If you don’t know much about the history of Vietnamese art, the National Fine Arts Museum is about the best place to start in Hanoi. The ground floor covers art up to the end of the 18th century. While the museum acknowledges that it has few early artifacts from southern or central Vietnam in the first gallery, which represents art in Vietnam from prehistory to around the 10th century, the other rooms give a good overview of the various dynasties and periods throughout the country, and the influences of Buddhism, Confucianism, and folk traditions on its art. The second and third floors continue the story up to almost the present day. Part of what makes the Fine Arts Museum intriguing is the introduction it offers to an artistic heritage that followed a very different path from that of nations in the West. Abstraction is largely unrepresented beyond a couple of cubist canvases by Ta Ty, and instead socialist realism, popular folk art, and traditional styles were more central to shaping the art of Vietnam in the last century. The museum’s signage is all in English, as well as Vietnamese and French, and it’s helpful despite the occasional baffling translation. In the courtyard of the museum there’s an outpost of Helio Coffee that is an ideal place to stop for a cold iced tea, coffee, or juice if the weather is pleasant.