The capital of Vietnam, Hanoi, welcomes people from different walks of life coming to settle their new life. The diverse culture and rich history have created many beautiful and valuable attractions for Hanoi. But don’t immerse yourself in the past, the city comes alive at night with several fun activities.
Historical Sights in Hanoi
- Flag Tower, built in 1805 under the reign of King Gia Long, is one of the few constructions of Hanoi Citadel that has survived almost intact. It lies within the Vietnam Military History Museum compound.
- Ba Dinh Square is located in Ba Dinh District on Hung Vuong Street, it has a capacity to hold 20,000 people and organizes important celebrations. There is a formal flag raising and lowering ceremony every day at the 30m flagpole in the center of the square at 6 AM & 9 PM in the summer and 6:30 AM and 9 PM in the winter. It was at this square that Ho Chi Minh read the Declaration of Independence on September 2nd, 1945 and established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
- Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was officially inaugurated in 1975 from a collaboration between engineers from Vietnam and the former Soviet Union to preserve the body of Ho Chi Minh.
- Ho Chi Minh Relic Site in Presidential Palace is considered one of the special national relics. The site consists of houses, garden, and fish pond. Out of 1,456 objects, the 759 on display are well preserved to remain in their original state from the final days of Ho Chi Minh’s life.
- Wooden Stilt House was where Ho Chi Minh worked and lived from 1958 – 1969.
- Thang Long Imperial Citadel, this Forbidden City wall and eight gates still remain today. Built in 1805 in Vauban style, a new wall was built around the Forbidden City encompassing the former Kinh Thien Palace site in a reconstruction of the Hanoi Citadel. Of the eight gates, two are located in the south at Doan Mon, two gates in the back at Hau Lau, one gate faces Nguyen Tri Phuong Street to the east, one gate faces Hoang Dieu Street to the west, and the remaining two gates within the Kinh Thien Palace foundation.
- Doan Mon is the main gate of the Forbidden City. This U-shaped gate constructed of stones and large square bricks is 6m in height, 46.5m in length, and 26.5 in width.
- Bac Mon (Northern Gate) gate is 8.7m in height and 17m in width.
- Hau Lau (Back Pavilion) was built from feng shui principles. It was also known as the Princesses’ building used to accommodate concubines of the Nguyen Kings during their trips to the Hanoi Citadel. At the end of the 19th century, Hau Lau was seriously damaged due to the war and reconstructed by the French as a military post.
- Kinh Thien Palace was mostly destroyed by French colonists in 1886. Also known as Dragon House, because there are sets of stone dragon steps at the front and back of the house, there remain two sets of stone dragon steps and a house built on the foundation of the palace used as the French headquarters of artillery. When Hanoi was liberated in 1954, it became a general headquarters of the Vietnamese People’s Army, thus making it a relic of revolution and history.
- Building D67 was constructed in 1967 hence its name. It was the general headquarters of the North Vietnamese Armed Forces during the resistance against American imperialists. In the building, doors to the two offices used by General Vo Nguyen Giap and General Van Tien Dung lead to stairs to an underground bunker 9m deep that could withstand bombing.
Architectural Attractions in Hanoi
- Hanoi Opera House, built from 1901 – 1911 and modeled on the style of Paris Opera, is a major performing art center in Hanoi with a seating capacity of 600.
- Hanoi’s Old Quarter was founded in the 11th century as a trade area for the artisans and traders to work and set up specific trade streets. The street names all begin with “Hang” and that originated from the names of merchandise traded. For example, Hang Gai (silk), Hang Bong (flowers), Hang Luoc (combs) Hang Duong (sugar), Hang Muoi (Salt), etc. Today, the Old Quarter includes 76 streets and covers an area of 100 hectares, out of which, 36 streets have the name “Hang”. Some highlights in the Old Quarter include old houses built in the 18th century, Bach Ma (White Horse) Temple on Hang Buom Street, Ma May Ancient House, and the Hanoi Night Market on the weekend.
