6 Must-Visit Historic Attractions in Hanoi, Vietnam

With over 1,000 years gone by since its founding, Hanoi is one of Asia’s grande dames and is not lacking in historical attractions. The city’s many traditions are reflected in its top historic attractions, including stately pagodas, churches, and architecture. The more tragic modern history is not so apparent but can still be glimpsed in remnants and monuments throughout Hanoi.

Hồ B52, Ngọc Hà, Ba Đình, Hà Nội, Vietnam
It took ages to find the (much acclaimed at AFAR) sunken B-52 bomber in Ha Noi. The twisted pile of metal hardly resembles a plane anymore, but it was interesting nonetheless. Even more fascinating to me was the ‘lake’ it had fallen into. This emerald green pool was literally bubbling from some mysterious living sludge... I half expected the three-eyed fish from the Simpsons to crawl out! It was awesome.
Chùa Một Cột
The French destroyed this famous temple in 1954, but it was lovingly rebuilt and remains a favorite with locals. The structure commemorates the legend of Emperor Ly Thai Tong who originally built the temple way back in 1049. The distinctive single pillar is meant to signify the stalk of the lotus flower, a sacred Vietnamese symbol of purity.
Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Hang Trong, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi, Vietnam
A couple of blocks west of the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, Hoan Kiem Lake—meaning Lake of the Restored Sword—is one of Hanoi’s anchors. It contains a number of sites worth visiting, like Ngoc Soc Temple and the picturesque, red-lacquered Huc Bridge. The greatest fun here is people watching, from men and women jogging round the perimeter to retired folks doing tai chi or dancing. Many locals come to socialize or just take a few moments to escape the city’s chaotic roads and traffic. Visit in the morning as the city is waking up and the air remains blissfully cool. Photo by Binder.donedat/Flickr.
Cổ Loa, Đông Anh, Hà Nội, Vietnam
At over 1,000 years old, Hanoi is not exactly a spring chicken. For some truly ancient Vietnamese history, however, it is worth spending time at Co Loa, the country’s first fortified citadel and a onetime capital of the nation dating back to the third century. Only three of the original earthen ramparts are extant today, but a pretty temple underneath a banyan tree provides added diversion.
1 phố Hoả Lò, Trần Hưng Đạo, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội 100000, Vietnam
Perhaps the most relevant museum in Hanoi for American visitors is the Hoa Lo Prison Museum, popularly known as the “Hanoi Hilton” during the Vietnam War. Its exterior is a strangely cheery yellow, and it was part of a complex built by the French around the turn of the 20th century. You’ll know you’ve reached the building when you see its original French name, Maison Centrale, in bold letters above the entrance. The exhibits cover both the French treatment of Vietnamese prisoners and the U.S. soldiers and pilots housed here during the Vietnam War—including Senator John McCain, who was detained here from 1967 to 1973. (His flight suit is among the displays.) A visit can be a powerful, and at times emotionally difficult, experience.
Hanoi, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi, Vietnam
Also known as the 36 Streets (though it’s made up of more than 36 streets), this neighborhood is a warren of alleys and lanes that was, according to some legends, home to 36 artisans’ guilds; streets here were named after the artisan items that were once sold on them (Hang Bo was the location for bamboo products; Hang Ma was where paper objects were sold). Each road today still specializes in a particular category, with some still related to the traditional item. Streets especially popular with tourists shopping for souvenirs, as well as those in search of photo opportunities, are Hang Bac (silver goods, now also filled with gift shops), Hang Ma (religious paper wares, then and now), and Hang Dau (oil products, though currently a center for shoe vendors). Among these timeworn businesses, visitors will also encounter outlet stores selling Gap, Banana Republic, and North Face clothing—some authentic and some fake. The quarter is also packed with hotels, hostels, restaurants, and bars, making it a busy destination at all hours.
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