Hanoi City Guide
Hanoi, despite its tumultuous past, or more accurately because of it, is the fascinating city we cover in this guide. The name Hanoi came from the Nguyen Dynasty in 1831 though the city only became the capital of a unified Vietnam in 1975, after the North’s victory in the American War.
The most visited, and arguably most interesting part of Hanoi is the Old Quarter which still maintains much of the city’s traditional charm. The Old Quarter occupies the northern part of the Hoàn Kiếm District, above the popular Hoan Kiem Lake (Sword Lake), and the district’s French-infused southern portion. The Hoàn Kiếm District, along with the Ba Đình, Hai Bà Trưng, and Đống Đa districts are considered old Hanoi. Versus the city’s modern high rise and shopping mall-dominated Western districts.
The more serene Tây Hồ District, on the northern border of the Old Quarter and the Hoàn Kiếm District, is named after West Lake (Hồ Tây), one of the largest natural lakes in Vietnam. The district is home to many expats and it too is well stocked with lodging, shops, and restaurants.
The Old Quarter and Tây Hồ are the best locations for visitors to eat, drink, and sleep while still being amidst the city’s prime cultural sites and it’s lively street food scene.
It is difficult to write a guide to any capital city without mentioning some well-documented places, these are the headline reasons for visiting after all. At Hidden, however, we like to delve a little deeper to highlight some of the places that may not appear on your regular ‘Top Ten Things to do in Hanoi’. These are covered in the below city guide for Hanoi.
The Best Time to Visit Hanoi City
Hanoi has a tropical climate though you won’t be convinced if you’re in the city in winter. The best times to visit are Spring and Autumn, that would be March and April, and late September to November. Day time highs average 25 degrees in these months with nights in the low 20s.
It is best to avoid mid-May through mid-September as summer temperatures hover in the low- to mid-thirties. That’s far from unbearable but when coupled with the lack of wind and the city’s pollution, things can get very uncomfortable. Summer is also the wettest time of year with rainfall totals exceeding 200 millimetres a month.
Getting to Hanoi City
Hanoi city swinging its doors wide open to international tourism was hastened in 2015 with the opening of the new international terminal (Terminal 2) at Noi Bai International Airport (HAN). The airport lies 45 kilometres north of the city centre which can be reached in about an hour, traffic permitting. What previously was aggravating and seemingly endless lines at immigration in the smaller, less efficient old terminal are now down to 15 minutes in Noi Bai’s bright and modern new building. All of the major Asian airlines and many low-cost carriers service Noi Bai as well as others from further afield such as Qatar Airways and Emirates.
If you’re travelling to or from Hanoi city from within Vietnam on Vietnam Airlines, VietJet Air, or Jetstar Pacific, you’ll do so from the nearby domestic terminal (Terminal 1). There is a free shuttle service between the international and domestic terminals. Find information here for all domestic travel from Hanoi.
The city has two main train stations: the Hanoi Railway Station and Gia Lâm. The former is divided in two with the main station (A Station) on Le Duan Street, and behind it, Tran Quy Cap Station (B Station) on Tran Quy Cap Street. The trains from Tran Quy Cap serve Vietnam’s north and northwest including Lao Cai, from which you reach Sapa. Main station trains travel south to destinations including Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, and Da Nang. Tickets for all destinations sold in the main station.
Gia Lâm, five kilometres north of the Hanoi Railway Station, connects Vietnam with Nanning in Southern China 610 kilometres away.
Hidden Hint: Travel agencies in the city of Hanoi are notorious for overcharging train travellers. Go to the station to buy a ticket in person and do it early as seats, particularly sleeper berths, sell out quickly.
Hanoi’s two main bus stations are My Dinh, in the city’s west, and Giap Bat, just south of the Old Quarter. Interprovincial and international buses depart from these stations. There are many other smaller stations too, including Long Bien and Kim Ma in the Old Quarter.
My Dinh Bus Station
Address: 20 Pham Hung
My Dinh is the newer, more modern, and thus better organised of the main stations. You can hop on buses to the north and northwest regions of the country as well if you are intending to cross into China. There are also buses from Hanoi to Sapa and Ha Long Bay.
Giap Bat Bus Station
Address: 6 Giai Phong
If you’re heading south, this is your station. Giap Bat buses serve the central and southern provinces with buses to many destinations including to Hai Phong every half hour, Ninh Binh every hour, and to Ho Chi Minh City five times a day. A bus ticket to Hai Phong costs 46,600 VND (2 USD) while journeying to Ho Chi Minh City, usually on larger, roomier coaches sets you back at least 460,600 VND (20 USD).