- Hoan Kiem Lake constitutes the center of Hanoi. Its other name includes Lake of the Restored Sword (Ho Guom). Legend says that a giant turtle came towards King Le Thai To, while he was boating on the lake, and grabbed his sword that had secured victory against the Ming aggressors. After this incident, King Le Thai To named it the Lake of the Restored Sword. There are several rare relics on display around the lake, to the east is Hoa Phong Tower and King Ly Thai To Statue, to the west is King Le Thai To Statue and his Memorial House, to the north-east is Ba Kieu Temple, But Tower (pen-shaped tower), and The Huc Bridge connecting the Ngoc Son Temple.
- West Lake (see lakes in Hanoi in the section below)
- Temple of Literature this famous historical and cultural relic was built in 1070 to honor Confucius and his followers. It was here that Vietnam’s first college was constructed in 1076 to educate royal family members and later opened to talented students and scholars.
- National Museum of Vietnam History displays and introduces many valuable objects reflecting all periods of Vietnamese history. There are 200,000 documents and artifacts on display in the two main exhibitions located at 1 Trang Tien Street and 216 Tran Quang Khai Street.
- Ho Chi Minh Museum is located near the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum illustrating the historical events that took place during his life.
- Vietnamese Women’s Museum is located 500m south of Hoan Kiem Lake in the center of Hanoi. The more than 1,000 objects on display depict women in family, history, and fashion. Visitors can learn about the roles of women in contemporary Vietnamese society and their great contributions.
- Hoa Lo Prison Museum is also known as the Hanoi Hilton. During the French colonial time, they used Hoa Lo to imprison many communist patriots and prisoners. After peace was established in 1954, the Vietnamese government used it as a jail to keep criminal prisoners and American pilots shots down during the anti-USA war in the North.
- Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is one of our favorite museums. It has more than 15,000 objects and 42,000 black and white photos of the 54 ethnic groups residing in Vietnam. Visitors will have a chance to admire costumes, embroideries, outside stilt houses and habitats from the different ethnic minorities.
- Vietnam Fine Arts Museum is located at 66 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street in Ba Dinh District. The museum depicts the origins and evolution of Vietnamese fine arts. Visitors can expect to find folk paintings, traditional pottery and ceramics, objects from the Bronze Age and Iron Age, and modern fine arts.
- Vietnam Military History Museum covers 6 periods including 1) the history of the Vietnamese nation and the birth of Vietnam’s People’s Army, 2) the Vietnamese struggle against the French colonials, 3) the Vietnamese struggle against the American imperialists, 4) the Vietnam People’s Army on the path to a regular modern army, 5) The People and the Army are one, and 6) pieces of display in the courtyard, such as heavy artilleries, rockets, airplanes, tanks, mortars, bombs, etc. It is located at 28A Dien Bien Phu Street in Ba Dinh District.
- Memorial House at 48 Hang Ngang can be found at the Hanoi Old Quarter. In a small room upstairs, Ho Chi Minh drafted the Declaration of Independence founding the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945.
- Hanoi Museum is located on Pham Hung Street in Nam Tu Liem District and designed as an upside-down pyramid.
- National Archives Center I has a reading room for readers to research documents in Han-Nom characters, Vietnamese, and French ranging from the Feudal dynasties to French colonialism (1946-1954). This center is located at 18 Pham Ham Street in Cau Giay District.
Hanoi Religious Sites:
- One Pillar Pagoda is located near Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. The original name was Dien Huu Pagoda, which means “long-lasting happiness and good luck”. It was built during the reign of King Ly Thai Tong in 1049. According to legend, the king had no children and thus, no heir to the throne, so he often went to pagodas and prayed for a son. One night in his dream, he saw Buddha seated on a square-shaped lotus pond granted him his wish of a baby boy. Shortly after, the queen gave birth to a boy, the king immediately ordered the construction of a pagoda supported by only one pillar to resemble the lotus seat in his dream in honor of Buddha.
- Tran Quoc Pagoda is one of the oldest pagodas in Vietnam. Built under King Ly Nam De in the year 544 – 548.
