Explore Hoan Kiem Lake
Located right by the Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem Lake is a must-visit spot in Hanoi. Its name translates to “Lake of the Returned Sword,” referring to the legend of an emperor receiving a sword from a magical turtle on this very lake. Locals still say seeing a turtle in the lake is lucky—so keep an eye out as you stroll by the water’s edge. You can take a walk here and rest from the noisy streets of Hanoi. In the center of the lake, there’s the beautiful Ngoc Son temple. You can take a walk over the bridge and explore the Ngoc Son temple, it costs less than $1 USD. One of Hanoi’s more unusual landmarks is Thap Rua, a small tower in the middle of the lake that’s often used as a symbol of the city. Weekends are the best time to visit, as Hoan Kiem Lake is closed to traffic from Friday to Sunday. So, if you only have a weekend to spend here, this is perfect for you.
Catch a show at Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
The art of water puppet theater is a unique Vietnamese tradition, stemming from a time when farms would get flooded and people would create entertainment by staging puppet shows right in the water. Watching a show at the iconic Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is a must-see if you only have one weekend to spend in Hanoi.
Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Although Ho Chi Minh City is in Southern Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh’s body is buried at the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum in Hanoi. The mausoleum is of the most visited historical sites in the country. Here you can see the embalmed body of one of Vietnam’s greatest leaders. You won’t spend a lot of time at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum since the line is never allowed to stop moving. What you can do here is respectfully observe the body of one of Vietnam’s great leaders, and take a walk through Ba Dình Sqaure, where Ho Chi Minh read the Proclamation of Independence!
Walk in the Temple of LiteratureMany people say the Temple of Literature is the most beautiful attraction in the Old Quarter Hanoi. It’s certainly one of the oldest, dating back to 1070 AD. Originally a Mandarin University, the site was also open to students from the royal family, aristocrats, and the elite. It took a lot longer to open up to “intelligent” commoners. You can see the names of graduates carved into the stone turtle statues outside. The temple was originally dedicated to Confucius, and you can find a statue of him in the landscaped garden nearby. You can spend some time contemplating and relaxing here. Not only are there religious and academic buildings, but there are five courtyards to take a leisurely stroll through. This is one of the most important academic landmarks in Hanoi and Vietnam.
Drink Coffee at the Train Street
This is a unique experience, where you can drink coffee at a coffeeshop and a train passes next to you. Few minutes before, you’ll see the residents taking in clothes, picking up children, and stray dogs running away. Then, you’ll feel the street start to vibrate. That’s because a train that has travelled from crossed through many other regions of Vietnam is somehow navigating the narrow Old Quarter streets of Hanoi. Make sure you check the times the train passes before you go, otherwise you might just catch a glimpse of the daily life or practice your Vietnamese with the locals.
Visit the Hanoi Opera HouseThe Hanoi Opera House is probably the best example of French colonial architecture in Vietnam. It dates back to 1911 and the grand building looks out of place among the palm trees and the roads around it. If you think it looks impressive on the outside, it is even more impressive on the inside! The building was modelled on Paris Opera House and there are chandeliers, 600 plush seats, and a stage fit for opera and ballet! Admiring from the outside is the first thing in order on your trip here. It’s possible to do a guided tour of the Opera House. For around 18USD, you can see the amazing architecture inside in the building also known as the Cathedral of Art.
Shop at the Hanoi Night MarketArrived at Hanoi at 4AM? No problem. The Night Market is a Southeast Asian staple, and Hanoi is not short of Night Markets. In the streets to the north of Hoàn Kiem Lake, you can go shopping for a range of things while enjoying the friendly family atmosphere of the night market. Particularly recommended are the traditional Vietnamese souvenirs and street food. If you love markets, you can visit Dong Xuan Market on Dong Xuan Street if you have more time. It’s a Soviet-style building that dates back to 1889 and is four stories of market stalls selling fresh produce, souvenirs, and clothing.
Take a tour of Hoa Lò Prison MemorialHoa Lò Prison Memorial is an important Hanoi landmark. In the late 19th century, this prison was opened under French rule for political agitators and dissidents. It was originally intended to hold just a few hundred prisoners, but this quickly increased to more than 2,000. The prisoners lived in horrendous conditions. When the colonial rule of France ended, the Vietnamese repurposed the prison in 1954. The conditions of the prison didn’t improve, but the prisoners changed to American Prisoners of War during the Vietnam War. The museum tells of the grisly history of the prison, with many artifacts on display. There is also a audio tour of the full story of the prison for an additional fee.
Visit the Tran Quoc PagodaThe peaceful pagoda has over 1,500 years of history, making it one of the oldest landmarks in Hanoi. It sits into the largest lake in Hanoi City Centre, just on the edge of Hanoi Old Quarter. Although the pagoda has stood for 1,500 years, it hasn’t always stood on the West Lake. In fact, it was moved here in the 20th century after a serious landslide. Tran Quoc is one of the best things to see in Hanoi if you’re interested to learn more about the city’s rich history and culture. Here, you can visit the on-site museum, which is full of priceless Vietnamese antiques. It’s even home to the statue considered the most beautiful in all of Vietnam.
Walk to the Imperial Citadel of Thang LongYou should not miss staying in the Ba Dình District, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long while visiting in Hanoi. The citadel was the capital of Vietnam for 8 centuries, while it was the political center since its construction in the 11th century. If you’re interested in history, this is the number one place to visit in Hanoi for its historical and cultural importance in Vietnamese history. Nowadays, it’s open to the public to explore the stone fortresses and walk through the beautifully landscaped gardens. The entrance to the citadel is around $1.30. You can transport yourself back to the 11th century and admire the beautiful architecture of the stone buildings. You can also get a panoramic view of the city if you climb the flag tower and spend some time looking out.
There you have it, things to do to make the most out of your weekend in Hanoi. Want to visit all of these amazing places? Book a Hanoi tour with us.
Need more information? Don’t hesitate to contact us, we will be more than happy to answer your questions!