so you get to experience living in a traditional house while mingling with the locals.
Learn How To Cook Vietnamese
Learn how to make authentic Vietnamese cuisine, with guidance from experienced Vietnamese chefs. You’ll also learn a few useful Vietnamese phrases and shop for ingredients at the local food market, before preparing your meal at the villa.
The class takes about five hours, with an option for either the morning or afternoon session. Once you’re finished, you can enjoy your self-cooked meal in view of the Red River and Long Bien Bridge.
Join Tan and Brett’s Beer Tour
Tan and Brett’s Beer Tour focuses on giving you an authentic Hanoian beer culture experience. You’ll visit some of the best food and beer spots that you’d otherwise be unlikely to find. Plus the fun and lighthearted atmosphere makes it a great way to make new friends.
DIY Things To Do
These attractions are either free or cost very little. Most people choose to stay at the Old Quarter which is where these things are located. So there’s no need to spend money on transport if you don’t mind walking for a bit.
Explore the Old Quarter
The Old Quarter is famous for its French-colonial architecture, great food, and long history. Expect to find plenty of hip cafes, bars, restaurants, bakeries, boutique shops and art galleries.
Traffic is busy in this area, as the streets are packed with scooters, bicycles, cars, and pedestrians. Exploring the Old Quarter means you’ll have to brave the traffic, but it’s worth it to experience life as a local.
Take a Walk around Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake is located in the Old Quarter. Along its shores you’ll see locals walking, exercising, and water-gazing by the park benches.
It’s a relaxing place to be a good place to people-watch and take photos.
Look out for the Turtle Tower in the middle of the lake, and the Temple of the Jade Mountain towards the north.
Experience Bia Hoi, the Cheap Beer Corner
$0.25 USD – that’s how cheap the beer is at Bia Hoi corner. Sure, you’ll be sitting on small plastic stools and tables, but that’s part of the charm. Enjoy the ambience of drinking with the locals and make some friends with other travelers without breaking your budget.
Tip: Also see The Ultimate Guide To Hanoi’s Nightlife for many more good nightlife options beyond Bia Hoi.
Attractions To Visit
These attractions are things that you can do on your own, without booking at any third party. All of these places to visit are located inside the city.
Visit the Vietnamese Women’s Museum
The Vietnamese Women’s Museum focuses on the contribution of women to Vietnam’s history and culture, highlighting their many roles in military conflicts as well as in commerce.
There are three floors to the museum, describing the culture of marriage and childbirth, women’s role in the Vietnamese war, and the techniques of Vietnamese clothing and fashion.
The tickets are $1.50 USD, and another $1.50 USD for the audio tour, which is worth the price as it provides extensive background to the displays.
For more museum ideas see 6 Interesting Museums Worth Visiting in Hanoi.
Watch a Water Puppet Show
The Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre performs musical stories of Vietnamese historical legends and folk tales, accompanied by a Vietnamese pit orchestra.
The cost of this attraction is $5 USD for an hour, and the venue is near Hoan Kiem Lake, so you can just walk over when you’re near.
Rejuvenate with a Massage
Picture by La belle Spa
All that walking around in Hanoi makes for some sore feet, which is the perfect excuse for a massage.
If you really want to pamper yourself then I recommend La belle Spa. It’s one of the best traditional Vietnamese spas in the city, with a range of massage options such as the hot stone leg massage, aromatherapy massage, and their signature bamboo massage.
Hanoi is a great place to experience culture and history without breaking the bank. Whether you just want to enjoy cheap beer and make friends, or go all out on a luxury cruise, there are plenty of things to do for everyone.
Hope that helped you plan your adventure in Hanoi. Enjoy! 🙂