Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and has the second largest population in the whole country. Having been the capital for nearly 1000 years, Hanoi is considered to be the cultural hub nub of Vietnam, which means it is also a great tourist destination.
Being such a cultural and Buddhist founded city, most of the attractions are landmarks and temples. This makes up such an integral part of the Buddhist culture that it is hard to miss out on these beautiful creations of architecture.
Major attractions to visit in Hanoi
Museum of History
Before travelling out to see all the sights, a good place to start is the Museum of History. This really gives you great insight into the city of Hanoi as well as an understanding of where the people have come from and what they have been through. The museum houses over 700 different artefacts which give a full picture of Vietnams history. It starts from the beginning of traceable life and ends at the revolution of 1945. The door has been open since 1958 and has been a major attraction and much loved cultural centre for the people as well as tourists that come to Hanoi. There is a small cafe that offers basics as well as a great cup of coffee. You will find this museum on 1 Pham Ngu Lao and it is open daily from 8am to 4.30pm.
The revered leader Ho Chi Minh lies in the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum just off Ngoc Ha Street. It is a sacred place for the Hanoi people and they expect the utmost respect as you pass through.
The body lies embalmed and open for viewing although no pictures are allowed to be taken. It makes for an experience as it is not too often that one is able to view a preserved body in such way. The queues can be long far before the 8am opening time so get there early and bring snacks and refreshments as you can expect to be waiting for a while.
The Old Quarter
The Old Quarter is made of a total of 36 streets that are well known for being incredibly challenging to navigate. Commerce has been going on here for over 1000 years and even thought so much has changed, so much has stayed the same. Now a popular tourist spot not only for its beautiful architecture, but also for its shopping, restaurants and nightlife.
The items for sale are categorically organised so you will see streets called ‘Hang’ followed by a name.
This literally means ‘merchandise’ and whatever name follows is what is sold in that street. There are also some fantastic bars in this area if you are out for a night tipple.
Cot Co Tower
The Cot Co Tower or the flag tower was a late entry to the architecture of Hanoi and was built in 1805. The tower gives an incredible panoramic view of the city and includes excellent photographic opportunities. Unfortunately it is quite a walk up the winding stairs just to get to the top of the three tiered tower.
The tower itself is built with 6 fan shaped windows and 36 flower shaped windows which really light up the tower and its beauty.
Le Mat Snake Village
For those who are perhaps a little more into the heart stopping attractions, you cannot miss out on a stop at Le Mat Snake Village. Here you can choose your reptile of flavour and have it served up to you in no less than 7 dishes. Fancy a cobra heart beating in your shot of red wine? How about a cocktail with a gecko floating in it? Expect to see odd menu choices like soup a la snake meat, lemongrass and crispy snakes’ tail as well as snake spring rolls and deep fried snake!
This popular tourist attraction is said to be one of the few places that you can still find snakes in Hanoi as they are bred for meat. You will locate this interesting spot in the Long Bien district about 30 minutes from Hanoi and be warned, it is not for the faint of heart. Make sure that you bring your wTallet full of cash as this experience can set you back anywhere up to 1 million Vietnamese Dollars.
St. Josephs Cathedral
If you are Catholic and are visiting Vietnam, then why not stop in at the St. Josephs Cathedral. Originally built by the French in 1886, this is now the main catholic church in the whole of Hanoi.
Services are held in Vietnamese as well as French and can be very well attended. Expect to see people flowing out the doors and on to the streets. The church is open daily from 5am to 5.45pm. It is always busy as it sendees up to 6 million patrons.
Do not be turned away by the bolted front doors, patrons enter from the side door. If you are not too keen to venture into the church itself to see the inner beauty and stained glass windows, then sip a cocktail at one of the side cafes that are next door. The views are still great and the people watching makes for fantastic entertainment.
Hoan Kiem Lake
In keeping with the theme of all things religious, Hanoi is home to some beautiful temples that really are worth a look see. The Hoan Kiem Lake offers some of the most gorgeous lakeside views and offers a real insight into the lives of the
Hanoi people. From the bridge you will see young kids playing around, older women doing their exercises and meditations as well as the young lovers steeling a kiss in the shadows. But just over the big red bridge is the Ngoc Son Temple and the turtle of legends.
The story goes that back in the day a sword was stolen from the Emperor Le Loi by a big turtle, which he believed was his punishment for leading a revolt against the Ming Dynasty. Admire the architecture and colourful designs of this temple as well as the history behind it. This is a great spot for shooting pics or if you are up to it, going for a jog.
Temple of Literature
Another famous temple, although not the religious kind, is the Temple of Literature. This temple is the grounds of the first university every built in Vietnam. Unfortunately when the French bombed it, only 4 interlocking courtyards survived. Rub the stone turtles which are believed to bring good luck, or admire the names etched into the stone of those 1307 people that had qualified at the university.
This remaining part of the university that you see has so much history; considering it was built in 1070 you could expect nothing less. Take a peek at the ancient artefacts that have been collected and make up the little museum that pays tribute to this once grand establishment. The temple is open daily from 8am to 5pm.
Of course if you admire this sort of architecture, you can only but admire the Pagoda’s that are built in and around the city. Traditionally referred to as the Tran Quoc Pagoda, this is the oldest temple in the history of Buddhism and it lies on the shores of the 17km large West Lake. You will find 10 shrines here as well as a statue representing the spirit of Nirvana. One of the popular activities to do here is to rent a boat and paddle out into the lake.
In 1049 a One Pillar Pagoda was built after the emperor of the time, Ly Thai Tong, had a dream that he would have a son to be the heir to the throne. This is one of the most sacred and most beautiful pagodas in Hanoi and is especially beautiful when the lake is full and the lotuses are covering it. You will find this special place near the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Despite being destroyed by the French in 1954, this Pagoda has been rebuilt and has become even more beautiful and sentimental than it ever was. It is on the first day of the lunar month from bam to 9pm and all other days from bam to 11am and again from 2pm to 5Pm.
Hanoi is such a sacred city that offers so many little spots and attractions to view. The places mentioned are revered and respected monuments and the utmost respect and care has been taken to preserve them. This allows for you, the traveller, to view a history and architectural masterpiece that is the marvellous capital of Vietnam.