the big guide to Hanoi, Vietnam: how to get there, where to stay, what to eat, + what to do

Hanoi, Vietnam, is a city filled to the brim with culture, good coffee, art, history, and really affordable food! What’s not to love?! After visiting the city quite a few times, and liking it more with each return, I’ve finally put together a big guide to Vietnam’s capital. It’s no Hoi An in my book, but it does have it’s own special something. Whether you’re looking for the best things to see, cultural things to do, or places to eat, this guide has it all for you.


KEEP READING FOR my big guide to hanoi, vietnam


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HOW TO GET TO HANOI

BY PLANE: Noi Bai International Airport services Hanoi. Internationally, there are heaps of flights into Noi Bai International. Those already in the region can find affordable flights on a number of budget airlines like Air Asia and Vietnam Airlines.

BY BUS: There are buses from Laos and other cities in Vietnam that make getting to Hanoi cheaper than flying. Before you choose bus over flight, make sure you consider the time lost on the journey and weigh your options. Most bus journeys, even within Vietnam are lengthy.

BY TRAIN: There are many cities in Vietnam that have access to Hanoi via railway, including Saigon, Hue, and Sapa.

Bus tickets from Luang Prabang, Laos to Hanoi, Vietnam can be purchased at almost any travel agency around Luang Prabang. If you aren’t confident about where to go, ask your the staff at your accommodation. Most receive commission when they coordinate a bus journey with a local agency so they will be happy to help you.

For more details, check out this article by Tripsavvy.

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GETTING AROUND HANOI

Hanoi is an incredibly walkable city for the most part. There are a few attractions and cafés, however, that lie a little further out of the Old Quarter and Hoàn Kiêm Lake areas of the city that are easiest to get to via Grab taxi or rented bicycle. If you’re feeling brave or have lots of experience, you can rent a motorbike.

BY GRAB: Download the free Grab app and type in your desired destination. My favourite part of the Grab app is that you can pay with cash, which feels safer than using your card internationally. You can also choose to ride via car or motorbike {motorbike usually being cheaper}.

BY BICYCLE: Bicycles can be rented at multiple hostels and hotels around the city, as well as almost any travel agency.

BY MOTORBIKE: Just like pedal bicycles, motorbikes can be rented all over town. Helmets should come with rentals, as it is Vietnamese law to wear a helmet when you ride. Traffic in Hanoi can be intense, so consider your experience level before you grab a set of keys.

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WHERE TO STAY

I’ve visited Hanoi a fair few times. My accommodation has varied between everything— hotels, hostels, AirBnBs, etc. Even my least favourite of the places I’ve stayed was comfortable, clean, and cute. Most recently, I split time between Satori Guest House, Chi Novel Hostel, and Hanoi Lucky II Hotel. I didn’t enjoy my stay at the Lucky II, so here’s a breakdown of the other two.

SATORI hostel

New on the scene, Satori Hostel is an AirBnB find that was cheap, private, and in a seriously prime location {a 3-minute walk from St. Jospeh’s Cathedral and a 1-minute walk from Hoàn Kiếm Lake }. Towels, fresh linens, friendly staff, complimentary breakfast, and balcony views all made for a winning combination. The WiFi was dodgy, but I was busy exploring most of the time anyway. The staff were responsive to my any questions I had and were accommodating when I checked-in early, allowing me to store my bags until my bed was made up. It was a little hard to tell who the staff were, however, since there weren’t uniforms being worn and it seemed like some of them stayed in hostel bunks themselves. I can’t recommend this hostel for anyone with a physical disability since it is located up a few flights of stairs.

I’ve linked the Satori Homestay on the floor above the hostel, since the link to the hostel no longer exists. They are owned by the same person and in the same building, try messaging the owner to see if the hostel is available if you don’t want to pay more form the homestay— they’re really flexible and easy.

