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Hanoi is an epic centre of Vietnamese city life. Noisy motorbikes fill the roads, whilst locals spill out onto pavements outside noodle shops. A man walks by with an old bicycle loaded with baskets, whilst a young woman sweeps pass in a car. This city is a mixture of the old and new, and it’s a must to experience when you visit Vietnam.

Here is my ultimate guide to the city if you’re visiting for the first or sixth time!


City Life in Hanoi


The roads seem like chaos. A combination of the heat, the air filled with sounds of horns, the weaving motorbikes, the cars squeezing into gaps, and general traffic noise can bring overwhelming sensations! But, don’t worry, after a few days you’ll hopefully get used to it!


How to Cross the Roads in Hanoi


Unfortunately, the streets are not very pedestrian-friendly, despite plenty of people walking around. The pavements are mostly occupied with parked motorbikes, leaving you walking on the side of the road most of the time! However, motorbike rides in the city don’t tend to travel at high speeds. There is so much other traffic on the roads, that it’s not possible to speed down streets. So, when crossing the roads, the important thing is not to make any sudden movements. If you’re going to cross, walk slowly, so that motorbike riders can see where you’re going, and will usually slow down and ride around you.


A good tip is to look for locals who are crossing the road, and when they cross, you cross!

Where to eat in Hanoi


The best places to eat in Hanoi are the more humble eateries. There are fancy restaurants, and fancy cafes, however, they’re more likely to be pricier than the street venders.


As more mature travellers, we do enjoy our luxuries, but the best food is available at street food venders or the modest 'restaurants' that are look like they're in a garage! Those eateries are run by locals who have been there for years, and, even though they only offer one or two dishes, they’re truly experts in those dishes. So, forget appearances, pull up one of those blue, tiny, plastic stools, and get stuck in!



If you’re really struggling with the local food, or just fancy a western-style breakfast, there’s a variety of cafes and restaurants that will cater for your stomach!


For good breakfast/brunch options you can try one of these:


If you have any other recommendations, let us know below!


What to see in Hanoi


Old Quarter


Hanoi’s Old Quarter is full of streets where each one was named, and dedicated to an ancient trade. These street names generally begin with the word Hang, followed by the product that traders used to make there. Wander through the gold, silver, and silk streets where trade still continues.

My favourites are Hàng Mã, Hàng Đào, and Hàng Gai.

Hàng Mã (paper), is full of red paper lanterns, envelopes and decorations during festivals.

Hàng Đào (peach blossoms), holds a night market every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night.

Hàng Gai (hemp) actually sells silk goods nowadays!


Hoàn Kiếm Lake

My sister at Hoan Kiem Lake


During the cooler evenings, you’ll find locals and tourists gathering around this lake for a walk, or just to hang out among the beautiful scenery.


In the centre of Hoàn Kiếm Lake is a red bridge: Thê Húc Bridge, which leads to a small pagoda called tháp rùa, which means Turtle Pagoda.


During the 15th Century, the Ming Chinese were occupying the city. Legend has it that General Le Loi was at the lake when a divine golden turtle presented a sword for the General to help oust the Chinese. With this sword he was able to send the Ming Chinese from the city, and became Emperor. Later on, during another trip to the lake, the golden turtle reappeared to reclaim the sword, and the Emperor renamed the lake from Lục Thủy (Green Water) to Hoàn Kiếm (Sword Lake).


In order to visit the pagoda a small fee is required at the entrance. However, you can walk across the bridge for free.


Vietnamese Food Scene

Bánh cuốn - my favourite breakfast in the world!


Vietnamese food is one of my favourite, and for such a low price, you’re able to get authentic delicious dishes. In Hanoi, you can sample the most iconic dishes, in a variety of different settings. The best are usually where all the locals are!

From the famous phở, to my favourite bánh cuốn, check out what to try when in Vietnam here.


Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum

Ba Dinh Square


The country’s most decorated leader rests in this mausoleum. His body lies in a glass sarcophagus where visitors are able to pay their respects, as they slowly pass by in single file.

There’s also a changing-of-the-guards ceremony outside, if you’re there at the right moment.

Remember to dress appropriately when visiting. Cover up shoulders, bare legs and remove hats when entering.


One Pillar Pagoda


Resembling the national flower of Vietnam, the lotus flower, the one pillar pagoda is the most unique in all of Asia. The square wooden structure sits on a stone pillar only a two minute walk away from the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.


Legend has it that the emperor Lý Thái Tông dreamt that a god appeared and gave him a son whilst sitting on a lotus flower. After the dream, the emperor married a peasant girl who, later, gave birth to a baby boy. In 1049 the emperor commissioned the One Pillar Pagoda in the lotus pond,which still stands today. The baby boy, Lý Thánh Tông, went on to succeed his father after his death.




Temple of Literature


Dating from 1070, the literature temple, also known as Văn Miếu, is one of the several temples dedicated to Confucius - a famous Chinese philosopher from the late 500s B.C.


The temple, which also features on the back of the 100,000 Vietnamese dong note, also holds the Imperial Academy which is considered Vietnam’s first university. Despite wars and political conflicts, the temple architect and culture significance has remained in tact.


St Joseph’s Cathedral

Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam


The city’s most important church provides services for the Hanoi’s catholics and is located right in the centre. On Sundays, and holidays such as Easter and Christmas, it gets very busy. However, this fits in well with its busy surroundings.


Vietnamese coffee scene


The Vietnamese love their coffee. A typical Vietnamese coffee consists of a shot of espresso, and condensed milk, with the option to add cream, ice cream, and coconut!

Unlike in England, coffee shops open early and close late. During the later hours, you can experience live music, whilst sipping your coffee, soaking up the atmosphere of the younger Vietnam scene.


Dong Xuan Market

No.15, Cau Dong Street, Dong Xuan Ward, Hoàn Kiếm District, Hanoi.

For those looking for a bit of retail therapy, Dong Xuan market is here for you! Spread across three floors, the oldest market in Hanoi will be the best stop for souvenirs, clothes, even food!


Train Street



One of the most famous streets among tourists, in Hanoi, is Train Street. The train snakes through the city, and along this part of the track, you can sip Vietnamese coffee whilst watching the train speed past within inches of your cup! However, we may have missed the boat with this one…

When we were there in October 2022, many locals told us that all the cafes along the track were closed, and that the authorities had shut them down. We didn’t believe it, but when we checked it out ourselves, it was true. There had been many safety concerns and in September 2022, all business owners along the track, were given short notice to close up, and have their licenses revoked. There have been reports of people sneaking in, hiding in cafes to see the train, but many are caught by the police who are guarding the entrances to the track.


We managed to sneak in to have a look, but trains only pass a few times per day.


Architecture


Among the modern buildings, you’ll find gems from the French colonial era. Loading T is an example of a remaining beauty from this period, and now hosts a cafe from which you can admire the architecture. It maintains its structure, facade and interior, and offers wonderful coffee.


 

What's your favourite place in Hanoi?



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