While the noise, chaos and scooter-clogged streets might be an overwhelming welcome to Hanoi, give the city a chance and it will inevitably show you its many charms. If you’re curious about visiting, our local Hanoi tour guides have shared everything you need to know before you go, and what to do once you arrive. (Psst! Our Hanoi Highlights tour provides a great overview of the city for first-time visitors.)
Metered taxis are available to get you into the city on the arrivals level at both the domestic and international terminals. A taxi ride to the city centre takes about 30 minutes and costs approximately VDN 380,000. Buy a ticket at the stand and wait in the line. The price should include the toll, so don’t pay extra for it.
Hanoi city buses numbers 7 and 17 also connect the airport with the city centre. The bus stop is just on the right side of the terminal exit. Travelling by bus costs VDN 5,000 per person and takes about one hour. Buses run every 15-20 minutes from 5am to 10pm
There are a few ways to get around once you’re in Hanoi. Walking is a great way to explore the Old Quarter thanks to its manageable size. Just be mindful of the busy roads and keep your wits about you. If the Hanoi heat starts getting to you, cyclos (three-wheeled two-seated carts powered by a man on a foot-pedal bike) are an option for short distances, or if you just need a bit of a break. These can be flagged down anywhere in the Old Quarter and you can expect to pay around VDN 50,000 for a short ride.
Another option for getting around Hanoi is via motorcycle taxi (xe om). These can be found almost everywhere in the city and an average trip in and around the centre costs VDN 15,000 to 20,000. Agree on a price before you hop on.
The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Built in the 11th century, the citadel was the hub of political power in Vietnam for a whopping 13 centuries. You can easily devote a few hours to exploring the grounds here at a leisurely pace, taking in the many centuries of history and admiring the buildings. And despite being right in the heart of the city, this is actually a peaceful spot to wander.
A visit to Hoan Kiem Lake in the centre of the city is a must when visiting Hanoi. There’s something going on here all hours of the day and a stroll around the lake makes for some good people-watching and a chance to relax in a picturesque setting. On the northeastern edge of the lake you’ll find Ngoc Son Pagoda, which is open to visitors and always popular among locals and tourists. In addition, Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre can be found in the area. Pick up tickets in advance if you want to catch a show. We also recommend sipping a cold beer from one of the terraces overlooking the lake.
Hanoi Old Quarter is a chaotic maze of narrow streets housing shops, cafés, street vendors, restaurants, bars, tour operators and temples. Located just a few minutes from Hoan Kiem Lake, this area can feel like a bit of a sensory overload, but it’s worth exploring. Take a deep breath and dive right in, carefully navigating the Old Quarter’s alleys, nooks and crannies. Shop for souvenirs, grab a coffee from a streetside vendor, or fill up on street food as you make your way around. Still hungry? Our evening street food tour makes a tasty stop in the Old Quarter.
Also in the Old Quarter you’ll find Bia Hoi Corner, a popular nightlife spot for both locals and visitors. This is where, as soon as the sun starts to go down, plastic chairs fill the sidewalk and spill out into the street, populated with people drinking cheap Vietnamese beer. The atmosphere is low-key but lively and a fun way to spend a couple of evening hours people-watching.
Hanoi’s sprawling Temple of Literature complex was first established in 1070 and later became the site of Vietnam’s first university. Walking through the serene temple grounds offers a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of the city, and features five walled courtyards connected by gateways where you’ll find hanging flowers, pretty gardens and reflecting pools.
Looking for more things to do? Urban Adventures offers several day tours in Hanoi and beyond, all led by local experts who will give you a taste for local life in the city:
Just arrived in Hanoi? Need an introduction to this buzzing city? Never fear, join this Hanoi tour which covers the historic hot spots, must-see monuments and special spaces that you’d kick yourself for missing.
Hanoi Street Food by Night
Travel is all about the street food these days, and why not? It’s fresh, fast, cheap and a great way to crack into the local scene. Join this Hanoi tour to source the best street eats from markets, food carts, street cafes and other hard-to-find-but-totally-worth-the-effort secret spots.
There’s a reason Halong Bay is one of the most photographed places in Vietnam — it’s ridiculously beautiful. Hop on a traditional junk, glide through the azure waters with a drink in one hand, and a spot of seafood in the other.
Village Discovery by Bike
Trade in the frenetic pace of Hanoi with an unforgettable bike ride through the Vietnam countryside. Cycle along the banks of the Red River to explore the timeless traditional villages and learn about life outside of Hanoi.
Citadels, Karsts & Cycle
Mix it up on this Hanoi tour that includes a 12-kilometre cycle session and a sneaky rowboat ride through caves, and past rice paddies, villages and limestone karsts.
Taste of the Vietnamese Countryside
Take a relaxing trip away from the chaos of Hanoi and eat your way to spiritual enlightenment in the glorious Hanam and Ninh Binh provinces. Explore churches, markets, and sweeping vistas while enjoying some of the best food that Vietnam has to offer.
Hanoi Sky at Sunset
Immerse yourself in the hustle and bustle of Hanoi’s Old Quarter at sunset with a local showing you the way. Join us on a voyage of discovery where we will unearth the best cocktails, Bia Hoi, authentic Vietnamese wine and street food in town, and introduce you to some delightful people along the way.
While there are many films shot in Vietnam, Hanoi in particular doesn’t show up a lot on screen (aside from nearby Halong Bay). But you can get a good overview of the city courtesy of the New York Times’ video on how to spend 36 hours in the city.
Before your trip to Hanoi, listen to some traditional Vietnamese music set to the beauty of Halong Bay.
The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb, about a Vietnamese-American woman’s return to her homeland many years after the Vietnam War, is a thoughtful and poignant novel, and much of it is set in Hanoi.