10 Best Things to Do in Hanoi for French Colonial Charm and Street Food Adventures

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Hanoi, the vibrant capital of Vietnam, is a delightful fusion of French colonial history, rich local traditions, and culinary delights. As you wander through its bustling streets and tranquil boulevards, you’ll encounter a city that marries the elegance of its French colonial past with the dynamic energy of modern-day Vietnam. From the enchanting architecture of its old quarters to the irresistible allure of its street food markets, Hanoi offers a plethora of experiences that enchant both the eye and the palate. Whether it’s exploring historical sites, indulging in local flavors, or simply soaking in the city’s lively atmosphere, here are the ten best things to do in Hanoi that showcase its unique blend of French colonial charm and street food adventures.

1. Stroll Through the Old Quarter

The Old Quarter is the beating heart of Hanoi, where the city’s rich history and bustling contemporary life merge. This labyrinthine area of narrow streets and alleys is famous for its architecture, showcasing French colonial facades alongside traditional Vietnamese tube houses. Each street here historically specialized in a specific type of trade, giving them unique names such as Silk Street or Silver Street. Today, visitors can explore myriad shops, cafés, and street food vendors, offering an authentic glimpse into Hanoian culture.

2. Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi is a monumental site dedicated to the revered leader of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh. Located in Ba Dinh Square, where he read the Declaration of Independence in 1945, this mausoleum houses his preserved body, displayed in a glass case. The solemn, guard-flanked hall offers a poignant insight into the national pride and respect for ‘Uncle Ho.’ Visitors should be prepared to dress respectfully and observe silence within the solemn atmosphere of this significant landmark.

3. Explore the French Quarter

Hanoi’s French Quarter is a testament to the city’s colonial past, featuring wide, tree-lined boulevards and majestic buildings that speak of its French influence. The area is known for its sophisticated charm, housing luxury hotels, upscale restaurants, and embassies in grandiose villas. A stroll through this district reveals architectural gems like the Hanoi Opera House and the National Museum of Vietnamese History, providing a quieter and more refined experience compared to the bustling Old Quarter.


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4. Sample Street Food at Dong Xuan Market

Dong Xuan Market, located in the northern part of the Old Quarter, is the largest indoor market in Hanoi where locals go for everything from clothing to household goods. However, the highlight is the market’s bustling food court where you can indulge in a plethora of Vietnamese street food. Try local specialties such as pho, bun cha, and various savory pancakes, and experience the vibrant atmosphere as local life unfolds around you.

5. Discover the Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature, founded in 1070, is dedicated to Confucius and was home to Vietnam’s first national university. This historic complex of serene courtyards, elegant gates, and well-preserved architecture offers a tranquil retreat from the city’s hustle. Visitors can explore the five courtyards, rich in symbolism and beautifully maintained, and admire the stone steles mounted on turtle backs that list the names of scholars, highlighting the site’s historical significance as a center of academic achievement.

6. Enjoy a Show at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre

The Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre offers a unique cultural experience showcasing traditional Vietnamese water puppetry, a folk art that originated a thousand years ago in the Red River Delta. Performed in a waist-deep pool, this art form narrates folk tales and legends through the skilled manipulation of wooden puppets, with live music performed by a traditional Vietnamese orchestra. It’s an enchanting performance that combines art, music, and history, providing insight into rural Vietnamese traditions.

7. Walk Around Hoan Kiem Lake

Hoan Kiem Lake, or “Lake of the Returned Sword,” is a peaceful oasis in the center of Hanoi. A popular spot for both locals and tourists, it is encircled by a scenic walking path and punctuated by the picturesque Tortoise Tower and the red-painted Huc Bridge leading to the Ngoc Son Temple. The lake is a focal point for morning exercises, leisurely walks, and evening rendezvous, offering a picturesque setting that contrasts with the city’s frenetic pace.

8. Dine at a Colonial French Villa

Dining in one of Hanoi’s colonial French villas offers a delightful fusion of French and Vietnamese culinary traditions. These restored villas serve as elegant restaurants that provide a romantic and historic dining experience, featuring lush gardens and charming interiors. Indulge in dishes that blend local ingredients with French techniques, offering a sophisticated taste of Hanoi’s gastronomic excellence in a timeless setting.

9. Visit the Hanoi Opera House

The Hanoi Opera House, inspired by the Palais Garnier in Paris, is one of the most spectacular pieces of colonial architecture in Vietnam. Located in the French Quarter, it hosts a variety of performances including opera, ballet, symphonies, and traditional folk music. A visit here offers not just a chance to see a stunning historic building, but also to enjoy high-quality performances in a culturally enriching setting.

10. Explore the Museum of Vietnamese History

The Museum of Vietnamese History is housed in a beautiful French colonial building adjacent to the Hanoi Opera House. It contains an extensive collection of artifacts illustrating the complexities of Vietnam’s history, from prehistoric times through various dynasties to the national liberation movements. The museum provides a deep dive into the cultural and historical narratives of Vietnam, making it an essential visit for history buffs and curious travelers alike.


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