Best things to do in Hanoi
Dates Visited: February 2019
Hanoi, also known as the City of Peace, is Vietnam's capital city located in the northern part of the country. We stayed in the Old Quarter of Hanoi which is lined with narrow buildings and back alley streets. It's quite easy to navigate on foot and admire the architectural beauty of this historic city.
- Best things to do in Hanoi
- Best places to eat in Hanoi
- How to get around Hanoi
- Where to Stay
There are tons of cheap things to do in Hanoi that cost little to no money. To be honest, Vietnam is shockingly cheap so even the things that cost money are very inexpensive.
If you're looking for some free entertainment then you can stroll around the Old Quarter. A cheap night out is also another one of the easier things to do in Hanoi. You can head down to the Beer Street and have a drink for 5K-7K VND ($0.22-0.30 USD).
In addition to the cheap drinks, finding some delicious food on a budget is also really easy to do. Read more below about the best places to eat in Hanoi.
1. Walk around the Old Quarter
The Old Quarter of Hanoi used to be the residential, commercial, and manufacturing center of the city. In fact, each street used to have a specialization of production which is how the streets got their names. This portion of the city is filled with unique architecture and character. Strolling by Hoan Kiem lake you will see the old flag tower of Vietnam. Along the water is a workout park where you can see locals working out or playing games.
2. Have a drink on Beer Street
Also found in the Old Quarter of the city is the Ta Hien Beer Street. Each night just before sunset you can see local merchants setting up the tiny plastic stools outside with kegs of beer. Though the 'fresh beer' is super cheap, don't expect it to be high quality. Prices start at about 5,000 VND ($0.22 USD) for a cup, which is unheard of in the western world.
3. Visit the Women's History Museum
Another one of the great things to do in Hanoi is visit the Vietnamese Women's History Museum. The three main levels of the museum feature women in family, women in history, and women's fashion. These exhibits cover everything from cultural traditions associated with marriage/childbirth to women's role during war.
It's open daily from 8:00AM-5:00PM and the entrance fee is only 30,000 VND/person ($1.30 USD). You can pay an additional 30,000 VND for an audioguide to the museum, which we highly recommend. The audio tour tells stories from real women that go along with the numbered exhibits on each floor. It's really quite impressive to learn about and is a great introduction to Vietnamese culture.
4. See the Military History Museum
If you're interested in military history then this is a must do while in Hanoi. It covers the vast history of Vietnam's military conflicts. Spoiler alert: the country has virtually been at war for it's entire existence with the exception of the last 30-40 years. The main displays feature recent military history from the French colonial occupation through the Vietnam/American war.
Outside you will see captured American planes, tanks, and other war vehicles. The museum is open from 8:00AM-11:30AM and from 1:00PM-4:30PM daily, except for Mondays and Fridays. Tickets are 40,000 VND/person though we noticed they weren't very strict with checking 😉 At that price, it's one of the better cheap things to do in Hanoi.
5. Stroll by the Street Murals
Colorful murals line Phung Hung Street in the northern part of Hanoi's Old Quarter. The street murals are a free attraction which makes this one of the many great cheap things to do in Hanoi. In total there are 19 paintings completed by artists from Vietnam and South Korea.
These paintings are meant to showcase Vietnam's thousand years of culture preserved in a city that faced many changes throughout the years. Walking along the street just before dusk you'll notice traditional Vietnamese lampshades start to light up that perfectly accent these beautiful paintings.
6. Walk along the Railroad Tracks
Each day between 3:00PM-7:00PM a train speeds through the narrow streets of Hanoi on the tracks pictured below. It's really incredible to see how narrow the clearance is between some of the buildings. Any other time during the day, you'll see tons of tourists with their selfie sticks. We figured it must be one of top instagram spots in Hanoi since it was so crowded.
The train tracks run along the main strip of Lê Duẩn street then run off into the narrow alleyways. We actually happened to stumble across this spot while walking home from the Women's History Museum and had to look up the location later.
