Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and also an important cultural center for the country. With a long history, Hanoi helps visitors understand the events, people, and places that shaped present-day Vietnam.
From museums to flourishing markets and street food, this 1,000-year-old city has a lot to share! To help you make the most of your journey in Hanoi, here is a list of the top 9 must-see attractions.
Visiting Hanoi's Old Quarter is like taking a trip back in time. With its antique brick houses and old-style narrow streets, this part of the city is drastically different from the modern sector. The Old Quarter has a history of over 2,000 years and is most famous for its 15th-century architecture and exciting markets.
Also known as the 36-street market, the Old Quarter is separated into 36 different streets each known for specific trade. For example, Han Gai Street sells silk clothing, while Thinh Street sells wooden products. This makes every street an exciting new opportunity for discovering your perfect souvenir!
If you aren’t looking to purchase goods, the Old Quarter is still a great place for people-watching or for grabbing some tasty street food.
This bustling bazaar is Hanoi's oldest market. It is also one of the largest, spanning multiple stories and taking up the space of an entire city block. It is known to be more of a locals’ market than a tourist market, and all kinds of clothes and food are sold here.
Dong Xuan Market is a great example of an authentic Asian marketplace, with bartering and haggling included. On the first story is a typical wet-market that sells fresh produce, meat, and dried goods. On the upper levels, most vendors sell clothes and fabrics, with a couple of stalls that are more tourist-focused.
The best time to visit the market is in the early morning or late afternoon while everything is lively. Don’t visit during lunch, when most stall keepers take a siesta and will have to be wakened up if anyone wants to make a purchase.
Thang Long Water Puppet shows are made of 17 short sketches performed using traditional Vietnamese puppets. These performances date back to the 11th-century and attract both tourists and locals alike. Performances often depict important parts of Vietnamese culture, such as the daily lives of farmers and popular folklore.
In an hour-long show, there are normally up to 8 puppeteers who control the puppets using long bamboo rods. The puppets are wooden and masterfully carved to have different appearances and expressions. Every show includes an ensemble of musicians and singers who help tell the story being acted out by the puppets.
Hoan Kiem Lake is often seen as the symbolic center of Hanoi. In the mornings, many locals come to the lake to enjoy the peaceful outdoors, to start their day with a coffee or exercise, which often includes line dancing, tai chi, or yoga.
Besides the importance of the park for the community, Hoan Kiem Lake also preserves a dazzling piece of history, the Ngoc Son Temple. This 18th-century pagoda sits on an island in the middle of the lake, reachable via an ornate wooden bridge. The temple looks beautiful against its natural surroundings and is especially breathtaking at night.
The Temple of Literature was built in 1070 and hosts the Imperial Academy, which was Vietnam's first national university. This impressive temple covers an area of about 54,000 square meters and includes various pavilions, halls, pagodas, and statues.
Originally, the temple only allowed people of noble birth to study there. In 1442, however, students from all over the nation gained access to the university and for the first time were able to study poetry, literature, and Confucianism. This was the beginning of a nation-wide education system in Vietnam and an important step in the country's history.
Today the temple is still important to scholars and students alike. In the spring, worried students often visit in order to rub the head of a lucky tortoise statue. This is believed to help them study well and pass their exams.
The One Pillar Pagoda is the most iconic temple in Hanoi, especially renowned for its unique appearance. Located in the middle of a small pond, the humble but beautiful temple starts with a stone pillar rising out of the water. The pagoda sits on top of this pillar like a lotus flower sitting on its stem.
The pagoda is popular with worshippers who are hoping for children, and it is said to have magical healing powers. The emperor who constructed the temple built it out of gratitude, after the birth of the baby boy he had been hoping for.
The Museum of Ethnology was built in 1995 to recognize and celebrate the 54 official ethnic groups of Vietnam. The museum is full of interesting details about the traditional life of the Vietnamese people. In total, the museum contains 15,000 unique artifacts.
These artifacts include photographs, tribal art, jewelry, relics from religious ceremonies, and much more. The museum even has an exhibit of full-scale replicas of traditional Vietnamese homes and gardens.
The Museum of Ethnology is a great place to go if you want a break from the city or want to learn about the multicultural identity of Vietnam.
The Fine Arts Museum in Hanoi is Vietnam's primary art museum. It showcases contemporary art, such as paintings and sculptures, as well as traditional art with folk paintings and ceramics. The art is from generations of artists telling the story of Vietnam.
The museum contains more than 20,000 works of art, 3,000 of which are displayed at any one time. The entire museum can be split into six different sections, including prehistoric art, art from the 11th to 19th-century, art from the early 20th-century to now, traditional art, folk art, and ceramics.
Some of the best-known pieces held at the museum include the ancient Champa stone carvings, lacquered statues of Buddhist monks, and folk-style paintings.
Ho Chi Minh is revered in Vietnamese history. He was leader and first chairman of the Communist Party of Vietnam, which brought the country into a new era free from French colonial rule.
After his death in 1969, Ho Chi Minh's body was placed in a massive marble mausoleum, just like Lenin’s, Stalin’s, or Mao’s. His body is deep in the basement of the building, in a glass sarcophagus.
Because Ho Chi Minh is such a respected and important person in Vietnam, there is a special dress code for entering the mausoleum. It is requested that visitors dress modestly; shorts, tank-tops, and hats are not allowed.
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