Hanoi: 7 Things to Know Before Visiting the Capital

Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is an essential stop, especially if you begin your journey in the North. In early 2024, TripAdvisor recognized Hanoi in two categories: the city ranked 4th among the 25 top destinations worldwide and was named the world’s top culinary destination.

This thousand-year-old capital offers a plethora of cultural, touristic, and culinary experiences shaped by its rich history. In this article, AVS aims to share various aspects of Hanoi through the eyes of locals, providing you with a deeper understanding of Vietnam’s capital and inspiring ideas for your trip.


Hanoi is located in the center of northern Vietnam. The city sits on the northern bank of the Red River, which originates from the mountainous regions of China.

Approximately 3 hours east of Hanoi is Ha Long Bay, in the Pacific Ocean. Ha Long Bay on land is about 3.5 hours south of the city by car. To the west and northeast of Hanoi, you’ll find beautiful mountainous regions. 

From Hanoi, it takes about an hour to fly to Da Nang, the capital of the Central Region, and about 2 hours to reach Ho Chi Minh City. Hanoi is roughly a 3-hour flight from major regional cities such as Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Hong Kong.


Firstly, Hanoi is a historical city that has borne various names over the centuries. The name “Hanoi” emerged in 1831 during the reign of King Minh Mang. It means “the city inside the rivers” because, at that time, Hanoi lay between three rivers: the Red River, the Nhue River, and the Day River.

Hanoi boasts significant architectural works that bear witness to its unique cultural values. The city has experienced important periods and been the site of key events in the nation’s history. Situated in a central and influential position, Hanoi is the political, cultural, and economic hub of Vietnam.

Moreover, Hanoi is a city of contrasts. It offers a perfect blend of past and present, where tradition and modernity coexist harmoniously. The old quarters, with their baroque buildings and colonial architecture, blend seamlessly with modern structures. The city charms with its classic and peaceful atmosphere, distinct from the bustling pace of Ho Chi Minh City, the “capital” of the South. 


Hoan Kiem Lake – Sword Lake

Hoan Kiem Lake, also known as Sword Lake, is a central attraction in Hanoi. In the middle of this lake is Turtle Island, linked to the legend of King Ly Thai To receiving a sacred sword from a divine turtle to protect the country from Chinese invaders. The island hosts Turtle Tower, a symbol of Hanoi and Vietnam.

Around Hoan Kiem Lake is a lively walking street where you can observe Hanoi’s daily life, exercise, and explore Vietnamese street stalls. Another island in the lake houses the Ngoc Son Temple, honoring the sacred turtle and symbolizing the harmony of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism, Vietnam’s three major religions.

Hanoi Old Quarter

Hanoi’s Old Quarter, with its fascinating history dating back to the Ly Dynasty in the 11th century, is vibrant with various craft and trade activities.

Today, the Old Quarter is a faithful witness to the passage of time. The streets, often known as “Hanoi’s 36 streets,” are named after the products once sold there. For example, Hang Trong Street resonates with the sounds of traditional drums, Hang Tre showcases bamboo work, and Hang Dong glimmers with the artisans’ skillful work with copper.

Dong Xuan Market, one of the oldest markets in the capital, is located in the Old Quarter. Built in 1889 during the French colonial period, it is a must-visit spot when in the city. 

Hanoi Train Street

Hanoi Train Street is a remarkable sight in the capital, running through the streets of the Old Quarter since the early 20th century, during the French colonial period. Over the years, trains have run peacefully, blending into the rhythm of life here.

What attracts tourists is its location amidst residential areas. The incredible narrowness of the space between the railway and houses, just a few steps apart, astonishes visitors. It almost seems like it could swallow the surrounding houses.

This part of Hanoi features a mix of old and modern houses. The different colors create a “classic” atmosphere on every corner, creating an impressive picture.

Hoa Lo Prison (Central Prison)

At the end of the 19th century, to counter the resistance movements of the Vietnamese people, the French reinforced their repression system by adding police, improving the judiciary system, and building a network of prisons. In 1896, they built Hoa Lo Prison, which they called “Central Prison,” one of the largest French prisons in Indochina.

Hoa Lo Prison symbolizes the sacrifice, perseverance in the face of hardship, and unyielding spirit of Vietnamese revolutionary soldiers against their enemies.

Opening hours: The site is open daily from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, with no lunch break. Tickets: Tickets can be purchased directly at the main gate. Ticket price: 50,000 VND per person. 

Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature – Quoc Tu Giam, built in 1070 during the reign of King Ly Thanh Tong, is an important architectural complex. It includes the Temple of Literature, dedicated to Confucius and Confucian scholars, as well as Quoc Tu Giam, Vietnam’s first university.

This majestic structure houses the famous stone turtles bearing 82 doctoral steles, showcasing the knowledge and wisdom of the Vietnamese people of the past. The Temple of Literature symbolizes the importance placed on education, intellect, and the promotion of ethical values in Vietnamese society for centuries. 

