Places to visit in Hanoi for First timers, Vietnam

Last updated on July 16th, 2019 at 09:25 am

As the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi is a vibrant city and an important one throughout the history of Vietnam. With chaotic traffic, Chinese communal houses and beautiful French colonial building, there is much to love about Hanoi and much to see.

>If you are looking for a food guide, I’ve got you covered, too!

Hanoi transport


The traffic in Hanoi is notorious, and crossing the road for the first time can be daunting. The key is to avoid cars, but motorcycles will avoid you as long as you maintain a constant speed. For other means of transportation, there’s really only Grab left. You should get the app for Vietnam if you haven’t already. A ride from one place to another within proximity of the Old Town should cost around 25,000 dong.

Hanoi airport to the old quarter

Your hostel or hotel is likely to be able to book you a taxi around 15 to 20 USD, but you can also use Grab or Uber to book a taxi to your accommodation directly. It would likely to be cheaper that way and there are numerous drivers waiting around the lobby that asks you to use Grab to hire them! So that might be a good alternative.

Things to see in Hanoi

Hoan Kiem Lake


At the center of Old Town and Hanoi, Hoan Kiem Lake is without a doubt the heart of Hanoi. The most iconic spot in Hanoi, the lake itself is not very big, but according to the legends, it is where the turtle god appear and is home to a unique specie of large softshell turtles.


It is said that Emperor Le Loi was given a sword by a turtle god in the lake, previous named ‘Green Lake’, and was able to defeat the Ming army. The turtle god came back to him when he was out boating, asking for the return of the sword and thus the name Hoan Kiem (returning sword) became the name of the lake.

The temple in the middle of the lake is the Turtle Tower, and there is also a more established one that you can visit on the Jade Island near the northern shore.

Tran Quoc Pagoda


Tran Quoc Pagoda is another frequently used landmark used to depict Hanoi. With its yellow entrance and tall red Pagoda, it’s also a major photography attraction.


Located on the Kim Ngu islet on Tay Ho (the west lake), it is a Buddhist temple and the oldest of its kind in Hanoi. Built during the Ly Dynasty in the 6th century, you can find many traditional Chinese characters around the temple.


The pagoda was originally named ‘Starting Realm’ temple, then ‘Pacification of the Realm” and “Guardian of the North’, with its current name means ‘Stabilising and holding the Realm’.

There are two parts to the temple once inside the entrance. The big pagoda is the resting place for the ashes of monks, and the main part of the temple is at the back along with the Bodhi tree. The tree grew from a branch from the original where Buddha reached enlightenment, a gift from the visiting India Prime Minister in 1959.

Address: Thanh Niên, Yên Phụ, Ba Đình, Hà Nội 100000

Opening times: closed on Sunday

No Admission fee

Thang Long Citadel

Doan Mon Gate (southern entrance)

While the capital of the last dynasty in Vietnam is in Hue, Hanoi was actually the seat of power before the Nguyen moved south. Thang Long means ‘rising dragon’, a majestic citadel built by the Ly Dynasty in the early 11th century and in used until 1810. However, much of it was destroyed during the French Occupation, and only a few gates and buildings are left standing.

The citadel was declared a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site in 2010, and is now a popular photography spot for local students. The excavation of the citadel is ongoing, but currently, you can only visit a few spots. The most notable are the:

Flag Tower


North Gate


You can view the north gate from outside and actually see the two cannon ball mark left there during the war with France.

Tip: Enter through the car park to visitor center to buy tickets. The other gates are for exit only.

The entrance
Visitor center

Tip 2: there isn’t much left, so expect to spend an hour to two at most, and there will be a lot of people on weekend taking photos

Address: Số 19C Hoàng Diệu, Quán Thánh, Ba Đình, Hà Nội

Opening times: Closed on Monday 8:00 – 17:00

Entrance fee: adult 30,000 dong, concessions 15,000 (student/ 60+)

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum


The final resting place of Ho Chi Minh, the MCM Mausoleum is a national monument that reflects the most important recent history of the country. For those who might not know, Ho Chi Minh is the chief figure in the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. He was the first president until his death in 1969, and the mausoleum was inaugurated in 1975.

The guards there are more relaxed

A black and red modern structure, the mausoleum is a stark contrast to the surrounding French building, its style inspired by the Lenin Mausoleum in Moscow. However, there are more to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. There is a park behind it and it’s free to see the area with the one pillar pagoda.

The one pillar pagoda

But to see Ho Chi Minh’s residence, tickets are needed and you need to purchase and enter the path at the northern end – as it is a one-way street.

I didn’t get a good photo of the silt house, but here are some of the cars!

You can visit the silt house of HCM as well as the cars that serviced him.

Address: Hùng Vương, Điện Bàn, Ba Đình, Hà Nội

Opening times for HCM’s silt house: closed Monday and Friday 8:00 – 11:30, 14:00 – 18:00

Admission fee: 40,000 dong

Train Street


Can you imagine what it would be like if a train passes through right outside your door?

It’s a reality in Hanoi!

