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Best things to do in Hanoi

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Where in the world: Asia  /  Vietnam  /  Hanoi
Things to do in Hanoi range from discovering a distinct mixture of architectural styles all over the city to tasting peculiar delicacies of local cuisine. Drawn by its vibrant atmosphere, tourists flock to Old Quarter, the city's historic neighborhood boasting a number of cafes, bars, temples, and street vendors offering French and Vietnamese food. Experience a moment of tranquility amid the city's bustling streets at Lake of the Restored Sword (Hoan Kiem Lake), where you can sit down, relax, and enjoy people watching. Those interested in the country's colorful cultural heritage should explore the comprehensive collections of Vietnam Museum of Ethnology.

Hanoi is best known for its Historic Sites, Historic Walking Areas, and Spas.

Top 15 things to do in Hanoi

1. Walking tours

Suggested duration: 8 hours
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2. Old Quarter

Walk to the hum of local traffic and curious tourists in Old Quarter, the business district and downtown hub of Hanoi that dates back to the 13th century. Bearing the names of the businesses that once stood there, the quarter's narrow streets teem with cafes, bars, temples, shops, teahouses, and stalls selling French and Vietnamese foods. Watch a water puppet show, plant yourself at a sidewalk cafe to drink a local beer, or bargain with a smile at shops and street food stalls.
Suggested duration: 3h 30 min
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3. Lake of the Restored Sword (Hoan Kiem Lake)

Situated at the rim of the Old Quarter among the city's most popular attractions, the green shores of Lake of the Restored Sword (Hoan Kiem Lake) offer a break from sightseeing and provide a quiet spot for people-watching. Notice the temple--topped with a red star--on a small islet in the middle of the lake. Apart from being the city's emblem, it commemorates a local legend, which involves an Excalibur-like sword. The story goes that a local dragon god gave a magical sword to a 15th-century Vietnamese emperor who used it in an uprising against the Ming Dynasty. When the war was won, a giant turtle emerged from the lake and took back the sword to return it to heaven. The lake is home to a rare species of soft-shell turtles.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
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4. Off-Road Tours

Suggested duration: 4 hours
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5. Temple of Literature & National University

Devoted to the Chinese ancient teacher and philosopher Confucius, Temple of Literature & National University houses the first university of Vietnam founded in the 11th century. Constructed under Ly Thanh Tong dynasty in the typical Vietnamese traditional architectural style--from wood and tiles--the temple features five historic courtyards. See the statues representing the ancient teacher and his honored disciples, the 82 stelas commemorating notable scholars, and a small collection of student and mandarin traditional uniforms. Walk the lanes planted with century-old trees and look for a tortoise head--you can see students rubbing it for good luck before taking exams.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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6. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Erected on the spot from which the legendary Vietnamese leader proclaimed the country's independence, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum serves as the final resting place of the leader's mummified body. Although the beloved "Uncle Ho" wished to be cremated, his followers decided to put his embalmed remains in a glass case. Today, his pale body lies exposed to the views of devoted pilgrims and curious tourists moving slowly in endless rows during most of the year--except for a period when it gets sent to Russia for conservation. The building--inspired by the Lenin's mausoleum in Moscow--was erected in the early 1970s. Inquire about proper etiquette before you enter--keep your hands out of your pockets, do not hold up the line, and don't attempt to take photographs.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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7. Boat Tours & Water Sports

Suggested duration: 4 hours
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8. Spas

Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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9. Food Tours

A guided food tour of Hanoi serves as a sumptuous introduction into the city's rich history and eating habits. Your friendly guide will take you strolling through the winding streets of the capital's vibrant neighborhoods, including Old Quarter and French Quarter, making stops at both food trucks and well-known restaurants. Take your time to choose a tour that suits you--if you like reptiles, look for options that include visits to snake restaurants, or go for a tour that involves dining at a local home or some shopping for fresh ingredients at a night market. These tours can be done on foot or by scooter and usually last 3 or 4 hours.
Suggested duration: 3h 30 min
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10. Hoa Lo Prison

Nicknamed the "Hanoi Hilton" by U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War, Hoa Lo Prison has seen generations of Vietnamese revolutionaries who fought against French colonialists. The prison was built by the French in 1896. By the 1930s, nearly 2,000 political prisoners were incarcerated in the cells originally constructed to hold no more than 450 inmates--in fact, hundreds of prisoners broke away over the years through the sewage system. During the 1990s, most of the prison was torn down, leaving only the gatehouse for the museum. See the notorious French guillotine, a ghastly relic of French colonial presence in Indochina. The exhibits include U.S. Senator John McCain's flight suit, which he wore when he was shot down and rescued by locals in 1967.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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11. Kayaking & Canoeing

Suggested duration: 8 hours
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13. Nature & Wildlife Tours

Suggested duration: 8 hours
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14. Climbing Tours

Suggested duration: 8 hours
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15. Photography Tours

Suggested duration: 4h 30 min
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