Hanoi’s attractions range from something as large and rambling as the Old Quarter to something as small and delicate as the One-Pillar Pagoda. You’ll find buildings here that date back almost 1000 years to the city’s founding, such as the Temple of Literature, as well as glitzy towers that house shopping malls and cinemas.
The great thing about exploring Hanoi is that you never seem to tire of the city, and even if you do there are plenty of interesting day trips to keep you busy. And although traffic and congestion has undoubtedly gotten worse in recent years, the city remains much more manageable than choked Saigon to the south.
Districts of Hanoi
All visitors to Hanoi are drawn to the Old Quarter with what seems like magnetic force. This is one of the oldest commercial districts in all of Asia, and its unique tube houses give it a special character.
Covering over a square kilometre, it is packed with shops selling both everyday and exotic goods, hotels, restaurants and bars. Since life is lived on the street here, it creates a kaleidoscope of impressions that sits vividly in the memory.
Though many visitors base themselves in the Old Quarter, some of the city’s attractions require that they travel across town to other areas. Hoan Kiem Lake is immediately south of the Old Quarter, and a stroll round its perimeter is the perfect antidote for a few hours in the narrow streets of the Old Quarter.
Further south still, the French Quarter is worth a stroll or a cyclo ride to survey the grand colonial dwellings, many of which have been recently renovated. All domestic visitors and a great number of foreigners make their way to Ba Dinh Square to pay their respects to Uncle Ho at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
Then visitors can go and look at his simple house on stilts, the Ho Chi Minh Museum and the One Pillar Pagoda. The region just south of here, around Dien Bien Phu, is home to some of the city’s most popular attractions, such as the Army Museum and Fine Arts Museum.
Museums in Hanoi
A diligent visitor to Hanoi could spend at least a week in its various museums and still not see all that is relevant to the city’s changing fortunes over the centuries.
Probably the most visually appealing and also the newest, is the Museum of Ethnology, which is located a bit far from the centre but is worth making the effort to visit for its informative displays on the country’s ethnic minorities.
Other important museums for an overview of the city and country’s past are the History Museum and the Army Museum, aka the Military History Museum.
Others that might appeal include the Fine Arts Museum, Women’s Museum and Hoa Lo Prison Museum, which was ironically dubbed the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ by POWs.
Lakes and Parks of Hanoi
Hanoi’s lakes and parks add a lot to the city’s rich character, and its citizens take maximum advantage of these green lungs. Besides Hoan Kiem Lake in the city centre, it’s worth heading south to Reunification Park (formerly Lenin Park), where there’s a tranquil lake in the centre, or west to West Lake, a huge expanse of water bordered by some of the city’s most exclusive properties.