- Tay Ho Temple is located on the east of West Lake. Monthly, on the 1st and 15th day under the lunar calendar, many people come to worship Thanh Mau (Holy Mother) hoping that she will grant them luck. The Holy Mother, known as Mother Lieu Thanh, had amazing talents for singing, playing music, and writing poetry.
- Ngoc Son Temple was built in the 19th century to honor Tran Hung Dao, the national hero who led the Vietnamese to victory over the Mongolian aggressors in the 13th century, and Van Xuong, who was once considered the best in the Vietnamese literary and intellectual circles. Ngoc Son Temple was restored in 1865 thanks to Nguyen Van Sieu, a great writer from Hanoi. At the entrance sits a pen-shaped tower (Thap But) with three Han characters: Ta Thanh Thien, which means “to write on the blue sky is to imply the height of a genuine and righteous person’s strength and will”.
- Kim Lien Pagoda is located on the bank of the West Lake (Tay Ho). According to legend, Princess Tu Hoa, daughter of King Ly Than Tong, and her royal representatives cultivated mulberries and reared silkworms here in 1128 – 1138. A pagoda was built in 1631 with the name Dai Bi, Dong Long, and Tu Hoa. In 1771, Lord Trinh restored and change the name to Kim Lien, which means Golden Lotus, as part of the former Tu Hoa Palace of the Ly Dynasty.
- Quan Su Pagoda is located at 73 Quang Su Street and built in the 17th century. Since 1958, the Vietnam Buddhist Association has had its head office at Quan Su.
- Quan Thanh Temple was built during the reign of King Ly Thai To (1009 – 1028).
- Hai Ba Trung Temple is 2km south of Hoan Kim Lake. It was built in 1142 under the reign of King Ly Anh Tong dedicated to the Trung sisters (Trung Trac and Trung Nhi). The two main statutes dedicated to these sisters are surrounded by 12 female generals who lead the army and defeated their aggressors. From the 3rd to 6th days of the 2nd lunar month, there is a grand festival to commemorate these two national heroines.
- Co Loa Citadel & An Duong Vuong Temple Co Loa Citadel is located 18km north of Hanoi in Co Loa Village at Dong Anh District. Co Loa is perhaps the oldest citadel in Vietnam, built in the 3rd century B.C. by Thuc An Duong Vuong to be the capital of Au Lac Kingdom (the name of Vietnam at the time). Close to the remains of the citadel are the remains of Co Loa Communal House, a temple devoted to the cult of Princess My Chau, and An Duong Vuong, the king who loved his daughter but, lacking vigilance, left Co Loa and eventually lost both his family and his country.
- Perfume Pagoda is located 70km south-west of Hanoi in My Duc District. To reach the pagoda, travelers need to first reach Duc Wharf and take a boat across Yen Vy Stream on a scenic 3km ride crossing landscapes of high mountains, rice fields, and deep forests. The Perfume Pagoda Festival starts on the 6th day of the 1st lunar month and lasts until the 3rd day of the 2nd lunar month. Visitors can trek up or take a cable car (1.2km long) from Thien Tru Pagoda to Huong Tich Cave. Huong Tich Cave was discovered more than 2,000 years ago, and when Lord Trinh Sam visited the cave in the 18th century, he wrote 5 Han characters at the entrance: Nam Thien De Nhat Dong, meaning “the most beautiful cave under the Southern skies”.
- Thay and Tay Phuong Pagodas Thay Pagoda was built on the slopes of Sai Son Mountain and is 25km south-west of Hanoi in Quoc Oai District. Tay Phuong Pagoda was built in the 8th century and rebuilt in 1794 under the Tay Son Dynasty. It is about 35km south-west of Hanoi on Cau Lau Mountain. To reach Tay Phuong Pagoda and admire hundreds of large statues made of lacquered and gilded wood, visitors must first climb 200 stone steps. A trip to both of these pagodas requires a whole day from Hanoi. It is best to depart early in Hanoi and visit Thay Pagoda first, then Cac Co Cave, then lunch, and finally Tay Phuong Pagoda in the afternoon before making back to Hanoi.