CHI NOVEL HOSTEL

Chi Novel Hostel is an amazing place to base yourself based on its location alone. Similarly to Satori, Chi Novel Hostel in in the heart of the Old Quarter. It’s right down the road from St. Joseph’s Cathedral and a Cong Caphe, so that you can easily grab a coconut coffee before you explore. Compared to the amenities at Satori, however, Chi was lacking slightly. For USD $11 per night, I got a comfortable bed, a fresh {albeit small} towel, and steady WiFi. No breakfast was included and, while the shower was nicer than at Satori, there was only one per floor. Chi has a steep and narrow staircase leading to its bunks, making it inaccessible to those with a physical disability and large suitcases. Overall, I’d say Chi is a great hostel for those looking to be a fantastic location that’s much quieter than most shared spaces.

Save yourself some money by using my link on AirBnB!

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WHERE TO get the best food + coffee

From Indian food to classic Vietnamese eats, from tacos to noodles and more— you’re going to spoiled for choice when it comes to finding food in Hanoi. Even though I found Hanoi’s vegetarian food a bit lacking in comparison to other cities in Vietnam, the food scene as a whole is thriving with flavour and variety. Here are just a few of my favourite spots for food in Hanoi.

noodle + roll

Recommended to me by Kelsey of Miles of Smiles, Noodle + Roll served up heaping portions of Vietnamese classics for outrageously cheap costs. This quickly became my favourite dinner spot, since it was right around the corner from my accommodation, and the lady who co-owns the place was basically my BFF by my third visit.

HANOI TACO BAR

Hanoi Taco Bar is filled with vegetarian options and lakeside seating. It’s located in the expat-heavy Westlake neighborhood. I had the guacamole and nachos and the vegetarian tacos. I couldn’t for the life of me finish my meal, even though it was truly delicious.

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LUK LAK

Luk Lak can be summed up in four words: poor service, delicious food. The mint sauce that came with my veggie rolls was mazing, and like something I hadn’t ever had before. I liked the overall setting of Luk Lak but, again, the staff weren’t attentive at all.

THE HANOI SOCIAL CLUB

My favourite work place and one of the best brunches in town, The Hanoi Social Club is a “can’t miss” for those who are looking for delicious food. I ate brunch, lunch, and had a cocktail here and never had any complaints. I also dug the interior and ambiance of HSC hard.

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KHAZAANA 1992 INDIAN RESTAURANT

If you’re looking for a curry, I suggest you head to Khazaana 1992 Indian Restaurant. The small Indian restaurant has an entire menu section dedicated to vegetarian-friendly fare. Try the Aloo Gobi Mattar Dry with the Garlic naan if you like spice. The prices are very reasonable and portions are massive.

UU DAM

UU Dam is a fully vegan restaurant that serves some delicious foods for a yum lunch or dinner. The menu is innovative and diverse, but the prices are steep. Go with your wallet full and your stomach empty. I had the “Mexican Tacos”, which were actually quesadillas. The vegan sour cream tasted like the real thing.

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Bun Cha Huong Lien

As part of my quest to eat up Asia in the steps of Anthony Bourdain, I made the journey to Bun Ch Houng Lien. Fanatics like myself will know that the famous Obama-Bourdain dinner happened in this tiny bun cha restaurant in Hanoi. The restaurant has actually immortalized in a fiber glass case. Travelers can lap up the same delicious food as the late chef by grabbing a meal here.

LOADING T…

My favourite specialty coffee in the city can be found at Loading T… This hidden-in-plain-sight café roasts it coffee with cinnamon, which gives it an incredible taste. If you’re seeking quality coffee in a locally-owned establishment, Loading T… is the place for you.

YOU CAN FIND MY full GUIDE TO VEGgie FOOD SPOTS HERE.

YOU CAN FIND MY big GUIDE TO THE BEST CAFÉS HERE.

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WHAT TO DO

VISIT THE CERAMIC MOSAIC MURAL- FREE

The Ceramic Mosaic Wall is a massive outdoor art gallery that was commissioned to commemorate ***. The Hanoi hidden gem that’s biggest in size might receive the smallest amount of attention. The wall, which stretches over 6 kilometers took three years to complete. The images on the mural depict the city’s landmarks, folklore, and traditions. The wall even has sections that were created using the actual drawings of children from primary schools in the area. Cute, right?!

DONG XUAN MARKET- FREE

Dong Xuan Market gets frequented by visitors, but it continues to be an authentic Hanoi experience. The market is filled to the brim with fruits, seafood specimens, teas, spices, and other local delicacies. Wandering around the market is free and fun that showcases some of the traditional culture of the city.

