The center of Hanoi is considered to be Hoan Kiem Lake or “The Lake of the Restored Sword,” and it is very special to Vietnamese people. Chances are you’ll be lodging nearby, so this will make a perfect start to get settled in. Legend has it that Emperor Le Loi crafted a sword from some metal found at the lake – and later won a war with a neighboring country using it. Once, when he was out on the lake, he was approached by a Turtle God (Kim Qui) who asked for the metal to be returned to his Dragon King. The emperor threw the sword into the lake and the turtle disappeared with it to the bottom. Nowadays, if you are lucky, you will see one of the many sacred tortoises swimming about.
Places to Visit in Hanoi
- Old Quatre Hanoi, “36 Streets”
- Trấn Quốc Pagoda
- Hoan Kiem Lake
- Opera House
- Cathedral Area
Unique Things to See in Hanoi
- Stroll down Ta Hien Street – known for local beers
- Admire the Temple of Literature
- Drink local Bia Hoi beer (for 25 cents a glass!)
- Visit One Pillar Pagoda
- Eat lunch at the Hang Da Market
Hanoi’s Old Quarter
Venturing west from Hoan Kiem Lake is the old quarter of Hanoi. Winding narrow streets, electrical wires forming an umbrella overhead, little shops and markets, and a ridiculously crazy amount of motorbikes zooming past all combine to make this one of the most entertaining spots in all of Hanoi.
Thankfully the Old Quarter or “36 Streets” area was spared from destruction during the Vietnam War, as it is one of the most fascinating districts for its rich French colonial style architecture. It’s also known for being one of the best areas of the city for shopping.
Historically, in the 11th century craftsmen from around the country gathered together in Hanoi to work and live in their specific guilds. Essentially, the area started out as a cooperative, where local artisans created their crafts for sale, sold their wares out front on the street, and then lived upstairs on the same property. Each street was known for its particular guild, such as silversmith, and this tradition has continued to prosper through time. This area has undergone many adaptive changes under different ruling parties, but it has continued to thrive as a vibrant market area offering a plethora of entertaining things to buy and eat.
Getting around Hanoi
Adventurous souls will undoubtedly need to take a ride on a motorbike when in Hanoi, but be warned that it is a frightening experience! The congested traffic of motorcycles, scooters, taxis, and buses can be a nightmare and more often than not appears chaotic and death defying. There is a rhythm to traffic though and hiring a driver is the fastest way to get around town. Be aware of the risks though as accidents happen frequently, especially with tourists who are too reactive and don’t relax into the driving. If you haven’t been on the back of a motorcycle lately you might be better off taking a taxi. There are plenty of taxi – motorbikes for hire, and you can ask your hotel to arrange a pick up with a reputable company but be sure to secure the price before getting on. The fares are cheap compared to western standards, costing 50 cents to a dollar US for short commutes (10,000 VND to 30,000 VND).
Most travelers prefer taking taxis or walking, especially if staying in the old quarter where the streets are narrow and easily accessible by foot. You can hail a taxi just about anywhere and the areas around major hotels, attractions, and restaurants are the easiest.
Did you know…?
That the Trấn Quốc Pagoda is the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi and was constructed more than 1400 years ago.
Did you ALSO know…?
That the Vietnamese use hanging coil incense in many pagodas as one of the six offerings to Buddha.
Best time of year to travel to Hanoi
Hanoi has four seasons, so don’t confuse the weather here with the southern areas of the country.
Summer months are June, July and August with hottest temperatures ranging from the low 30 degrees Celsius to a maximum of around 40C, but the typical average is around 32C. This is also the heaviest rainfall time too with a whopping average of 343mm of rain in July. This means the humidity is high with frequent downpours (typically lasting about 30 minutes), so bring a raincoat and be prepared for street flooding. It’s a perfect time to grab a bite to eat and stay dry.
Spring months are April and May with temperatures ranging from 21C to 28C which makes this time of year a great time for travelling around. The temperatures aren’t too hot and unbearable and the rains are a third of what they’d be in the summer months. It can still rain slightly with grey days, but the weather is warm and manageable.
Winter months are colder than you’d expect with temperatures ranging from 10C to 20C. Even though the humidity, wind, and lower temperatures make the winter months cold, it is still a good time to visit – especially with the Tet festivities. This the is Vietnamese New Year which is a great party with street performances, specific foods like Canh Mang (Bamboo soup), and plenty of Vietnamese travelling around to visit families – making this a busier time of year for hotels and supporting businesses.
Ready to plan your visit to Hanoi? Check out these popular guides and trips.