Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi is known for its food, French influence and chaotic traffic. The busy streets can be a challenge for the brave - take some time to watch the locals cross before making a go yourself – but the café culture here is second to none. Take time to relax with a cup of coffee, then explore the historic charms and quiet side streets of one of Vietnam’s most popular destinations.
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What To Do
Slow down at a sidewalk café – Café culture is alive and well in Vietnam, where French and local flavors mix to create something unique and delicious. Linger over a pastry and an egg coffee, a sweet local specialty made by mixing coffee with condensed milk and egg yolk.
Explore the Old Quarter – Hop in a cyclo, or bicycle taxi, and head to Hanoi’s Old Quarter. The narrow streets of this historic district are filled with the sights, sounds and smells of authentic Hanoi. It’s the perfect place to shop for souvenirs, sample traditional cuisine and snap pictures of colonial architecture and ancient temples alike.
Watch a traditional puppet show – Vietnam’s famous water puppet shows are a can’t miss attraction in Hanoi with ancient roots. Once performed in rice paddies, the shows now take place in theatres, but the wooden puppets still dance in pools of shallow water to tell the stories and fables of another time.
Take a day trip – A short distance from Hanoi is Ba Vi National Park. This forested mountain is perfect for a day’s journey, with extensive hiking trails, ruins and temples to explore. Brave the 1,000+ steps to Ho Chi Minh temple for a breathtaking mountain view.
What To See
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum – Former president Ho Chi Minh lies in state in this impressive stone mausoleum. Join the line to pay your respects within, or simply view this historic site from outside. If you’re visiting in the fall, the interior may be closed, but this important landmark is still worth the trip.
The Museum of Ethnology – There are over fifty ethnic groups that make up the population of Vietnam. Hanoi’s Museum of Ethnology showcases the culture of each of these groups, with exhibits featuring traditional goods, clothing and even full-scale replicas of historical housing.
Lakes – Rest and recharge with a visit to one of Hanoi’s scenic lakes. Central Hoan Kiem Lake is a popular destination, the perfect place for a stroll and a picnic. Afterwards, head across the distinctive red bridge to the 19th century Temple of Jade Mountain. For a quieter, more intimate view of the city, try Tay Ho, the largest lake in Hanoi.
Thang Long Imperial Citadel – The variety of buildings in this UNESCO World Heritage Site reflects the changing eras of the millennium-long history of the citadel.
When to Go
Spring and fall are the best times to visit, when the weather is warm, not hot, and the humidity is comfortable. Winter can be cold, while summer is hot and sticky. (And rainy.) Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, takes place in late January to early February. You’ll have the chance to experience the festive atmosphere of the season, but many tourist attractions will be closed.