Are you planning a trip to Vietnam and asking yourself, is Hanoi worth visiting? With incredible architecture, one of Asia’s most exciting street food scenes, and endless cultural sites to explore, the answer is a resounding yes! The 1000-year-old Vietnamese capital is surprisingly not the country’s biggest city. That title belongs to the southern metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City. But Hanoi, in the northern Red River Delta region, remains the political and cultural center of the country.
At the heart of Hanoi is the tranquil Hoan Kiem Lake, from which the city spreads out around. The hectic Old Quarter is where most of Hanoi’s tourist sites, hotels, restaurants, cafes, and bars can be found. Join the throngs of locals, visitors, bikes, and cars making their way through the winding old streets or escape to the quieter lanes of the quaint French Quarter.
From hunting down the most Instagrammable spots to exploring the city’s wealth of unusual museums, trying budget-friendly, street-eats to using Hanoi as a base for visiting some of Vietnam’s best tourist destinations, we’ve compiled 7 reasons that answer the question, is Hanoi worth visiting?
1. Hanoi is the Cultural Capital of Vietnam
Sure, Ho Chi Minh City might beat Hanoi in terms of size and economic strength, but it’s Hanoi that dazzles when it comes to culture. The city is where you will find many of Vietnam’s most important cultural sites, including the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the Ngoc Son Temple. It’s also home to around 15 fascinating museums, focusing on everything from fine art to traditional medicine and even the role of Vietnamese women throughout history. A good place to start is the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. The vast collection features more than 15,000 artifacts showing traditional Vietnamese ways of life, as well as offering an insight into the heritage and culture of the 50+ ethnic groups that call Vietnam home.
Museums and historic spots aren’t the only cultural sites that make Hanoi worth visiting; the city also has a rich arts scene. Discover the ancient art of water puppet theatre at Hoan Kiem Lake. Here, you can watch skilled local puppeteers recreate stories of ancient Vietnamese folklore whilst operating beautifully decorated puppets from the knee-deep water of the lake.
Alongside a visit to the unmissable Vietnam National Fine Arts Museum, art lovers will also want to check out Manzi Art Space. Housed within one of the city’s opulent French Villas, the art gallery is known for its impressive contemporary collection and for its range of art, dance, and music events.
If you have time, try to squeeze in a trip to the Hanoi Opera House – Vietnam’s biggest and best theatre. Located within a beautiful 19th-century neo-classical building, the Hanoi Opera House offers local and international performances of opera, ballet, and music.
2. The City is One of Asia’s Most Exciting Street Food Destinations
Love street food? You must visit Hanoi! The city is one of the most diverse and flavor-rich areas of Asia. Hanoi is often overlooked in favor of Ho Chi Minh City when it comes to lists of the best cities to try street food. But those who have been before know, Hanoi has more than its fair share of delicious local delicacies and ancient recipes.
For a taste of classic Hanoi, try bánh cuốn (steamed rice rolls) at Bánh Cuốn Gia Truyền. Watching them being hand-rolled is a form of art in itself. Additionally, it’s worth a trip to the now-famous Bún Chả Hương Liên for a bowl of their grilled pork, sweet broth, rice noodles, and greens. Aside from the unusually large queue, this place looks like every other cheap restaurant from the outside. Inside, however, you’ll find the table (now encased in glass) at which the late Anthony Bourdain and Barack Obama once chatted at over bowls of bún chả and cold Vietnamese beers for the 2016 Hanoi episode of Parts Unknown.
Back out on the street, it’s time to try another Hanoi specialty – cà phê trứng – or egg coffee. The Vietnamese are known throughout the world for their love of strong, thick coffee, usually served with sweet and sticky condensed milk. But in Hanoi, you will also find the unique taste of cà phê trứng. Don’t be put off by it being made with raw egg – the taste is often likened to a creamy dessert such as tiramisu. Now a Hanoi institution, Giang Café claims to be the birthplace of cà phê trứng and is the best place in the city to try this unique drink.
3. Hanoi is a Photographer’s Paradise
Whether you are a budding photographer or Instagram star, Hanoi is a colorful paradise with endless options for picture taking. Head to the French Quarter for a backdrop of yellow colonial buildings and leafy lanes. Or make pull up a plastic chair at any coffee join in the Old Quarter to snap street scenes of locals in the iconic nón lá or leaf hat. Take an early morning stroll around the lake to see Hanoi’s residents going about their daily business and frame the perfect misty shot of Ngoc Son Temple – the island pagoda in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake.
One photo opportunity that shouldn’t be missed is a trip to Hanoi’s Train Street. Twice per day on Ngo 224 Le Duan lane, in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, a train speeds past buildings and locals at an alarmingly narrow distance. Part of the old route that runs south to Ho Chi Minh City, visitors can watch as laundry, chairs, and stalls are folded away as the train approaches. Locals press to the walls or dip into doorways while playing children are ushered inside. Moments after the train passes, everything is returned to its former position and the whole process is repeated when the next train comes.
4. It’s a Great Base to explore Vietnam on a Day Trip
If you’re wondering, is Hanoi worth visiting as a base for day trips, you’ll be happy to hear this is a great jumping-off point for exploring Vietnam. There are many easy day trips you can take from the city, including the world-famous Hạlong Bay and nearby Cat Ba Island. These can both be reached from Hanoi within two hours.
