What Not To Miss In Hanoi
If you need just one reason to visit Hanoi, consider the city’s “unbeatable value,” which led it to the pinnacle of Time Magazine’s “Best in International Travel” list last year.
But while Hanoi may be the place to stretch your dollar, the true value of Vietnam’s capital city lies in its flair for blending modern aspirations with timeless traditions.
Read on to find out how you can make the most of your Hanoi holidays, brought to you by our Pan Pacific Hanoi team.
1. Unique Things To Do in Hanoi
For an introduction to Hanoi, book a tour with Hanoikids, a student-run voluntary organisation that conducts full and half-day city tours. This is a wonderful chance to support local students in Hanoi eager to share the city’s sights and stories with travellers while improving their spoken English.
Another quick city overview to add to your Hanoi itinerary is the cyclo (three-wheel bicycle taxi) tour. As a traveller, you will not have to venture far before being approached by a hopeful cyclo driver. Click here to learn more about cyclo tours, and how you can negotiate a fair rate with a driver.
One of the more intriguing historic buildings in the city, the Hoa Lo Prison has been characterised as a site capable of evoking “sorrow, disgust, and, depending on your politics, different flavours of outrage.” Formerly used by French colonists to torment political prisoners, the prison later housed US prisoners of war during the Vietnam War.
The two main districts in Hanoi that you should familiarise yourself with are the Old Quarter (Hoan Kiem District) and the French Quarter (Ba Dinh District). The former is the city’s tourist and business hub, while the latter is where Hanoi’s government offices are located. Both areas can be explored by foot; visitors typically escape to the French Quarter to admire the precinct’s colonial architecture, while seeking respite from the bustle of the Old Quarter.
To arrange your own Hanoi photography tour, follow our guide to some of the best photography spots in the city. For tips on shopping in Hanoi, read about five local brands that will satisfy any style watcher.
2. What to Eat in Hanoi
In 2016, two vastly different American icons—Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain—sat down together in a family-run bun cha (Vietnamese grilled pork noodles) restaurant in Hanoi for comfort food and conversation. Says Bourdain of the experience: “I thought if the President is willing to play with us, then I should show him the best time I knew how, feed him something that I would want—in the kind of setting I most enjoy.” (Read his full account of the headlining meal and its aftermath here.)
Since then, the restaurant known as Bun Cha Huong Lien has capitalised on its newfound fame. It even launched a new menu item to commemorate the occasion, affectionately named the “Obama Combo.”
(Bookmark this list if you are hungry for more authentic Hanoi street foods.)
If you prefer fast food to street food, the Vietnamese chain restaurant Pizza 4P’s will leave a favourable impression. Here, you can enjoy a salmon sashimi pizza, a teriyaki chicken pizza, and other Asian-inspired toppings.
For evidence of Hanoi’s French influences, look to its culinary scene—French eateries are far from being an uncommon sight in Hanoi. Four highly recommended French restaurants are A la folie, La Verticale, La Badiane, and Green Tangerine Hanoi.
Should you require a caffeine boost, go the extra mile and have your coffee poured onto a fluffy, whisked egg yolk before consumption. This is known as Ca Phe Trung or egg coffee, and the best place to sample this is at Giang Cafe in the Old Quarter.
3. Hanoi Nightlife
Looking for things to do in Hanoi at night? Your first priority should be to watch an evening water puppet performance, where puppeteers stand waist-deep in water, behind a screen, to animate their puppets. This 11th century art form originated in Vietnam’s paddy fields during the flood season—during this time, villagers would create their own entertainment while immersed in the flood waters.
If you enjoy spoken word, music, and visual arts performances, you need to book a show at Hanoi Rock City—a stalwart supporter of Hanoi’s creative scene. To grab a late-night bite or drink, a stroll through the Old Quarter should yield interesting finds; Tong Duy Tan in particular has street food offerings all through the night, alongside a few upmarket options such as the highly rated Ne.Cocktailbar.
To discover one of the best views in Hanoi, with a spectacular panorama of the city skyline, make your way to The Summit at Pan Pacific Hanoi. The rooftop bar is ideal for evening cocktails or get-togethers while watching the sunset on Hanoi’s West Lake. Both indoor and outdoor seating areas are available.
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