Get lost in the Old quarter

Hanoi's Old quarter is a muddle of narrow streets, shops, temples and food stalls at the north end of Hoan Kiem Lake (the lake in the middle of town). People have been trading and living here for over 1,000 years. So get in there and get lost.

If you find yourself in Ma May Street, visit 87 Ma May, a traditional house open to the public. This old 'tube' house - long and thin - shows how people used to live. Many people still live in this type of home.

Mooch around the boutiques of Nha Tho

The area between Hoan Kiem Lake and Ly Quoc Su/Nha Chung streets is full of leafy streets and fab boutiques. Here, you can buy art, antique posters and especially beautiful, locally-made linen.

Here, you'll also find a mix of places to worship, despite Vietnam's official religion-free status, including St Joseph Catholic cathedral, the Linh Quang Tu Buddhist temple and Chua Ly Trieu Quac Su shrine.

Take a walk

If the constant tooting of horns is driving you crazy, you'll find sanctuary in Lenin Park. The park is based around Bay Mau Lake and includes lovely green spaces, parks for the kids and various sporting activities popular with local people. Entry is from Tran Nhan Tong and Le Duan streets. To get there, grab a cyclo or taxi. An entry fee applies.

Another green space is the park in the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum complex. The gardens are lovely and you can ignore Ho Chi Minh's stilt house and the other occasional relics of the Vietnam War, as we know you're not interested. There's a small entry fee and entry is through Bach Thao. Grab a cyclo or taxi to get here - ask for the Presidential Palace.

The Temple of Literature on Quoc Tu Giam, another cyclo or taxi ride from Hoan Kiem Lake, is also a nice spot. The Temple was actually a university, founded in 1070 for the sons of the elite. An entry fee applies.


Vietnam is foodie paradise. Our favourites are the little places that pop up on the footpaths in the evenings, generally selling just one dish. Pull up a plastic stool and dig in.

If you prefer a place with walls, Hanoi has an ever-expanding list of places to eat which combine Vietnamese and French food in beautiful surroundings. Try the streets near the Metropole Hotel on the east side of Hoan Kiem Lake and follow your nose. Or drop into the hotel itself for a cocktail at the bar.

Get some (non-war) history

Hanoi's lovely Vietnam National Museum of History covers from very early times up to 1945. The archaeological artefacts and other items on display are genuinely interesting, the life-size dioramas are fun and the old colonial building is beautiful. The kids will love it too.

The museum is located on Trang Tien Street on the east side of the Hoam Kiem Lake.

If you do just one thing involving war history...

Vietnam was occupied by the French and then America and its allies from 1862 to 1975. This long history is represented in Hoa Lo Prison, also known during the Vietnam War years as the Hanoi Hilton. The prison was built by the French in 1886 to hold Vietnamese political prisoners.

After the French left in 1954, the prison became an 'education centre'. During the Vietnam War it housed American prisoners of war, including former American presidential candidate John McCain. His parachute and flight suit are on display. After the war ended in 1975, Vietnam continued to use Hoa Lo as a prison until the mid-1990s, when it was decommissioned and most of it was knocked down. What remains is now a museum. It's a fascinating blend of history and propaganda and is worth a visit.

The Prison in located on the corner of Hoa Lo and Hi Ba Trung streets and is an easy walk from Hoam Kiem Lake. An entry fee applies.

Where to stay

Given how cheap it is to eat and get around in Hanoi, we're recommending a hotel that's a little pricier than our usual picks: the Metropole Hotel. It's well located, the rooms are divine and the breakfast buffet is outstanding. Plus, you can enjoy a Cuban cigar and glass of whatever-you-fancy by the pool.


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Contributors: Ann-Marie Nansett, Michael Nansett

Updated: 30 April 2016