Hanoi is Asia’s most charming capital city. There’s nothing quite like this blend of colonial mansions, Vietnamese temples, leafy streets, lakes of all shapes and sizes, and an Old Quarter that you can get lost in for days. Then there’s the food culture. Tuck into steaming bowls of noodle soup before a pick-me-up rocket fuel coffee. Then finish off with a beer that will set you back less than a dollar.

Hanoi is also a strange kind of capital. It’s Vietnam’s cultural, political, gastronomic, educational, and diplomatic hub. But it’s not the country’s economic hub – that accolade is reserved for Ho Chi Minh City. This means that Hanoi’s priorities are different from other Southeast Asian capitals such as Bangkok and Manilla. 

Here you’ll find that economic progress lives alongside a rich cultural heritage, rather than bulldozing it. Here are just some of the must-experience highlights of Vietnam’s capital.

Hanoi Street Food

Lip-Smacking Street Food of Hanoi

While street food has been tamed in other Asian capitals, in Hanoi it runs wild and free. Forget restaurants, hawker centers, and food courts – Hanoi’s best dishes are found right on the street side and consumed while sitting on tiny plastic chairs. 

So pull up a stool, plonk yourself down, and start slurping. Pho, beef or chicken noodle soup, is something of a Hanoi institution and you’ll find street kitchens selling it throughout the city, usually for breakfast. Bun Cha, grilled pork with noodles and salad, is Hanoi’s favorite lunch. But trust us when we say that these two famous dishes are just the beginning of an extraordinary culinary adventure.

Cafe Culture in Hanoi

Hanoi’s cafes are the answer to Europe’s pubs, just without the alcohol… and the expense. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is, coffee shops are where Hanoians from all generations get together to chew the fat. 

From decades-old coffee houses serving up the classic Vietnamese brew to chic cafes crafting artisanal cappuccinos, Hanoi is a coffee-lovers dream. 

Don’t like coffee? That doesn’t mean you miss out on the culture. Coffee shops in Hanoi offer far more than just the black stuff, including colorful fruit teas and fresh tropical juices.

Vietnamese street cafe
Nightlife in Hanoi Vietnam

Low-key Hanoi Nightlife

If you have a hankering for nightclubs and sky bars, save it for Ho Chi Minh City. Hanoi’s nightlife is a notch lower in both noise and altitude.

The older generations like nothing more than to get together over glasses of fresh street beer while nibbling on a spread of snacks, including fried tofu, grilled meats, and crunchy salads.

Hanoi’s younger urbanites crave secrecy and privacy, however, and frequent the growing collection of quiet cocktail bars and secluded speakeasies embedded in the city’s alleyways.

Active Urban Lifestyles

Early risers will find Hanoi a surprisingly active city, especially down by the lakes and in the parks. Just after sunrise, these outdoor playgrounds fill with Latin dance groups, teenage bodybuilders, and elderly tai chi troupes. 

If you’re a runner, going for an early-morning jog is one of the best ways to experience this side of the city, which disappears with the morning rush hour. 

Not a morning person? Most come back again at sunset so you’ll get a second chance. Coupled with a healthy diet including lots of fresh vegetables, it should come as no surprise that Vietnam is has one of the lowest obesity rates in the world – even in the cities.

Hanoi Morning Exercise
Hanoi Traffic

Crazy Traffic of Hanoi

After the initial shock of such a chaotic transport system, you might find that getting from place to place is one of Hanoi’s highlights. The motorbike is an icon in Vietnam, and after exploring the tangled alleyways of the city’s streets, you’ll understand why it’s so practical.

Whether you’re walking, running, biking, cyclo-ing, motorbiking, or taxiing, getting around Hanoi will always be its own mini-adventure. And if it’s all too much, simply find a café or restaurant with a view and watch as the beautiful mess unfolds down below.

Baffling Spiritual Life​

Confucianism, Buddhism, or Taoism? The answer is actually all three. And a bit of Animism and Christianity thrown in for good measure. Hanoi is a hotpot of religions, belief systems, and superstitions.

You’ll find Buddhists that believe in ancestor worship and Christians that believe in reincarnation. The rules are flexible and there are no false idols. This expression of spirituality isn’t hard to encounter in Hanoi, with imposing churches just a few steps from temples hidden down alleys. There’re spiritual activities happening almost constantly, evidenced by the locals burning and worshipping right on the street.

Spiritual Life of Hanoi

Vibrant Art Hubs

Hanoi is one of Vietnam’s key art cities, with the country’s best art museum and most prestigious art university. But the most engaging spaces aren’t the museums and galleries, but the art hubs where younger generations push the boundaries.

These hubs usually exist as art ecosystems: Interior design studios that organize avant-garde performance art nights, Old Quarter boutiques that showcase products from Vietnam’s edgiest designers, and contemporary art cafes linked to artist residency programs. This means you can soak up all this creativity while sipping on a coffee or shopping for gifts for your friends back home.

Browse some of our destination-focused itineraries for inspiration, or get in touch with one of our amazing travel designers to start planning the adventure of a lifetime.

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