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Hanoi Things To Do - Understand Culture & History

Hanoi is one of Vietnam must-see attractions, that combines the old time beauty with modern living, by day and by night, from picture-postcard lakes to historical buildings, from colorful open markets to rich cultural events. This ultimate checklist of things to do in Hanoi will help visitors make the most out of Hanoi and understand much more about Vietnam’s culture and history.


The Huc Brigde - photo by Tran Gia Tien


1. Walk around Old Quarter and drink the cheapest beer in the world

One of the must - visit places in Hanoi, the Old Quarter with its insane energy and unique character will blown your mind away by just walking around the narrow bustling streets. It rarely sleeps because of a nonstop buzz of activity, variety of delicious eateries, boutique cafes, cool bars and pubs, roadside food carts, motorcycles and pedestrians that might overwhelm first-time visitors.  


Hanoi Craft Beer Old Quarter - photo by Tran Gia Tien


When in the Old Quarter, do as the locals do, which is drinking Hanoi's craft beer. Stop by the corner Ta Hien - Luong Ngoc Quyen street, sit on tiny plastic stools and  have some incredible cheap home-made craft beer (Bia Hoi) with just 5.000 VND (about 25 cents US dollar) per big glass. Bia Hoi is freshly crafted every night without any preservatives and delivered to the beer shops early in the morning, therefore, it is one of the freshest beers in the world.

Tips: You will need at least four to five hours to experience Old Quarter thoroughly.


2. Learn about the legend

Located in the heart of Hanoi is one of the most legendary attractions: Hoan Kiem Lake and Turtle Tower. The beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake is a Hanoians proud landmark, whose photos appear in many Vietnam's travel guides. An ancient legend has it that Le Loi King used a magical sword of Dragon God to fight against Chinese Ming dynasty, then he returned the sword to the Giant Turtle God in the lake. Vietnamese people still believe the Giant Turtle God exists and had lived for thousand years deep under the water. Therefore, the Turtle Tower was built on a small island in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake to worship him.


Sword Lake - photo from


Tips: Visit Hoan Kiem lake in the weekends to observe locals gathering for community activities, live music, modern dance.  


3. Temple or pagoda?

What are the differences between "temple" and "pagoda" in Vietnam? Temples honor gods, who were real human beings such as mandarins, emperors or national heroes. Pagodas are for worshiping Buddhists.


Temple of Literature - photo by Tran Gia Tien


One of the things to see in Hanoi that cannot skipped is Temple of Literature - a temple dedicated to Confucius that was built in the 11th Century. Under the Ly Dynasty (beginning of 1076), Temple of Literature was home to national gifted students. Inside has many ancient statues and legend stories. Even today, college students still come here and pray to enhance their study. Other interesting temples are Ngoc Son Temple, Quan Thanh Temple, Bach Ma Temple.


One Pillar Pagoda - Photo from


 The most famous pagoda in Hanoi is One Pillar Pagoda, which is almost 1000 years old and considered Vietnam's most iconic Buddhism pagoda. The pagoda balances on a single pillar, surrounded by a small flowers pond, and has a beautiful lotus shaped carved wood sitting on its top. Another pagoda worth visiting is Tran Quoc Pagoda, Vietnam's oldest pagoda founded in the 6th century, which connects Hoan Kiem Lake and Truc Bach Lake.

Tips: Show respect by wearing clothing that covers shoulders, chest and legs when visit pagodas and temples. Shorts and tank tops are a no-go.

4. It's museum time

Hanoi is the best place to visit in Vietnam for museums. Vietnam Women Museum, Museum of the Revolution, Vietnam National Museum of History, Vietnam Military History Museum, Vietnam Fine Art Museum, B52 History Museum, Hanoi Cultural Museum, and the list goes on.

The most popular one is Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, which explains the rich history and culture of many different ethnicities in Vietnam. Opening hours: Everyday except for Monday, 8:30-17:30. Entrance fee: 40.000VND/person.


Vietnam Museum of Ethnology - photo from


Tips: Ho Chi Minh Museum is also recommended to see not for the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh, but also that's the only place in Hanoi you can take pictures of communist soldiers without a problem.



5. Enjoy the unique cultural shows

Get the best seat at the historic Hanoi Opera House and enjoy an hour-long cultural show called Lang Toi, also known as My Village, a sublime combination of tradition and innovation where what seems to be the humble Vietnamese village life is turned into a noble art. Farming, building activities, traditional games and lifestyle of villagers are recreated by talented artists with their breathtaking circus, juggling and acrobatic techniques. Using the traditional and hero-like iconic bamboo props under the pure sound of folk music. Vietnamese artists have created a contribution from the heart to unveil their love for their motherland.


Lang Toi - My Village at Hanoi Opera House


Drop in and see a water puppet show at Thang Long Water Puppet Theater. Water puppetry is Vietnam's unique traditional performance features wooden puppets controlled by puppeteers standing behind a bamboo curtain. The show’s stage is a shallow wading pool.


6. Eat & shop like locals

Egg coffee is a Hanoi’s beverage highlight. Giang Café dated back to 1946 when a former bartender of Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi decided to open his own coffee shop and created this signature drink. It was invented in the days when milk was scarce. The bold flavor of coffee put away the raw egg’s taste, while the yolks increase the creamy flavor.


Photo from


Hanoians also love drinking tea at sidewalk iced tea shops, which are everywhere, from busy streets to small alleys and pavements. On summer evenings, young people gather at tea vendors around St. Joseph's Cathedral to enjoy tea and chat the entire evening.

 Early birds, can come to the authentic Quang Ba flower market - one of Hanoi's places to visit. Surrounded by fresh colorful fragrant flowers with all sorts of varieties, the market is bustling of people coming and going with flowers on motorbikes and cycles. It's not only a place for visitors to pick up some pretty lilies, orchids or daisies, but also a chance to understand how important flowers are in Hanoian's daily life.


Photo by Tran Gia Tien


Last but not least is a thrilling experience on a bike around the city. Vespa Adventures Tour stands out of many typical city tours as they provide a combined viewpoint of both a tourist and a local, and a thrill sitting on the back of vintage Vespas. From the historic St. Joseph’s Cathedral or Old Quarter to Long Bien Bridge or Ngoc Ha Market. The Hanoi After Dark Tour is a gastronomy tour, that Vespa Adventure take travellers to popular local restaurants to enjoy must-try Vietnamese dishes like grilled pork noodles, fried spring rolls, and wraps.  The tour also adds in places to enjoy old-school Jazz and traditional Vietnamese music.


Photo from


No matter what travellers are looking for, Hanoi has something for everyone. We hope you are spoilt for the brilliant things to do in Hanoi as much as we are. Enjoy!

To book tickets to Lang Toi - My Village, bamboo cirque cultural performance at the Hanoi Opera House or Vietnam Tuong Theater, please follow this link: Lang Toi - My Village, only from 560,000 VND ($23).

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