So you’ve found yourself in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi? You’re in for a good time, there are plenty of things to do in and around Hanoi. So keep reading for some inspiration!
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Go on a street food tour
Vietnam in general and Hanoi in particular is famous for its amazing street food. But it can get very overwhelming trying to figure out which food is actually good and what even to order. A friend and I went on a street food tour with Friends Travel Vietnam for 19 USD. They offer a 3-hour tour with 15 stops with different unique Vietnamese street food delicacies. And what’s even better, because we opted for the vegetarian tour the two of us had a private guide showing us around. And boy were we glad that we had him as he guided us through dark alleys and we got the real Hanoi experience. We left the tour happy and more than full.
Disclaimer: I usually eat completely vegan but do sometimes make exceptions and eat vegetarian for special occasions, like getting to know a culture’s food. Therefore, I can’t tell you how many of the 15 stops were vegan, you would have to check with the operator.
Take a stroll around Hoàn Kiếm Lake and visit Ngoc Son Temple
Hoàn Kiếm Lake, also known as Sword Lake, is located in the historical center of Hanoi. There usually is a lot happening around the lake so it’s definitely worth just walking around it. Near the northern shore of the lake is Jade Island with Ngoc Son Temple which is also worth a short visit.
Go for a smoothie at The Note Coffee
This cute little cafe is located not far away from Sword Lake. What makes it special is that you can take little post-it notes lying around and write a message to whoever you’d like, and stick it on the wall. That’s why this cafe looks really colorful and fun as well. Apparently, the coffee is really good as well (but I wouldn’t know as I don’t drink any coffee).
When we were there there were some really good street performers in front of the cafe which made our visit even nicer.
Do a motorbike tour on the Ha Giang Loop
Doing the 4-day loop on the Ha Giang Loop in the north of Vietnam was hands down not only one of my favorite things to do in and around Hanoi but also on of my favorite things to do during the whole nine months I was traveling. Think beautiful rice terraces, incredible views and barely any tourists (even though that is quickly changing). There will definitely be a blog post going into more detail about the loop in the future, so stay tuned.
Go trekking in Sapa
Sapa is a beautiful area located close to the Chinese border. There are many rice terraces and little villages. Sapa is probably one of the most popular things to do in and around Hanoi. There are endless tour packages you can choose from; get there by bus or train, during the day or overnight, stay at a homestay or a hotel, stay one night or two or more. We booked a tour with Little Charm Hostel, got to Sapa with an overnight bus, stayed one night in a hotel and drove back to Hanoi on a bus during day time.
I honestly don’t think it matters which villages you do your trekking to; the landscape is beautiful all around. Even though we weren’t lucky with the weather, we definitely enjoyed our trip. My favorite village was Cat Cat Village because it is very cute and we even got to see some traditional Vietnamese dances there.
Go on a Ha Long Bay Cruise
To be really honest with you, I wasn’t really impressed with Halong Bay. However, it is still one of many travelers’ favorite things to do in and around Hanoi, so I just had to include it. Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and known for its emerald waters and limestone islands. You can go there on day tours or stay one to two nights aboard one of the boats. I would urge you to stay at least one night in Ha Long Bay as everything else would just be way too rushed and not really worth the drive, in my opinion. During your time at Ha Long Bay, you will most likely do some kayaking, visit a pearl farm, and enjoy a traditional cooking lesson.
Take a picture at Long Bien Bridge
If you’ve ever looked into things to do in and around Hanoi, you’ve probably seen pictures of people posing on Train Street. Twice a day, a train passes through this narrow street just inches away from the houses and cafes. Unfortunately, it had to be shut down for tourists in October of 2019 because trains had to be rerouted or make emergency stops caused by selfie-taking tourists.
Luckily for you, there is an alternative for your cool shot on the rails. We were shown Long Bien Bridge on a free walking tour around the city, offered by our hostel. You can get on the rails at Long Bien Station where they will also announce trains way ahead of time and make sure no one’s still on the tracks. Please only go onto the tracks around Long Bien Station and make sure to listen to announcements! I’ve read somewhere the other day that more and more tourists are starting to climb barriers to get access to other parts of the rails. Honestly, I don’t think that’s necessary, just take a look at the picture I took doing it the ‘safe’ way.
Other things to do in and around Hanoi
Visit the Temple of Literature: about half an hour by foot from Sword Lake, it is said to be one of Hanoi’s most picturesque attractions. It was originally a university reserved for aristocrats, the elite and royal family members. Luckily, nowadays, everyone is welcome to wander around or even take a tour of the temple.
Visit Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum: the final resting place of Ho Chi Minh, the most iconic and popular leader of Vietnam.
Make a trip to Ninh Binh: unfortunately, I didn’t make it to Ninh Binh, a stunning and diverse area but I’ve heard such good things.
Places to stay:
I was in Hanoi on multiple occasions but always just for 1-2 nights. I would definitely recommend each one of these hostels.
Little Charm Hostel: Located at the center of Hanoi Old Quarter this hostel is almost like a hotel, just with dorms. They even have a swimming pool which, unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to check out as we only stayed for one night and left for Ha Long Bay early the next morning. We booked our tour to Sapa with them.
Nexy Hostel: We stayed here for two nights and were very happy with the modern and beautiful dorm rooms. Along their many vegetarian options is also a vegan burger that was quite nice. We also did a free walking tour they offered.
Cocoon Inn: I stayed here for one night after coming back from the Ha Giang Loop. I was very happy with my stay, the dorms were really nice, they had a bar downstairs and a ‘garden’ on the rooftop terrace.
Check out my vegan food guide to Vietnam where I go into more detail about these places. Nexy Hostel, V’s Home, Jalus Vegan Kitchen & Cafe, Minh Chay Vegan Restaurant.
That’s it for things to do in and around Hanoi. Let me know if I’ve missed anything! I hope you’ve found it helpful for planning your time there. Tag me if you try any of the things I recommend and please don’t hesitate to message me if you have any questions! I’m always happy to help.
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