Must see attractions in Hanoi

  • Top ChoiceSights in Hanoi

    Temple of Literature

    Set amidst landscaped grounds near the centre of Hanoi, the Temple of Literature honours Vietnam's finest scholars, and also offers visitors a chance to see a rare example of well-preserved traditional Vietnamese architecture. Founded in 1070 by Emperor Le Thanh Tong, the attractive complex is dedicated to the Qufu-born philosopher Confucius (Khong Tu) and was the site of Vietnam’s first university, Quoc Tu Giam (1076). The altars are popular with students praying for good grades, while the halls, ponds and gardens of the five courtyards make picturesque backdrops for student graduation photos. The temple is depicted on the 100,000d note. Originally university admission was exclusively for those born of noble families, but after 1442 it became more egalitarian. Gifted students from all over the nation headed to Hanoi to study the principles of Confucianism, literature and poetry. In 1484 Emperor Ly Thanh Tong ordered that stelae (large slabs) be erected to record the names, places of birth and achievements of exceptional scholars: 82 of 116 stelae remain standing, mostly atop turtle statues. Paths lead from the imposing tiered gateway on P Quoc Tu Giam through formal gardens to the Khue Van pavilion, constructed in 1802. Entry to the temple is 30,000d for adults and 15,000d for students. Hotels near the Temple of Literature Hanoi has accommodation suited to every budget, though an extra US$10 to $20 makes a massive difference in quality: you could easily move from a windowless room to a larger space with a view, so splurge if you can. Good hotel options within walking distance of the Temple of Literature include Tomodachi House and Somerset Grand Hanoi, a 15-minute and 17-minute walk away respectively.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Hanoi

    Hoa Lo Prison Museum

    This thought-provoking site is all that remains of the former Hoa Lo Prison, ironically nicknamed the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ by US prisoners of war (POWs) during the American War. Most exhibits relate to the prison’s use up to the mid-1950s, focusing on the Vietnamese struggle for independence from France. A gruesome relic is the ominous French guillotine, used to behead Vietnamese revolutionaries. There are also displays focusing on the American pilots who were incarcerated at Hoa Lo during the American War.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Hanoi

    Hoan Kiem Lake

    Legend claims that, in the mid-15th century, heaven sent Emperor Le Loi a magical sword, which he used to drive the Chinese from Vietnam. After the war a giant golden turtle grabbed the sword and disappeared into the depths of this lake to restore the sword to its divine owners, inspiring the name Ho Hoan Kiem (Lake of the Restored Sword). The area is best from Friday to Sunday: nearby traffic is banned between 7pm and midnight and a public-square, funfair vibe takes over.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Hanoi

    National Museum of Vietnamese History

    Built between 1925 and 1932, this architecturally impressive museum was formerly home to the École Française d’Extrême-Orient. Its architect, Ernest Hebrard, was among the first in Vietnam to incorporate a blend of Chinese and French design elements. Exhibit highlights include bronzes from the Dong Son culture (3rd century BCE to 3rd century CE), Hindu statuary from the Khmer and Champa kingdoms, jewellery from imperial Vietnam, and displays relating to the French occupation and the Communist Party. The audio guide is free.

  • Sights in Hanoi

    Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House

    This humble, traditional stilt house where Ho lived intermittently from 1958 to 1969 is set in a well-tended garden adjacent to a carp-filled pond and has been preserved just as Ho left it. The clear views through the open doorways and windows permit insights more fascinating than many museum displays. The stilt house is now used for official receptions and isn’t open to the public, but visitors may wander the grounds if sticking to the paths.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Hanoi

    Vietnam Museum of Ethnology

    This fabulous collection relating to Vietnam's ethnic minorities features well-presented tribal art, artefacts and everyday objects gathered from across the nation, and examples of traditional village houses. Displays are well labelled in Vietnamese, French and English. If you're into anthropology, it's well worth the Grab motorbike-taxi fare (approximately 40,000d each way) to the Cau Giay district, about 7km from the city centre, where the museum is located.

  • Sights in Hanoi

    Lotte Observation Deck

    The city's best views can be found on the 65th-floor 360-degree Observation Deck of the landmark Lotte Center in the western corner of Hanoi's Ba Dinh district. From this uninterrupted vantage point, high above Hanoi's hustle and bustle, you can compare the size of the Old Quarter relative to the sheer scale of Hanoi's voracious growth. Glass-floor sky walks allow you to walk out over the precipitous drop. There's also a rooftop bar on the same floor as an alternative.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Hanoi

    Bach Ma Temple

    In the heart of the Old Quarter, the small Bach Ma Temple (literally 'White Horse Temple') is said to be the oldest temple in the city, though much of the current structure dates from the 18th century and a shrine to Confucius was added in 1839. It was originally built by Emperor Ly Thai To in the 11th century to honour a white horse that guided him to this site, where he chose to construct his city walls.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Hanoi

    Vietnamese Women’s Museum

    This excellent and highly informative museum showcases the roles of women in Vietnamese society and culture. Labelled in English and French, exhibits cover everything from marriage customs to childbirth, but it’s the memories of the wartime contribution by individual heroic women that are most poignant. If the glut of information sometimes feels repetitive, for visual stimulation there is a stunning collection of propaganda posters, as well as costumes, tribal basketware and fabric motifs from Vietnam’s ethnic minority groups. Check the website for special exhibitions.