To the south of Hanoi, you can also visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ninh Bình. Around two and half hours away from the city center, Ninh Bình is known as the Hạlong Bay of the land. As well as breathtaking karst scenery, Ninh Binh has the advantage of being less well known than its northern neighbor, meaning you can often find a peaceful corner to yourself. Vietnam’s ancient city of Hoa Lu can also be explored within the park.
Another popular day trip from Hanoi is to the Perfume Pagoda. Located around two hours from Hanoi, this series of cave shrines and pagodas is built into the Huong Tich mountains.
5. Hanoi is a History Lover’s Heaven
As one of Asia’s ancient capitals, Hanoi has thousands of years of history just waiting to be uncovered. And, having been occupied by the Chinese, French, and Japanese at different points in the past, the city has also been left with an eclectic mix of cultural scars. Any history buff will have more than enough sites to keep them enthralled, from seeing where American POWs were kept during the war at the Hoa Lo Prison to visiting the Temple of Literature, where Vietnam’s first university was established.
The best place to get a deeper understanding of Vietnam’s varied history is the National Museum of History. Housed in a building that once formed part of the French School of the Far East, the museum has around 200,000 items. These range from the country’s prehistory to the 1947 Revolution and the founding of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
Another highly acclaimed museum in Hanoi is the Vietnamese Women’s Museum. With informative displays detailing the lives of Vietnamese women throughout the ages – including the role they played during the Vietnam War – this collection is considered one of the best gender museums in the world.
Finally, no visit to Hanoi would be complete without a trip to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Join the often-snaking queue of locals paying their respects to ‘Uncle Ho’ – Vietnam’s most famous leader who established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The location of the mausoleum, where his embalmed body now lies in a glass case, is also the spot from which he proclaimed independence in 1945.
6. It is one of Asia’s Most Budget-Friendly Destinations
Is Hanoi worth visiting for travelers on a budget? All those spare Vietnamese Dong in your pocket say yes! The city happens to be one of Southeast Asia’s most budget-friendly destinations, with cheap accommodation, food, and local transport. Those traveling around Vietnam will discover that Hanoi is slightly cheaper than the country’s other big cities like Ho Chi Minh and Hoi An, making it the ideal destination for budget backpackers.
You can expect to pay around 162,000 VND (approximately $7) for a basic bed in a shared dorm and roughly 650,000 VND ($28) for a double room in a decent hotel. A bowl of pho will cost around 45,000 VND ($2) while a local beer will set you back just 20,000 VND (<$1)
Transport in Hanoi is unbelievably cheap, with xe om – or motorcycle taxis – being the most budget-friendly way to get around. A 2km ride will cost around 25,000 to 30,000 VND or less than $1!
Day tours from Hanoi are also budget-friendly. You can get a return tour from the city to Halong Bay for around $50, which usually includes your transport, a cruise, food, and even extras like kayaking in the bay.
Additionally, most of the city’s top tourist attractions have relatively low ticket costs and some are even free. There’s no admission at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and a ticket for the National Museum of History costs just 20,000 VDN (<$1)
7. Hanoi Can be Visited Year-Round, with Four Distinct Seasons
While some parts of Asia are best avoided during the monsoon season, northern Vietnam can be visited year-round. This part of the country enjoys four distinct seasons and visitors will discover that each has its own beauty and benefits.
Spring starts at the end of February and generally lasts until April. In spite of a little spring drizzle, this is a great time to see Hanoi’s tropical flowers and plants in bloom. With temperatures ranging from 15°-20°C, it’s warm enough to enjoy the city’s outdoor activities but cool enough to still be comfortable by midday.
Summertime in Hanoi runs from May until August, with the hottest days in July. The average temperature is 32°C but if you don’t mind the heat and the evening thunderstorms, summer is an exciting time to visit Hanoi. Tourists are fewer, attraction queues are shorter and there are better deals to be had on day trips. Plus, you’ll be able to join the locals in their nightly celebration of the city cooling down. Summer nights in Hanoi have a distinctly chilled atmosphere.
Fall is generally considered the best time to visit Hanoi. Lasting from September to November, this short season is drier, cooler, and more comfortable than Spring and Summer. It’s also a popular time to see the city’s leaves change color, with glorious shows of red, yellow, and gold foliage.
Although temperatures can get down to around 10C°, Hanoi is still worth visiting during the winter months of December, January, and February. Make like the locals and warm up with delicious hot street food and egg coffee. If you’re visiting over the holidays in December, be sure to check out the Christmas market and Christmas concert. The latter features festive performances from the likes of the Hanoi Orchestra and Hanoi Youth Choir.
Why Vietnam is Worth Visiting
Hanoi isn’t the only part of Vietnam that is worth visiting. The country is home to many beautiful destinations, from modern Ho Chi Minh City laid-back Hoi An and romantic Hue. Discover just a few of the reasons Why Vietnam is Worth Visiting; from incredible beaches and tropical islands to stunning national parks and thrilling adventure activities. If you’re considering visiting Vietnam, don’t forget to read our guide to the Top 9 Dangerous Animals in Vietnam before you go.