20 amazing things to do in Hanoi - recommended by a local

Think of Hanoi, and the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake spring to mind. But isn’t it Hanoi all about? There are, in fact, many Hanoi-s. There is a Hanoi, both monumental and orderly at Ba Dinh Square. The intimate, disorderly Hanoi just lurks around local markets. And there are the decades-old houses with its ancient charm and a distinctively nostalgic ambiance. I grew up in Hanoi and below is my list of 20 things to do in Hanoi that I believe will let you discover the cities multiple personalities. So, if  you are ready, let me accompany you in some best day tours in Hanoi

1. Cycling around West Lake

The best way to soak up one of the city’s marvels is on two wheels. Arguably the least polluted area in Hanoi, West Lake is popular with a spectrum of architectural styles, from traditional temples to an explosion of Western-style restaurants and coffee shops. The road has limited traffic during the daytime and is considerably smooth for a pleasant riding.

top things to do in hanoi cycling west lake
A tranquil corner of West lake in the morning

2. Driving on the chaotic streets

For some, nothing beats the absurdity of squeezing yourself on two wheels between buses in yellow and red and a jam of cars. In a city that lives by its wits rather than its rules, it is edgy, daring and reckless at the same time to either hop on a scooter or just be a passenger. But isn’t it part of travelling?

driving on the chaotic streets
Why don't you challenge yourself with a bike ride?

3. Wandering Long Bien market at midnight

In the boom of gentrification and air-conditioned malls, Long Bien, one of the biggest Hanoi’s wholesale vegetable and fruit markets, surely offers you an animated scenery of traders and local buyers buzzing around.

what to do in Hanoi
If you're a morning person, head to Long Bien Market at 5 a.m. There is always a lot of shouting and gesticulating (and unpleasant smells), but watching it from Long Bien Bridge is guaranteed to elicit vibrant and colourful scenes.

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4. Eating food on the pavement

No exploration of Hanoi is complete without having a taste of street food. “Despite the recent growth of fine-dining restaurants, the “pavement culture” and cheap meals served ubiquitously on the pavements still thrive,” said the manager of Siglo’s House, a fine-dining steakhouse in Hanoi. Most of street stalls offer the best flavours that will demand less of your pocket but more of your courage to give a try. Check out our guide on Hanoi street food

eating food on the pavement hanoi
A typical food stall in Hanoi with the local specialties

5. Joining Vietnamese cooking classes

A quick cooking course is a brilliant add-on to your trip to Hanoi. It will take you well beyond popular pho or banh my and show how a mix of cheap ingredients can create distinctly perfect flavours.

Hanoi cooking centre
Vietnamese cooking classes can be found at Hanoi Cooking Centre at No. 4 Chau Long (Photo: Hanoi Cooking Centre Facebook)

6. Being on the top of the city

Feeling like the view from a rooftop bar is not thrilling enough? Head to Lotte Tower, the Vietnam’s second tallest building.  Step on to the 65th floor and buy the entrance ticket for the glass observation desk to get access to the most impressive feature: 360-degree views of Hanoi. When the sun goes down, the glow from the lighted buildings and the non-stop flows of traffic really adds magic.

what to do in Hanoi
Be weary if you are afraid of heights!

7. Having a morning walk around Old Quarter

Hanoi may be known for its chaotic traffic and hectic crowds but on a morning walk, it’s the sense of peace and seclusion that triumph. There’s more. It now has several personalities: a long and quiet queue in front of famous pho restaurants versus a loud slurp inside; a wake-up call thanks to propaganda songs from the loudspeakers; large congregations of early morning exercise enthusiasts around Hoan Kiem Lake. The maze of streets may frighten first-time travellers, but don't worry, an detailed Hanoi old quarter map and guide will help you out.

Walking around Hanoi Old Quarter
Morning glory at Hanoi old quarter

8. Enjoying the Vietnamese coffee

Visiting a local coffee shop is not just about becoming more engaged in the culture or supporting an independent business. It’s also a step away from a casual type of coffee that most people have come to accept as the norm. And there isn’t merely the egg coffee in Vietnam that will surprise you. Check out our article on Vietnamese coffee guide for a novelty caffeine experience.

Things to do in Hanoi
Chilling while sipping a taste of Vietnamese coffee

9. Wandering around Quan Son lake - An alternative to Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay and Vietnam, two words are automatically associated with each other when it comes to travelling to the country. However, if you want to avoid the crowds or tourist traps and look for an alternative which the locals boast “Ha Long on land,” head to Quan Son lake. It is exceptionally beautiful little “bay”, completely off the average tourist’s radar. The surroundings have historical and spiritual significance to the locals during the war.