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EXPLORE THE TEMPLE OF LITERATURE- 30,000 VND

My favourite temple while visiting Hanoi was the Temple of Literature. It’s actually much more than a temple— it’s the oldest university in Vietnam. It’s such an important site that it features on the 100,000 VND bill. Students still come to the Temple of Literature to pray for good grades and passing exam marks.

Hỏa Lò Prison- 30,000 VND | DAILY FROM 8 AM - 5 PM

Hỏa Lò Prison was built by the French in the 1880s. American POWs sarcastically named this as the “Hanoi Hilton.” “Hỏa Lò” literally means “stove”; it was surely no Hilton. Senator John McCain was held here after his capture, and his uniform is on display.

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CHECK OUT TRAIN STREET- FREE

Old Quarter is home to the Instagram-famous Train Street, a truly one-of-a-kind railroad that comes zooming through a residential area. The road is lined with tall, narrow buildings in almost poetic decaying states. While local women hang their laundry, children run along the tracks. Residents of Train Street kill time between trains passing through by enjoying strong coffee poured over condensed milk.

READ MY GUIDE TO TRAIN STREET HERE.

WANDER THE FRENCH + OLD QUARTERS- FREE

Whatever you’re looking for can be found in either the French or Old Quarters of Hanoi. Everything from cute cafés to delicious food, from good shopping to pretty pagodas lies on one of the many sides and side alleys that make up the city’s two most popular areas. The architecture in both sections reveal Hanoi’s French ties, and the dilapidated building fronts create interesting opportunities for photographers. Grab a coffee, pop in and out of the stores that line the roads, and take in all the culture and chaos around.

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STROLL AROUND Hoàn Kiếm Lake- FREE

Hoàn Kiêm Lake is where all the action is on a Hanoi morning. Every day, locals can be found exercising, playing chess, chatting with friends, and looking to practice their English with foreigners passing by. If you’re in the area, you’ll undoubtedly see Turtle Tower. This landmark is riddled with urban legend. Local believe the founder of Vietnam, Le Loi, took a magic sword from a turtle god, Kim Qui, to help him defeat the Chinese enemy. Later, the turtle took back the sword and swam down to the bottom of the lake. Have a wander around the lake, mix with the locals, and people watch around the perimeter.

HEAD TO A WATER PUPPET SHOW- SHOWS START AT 208,000 vnd

Water Puppet Shows in Hanoi are highly entertaining to watch. Shows are performed in Vietnamese, so they can be hard for foreigners to follow. The puppet shows are lively enough to keep little ones entertained, so this is a good idea for families with children traveling through Hanoi. I caught one in 2016 and enjoyed the show despite my lack of Vietnamese language skills.

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HEAD TO ST. JOSEPH’S CATHEDRAL- FREE

Vietnam is home to 4 million Catholics. Surprising, right? Even more shocking is that it’s home to the 5th largest Catholic population in the Asia. The church is built in a Gothic Revival style, making it feel like you could be anywhere in Europe if it weren’t for the plastic stool cafés and zooming motorbikes surrounding you. It’s definitely worth stopping by to see it for yourself.

VISIT HANOI OPERA HOUSE- SHOWS START AT 600,000 VND

The Hanoi Opera House was built by the French during its colonization. It was home to many an impressive opera, apparently. However, today, it showcases more quirky shows. Think less “Madam Butterfly” more “Cirque du Soleil.” Tickets for a show are quite expensive compared to other Hanoi activities, but you can admire the exterior for free!

BOOK A BACKSTREET ACADEMY TOUR - COST VARIES

Every tour I’ve taken with Backstreet Academy provides cultural and historic insights into every destination I visit. My Coffee Appreciation Tour with Mai was fantastic. I highly recommend it for those who love coffee {the real stuff} and want to learn about its history in Hanoi.


NEED HELP NAVIGATING HANOI? USE THE MAP I CREATED FOR YOU!


Disclaimer: I was a guest of Backstreet Academy as an Ambassador, but all my opinions are my own and my experience is expressed authentically. This post contains affiliate links, which means when you make a booking I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.


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the big guide to hanoi, vietnam
the big guide to hanoi, vietnam