As a city lying on the fertile field of Hong River, Hanoi keeps a-thousand-year cultural history of Vietnam and withholds unique attractive East Asian cultural values. Many valuable historic remnants were left in Hanoi since the year 1010 when King Ly Cong Uan moved Vietnam’s capital from Hoa Lu (Ninh Binh province) to Thang Long (Hanoi’s former name).
In this article, I will recommend you some must-visit destinations and must-eat food in Hanoi that should be in your bucket list when travelling to Hanoi.
I – Best Season To Visit Hanoi:
There are four seasons in Hanoi,mostly humid and hot with a lot of rain. In the summer, it is quite hot and rainy, but cold and dry in the winter. The spring and autumn, with comfortable weather, play the role as a transiting season and enrich climate diversity for the city. Every season of Hanoi is glamorous and worth exploring.
For instance, if you visit Hanoi in the spring from January to March, you will experience the exciting atmosphere of traditional Tet festival (Lunar New Year) in the light rainy weather with blossomed peach flowers coloring all streets with red and pink. As for romantic people, please come to Hanoi in July and September and you will be amazed by the leave-changing mosaic beauty of such streets as Phan Dinh Phung, Hoang Dieu, Kim Ma, etc.
II – Must-visit Destinations in Hanoi:
Here, I will skip some popular destinations like Hoan Kiem Lake, Old Quarter, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, etc.
1/ Imperial Citadel of Thang Long:
In 2010, it was 1000 years since the day King Ly Cong Uan moved the capital to Hanoi, Thang Long royal castle was recognized by the UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee as the World Cultural Heritage. Although Thang Long Citadel was torn down throughout history, fortunately its main entrance to the Forbidden City (‘Cấm Thành’) – Doan Mon Gate is still remained. The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is one of the regrettable things of Hanoi people, and Vietnamese people as general. If it was still in its complete shape, it would be comparable to the Forbidden City of China (‘Tử Cấm Thành’.)
- Address: Quan Thanh District, Ba Dinh, Hanoi.
- Opening hours: 08:00 – 17:00 every day except Monday.
- Entrance ticket: 30.000 VNĐ ($1.32) (for students is 15.000 VNĐ ($0.64).
- Public transportation: Bus number 22, 33, 45, 50.
2/ St. Joseph’s Cathedral Church:
Catholics is the second biggest religion in Vietnam after Buddhism. From the sixteenth century, the European missionaries began to introduce Catholics to Vietnam. Over 5 centuries, Catholics became familiar with a large Vietnamese community. The religious values also left for Hanoi some beautiful architectures carrying uniqueness of European Gothic architecture, namely St. Joseph’s Cathedral Church, Ham Long Church, Cua Bac Church, Phung Khoang Church, An Thai Church, Thinh Liet Church, and Ha Dong Church. Out of those, St. Joseph’s Cathedral Church is the most famous one.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral Church was built in 1884 and consecrated on Christmas day in 1887. It is one of the first western architectures that were reconstructed in Hanoi. Its original name was Saint Joseph because Pope Innocentinus XI wanted to honour Saint Joseph as a saint protecting Vietnam and neighbouring countries. However, people usually call it ‘Nhà thờ Lớn’ (the Big Church.) It was also a cathedral of the Hanoi archdiocese.
One interesting point to attracting tourists to St. Joseph’s Cathedral Church, which also has led to unique trademark of Hanoi people, is ‘Trà chanh nhà thờ’ (Church’s Lemon tea.) This area has become a familiar place of young Hanoians. With a cup of iced tea, sitting opposite to the church, visitors can feel relaxed enjoying the whole view of the church in ‘one of a kind’ area of the capital. In addition, there are famous night street food nearby, including cheese sticks, roasted fermented pork roll.
- Location: Nha Trung street, about 5 minutes of walking away from Hoan Kiem Lake.
- Small tip: Visitors can choose visiting Hoan Kiem Lake, Ngoc Son Temple, and rent a cyclo, which is always available on two side of pedestrian zones, to go to the Big Church.
