The capital of Vietnam is one of the oldest capitals in the world. The history of Hanoi is rich and full of legends. This French-colonial city is a cultural blend of Eastern and Western influences that are reflected in the style of many of Hanoi’s architectural beauties. Some of these jewels that travelers can discover include remarkably preserved colonial buildings, unique museums and ancient pagodas. This mystical city is also known for its cuisine, exciting nightlife, and cultural diversity made up of Chinese, French, and Russian influences.
So it’s worth taking a closer look at Hanoi and experiencing the most beautiful places and highlights of Vietnam’s capital city.
Tip 1: Temple of Literature
Built the famous Temple of Literature Van Mieu around the year 1070 as a Confucian temple. The impressive Temple of Literature was declared the first university of Vietnam and still plays a very important role as an educational institution in Vietnam. Again and again, the Temple of Literature is depicted on posters and documents, and you can also admire the famous building on the 100,000 dong banknote. Our experienced tour guide will accompany you to the Temple of Literature and explain a lot of interesting facts about the most famous university in the country. Very impressive is the complex consisting of five courtyards, which are all a sight in itself.
In the first courtyard you will admire the main gate guarded by two stone dragons, the second courtyard houses not only a perfectly arranged garden, but also the landmark of Hanoi: The Pavilion of the Constellation of Literature. A magnificent Confucius statue and the actual Confucius Temple can be found in the fourth courtyard. Finally, the fifth and last courtyard houses the National University called Quoc Tu Giam, where teaching has been going on since 1076! The centrally located Temple of Literature is one of the highlights of any Vietam trip and should not be missed on any Hanoi visit.
Tip 2: Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake is the most famous lake in Hanoi and is located in the Old Quarter. The lake area offers shady spots and quiet temples to escape the bustling city. Hoan Kiem Lake is considered the heart of Ha Noi and is a legendary place. According to legend, King Loi was given a magic sword with which he defeated the Chinese. After the war, he returned the magic sword to a giant turtle, which disappeared with the sword into the depths of this lake. The locals named the lake as “Ho Hoan Kiem”, which means “Lake of the returned sword”.
On the northern side of the lake stands the Jade Island. The famous The Huc Bridge leads to the island and the beautiful Jade Mountain Temple (also called as Noc Son Temple) standing on it. It is a place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Believers still use the temple as a place of prayer today. There is a pleasant smell of incense in the various buildings. Inside the temple are altars and some ancient artifacts. The wooden bridge painted in red in the classic Vietnamese style is also called the “Red Bridge of the Rising Sun”.
In the middle of the lake there is another small island with an ancient building, the “Turtle Tower”, which reminds us of the legend. The Turtle Pagoda was built to honor the 400-year-old giant turtle that lived in Hoan Kiem Lake. The 250kg turtle stands prepared in a glass case in the Jade Mountain Temple.
Tip 3: Hanoi Old Quarter
If you are in Hanoi, visiting the Old Quarter is a must. The atmosphere in the bustling Old Quarter is unique. There are different sensory impressions: shrill, honking crowds of motorcycles and mopeds, busy street vendors, from wide fragrant cookshops, colorful stores, as well as smaller street markets with fish and meat sellers or vegetable vendors.
The Hanoi Old Quarter is located northeast in Hanoi and belongs to the Hoan Kiem District. The location of the Old Quarter was deliberately built between the Imperial Citadel and the Red River, which is considered an advantageous area for trade development.
The history of the Old Quarter began in the 11th century when King Ly decided to move the capital from Hoa Lu (Ninh Binh) to Hanoi.
Characteristic streets were formed here to support small-scale industry and trade. In the past, each street had stores selling only the same goods. For example, Hang Bac (Silver) Street has only silver stores.
Nowadays, only some streets keep the traditional trades and stores. In many, rather the architecture of the city is preserved. Shopkeepers in those days were taxed according to the width of their store fronts. That is why the storage and living rooms were moved to the back of the buildings. Due to this, the long and narrow buildings, called tube houses, became a familiar sight in the old town. The houses are 3m wide and 60-70m long.
With the French influence in the 50’s, the architecture changed. The Western style prevailed over the traditional Vietnamese and Chinese architectural styles. The fusion of East and West became a trend: not only in architecture, but also in culture.
Tip 4: Pagode Tran Quoc
Tran Quoc Pagoda is located on a small peninsula on the east side of the West Lake and is considered the oldest pagoda in Hanoi with more than 1,500 years of history. Thanks to its historical and architectural values, Tran Quoc Pagoda attracts many tourists.
You can recognize the temple by a tall stupa, which was built in 1998. This stupa consists of 11 floors with a height of 15m. Each floor has an arched window with a gemstone Amitabha Buddha statue. On the top is a nine-story lotus flower also made of gemstone. This stupa is symmetrical to the 50-year-old Bodhi tree. It was donated to the temple by the former Indian president in 1959 during his visit to Hanoi. According to the belief, the branch of the tree comes from the Bodhi tree under which Buddha was enlightened.
Many find this temple the most beautiful. Most of the population are followers of Buddhism. Thus, it is the most important religion in Vietnam. The complex is incomparably smaller than temples in other Asian countries, where daily practice of religion is an important part of life, but still you can observe what rituals the believers perform. For example, they released birds from a cage. They believe in it to bring them good luck. Incense sticks were lit in front of the temple in a large container. Pleasant smell enveloped the complex.
Tip 5: Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Ba Dinh Square is one of the most visited sights in Hanoi. It is the final resting place of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam’s most famous and beloved leader. His embalmed body is preserved here in a glass case.
For visitors, a trip to the mausoleum can be an extraordinary experience as it is not just an average attraction. It is part of Vietnam’s unique history. The granite building was built in 1973, modeled after Lenin’s Mausoleum in Russia. It was first opened to the public in 1975.
Security is tight and visitors should dress with respect (no shorts, sleeveless shirts or miniskirts) and everyone must deposit their bags and cameras before going inside. Visitors are not allowed to stop and they must keep moving constantly in line as the place is constantly busy. Outside the mausoleum in Ba Dính Square, security guards are present. Guards stand in front of the door of the mausoleum and in front of the high flagpole.
The mausoleum is open only on certain days for a short time. The entrance is free all year round.