First Time In Hanoi
Planning your first time in Hanoi can be challenging. The capital of Vietnam is known for its two main neighbourhoods, namely the French Quarter and Old Quarter. Both are packed with attractions, but are easily accessible on foot. You can explore shopping streets, colonial buildings, ancient pagodas and unique museums. It’s a lot to take in, but we have narrowed down the choice to just the absolute must-see highlights. Hanoi is also home to a multi-cultural community that’s made up of Chinese, French and Russian influences, with a wide range of restaurants to match. The nightlife ranges from modern nightclubs and expat-owned bars to night markets and family-friendly traditional shows. With our quick guide, you can navigate through your first few days in this unique city, getting the most out of your time.
HANOI AT A GLANCE
Hanoi is packed with fascinating historical attractions, including beautiful colonial buildings and ancient pagodas, especially in Old Quarter. The iconic Hoan Kiem Lake, in the heart of the Old Quarter, is surrounded by shopping streets and great local eateries. Landmarks like Hanoi Opera House and Hoa Lo Prison are found in French Quarter, along with high-end hotels and restaurants. You can walk between the Old Quarter and French Quarter within 15 minutes, though do take care when crossing roads as traffic in Hanoi can be chaotic throughout the day.
WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT HANOI:
Plenty of cheap shopping options
Local beers and street food are very cheap, especially in Old Quarter
Good choice of restaurants
WHAT IS LESS GOOD:
Traffic is intense
Pickpockets are common in some touristy areas
It can get really noisy and crowded at night
THING YOU CAN DO
- HOAN KIEM LAKE
Hanoi may be known for its close proximity to Halong Bay, but the city itself has plenty of sightseeing spots. One of the most popular landmarks in Old Quarter is Hoan Kiem Lake, a peaceful public park where you can see locals jogging, enjoying a coffee, practising Tai Chi and line dancing. There are also several Buddhist temples dating back to the 11th century. In French Quarter, you can find luxury shopping malls, colonial buildings and a war museum. However, if you see nothing else during your first time in Hanoi, we recommend visiting just these three places:
Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi attracts tourists and locals looking to get away from the noise and frenetic pace of the city. Peaceful and quiet, the lake surrounds Ngoc Son Temple, a pagoda sitting in the centre on a small island. The temple attracts many visitors and was built in commemoration of the 13th century military leader Tran Hung Dao who was renowned for his bravery in the battle against the Yuan Dynasty. Homage is also paid to scholar Van Xuong and Confucian master Nguyen Van Sieu. The island on which the temple is built is known as Jade Island and is accessible by the iconic Huc Bridge or Rising Sun Bridge which is a charming scarlet-painted wooden bridge of classical Vietnamese design. The pagoda is also guarded by two towering posts decorated with Chinese writing. The lake and temple are probably the most famous places in Hanoi city in which to rest and enjoy the view and are a great place to sit back and watch the locals.
- HANOI OPERA HOUSE
The beautiful Hanoi Opera House was built in 1911 by the then ruling French. It’s a phenomenal piece of neo-classical French architecture featuring Gothic themes on the doors and domes with pillars, shuttered windows, balconies and a glass room. Musicians, actors and dancers play to a 600-strong audience delivering powerful operatic and classical performances, making it a very popular theatrical attraction. The Hanoi Opera House is the biggest theatre in Vietnam and speaks volumes as historical and cultural evidence of Vietnam under French rule. The interior is even more magnificent than the exterior with many arguing it is aesthetically even more appealing than the Paris Opera House. Visitors today will be entertained at this architectural landmark which features a range of events including local Vietnamese opera, traditional folk music, ballets and many international concerts.
- WATER PUPPET THEATRE
The world-famous Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre in Hanoi has its roots in an art form that dates back to the 11th century. The tradition of water puppet theatre stems from a time when rice paddy fields were flooded and villagers would make entertainment by standing in the waist-deep water with the puppets performing over the water. Using large rods to support the puppets it appeared as if they were moving across the water with the puppeteers hidden behind a screen.