Guide to the best things to see and do in Hanoi when you are in the city for the 2021 Vietnam Grand Prix on April 23-25.
Hanoi’s Old Quarter
If you ask anyone where to go in Hanoi, their first suggestion will probably be the Old Quarter. The ancient section of the city – which dates back more than 1,000 years – is a fascinating place, filled with shops, food and a big dose of culture.
Looking for a bargain? Check out the Dong Xuan Market, Hanoi’s largest market. You can get everything here, from clothing to food to locally made products – some of which would make great momentos from your trip. The market is open daily from 06:00-19:00.
If you’re searching for a traditional Vietnamese experience, check out Hanoi’s various Water Puppet Theatres. Both the Lotus Water Puppet Theatre and the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre are located near the Hoan Kiem Lake and are popular places to watch traditional shows which date back as far as the 11th century. At the Thang Long site, one hour shows take place at regular intervals each afternoon and evening. Tickets cost 200,000 VND ($8.60 USD) – make sure you book in advance to avoid disappointment!
Though the Old Quarter is a bustling area, you can find the odd space to relax. One such space is the Hoan Kiem Lake and its surrounding parkland. The area is steeped in history, with a legendary tale about a Golden Turtle God and a magic sword. Various species of turtles inhabit the park, and there is a Turtle Tower (Tháp Rùa) located in the middle of the lake. Further north in the city, there is also Ho Tay (West Lake), which is a similarly tranquil spot. Ho Tay is the largest lake in the city and the district is full of great places to shop and dine. The seafood restaurants in the area are highly recommended!
Best Places to Eat & Drink in the Old Quarter
The Old Quarter has a great selection of street food and high end French restaurants. One great place to go, especially over Grand Prix weekend, is the Hanoi Weekend Night Market. The night market combines shopping, performances and great food. If you sample the local food, you’re likely to encounter pho – a soup, which consists of rice noodles, herbs, and meat. Hanoi is said to have the best pho anywhere in the world! The food is inexpensive too, with most dishes priced at around $1-2 USD.
Elsewhere, Bún chả Hương Liên rose to fame in 2016 as Anthony Bourdain and President Obama sampled the local cuisine. The tiny restaurant is now on the list for most foodies to check out in Hanoi. The Era Restaurant is also fast becoming one of the best-rated restaurants for traditional Vietnamese food in Hanoi. If you’re searching for vegan options, The Hanoi Social Club is a good bet and has regular live music to enjoy too. The Green Tangerine is a great choice for French haute cuisine, open daily from 11:00-23:00.
Looking for bars? Get to Bia Hoi Junction where you can enjoy cheap beers while watching the city life of Hanoi pass by. The Blues Bar also hosts music regularly and has reasonably priced food and drink.
Hanoi’s French Quarter
Part of the Old Quarter, the French Quarter features interesting architecture, and is usually much quieter than the rest of the Old Quarter. The Hanoi Opera House is situated in the French Quarter. It was constructed by French colonial powers at the start of the twentieth century. The lavish venue regularly hosts Vietnamese opera, folk music and ballets as well as concerts from international performers.
One of the highlights of the district is the Vietnam National Museum of History. The museum tracks Vietnam’s prehistory up to the August 1945 Revolution in two separate buildings. The museum is open daily from 08:00-17:00, except for the first Monday of each month. Tickets are priced at 40,000 VND (just under $2 USD).
The incredible St. Joseph’s Cathedral, built in the late 19th Century, is the oldest Catholic church in Vietnam. Its striking exterior is just as impressive as its interior. Visitors can only go inside if there is ceremonial practice taking place. This happens twice per day on weekdays, 05:30 and 18:15, and more regularly on Sundays. Formal dress is required.
Also near the French Quarter is the Hoa Lo Prison. Originally used by French colonists in French Indochina for political prisoners, the prison later became known as the “Hanoi Hilton” as it detained American prisoners of war during the Vietnam War. Much of the prison was demolished in the 1990s, but the gatehouse remains as a museum. It is open daily from 08:00-17:00, with an admission fee of 30,000 VND (just over $1 USD).
