Hanoi – the capital of Vietnam – is known for its rich history, busy street life and centuries of French, Asian and Chinese influences all blended into one bustling city. For first time travellers though, it can be a little overwhelming. So, we’ve put together the ultimate travel guide to Hanoi.
You’ll soon see that this is a vibrant city with plenty of things to see and do. Plus, it’s a wonderful base from which to explore the North of Vietnam, including Halong Bay and Sapa, while also enjoying the comforts of a modern vibrant city.
From getting your Vietnam visa to what to eat in Hanoi and where to stay, these are the essential tips you need to know.
Your Ultimate Travel Guide to Hanoi, Vietnam
First Things First…
You’ll need to check your own personal country’s requirements, but certain nationalities can enter Vietnam without a visa for stays up to 15 days.
Most Western travellers will have to apply for a tourist visa. You can apply for an E-visa, which is single-entry only, valid for 30 days (nonextendable), and costs US$25 here. You can also get Visa on Arrival (VOA), valid for 30 or 90 days via an agent. This is our preferred visa choice as it’s fast, cheap and you can extend it for up to two months.
For VOA we recommend Vietnam Visa Center. They even have a two hour express visa service and are open at the weekends, although at an extra charge.
Arriving at the Airport:
Take advantage of the SIM card stalls you see at the airport and buy one so that you have 3g data. It should only cost about US$10.
Then, download the Grab taxi app to your phone and order a taxi or motorbike to your hotel from here. Ignore the taxis outside arrivals as they will charge more than double!
What To Do/See
From street food markets to cultural museums and scenic freshwater lakes, Hanoi has something for all tastes.
Experience the famous Hanoi train street:
Never heard of Hanoi’s famous Train Street? Twice a day in Vietnam’s capital city, a speeding train passes through a narrow street where people live, work and play. Local authorities recently began to crack down on visits here, so play it by ear.
Wander around the Old Quarter:
This lively area has narrow streets with Colonial architecture and is the perfect first jaunt in the city. Street vendors, cafes, clothes stores and all sorts characters can be seen here.
Walk across Long Biên Bridge:
Long Biên Bridge is one of the best sights in the city – the bridge is designed by Gustave Eiffel (aka the Eiffel Tower) and crosses the red river with views of banana trees below.
Check out more unmissable things to do in our activity travel guide to Hanoi here.
What To Eat
If there’s one city hat’s absolute heaven for food lovers, it’s Hanoi. With a French influence in many of the dishes here, the food is fragrant and full of flavour.
You’ll see street food vendors all over the city, so don’t be shy – pull up a stool and point to whatever the person beside you is eating! One thing you have to try is Bun Cha.
Barack Obama made bun cha famous when he ate it on Anthony Bourdain‘s TV show. This dish comes from the capital city of Hanoi.It’s a mixed plate of grilled fatty pork (chả) over a plate of white rice noodle (bún) and herbs, with a side dish of dipping sauce. Mix the ingredients together as you please!
If you have a little fatigue of Vietnamese food (it happens to the best of us!) then don’t worry, Hanoi has plenty of Western food options. There’s an incredible pizzeria in the Tay Ho area called Pizza Belga, and several Pizza 4Ps in the city. See more pizza places in Hanoi here.
Whether you’re treating your bae or yourself, Hanoi has some beautiful restaurants. We love La Badiane in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem District. Large windows open up onto a lush courtyard, and every corner of La Badiane is filled with charming details that set the scene for a proposal, an anniversary, or even a first date.
What To Drink
From egg coffees to third wave brews, fresh beer and specialty cocktails, this is one city where you won’t be going thirsty!
Egg coffee is a unique coffee treat from Hanoi that’s sweet and super delicious. “Cà phê trúng” is a rich Vietnamese coffee base with frothy egg yolk and condensed milk on top. There’s plenty of places in Hanoi to try it, but the most famous is the original Cafe Giang.
Coffee Shops in Hanoi:
Vietnam might be best known for its classic Vietnamese coffee, but a Third Wave of coffee has been sweeping over Hanoi of late, with great coffee fast becoming the norm. You’ll find some of the best coffee in KafeVille (for drip brews) or Cong Caphe, which has locations all across the city and does a perfect Americano and Flat White.
For a truly great cocktail, Polite & Co. is your best bet. Inspired by 1920s gentleman’s clubs, Polite and Co. comes from the same owner as the one of the city’s top cocktail bars, the Mad Botanist. This spot is a classy retreat from the madness of the Old Quarter, with quality cocktails and a tempting whiskey and cigar menu.
Beer Street/Bia Hoi:
You can’t do a travel guide to Hanoi and not include an ode to bia hoi! This is the fresh, local homemade beer found all over Hanoi, in huge kegs on the side of the street. Grab a tiny stool and pay just 5,000d (USD$ 0.22!). Beer street on the corner of Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen streets in the Hanoi Old Quarter, is a lively spot to visit.
How to Get Around
As mentioned above, the Grab app is a must when in Hanoi and Vietnam in general. You can book a motorbike or car via the app, with a bike journey from most areas into the Old Quarter just 15-20,000d. Pay with cash or link it to your debit card.
We don’t really recommend getting the local bus, unless you don’t mind missing your stop! It’s cheap (just 5,000d a ticket) and covers all the main areas, but it can be hard to navigate where to get off and it’s slow.
If you’re experienced driving a moped/motorbike, then consider renting a bike to get around. Hanoi is not the place to learn how to drive! The traffic is crazy and rules of the road don’t really apply, so be careful. Wear a helmet, don’t break any red lights and have a few smaller notes on hand incase of traffic cop bribes.
Walking is a great way to see the city and discover little side streets and new places. It’s not a walking-friendly city exactly, but use common sense and you’ll be fine. Don’t be scared to cross the road – walk slowly but surely across and drivers will go around you.
Where To Stay
Looking for luxury?
This iconic five-star hotel is in Hanoi’s French Quarter and has beautiful French colonial architecture. As its name suggests, Hotel de l’Opera Hanoi is just a stone’s throw from the Hanoi Opera House, so you’ve no excuse not to put your glad rags on and catch a performance.
All four l’Opera Grand Suites have perfect views of the Opera House, so book into one of those for a really memorable stay.
On a budget?
Red Doorz is an aparthotel in the Ba Dinh area, which is a great choice for travellers interested in history, sightseeing and old town exploring. It’s just 10 minutes drive from the Old Quarter.
It’s half the price of most upscale hotels in the city, yet still offers a stylish place to sleep and chill out.
The Best Time of Year to Visit
Unlike the south of Vietnam, which is hot pretty much all year-round, Hanoi has four seasons.
June, July and August are the hottest months, while December – March are cold. Like, 10 degrees Celsius cold but with wind chill.
We suggest visiting from February to April/May or September to early November.