Getting to Hanoi City from Hoi An
Vietnam’s capital is 800 kilometres north of Hoi An which makes getting there a matter of personal preference, and perhaps more pointedly, the time and money you have. Going over land will require 17-18 hours while by air, it’s a breezy 90 minutes or less.
Buses and trains are the most price-friendly options with bus fares beginning as low as 320,000 VND (13.75 USD). Trains are about 400,000 VND (17.20 USD) while the fastest, and of course the most expensive way to get from the city of Hanoi to Hoi An is by plane. Prices typically are in the 1.02m – 3.09m VND (44 – 133 USD) range. If you prefer doing it on your own, which knocks a few hours off the other ground modes, renting a motorcycle begins at 230,000 VND (10 USD). Car or van rentals are considerably more.
As Hoi An has neither an airport or train station, you’ll also have to factor in transfer times and costs to Da Nang, 30 kilometres north. For comprehensive details on travelling between these two cities, click here.
Getting from Hanoi Airport to the City
Buses, shuttles, taxis, and rental cars are your choices when it comes to getting into town. There is no train service linking the two.
Hanoi City buses
Local bus services are frequent and increasingly popular given their low cost. There are four lines serving Noi Bai International Airport: the Express 86, and numbers 7, 17, and 90.
The highly regarded express route stops at both the international and domestic terminals operating at 20-30 minute intervals between the airport and the city. It’ll have you in town within an hour. If you’re going to the Old Quarter get off at Long Bien Bus Station in the Old Quarter’s northeast otherwise you’ll end up at Hanoi’s main railway station. The fare is 35,000 VND (1.50 USD).
Bus 7 runs between the airport and the Cau Giay Bus Station west of the Old Quarter. Long Bien Bus Station.serves as the first and last stop for bus number 17 and the airport but it stops only at the domestic terminal. Bus number 90 connects the airport with Kim Ma Bus Station in the Old Quarter. The buses conveniently run every 15-20 minutes from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. and cost just 5,000 VND (0.22 USD). These three routes all take about 90 minutes.
Once in town don’t be shy to take the red, yellow, and white city buses. Service has improved considerably in recent years. Fares are no more than 10,000 VND (0.45 USD) and in addition to the Old Quarter, they stop at such notable sites as Hoan Kiem Lake, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, and the Literature Temple.
Shuttle Bus from Hanoi Airport
The three airlines serving Vietnam’s domestic routes also provide shuttle services to the city centre.
Vietnam Airlines drops off and picks up passengers at its downtown office at 1 Quang Trung Street for 40,000 VND (1.70 USD) each way. Shuttles leave every 30-40 minutes from Terminal 1 arrivals.
VietJet Air also picks up passengers at Terminal 1 for journeys to and from downtown. The service is available if you are either departing or arriving on domestic flights only. Tickets must be reserved in advance on the VietJet website or by phone, or from a VietJet ticket agent. Cost is 36,000 VND (1.55 USD) one way.
Jetstar Pacific’s shuttle provides service to and from its Old Quarter office at 206 Tran Quang Khai Street. The bus departs the airport shortly after each flight arrival and seats must be reserved in advance before boarding the flight. It’s 40,000 VND (1.70 USD) each way.
Taxis at Hanoi Airport
Airport taxis are plentiful; you’ll find them on the arrivals level outside both the international and domestic terminals 24/7. At about thirty minutes, it’s the quickest way into the city but you’ll pay 250,000-400,000 VND (11 – 17 USD) for the privilege.
There are 14 registered taxi companies operating at the airport; some use meters, some don’t.
Hidden Hint: If you’re brave enough to jump into a taxi without a meter, be sure to settle on a price before you close the door.
The airport itself warns new arrivals to be wary of driver scams, especially if you’re arriving late at night and are weary after a long flight. Many drivers receive commissions from hotels for bringing in new guests so don’t be fooled if your driver claims your lodging is closed but he has another, better option. Opt for Grab if you insist on a private ride. Rates are typically around 10,000 VND (0.45 USD) per kilometre.
Car Rental at Hanoi Airport
Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz, and Sixt all operate at Noi Bai International Airport. They can be found at the arrivals level.
Where to Stay in the City of Hanoi
The Old Quarter and neighbouring Tây Hồ are the most enjoyable, practical, and attractive areas of the city to stay. The former is located in the centre of the city while Tây Hồ, on the northern side of the Old Quarter, encompasses Hồ Tây (West Lake) and its immediate surrounds. Staying in either area has you close to all the major attractions, cultural sites, shops, restaurants, and bars.
Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi
Two hundred metres from Hoàn Kiếm Lake on a tree-lined street in the French Quarter, the Sofitel is an ideal base for exploring the city in complete luxury. The popular Hanoi Night Market, St. Joseph’s Cathedral, and the Hanoi Opera House are all less than a kilometre away. This praised colonial-era hotel comes with all of the features and amenities you’d expect with a 5-Star rating. There is French and Vietnamese fine dining, three bars, a spa, fitness centre, and heated outdoor pool, among others. There’s also an afternoon high tea. The rooms have hardwood floors; its club-level rooms include 24-hour butler service and lounge access with complimentary breakfast.
Hanoi Pearl Hotel
Price: Rooms 1.44. – 5.67m VND (62 – 243 USD), suites 3.41m – 4.81m VND (146 – 206 USD)
This appealing 4-Star boutique property in the heart of the Old Quarter is close to everything; perfect if you intend to explore on foot. The Hanoi Pearl is just a minute to Hoan Kiem Lake and a couple more to St. Joseph’s Cathedral. Also nearby are Ngoc Son Temple, Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, and the popular Dong Xuan Market. Neighbourhood restaurants, cafes, and coffee shops are also plentiful. On-site, there is a restaurant, a lake-view cafe lounge, spa, gym, and business centre. Room rates include a lavish buffet breakfast. 70 rooms are offered, including five in single room configurations, a connecting family room, and two suites.
7Fridays West Lake Hostel
This lively, new hostel is on the upscale waterfront in Tây Hồ. It has nine- and 15-bed dorm rooms and lives up to its billing as a party hostel. 7Fridays West Lake Hostel has a heated outdoor swimming pool alongside a bar, live music, a DJ, and regular barbecues. Should you seek a change from the cuisine at the on-site restaurant, there are a plethora of eateries in the neighbourhood. The very old, rebuilt, 6th Century Trấn Quốc Pagoda is also nearby. Other useful services at the hostel are a laundry service and bike rental for a leisurely cruise around the lake and surrounding neighbourhoods. Breakfast included in the room rate.
What to Eat in Hanoi City
Pho Gia Truyen
Vietnam’s national dish Pho originates from Hanoi and the inexpensive Pho Gia Truyen is our top pick of the countless pho restaurants in the city. While this little Old Quarter restaurant receives endless reviews and praise, it’s clearly well deserved as the restaurant has retained its authenticity, quality, and popularity among locals who flock here for the best breakfast pho bo in town. Pho Gia Truyen is cosy so expect to rub shoulders with locals and tourists alike. But the service is fast, the portions generous, and for meat-eaters, the beef cuts tender.
Hidden Hint: Don’t forget to order a plate of Quẩy, fried dough sticks, to dip in your pho.
El Loco Tapasbar
This crazy tapas bar in Tây Hồ, considered by many to serve the best authentic Spanish cuisine in Hanoi, has generous, well-presented portions to boot. This cosy little restaurant has indoor and outdoor seating across the street from West Lake. Popular menu items include garbanzos (chickpeas) made with homemade chorizo; secreto iberico (pork); the Spanish omelette; gambas al ajillo (shrimp); and calamares (squid). Among the vegetarian and vegan tapas are lentils, beans, and mushrooms. Dishes priced as low as 46,000 VND (2 USD).
Chopsticks serve up tasty traditional dishes in the city’s Old Quarter. Starters range from crackers, salads, and meat skewers to vegetable stir-fries and tofu. Soups, noodles, rice, rolls, and fish are among the mains as are the tasting platters which combine many of the above offerings, the largest of which feeds two to four people. The restaurant also has a popular bar. Considered pricey by many, there is no doubting the quality, especially the spring rolls. Dishes begin at 40,000 VND (1.70 USD) for the Vietnamese prawn crackers to 400,000 VND (17.20 USD) for the largest tasting platter.
Where to Drink in Hanoi City
Not many coffee drinkers can get excited about their favourite beverage having egg and cheese mixed in. A visit to Café Giang on 39 Nguyễn Hữu Huân in the Old Quarter might just change that. During the French War, a shortage of milk often meant neither the fresh, nor condensed, versions were available so cafe founder Tri Hoa Nguyen used egg as a substitute. The coffee gained widespread popularity in the 1980s when blenders negated the needed to whisk the egg and a change to the original recipe adding a secret ingredient eliminated that egg flavour. Today, the latte-like drink features a light, sweet froth atop rich Vietnamese coffee roasted by Nguyen himself. Try it yourself in this cafe which, to the pleasure of many, has resisted the urge to modernise.