Thang Long Imperial Citadel

The Thang Long Imperial Citadel is a complex of historical monuments associated with various Vietnamese dynasties. Built in 1010, this architectural masterpiece has withstood centuries with a history spanning over 13 centuries. When you visit, you’ll discover the ancient characteristics of Vietnam through walls that bear witness to time and a solemn atmosphere that reminds you of a former capital.

Within the compound is the Hanoi Flag Tower, built in 1812. It remains the best-preserved structure of the Thang Long Imperial Citadel. Used as a military observation post during the French colonial period, the Hanoi Flag Tower now resides within the grounds of the Vietnam Military History Museum.

When visiting the Thang Long Imperial Citadel, you’ll have the opportunity to explore various elements, including the Vietnam Military History Museum. Be sure to allow ample time if you wish to delve into all the historical features of this complex.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Near the Thang Long Imperial Citadel is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and its surrounding complex, which includes the Presidential Palace and the Ho Chi Minh Museum. Ho Chi Minh, the founder of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and a revered national hero, is honored here. His mausoleum, a large granite structure, houses his glass-encased tomb, open to public visits and tourism.

Nearby is the Presidential Palace, formerly the residence of the Governor-General of Indochina during the colonial period. The Ho Chi Minh Museum, also in this area, recreates the life of the man who changed Vietnam’s history. Opposite this complex, you’ll also find the National Assembly Building of Vietnam.

Vietnam Museum of Ethnology

The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi is a must-visit destination, offering a profound experience of Vietnam’s culture and history. The exhibits detail the lifestyles, traditions, crafts, artifacts, and customs of Vietnam’s 54 ethnic groups, as well as architectural works.

Interactive activities allow visitors to actively engage in this cultural exploration. Explanations in French are available. Additionally, there is a free water puppet show on weekends. Considered the finest museum in the capital and the country, it is highly recommended!


Must-visit spots around Hanoi include traditional villages with strong traditions, home to thousands of Vietnamese. These villages, peaceful, sincere, and rural, offer a unique atmosphere.

Duong Lam Ancient Village and Surrounding Rice Fields

Duong Lam Village preserves architectures dating back 400 years, such as village gates, communal houses, and religious sites. A walk or bike ride through the communal houses and private homes takes you back in time. You can enjoy this walk to chat with locals and explore rice, radish, and corn fields. This is an ideal place to discover traditional rural life in the Red River Delta. 

Craft Villages Around Hanoi

Hanoi is surrounded by ancient craft villages that specialize in various trades. Some of these villages have preserved their traditional activities to this day. To experience Northern culture, don’t miss these special villages:

  • Bat Trang Village is associated with ceramics, where you can try your hand at pottery and buy unique handcrafted products.
  • Van Phuc Silk Village is where traditional silk is produced, offering you the opportunity to shop for high-quality silk pieces, colorful and traditional.
  • Dong Ho Village specializes in woodcut paintings from the Le period, featuring vibrant and symbolic folk art of Vietnamese culture.


Hanoi’s cuisine is an integral part of any visitor’s experience. The diverse food, from old quarter specialties to modern dishes, creates a unique identity for Northern culinary culture. Here are some must-try dishes in Hanoi:

  • Bun Cha: A signature dish of Hanoi, consisting of grilled pork and rice noodles, typically served with sweet and sour fish sauce and fresh herbs.
  • Pho: One of Vietnam’s most famous dishes, Hanoi’s pho is renowned for its naturally sweet broth and tender beef.
  • Banh Cuon: A light dish of steamed rice rolls stuffed with minced pork and mushrooms, topped with fried shallots and served with fish sauce.
  • Egg Coffee: A special coffee in Hanoi made with whipped egg yolk, offering a creamy and rich flavor.
  • Pho Cuon: A fresh and light dish with rolled beef and vegetables in rice paper, accompanied by a unique dipping sauce.

To fully enjoy Hanoi’s culinary delights, explore the diverse range of street food, local markets, and small eateries scattered throughout the city.


Hanoi’s climate features four distinct seasons, each offering unique experiences:

  • Spring (March to April): A delightful time with mild weather and blooming flowers.
  • Summer (May to August): Hot and humid, with occasional rain. Ideal for enjoying local fruits and outdoor activities.
  • Autumn (September to November): The best time to visit, with cool temperatures, clear skies, and pleasant breezes. The city’s natural beauty is at its peak.
  • Winter (December to February): Cold and dry, with a unique charm and festive atmosphere. A great time to explore cultural and historical sites.


Hanoi offers various transportation options to navigate the city:

  • Walking: The best way to explore the old quarter and nearby attractions.
  • Cyclo: A traditional bicycle rickshaw, ideal for short distances and a unique experience.
  • Motorbike: A common mode of transportation, with rentals available for tourists.
  • Taxi/Grab: Convenient for longer distances or when you prefer comfort and ease.
  • Bus: An affordable option with a wide network covering most of the city.
  • Bicycle: A sustainable way to explore Hanoi’s streets and enjoy the scenic views.

By understanding these aspects of Hanoi, you’ll be well-prepared to make the most of your visit, experiencing the city’s rich history, culture, and culinary delights to the fullest. Enjoy your journey to Vietnam’s capital!