7. Buy some cheap North Face
As it turns out, Vietnam is the Mecca for North Face. While there may be some cheap knockoffs floating around, if you try them on and feel the material it's easy to tell which ones are legit.
We both got these rain jackets for 300,000 VND each ($13 USD) while they go for about $100 USD at home. Be sure to haggle hard if you want a good deal. Some vendors will start at twice the price we got them for. We bargained them down from about 550,000 VND ($24 USD).
8. See the Water Puppet Show
The water puppet show is a unique cultural experience distinct to Hanoi and Hoi An. The whole show lasts roughly 45 minutes and is a series of roughly 15-20 acts that tell short stories. It's billed as a family experience targeted to keep the attention of younger children. However, it's all in Vietnamese so the typical tourist won't understand much. Nonetheless if you want to see something that you can only see in Vietnam, this would be something to add to your to-do list.
The Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is located in the old quarter of Hanoi and are every day at 3:00PM, 4:10PM, 5:20PM, 6:30PM, and 8:00PM. Tickets for the show range from 100,000-200,000 VND/person ($4.30-$8.60 USD).
Best places to eat in Hanoi
From Bahn Mi sandwiches to Pho, there's tons of great cheap food in Hanoi. There are also some special drinks to try, including egg coffee which is unique to Vietnam. Read below to find out about our 4 favorite restaurants/cafés that we found. In our opinion these are the best places to eat in Hanoi that offer affordable menu choices.
This quaint little cafe is unique in that it's entirely decorated with post-it notes. You can, and are encouraged by staff, to leave one with a little saying about what you thought of the place. Warning for tall people: the ceilings are quite low so watch your head!
This is probably the best place to eat in Hanoi. It is great local cuisine that is featured several street food tours. The staff is so friendly and welcoming, upon ordering they politely explain how to eat Bun Cha if it's your first time. The spring rolls are also insanely delicious.
This small café is tucked away in the Old Quarter of Hanoi and is a bit hard to find. However, they serve a tasty egg coffee with a cozy upstairs lounge.
If you're looking to get a delicious and cheap Bahn My in Hanoi, then this is the place. The sandwiches here start at 15,000 VND ($0.65 USD) so you can leave with a stuffed stomach and fat wallet.
Best ways to get around Hanoi
The traffic Hanoi can be pretty hectic depending on what you are accustomed to. In terms of driving around the city, the quickest way is to take a scooter weaving in and out of traffic. However, if you're not used to doing that recommend walking since it is definitely the cheapest way to get around Hanoi. But if you don't feel like walking all over the city, taking a Grab is another safe and affordable way to get around.
Taking a Grab
If you're looking for a private ride, but cheaper than a taxi, then you might want to try Grab. This app is Asia's version of Uber which can be used with your credit card, however, in our experience most drivers prefer to be paid in cash.
Pro Tip: Use Grab prices to negotiate taxi or tuk tuk prices to see if they can match or beat the price. It's also a good tool to use to gauge how much a ride should really cost to make sure you're not getting ripped off by a driver.
Where to stay in Hanoi
From our experience, we like to use Hostel World to check out potential hostels, then check other booking websites like Booking.com to make our reservations. Sometimes we also message hostels directly to get a better price. We also like to use Airbnb to book accommodations if its a better deal than hostels. Clicking on either of the icons will give you a deal with either of the sites, but are affiliate links so we earn a small commission.
Dorms: $6.50+ USD
Amenities: Free Wifi, Free Breakfast, Bar, Indoor Pool, Luggage Storage, Tour Booking Office
Dorms: $6.00+ USD
Amenities: Free Wifi, Free Breakfast, Bar, Luggage Storage, Tour Booking Office, A bit quieter than Babylon and Cocoon Inn
Dorms: $7.36+ USD
Amenities: Free Wifi, Free Breakfast, Bar, Luggage Storage, Tour Booking Office