As anyone who has fallen for its evocation of Indochinese charm or witnessed recent introductions such as top-end restaurants, designer boutiques, and even Bentleys will know, the Hanoi of today is not short on class. Nevertheless, this grand old dame of the Orient, which celebrated its millennium in 2010, is as thrilling as it is beguiling, its buzzing streets alive with colorful sights, pungent smells, and often deafening sounds. A fascinating blend of Vietnamese, Chinese, and French influences, Hanoi is changing quickly but maintains a strong identity. Timeless tableaus of Old Asia are easy to spot, although those looking to buy a period piece will leave disappointed. From grandfathers with wispy beards playing chess to youngsters sipping wine at art openings, Hanoi is a stew of many flavors that emerges tasting singularly Vietnamese.

Hanoi  Vietnam - Jan 16 2023: Motorcycle and car traffic at the junction of Hang Bai and Trang Tien next to Trang Tien Plaza on a grey winter's day, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Photo By Andy Soloman/Shutterstock


When’s the best time to go to Hanoi?

The best time to visit Hanoi is undoubtedly March–April or October–December, when springtime and autumn temperatures are cooler. In winter, the city tends to be shrouded in a pall of gray mist. Summer is hot, humid, often wet, and largely uncomfortable.

How to get around Hanoi

Many international airlines fly into Hanoi’s Noi Bai Airport from other parts of Asia and also from European hubs such as Frankfurt, Paris, and London. As of now there are still no direct flights from North America, but plenty of connecting services via cities such as Beijing, Seoul, and Tokyo.

Taxis are generally safe and efficient, though a bit more expensive than other options. Taxi scams are not uncommon but can usually be avoided by riding only with a trusted taxi company. Mai Linh and Hanoi Taxi are two of the capital’s most reputable companies.

Can’t miss things to do in Hanoi

Rent a bicycle from Hanoi Bicycle Collective (www.thbc.vn) in the late afternoon and ride around West Lake, taking in the sunset on the roof terrace at Commune café.

Food and drink to try in Hanoi

Hanoi’s food scene is one of its prime assets. Northern Vietnamese food varies quite significantly from food in the south. It tends to be saltier, and prevalent use of fermentation is a legacy of the region’s relative poverty. Pho (rice-noodle soup with beef or chicken) is Hanoi’s best-known culinary creation. Other greatest hits include banh cuon (rice-paper crepes stuffed with pork and mushroom) and bun cha (vermicelli noodles served with mini pork patties, sliced pork belly, and herbs). The favored drink of Hanoian men is beer. Hanoi Beer is the most popular local brand, while bia hoi—a light draft beer delivered in fresh batches to vendors daily—is as much a part of Hanoian life as honking horns and crazy traffic.

Culture in Hanoi

In Vietnam, Hanoi is regarded as the high-minded counterpart to Ho Chi Minh City’s upstart glitz. The reality is that both cities have plenty of cultural highlights to show, with Hanoi offering everything from reminders and celebrations of Vietnam’s tumultuous past to cutting-edge art galleries and regular live music events.

Late January to mid February, you can breathe in the excitement of Tet, the lunar New Year (the date each year changes based on the Chinese lunar calendar). The lead-up to the celebration sees the city come alive with displays of moon cakes, red banners, joss sticks, and red envelopes for giving lucky money (mung tuoi) to children. February and March are the months to join the mass Buddhist pilgrimage to the Perfume Pagoda, just south of Hanoi.

Local travel tips for Hanoi

Women shouldn’t wear long skirts to any of Hanoi’s many bia hoi joints; toilets are rudimentary at best, and the predominantly male clientele tend to relieve themselves on the floor. When visiting Hanoi, make sure you choose your season right: December to March can be terribly gray and miserable. April–May is gorgeous. Summer can be compared to a steamy Peruvian jungle. And the weather finally relents in autumn, when the sky turns azure with fresher days.

Guide Editor

Read Before You Go
Writer Anya von Bremzen takes a two-week-long Silversea cruise involving bubble baths, lots of food, and the ancient art of “villain hitting.”
Resources to help plan your trip
Vietnam’s capital offers hotels with pockets of peace—lakeside tai chi sessions and ancient pagodas—amid the city’s motorbikes and hawker stalls. For a classic stay, book a room at the Sofitel Legend Metropole, a landmark in Hanoi’s French Quarter. Culture junkies should base themselves at the Hotel de L’ Opera Hanoi or the Hilton Hanoi Opera. InterContinental Hanoi Westlake is just north of the bustling Old Quarter, but offers a serene waterfront setting.
The Vietnamese rise early and work hard, and a nourishing morning meal along with some rocket-fuel coffee goes a long way toward setting up the day. The breakfast staple is, of course, pho, and its warming goodness shouldn’t be missed. Western-style sustenance—from crepes to steak and eggs—is also easy to find within the city.
Vendors in conical hats tote their wares around the teeming streets of the Old Quarter. Early-morning markets brim with produce from North Vietnam’s agricultural heartlands. And small shops offer old Communist art posters. One thing’s for sure: a shopping expedition in Hanoi is bound to be extraordinary.
Hanoi is considered to be one of Asia’s street food capitals. The best Vietnamese dining thrill is experienced on a tiny plastic chair at a stainless-steel table. Steaming broths, delectable morsels, and complex noodle dishes are sampled on Hanoi’s sidewalks, at hole-in-the-wall eateries, and in open-air markets. Yes, Hanoi’s street food is time-honored and legendary —that’s why when you’re there, you must try the best.
Hanoi has a charisma all its own, which means there are a lot of experiences you must-do. From delicious cups of coffee infused with whole eggs to the daily maelstrom of the city’s streets, there’s no place like it, even in Vietnam. Just strolling a few of Hanoi’s blocks can be an experience in itself. See a revolutionary hero preserved in state, drink the cheapest beer on the planet, and walk through a market of motorbike parts. Some diversions in Hanoi really shouldn’t be missed.
you only have three days in Hanoi there’s a lot to pack in. Spend a day wandering the Old Quarter and exploring the Ba Dinh District, where you’ll find the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the Temple of Literature. Then devote your time to really exploring Hanoi’s myriad nooks and crannies, cafés and markets, with perhaps a side trip to Halong Bay and a relaxing boat ride on the water. Your 3 days in Hanoi will be busy, but we promise you will enjoy it all.
A perfect day in Hanoi begins in the early glow of morning and finishes as the city winds down in the wee small hours. In the quiet post-dawn period, watch graceful tai chi moves at the peaceful shores of Hoan Kiem Lake. Then pack your perfect day with an itinerary that includes storied architecture, street food favorites, classy lounge bars, and a night of Hanoi’s best live music to round off proceedings.
Hanoi’s surrounding attractions are nearly as compelling as those within the city. The karst-studded wonderland of Halong Bay is the top draw in this part of Vietnam. It is rivaled by its mellow neighbors Bai Tu Long Bay, the beautiful valley of Mai Chau, and the hugely underrated seaport city of Haiphong.
In Hanoi, life is very much lived on the streets. Numerous cafés and bars spill out onto the pavement, allowing patrons to enjoy an alfresco beer. The recent addition of rooftop bars and lounges has moved the ante up a notch.
While big international bands tend to stick to Ho Chi Minh City (if they visit Vietnam at all), Hanoi can nonetheless offer its share of quality live tunes. And when no live musician is onstage, a talented DJ is often on hand to lend a creative soundtrack for the evening.
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