The Unicorn Pub
As you’d expect in a modern capital city, there is no shortage of drinking establishments, especially cocktail bars. The Unicorn Pub is classier than it sounds as evidenced by the many unique Vietnamese-themed cocktails it whips up that are found nowhere else in the world, such as the award-winning Pho and Com creations. In addition, top quality whiskies, gins, and rums are plentiful under the direction of Phan Tien Tiep, a former Vietnam Bartender of the Year Located in the Old Quarter near the waterfront, the Unicorn Pub is decked out in rustic timber panels with a quirky bohemian style. Live music is also a regular feature.
Furbrew Craft Beer
Hanoi’s first independent craft beer brewer, considered by many as the city’s best and most affordable craft beers, lies tucked away in Tây Hồ. Located north of the Old Quarter on the shores of Hồ Tây (West Lake), twenty beers, starting at 40,000 VND (1.75 USD), are on tap, including the popular Pho. Looking for variety? Try a flight of any six beers served in 75-millilitre glasses for 120,000 VND (5.20 USD). In addition to beer, Furbrew has an extensive collection of craft gins, spirits, wine, and cider, plus food items like pizza and fish & chips. Happy hour, from 4-6 p.m. sees beer prices cut in half. You may feel in a temporary time warp due to the brewery’s chequered black and white floor.
What to Do in Hanoi City
Hanoi Walking Streets
For 24 hours, from 7 p.m. on Friday until 7 p.m. on Sunday, Hanoi closes the roads around Hoan Kiem Lake to traffic. Located on the southern end of the Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem Lake is already a big draw for visitors. The road closure creates a wonderful, traffic-free space in the busy city and provides room for locals and tourists to walk, talk, and play. So expect groups of teenagers practising the guitar beside Hanoi’s ballroom dancers’ weekly practice and endless games of foot badminton. The walking streets have recently been extended now including Hanoi’s night market and many of the Old Quarter’s streets.
Hidden Hint: Grab an ice cream and take a stroll around the lake. Hanoi’s famous Trang Tien Ice Cream is at the southern end of the lake. But Hidden recommends Thuy Ta Kem to try their young rice ice cream.
What to See in Hanoi City
Located in the heart of the Old Quarter, Train Street gives visitors unfamiliar with urban trains, or perhaps train fanatics, a close-up look as one careens through the cramped neighbourhood less than a metre from homes and shops. This hair-raising spectacle, albeit just a two-minute blur, happens twice a day as the train makes its way to Long Bien Station from Hue. While you’re there, drop in on Thao Quach who runs The Railway Cafe, after that continue along the track to Phung Hung Street and a set of beautifully painted archway murals. Check for news on access to Train Street – reportedly it was closed to visitors in October 2019.
Hidden hint: For the best experience, catch the 3:30 p.m. show since it’s dark when the 7:30 train rolls through.
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
With origins dating back to the 11th Century, this puppet show is an entertaining 50 minutes of music, acting, and storytelling next to Hoan Kiem Lake. Wooden men, women, and dragons relive the days of local villagers standing in flooded rice paddies performing with puppets. The show is in Vietnamese though most English speakers find it easy to follow regardless. The performance features skilled artists, special effects, and a small orchestra and is great for kids. Seats range from 100,000 – 200,000 VND (4.35 – 8.70 USD) with the only difference being the more expensive ones are closer to the stage. However, the theatre isn’t large so there really are no bad seats. There’s a downstairs cafe too.
Ho Chi Minh Museum
Probably one of the more informative museums in the country, with personality and political propaganda, the Ho Chi Minh Museum provides a close-up review of the former leader’s life and leadership. There are old letters and photos on the second floor but climb another level to the main exhibition space. The highlights here include cars crashing through walls to represent the chaos of post-war American capitalism and a cave hideout re-imagined as the inside of Ho Chi Minh’s brain. All exhibits are labelled in multiple languages so there’s no need for the services of a guide. Entry is 25,000 VND (1.10 USD). In addition, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is in the same complex.
Hanoi is a growing tourist attraction these days and it’s easy to see why. The city, and in particular the Old Quarter, has more old-world atmosphere that’s full of character, which Ho Chi Minh City can’t duplicate. Hanoi is easy to navigate, even on foot, with the lakes, markets, and popular cultural sites all within walking distance of one another. The French influence in many parts of the city is unmistakable with its architecture still preserved from centuries ago. The Old Quarter itself takes your imagination back to how Vietnam was many years ago with a hive of activity around every corner. Missing Hanoi city on your visit to Vietnam would be doing the country and yourself an injustice, if for no other reason than to shed some of the stereotypes that have plagued the city for decades.