There is a wealth of museums celebrating Vietnamese history and culture located within Hanoi. We’ve picked out some of the must-see museums to visit in the city:
- One of the most visited attractions in Hanoi is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. A part of unique history, the mausoleum is the final resting place of Vietnam’s most popular leader and is an important place of pilgrimage for many Vietnamese people. It is open daily from 08:30-11:30, aside from Tuesdays when it is open until 16:30 and Fridays when it is closed. The complex also features a museum and gardens. The Vietnam Military History Museum is opposite, and the Hanoi Flag Tower, is opposite the mausoleum.
- The Vietnamese Women’s Museum is located on Ly Thuong Kiet Street, close to the old quarter. The museum’s aim is to educate on the history and cultural heritage of Vietnamese women and contribute to promoting gender equality. The museum is open 08:00-17:00 daily. Admission is 30,000 VND (just over $1 USD)
- Located in the Cau Giay district of Hanoi, around 8km from the centre, the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology gives an insight into Vietnamese village life and the country’s ethic minorities. Tickets are around 40,000 VND (less than $2 USD).
- The Vietnam National Fine Arts Museum has thousands of Vietnamese objects and artworks from prehistoric times to the present day. It also houses the country’s nine “National Treasures”. Open 08:30-17:00 daily, entry is 40.000 VND.
More of Hanoi’s Highlights
- Got an eye for heights? There are plenty of places to get expansive views of the city. Among them is the Lotte Observation Deck, located on the 65th floor of the Lotte Centre in Ba Dinh. Tickets will cost around $10 USD, but you can get a discount if you arrive early or late in the day. Elsewhere, Sky72 is located on the 72nd floor of the Keangnam Hanoi Landmark Tower, which also houses an art gallery and a museum.
- One of Vietnam’s most iconic temples is located in Hanoi. Along with the Perfume Pagoda, the One Pillar Pagoda – built by Emperor Lý Thái Tông, who ruled from 1028 to 1054 – is a Buddhist temple, rebuilt in 1954, which rises from one pillar from the centre of a square shaped lotus pond. If you’re interested in this kind of thing, the Temple of the Jade Mountain and Trấn Quốc Pagoda are also worth visiting.
- The Imperial Citadel of Thăng Long, also known as Hanoi Citadel, was at the centre of politics in Vietnam for well over 1,000 years. Explore the ancient buildings and learn more about Vietnam’s political history. Also on site is the Hanoi Flag Tower – an imposing tower structure standing at over 33m. Climb to the top for stunning views across the city. The complex is open every day except Mondays from 08:00-17:00. Admission costs 30,000 VND (just over $1 USD)
- You’ve seen the F1 cars hurtle through Hanoi’s busy streets – now how about watching a train do the same thing? Hanoi’s train street is exactly what you’d expect: a narrow street which has a train track running down the middle of it. Locals will pull in their drying clothes and move their bikes aside moments before the train passes through the street just inches from the surrounding walls. It’s a unique experience, and one that you can watch happen twice daily (around 15:00 and 19:00).
Extended Hanoi breaks
Staying for longer than just the Grand Prix weekend? Vietnam is a vast country to explore. Here are our picks of the best areas to visit outside of Hanoi:
- Hạ Long Bay is well worth a visit. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is a popular tourist spot, and is just a three hour drive from Hanoi’s centre.
- Sapa is located 300km northwest of Hanoi and is a breathtaking mountainous area, close to the Chinese border. A great place to visit for keen hikers!
- Further north is Hà Giang, which has to be seen to be believed. Off the beaten track, this province is full of deep valleys and high mountains. The remote location is another great place for hiking.
- Less than 100km south of Hanoi is Ninh Binh. The relatively unknown city has yet more breathtaking landscape to soak up. A relaxing rowing boat tour is a must if you visit this pretty area. Cuc Phuong National Park is close by, and is home to over 400 species of animals.