10. Visiting ancient houses and old communal buildings

Hanoi’s home to the country’s French colonial architecture, featuring many centuries-old houses and communal buildings which have witnessed the local lives through decades.

something to do in Hanoi
Old vintage rustic house in Hanoi

11. Staying in a treehouse

For any of you who didn’t grow up with a one-acre garden, staying in a treehouse is a thorough space travel experience that captures your imagination when you’re a kid. Cosy Tree House Homestay is a collection of five treehouses, an aquarium-like house, three garden houses and a stilt house.

staying in a tree house
Have you ever tried living far away from the ground?

Located less than 4km from Old Quarter, Cosy Tree House has become a popular spot for anyone looking for architecturally eco-friendly nesting places, perfectly suited for anything from a romantic hideaway to a family holiday.

12. Hunting for cheap beer

It’s easy to develop a more-than-one-beer thirst as you tramp from museum to museum, coffee shops to restaurants for the whole day. And hunting cheap beer (Bia hoi in Vietnamese) in Hanoi is a bit like trying to spot a local driving on the pavement!

what to do in Hanoi beer
Are you ready to toast like a real Vietnamese with Hanoi beer?

13. Getting a traditional costume

The idea of getting an ao dai might be more exhilarating when recently a new generation of upscale tailors are trying to reinventing the ao dai. The new ao dai demonstrates modern and elegant sensibility within the frame of its formal classism.

wearing ao dai
Regardless of nationalities, the feminine delicate beauty is enhanced with Aodai

14. Learning how to make your own pot

Bat Trang village is a paradise of ceramic-making. Most of the families are crammed with pots, selling vast ones for the sort of price the local boutiques charge for a tiny bowl.

learn to make pot
Would you be an pottery master?

15. Having a taste of local wines

Local wine is little known outside of Hanoi, making it a joy to discover. And what’s behind drinking local wines is the sense of community and the sharing of a pleasant experience.

vietnamese wine hanoi
Deriving from the idea of preserving Vietnamese liquor culture and improving production methods, Son Tinh now has reached global customers with a wide range of flavours, staying among one of the best choices for any tourist looking for local specialties (Photo: Ruou Son Tinh Facebook)

16. Night food tour

There are three important ingredients for successful late-night food: delicious, quick and fun. Suddenly the Vietnamese street food perfectly lives up to this with many old-time street stalls having opened over the years. It’s so comforting to know you can join an eclectic mix of people for something to eat after midnight. Photo: Shared tables. Everyone focuses on their food and eating speedily. Life there is basic but lively.

Things to do in Hanoi
At 3 a.m, in a corner on Hang Chieu Street, the air was filled with an aromatic mix of the crystal-clear broth, green onion, shreds of beef, some sticks of fried dough and the high-pitched shouts of hawkers

17. Watching the flag ceremony at Ba Dinh Square

Ba Dinh Square, the city’s main square, usually is crammed with visitors at any time of the day. However, at 6a.m and 9p.m, there is a spectacle that’s especially worth catching. A huge cadre of military police parades into the plaza to raise the Vietnamese flag in the morning and lower it in the evening

Ba Dinh Square
Flag ceremony at Ba Dinh square, a magnificent view

18. Banana island

A walk into this isolated place, feeling the immensity of nature approach, can be intensely spiritual. As you cross, the noises and bustle of the city fade away, replaced by the rustle beneath your feet and the whisper among banana trees in the breeze.

Banana island
An #ootd among the beauty of banana leaves, why not?
Things to do in Hanoi
Long Bien Bridge takes just ten minutes to cross and can be a destination itself for sunset views

19. Visiting the flowers market

To catch the beauty of Hanoi market day, head to Quang Ba wholesale flower market, a colourful spectacle of stalls with blooms, and the air heavily scented. The daily flower market is really the city’s main draw, with heaps of orchids, lilies, and roses setting the town square ablaze with colours.

hanoi flower market
The charming feature of a small flower stall in Hanoi

20. Drinking ice-tea near the Cathedral

There’s nothing new here. Just an icy cup of lemon tea but the Cathedral fills up quickly after dark with locals sipping tea, chatting and cracking sunflower seeds.

Things to do in Hanoi
Travel like a true Hanoian by sipping Ice-tea while cracking sunflower seeds

Hanoi is not all about Old Quarter. I hope you enjoy my selection of 20 local things to do in Hanoi to discover the different Hanoi.