  • Sights in Hanoi

    Hanoi Opera House

    This glorious neoclassical centrepiece of Hanoi's French Quarter is unmissable with its Gothic pillars and domes. The French-colonial 900-seat venue was built in 1911, and on 16 August 1945 the Viet Minh–run Citizens’ Committee announced that it had taken over the city from a balcony in this building. For some drama today, book ahead for a performance here, or take a 50-minute tour (at 2.30pm, 3.30pm or 4.30pm). Most weekends you’ll see Hanoi wedding couples getting photographed on the elegant front steps.

  • Sights in Hanoi

    West Lake

    The city’s largest lake, West Lake is 15km in circumference and ringed by upmarket suburbs, including the predominantly expat Tay Ho district. On the south side, along Ð Thuy Khue, are seafood restaurants, and to the east, the Xuan Dieu strip is lined with restaurants, cafes, boutiques and luxury hotels. The atmosphere makes a calm change from the chaos of the Old Quarter. A pathway circles the lake, making for a great bicycle ride.

  • Sights in Hanoi

    Long Bien Bridge

    A symbol of the tenacity and resilience of the Hanoian people, the Long Bien Bridge (built between 1899 and 1902) was bombed on several occasions during the American War, and each time quickly repaired by the Vietnamese. Designed by Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame), the bridge, used by trains, mopeds and pedestrians, is undergoing reconstruction to restore its original appearance. It's colourfully illuminated at night.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Hanoi

    Imperial Citadel of Thang Long

    Added to Unesco's World Heritage List in 2010, Hanoi's Imperial Citadel was the hub of Vietnamese military power for over 1000 years. Ongoing archaeological digs continue on-site, revealing remains of ancient palaces, grandiose pavilions and imperial gates. The main gate (Doan Mon) is named after one of the gates of the Forbidden City in Beijing. Further back is the imposing and colonnaded French Caserne de la Compagnie d'Ouvriers. At the rear is the Princess Pagoda (Hau Lau), which probably housed imperial concubines.

  • Sights in Hanoi

    St Joseph Cathedral

    Hanoi's neo-Gothic St Joseph Cathedral was inaugurated in 1886, and has a soaring facade that faces a little plaza that's usually stuffed with selfie sticks and posses of preening photographers. The church's most noteworthy features are the looming twin bell towers, elaborate altar and fine stained-glass windows. Entrance via the main gate is only permitted during Mass: times are listed on a sign on the gates to the left of the cathedral.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Hanoi

    Hai Ba Trung Temple

    Two kilometres south of Hoan Kiem Lake, this temple was founded in 1142. A statue shows the two Trung sisters (from the 1st century CE) kneeling with their arms raised in the air. Some say the statue shows the sisters, who had been proclaimed the queens of the Vietnamese, about to dive into a river. They are said to have drowned themselves rather than surrender in the wake of their defeat at the hands of the Chinese.

  • Sights in Hanoi

    Fine Arts Museum of Vietnam

    The excellent Fine Arts Museum is housed in two buildings that were once the French Ministry of Information. Treasures abound, including ancient Champa stone carvings and some astonishing effigies of Quan Am, the thousand-eyed, thousand-armed Goddess of Compassion, worshipped across the Far East. Look out for the lacquered statues of Buddhist monks from the Tay Son dynasty and the collection of contemporary art and folk-naive paintings. Most pieces have English explanations, but guided tours (150,000d) are useful (they don't run between 11.30am and 1.30pm).

  • Top ChoiceSights in Hanoi

    Heritage House

    One of the Old Quarter’s best-restored properties, this traditional merchants’ house is sparsely but beautifully decorated, with rooms filled with fine furniture set around two courtyards. Note the high steps between rooms, a traditional design incorporated to stop the flow of bad energy around the property. There are crafts and trinkets for sale here, including silver jewellery, basketwork and Vietnamese tea sets, and there’s usually a calligrapher or another craftsperson at work too.

  • Sights in Hanoi

    Manzi Exhibition Space & Artist Residency

    Just round the corner from its namesake cafe, gallery and shop, this art space and gallery hosts exhibitions and open studios for local and international artists, connecting with overseas art institutions and promoting intellectual and artistic debate in Hanoi.

  • Sights in Hanoi

    Tay Ho Pagoda

    Jutting into West Lake (Ho Tay), beautiful Tay Ho Pagoda is perhaps the most popular place of worship in Hanoi. Throngs of people come here on the first and 15th day of each lunar month in the hope of receiving good fortune from the Mother Goddess, to whom the temple is dedicated.

  • Sights in Hanoi

    Thong Nhat Park

    This park, formerly known as Lenin Park, is a lovely place to escape the bustle of the Old Quarter and see what the locals do in their downtime. Hint: they use the exercise equipment, chat and play badminton or hacky-sack.