Asia Travel Vietnam

From pagodas to water puppet shows: a bucket list guide to Hanoi

You’ve landed in the heart of Vietnam, Hanoi is home to egg coffee, Phố and the country’s oldest pagoda. As you find your way by foot or motorbike along the busy streets of a city that truly never sleeps, here’s a look at the best Hanoi has in store.

Things to do

Tran Quoc Pagoda

The oldest pagoda in Ha Noi located near the West Lake, Tran Quoc Pagoda is a must-see in the capital city. It’s thousands of years old and used to be the capital of Buddhism during the Tran Dynastry. It’s free entry but visitors must cover their knees and shoulders. If you’re staying more central – near Hoam Kien Lake – hire a motorbike for the short 10-minute ride. The pagoda is filled with sanctuaries, hundreds of trinkets/antiques and a statue of Buddha entering Nirvana.

Make an afternoon of the area and grab lunch nearby. The locals will suggest trying Huong Mai, which serves a new take on the traditional dish pho cuon.

Temple of Literature

Built as the first university of Vietnam, the temple literature is a great place to stroll, ponder and simply be. There’s nothing really to do at the Temple but observe. Shoulders and knees must be covered. It costs about £1 for entry.

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Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre

Oh, I loved this so much. The 50-minute show tells of traditional tales with rural charm. Those who are native speakers can buy audio guides, but honestly it was enjoyable even without one. Don’t risk missing out – purchase tickets in advance. The theatre is a very popular attraction and if tickets are available, it will likely be for a later show or the following day.

Stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake

A lovely evening walk around Sword Lake is the perfect way to break up the chaos of the day and ease into the night. The lake is located in the historical centre of Vietnam and the road surrounding it is closed to foot traffic only on weekends.

Night market

Grab cash and plan to spend hours shopping for souvenirs and trinkets you don’t need but will love. Hanoi’s night market spans for miles and has everything you could want from magnets to that extra pair of socks you didn’t pack to faux designer bags. Remember to haggle.

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Train street

Sandwiched between coffee shops and apartment buildings, train street is a gem for any who manage to get a look. Multiple times a day a train runs from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh and those having a coffee along the tracks better cosy up to the nearest wall because it’s a slim fit as the train rolls by. Not anyone can visit the street as it’s not open to foot traffic. Book a tour that includes train street to get ample time to take in this gem.

Bia street

Go here to have a drink and people watch. It’s full of tourists but is considered the party street of Hanoi. By the time the sun’s set, the streets will be heaving.


Vietnamese coffee isn’t only delicious it’s powerful. Daily coffee drinkers often comment that coffee here is stronger than anything they’ve had before. While the Vietnamese drink coffee throughout the day, I wouldn’t suggest it for most after the late afternoon – or else you’ll be up all night. Egg coffee, Vietnamese coffee (white) and Coconut Coffee are three types of brew to try.

The Note Cafe: 4 P. Lương Văn Can, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam

Cafe Giung: 39 Nguyen Huu Huan

Order egg coffee, a traditional pre-dinner drink in Hanoi

Hidden Gem Cafe: 1 Hàng Mắm, Phố cổ Hà Nội, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam

Places to eat

Banh Mi 25: 5 P. Hàng Cá, Hàng Bồ, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam

The best – and most popular – place to go for Vietnam’s iconic sandwich. The location became popular thanks to food influencers such as Anthony Bourdain. Seating for the sandwich shop is across the street from where orders are taken. There will be a queue but the process is relatively quick.

Bahn Cuon:

  • 14 Bao Kanh
  • 14 Hang Ga (this is a breakfast food if you want to do something outside the hotel)

Bun Cha: my favourite dish

  • Tuyet Bun Cha 34 (only open for lunch, order Nem as well. It’s the best here of the places I had it)
  • 1 Hang Manh, I have dreams about Bun Cha at this location. It’s so good, I had it twice in one day.

Bun rieu pho co: 17 Hang Cot

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