3/ Temple of Literature:
In Hanoi, there is a place considered as the soul of Hanoi, the heart and symbol in the mind of Hanoi people. That is the first university of Vietnam – The Temple of Literature. Built in 1070 (King Ly Thanh Tong,) it was originally the school for princes and the place to worship Confucius scholars and sages, namely Khong Tu (Confucius), and Chu Van An.
The architecture of the Temple of Literature is unique with Confucius style. The most outstanding of the whole relic site is 83 Stelae of Doctors on turtles (only 1 stelae has only turtle). Those stelae were carved the names of the doctors who had passed the exams in Han language. According to archaeologists, the oldest stelae was constructed in 1484, and the newest in 1784. Those stelaes did not only have historical value, but also philosophical, architectural, and art values.
The relic site of the Temple of Literature was placed 23th on the list of National Monuments in Vietnam. If you have a chance to visit Hanoi, should not miss this place.
- Location: 58 Quoc Tu Giam street, Dong Da District, Hanoi City.
- Opening hours:
Monday – Friday: From 7:30 – 18:00 (I checked it from Mon- Fri not Thurs)
Saturday – Sunday: From 8:00 – 21:00.
- Entrance ticket: 30.000 VND/1 time ($1.32), 50% off for the disabled, students, the elder from 60 years old to above.
- Public transportation: bus number 2, 23, 38, 41.
II – Must-Eat Food in Hanoi:
Hanoi is not only famous for interesting places, but also for various cuisines which have all the quintessence of Hanoians. Let’s move on those already popular dishes, which had been introduced from the past Vietnam Track’s articles such as pho, bun cha, bun thang, cha ca La Vong, bun dau mam tom, banh tom Ho Tay, etc. Here, I will recommend you some other delicious dishes that you must try in Hanoi:
1/ Bún ốc (snail vermicelli soup)
Bun oc is easy to find because of its popularity; from street booth to restaurants, they all serve it. The main ingredient is vermicelli noodles and snails, which have been cleaned. A bowl of bun oc is always colorful with distilled tomato and yellow banana. The taste is a perfect combination between soup with a little bit of greasiness, sour, and smell of vinegar. With thin slice of banana flowers and vegetables, the bowl becomes full of different flavors.
Ms. Beo at Hoe Nhai street,
Ms. Luong at Khuong Thuong street, 530 Thuy Khue,
Tinh Que restaurant at Cao Dat street,
Inside Dong Xuan market,
Around Tay Ho (West Lake).
2/ Banh cuon (Rolled rice crepes)
Banh cuon is made from rice flour through the skillful hands of the cooks to create a very thin and soft layer. Banh cuon has different types to keep up with the various tastes of people such as Banh cuon without filling, banh cuon filled with wood ear mushroom, banh cuon filled with egg, or shrimp, salted shredded meat, roasted cinnamon pork, etc.
However, the only thing to make banh cuon delicious is sour and spicy fish sauce, which is the cook’s secret. Using chopsticks to dip a piece of banh cuon in the sauce then put it straight into your mouth will give you an unforgettable experience.
Banh cuon Phuong, 68 Hang Cot (Hanoi),
Banh cuon Ms. Thoa at Ham Tu Quan street,
banh cuon Thanh Van at Hang Ga street.
3/ Pho cuon (rice noodle rolls)
If you already felt familiar with the pho with broth, then pho cuon (rice noodle rolls) will be an interesting thing for you to try when visiting Hanoi. It is different from pho with broth, but rather similar with banh cuon (rolled rice crepes). However, the flour is tougher and thicker. Inside the roll is fried beef, egg, vegetable; and it is served with sweet and sour fish sauce. The most delicious pho cuon is at Ngu Xa village, near Truc Bach lake; it is also the original place of the dish.
Recommended restaurant: Hung Ben restaurant at 33 Ngu Xa, Hanoi.
Writer: Linh Dang.
Translator: Diem Nguyen.