- Tram Gian Pagoda was built during the Ly Dynasty and is located in Tien Lu Village in Hoai Duc District. There is a Buddha statue carved out of black jack-tree wood at the pagoda. Tram Gian Pagoda is also known as Tien Lu (fairy guests) Pagoda.
- Tram Pagoda is also known as Long Tien (Dragon Fairy) Pagoda. This pagoda was built in 1669 at Chuong My District during the reign of King Le Huyen Tong.
- Dau Pagoda is 24km south of Hanoi and worships Phap Vu, one of the four Goddesses who are worshipped in the region. As part of the most special cultural heritage at Dau Pagoda, there are mummified bodies of two monks: Vu Khac Minh and Vu Khac Truong, who died meditating the mid 17th century.
Best Churches in Hanoi
- St. Joseph’s Cathedral also known as the Hanoi Cathedral was inaugurated in 1887. It was built on the site of the former Bao Thien Tower, which was famous under the Ly Dynasty (11th & 12th centuries) in the ancient capital of Thang Long. The entrance is at 40 Nha Chung Street.
Hanoi Parks, Lakes, and Gardens:
- Thong Nhat Park is one of the most spacious parks in the city covering an area of 50 hectares. Within the park, there is a 7 hectares lake home to numerous storks. This is a nice atmosphere for locals to gather for chess competitions and poem recitations.
- Hanoi Zoological Garden (Thu Le Zoo) was built in the shape of a flying and dragon and occupies an area of 20 hectares. The two entrance gates to the zoo are at Kim Ma Street and Buoi Road.
- Ho Tay Entertainment Park includes two areas of attractions including Ho Tay Water Park and Sun Park. It is at 614 Lac Long Quan Street in Tay Ho District.
- Vinpearl Land Water Park Royal City is known as the first indoor water park in Vietnam and the biggest one in Southeast Asia. It is located in the Vincom Mega Mall Royal City at 72A Nguyen Trai Street in Thanh Xuan District.
- Vinpearl Land Aquarium Times City is the most modern and largest aquarium in Vietnam covering an area of 4,000m2. Visitors can go through the freshwater to see species, such as iguanas, turtles, koi, spotted gars, arapaimas, etc, and the ocean area to see sharks, giant groupers, rays, etc. The aquarium is located at the Vincom Mega Mall Times City at 458 Minh Khai Street in Hai Ba Trung District.
- Bao Son Paradise Park is 15km from Hanoi in Hoai Duc District. This ecological area includes a zoo, orchid garden, butterfly garden, flower garden, and king areca garden. Besides, there’s an old quarter displaying more than 20 houses representing the traditional products and life of the Vietnamese in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Lakes in Hanoi
- Hoan Kiem Lake (see more information in the attractions section above)
- West Lake (Tay Ho) is the biggest lake in Hanoi covering an area of 500 hectares in Tay Ho District. The lake was formed when the Red (Hong) River overflowed. The lake was once a place for mandarins and kings to come to relax and enjoy nature. As a result, many palaces (Ham Nguyen, Tu Hoa, Thuy Hoa, and Ngoc Dam) were built on the banks of the lakes. The 17km path around the lake leads to Nghi Tam Flower Village, Kim Lien Pagoda, Nhat Tan Peach Garden, and Tay Ho Temple built to honor Princess Lieu Thanh. Nowadays, there are many hotels, coffee houses, road-side tea breaks, restaurants, and recreational activities can be found around the lake. Ho Tay shrimp cake, Ho Tay fish, and Ho Tay snail vermicelli are popular here.
- Truc Bach Lake separates the West Lake by Thanh Nien Road. Along the lake, there are these ancient temples: Quan Thanh Temple, Chau Long Pagoda, and Cau Nhi Temple.
- Quan Son Lake is in My Duc District, 40km from Ha Dong. Visitors can go boating and fishing. Boats can be rented at a reasonable price. Water runs through the mountain falls making the surface of the lake beautiful. The lake is quiet and romantic being surrounded by mountains and clouds.