The Train Street usually refer to a specific stretch south of the Hanoi Station, but it actually stretches along the north as well. However, the schedule for the one to the south is more well-known and it is where the ‘Instagram shots’ are taken. It’s about 30 minutes’ walk from the Old Town, so it might be faster to call a Grab.


We found the train schedule marked on a bench:

There are not much space for the train to pass through already, so it’s important to stick to the right side entering the street as the left side has even less room. I witness a girl trying to get a shot in front of the oncoming train and it was a scary experience for everyone watching, especially since she didn’t move until screamed at by a local woman. Please don’t be that person and stay safe as you wait for the approaching train!

While I’m unsure about the train schedule north of the station, the street is also very pretty and right along a road:


See the map at the top for the their locations

Hanoi Public Art Project


For fans of street art, you don’t want to miss this wall! It is an art project between Korea and Vietnam, aiming to create art that resonates with the city. A lot of the walls are interactive, making it another prime photo spot.


Address: Phùng Hưng, Hàng Mã, Hà Đông, Hà Nội, Vietnam

St Joseph’s Cathedral


St Joseph’s Cathedral is the Roman Catholic cathedral in Hanoi and the largest in the area. Consecrated in 1886, it is built in the Gothic Revival style by the French. The square around the church is European-like, with the French colonial building and flower pots, if not for the many motorcycles and the children playing games. The red flowers in the stone pot by the side of the road makes for a particularly good photo prop.

The Cathedral is built atop the Bao Thien Pagoda that dated back to the 11th century and is similar in style to Notre Dame with two bell towers of 31m tall. It is an active church and mass is served regularly. There are many delightful cafes around the area if you want to sit and watch the world goes by. I particularly enjoy ShareTea!

Address: 40 Nhà Chung, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội 100000

Temple of Literature


Unlike the temple of literature in other countries, this Confucius temple is also the first university in Vietnam. The temple is well preserved and sign-posted, with detailed signpost about the different part of the temple.


It was built in 1070 by Ly Thanh Tong emperor as a university as well as exam hall for scholars and sages of the time and remained in use for over seven centuries by successive dynasties. There are five gates and courtyard to the temple, and only scholars of a certain standing can pass through one to another.

The main temple

Address: Hồ Giám, Văn Miếu, Đống Đa, Hà Nội

Opening times: Sun – Fri 8:00 – 18:00, Sat: 8:00 – 21:00

Admission fee: adult 30,000 dong, student (ID required) 15,000 dong, Under 15 free

Taoist Temple Quan Thanh


We came across this beautiful temple on our walk down from Tran Quoc Pagoda to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and was immediately drawn to its architecture. A temple dedicated to the Taoist god XuanWu, the god of the north, it was built in the 11th century.


Its most impressive feature is the gate, with traditional Chinese characters written across.

Address: Thanh Niên, Quán Thánh, Ba Đình, Hà Nội

Admission Fee: adult 10,000 dong, children 5,000 dong

Hanoi Opera House


A majestic beige yellow and white rectangular building by a roundabout, the Hanoi Opera House might just look familiar to some of you! This early 20th-century building is modelled after Opera Garnier in Paris, and is currently in use.

Address: 01 Tràng Tiền, Phan Chu Trinh, Hà Nội

Hanoi Night Market


The night market runs from Friday to Sunday in Hanoi, starting at the northern shore of Hoan Kiem Lake at Tonkin Free School Square, extending northwards on Hang Giay Street. While it is a designated pedestrian zone, don’t be surprised if a motorbike or ten breezes pass you as you make your way down the street. It also goes pass Đồng Xuân Market, which is roughly where the market ends, too. It’s a good place to buy sunglasses, souvenirs, but nothing crafty or artistic. You’ll also find street food vendors selling mostly grilled meat.

Around the lake, there’s a different kind of activities. From karaoke to fire-breathing dance, there are a kaleidoscope of shows going on, but in particular, I love the traditional Vietnamese games that is being played. Skipping ropes, dancing between bamboo stick, it’s fun to watch and cheer people on!

Where to Stay in Hanoi

It’s best to stay in the old town part of Hanoi, where it’s most walkable and central. There is no shortage of hotels in that area, but here are some of the ones that I’ve seen or stayed in.


Nexy Hostel is a modern, clean and sleek hostel near the Hoan Kiem Lake. Every bed has a curtain for privacy and they have a little terrace, too.

Hay Hostel has both dormitory and private room, and I am particularly in love with their triple rooms! Aside from problems with transport booked with them but the hostel itself is great.


Golden Sun Palace Hotel is located between Nexy and Hay Hostel and a decent hotel with good breakfast. The only drawback is that it’s directly opposite a school which can get busy and noisy!


La Siesta is a gorgeous hotel near Tranquil Books & Coffee, beautifully modern and stylish with a great reputation.

Written by Nam Cheah

Hi, my name is Nam. I am 24 and spent half my life in Hong Kong and the other half in UK. I believe there's endless experience and beauty in the world and this is me chronicling how to experience the best at the best price.

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