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One thing’s for sure, Hanoi is one of Vietnam’s premier destinations to visit. Here, you’ll find a stark contrast between ancient architecture and modern buildings. Amazing museums are scattered around the city, including the important Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, the Vietnamese Women’s Museum located near the Old Quarter, and the charming complex of the Temple of Literature. There are French and Chinese sides of the city, great lakes, and historical sites everywhere. And, of course, the food and drink scene is worth the visit alone!
But step away from the main guide books and tours and you’ll find the city to be full of hidden charms. Some of the best things to do in Hanoi are rarely visited by tourists, yet will give you memories to last a lifetime. Don’t miss our hidden highlights below, and really make the most of your time in Vietnam’s capital.
Tranquil Books & Coffee: A cozy themed cafe for bookworms
There are plenty of places in Hanoi to kick back, sip a coffee, and take in the local scenery, but Tranquil Books & Coffee is an unexpected exception to the norm. Tranquil has a decidedly-French feel, its atmosphere warm, intimate, and softly lit. Enter the premises and you’ll be quickly soothed by lush piano music and an otherworldly-feel.
Unlike a lot of cafes which prefer their music loud and are built for socializing, Tranquil is a place for readers and their books. You’ll find literature from all over the world here in a myriad of languages. Readers, writers, and thinkers all visit for a few moments of peace and a caffeine recharge.
Time your visit just right — usually in the evenings — and you may find some live acoustic music being played. This is mainly in a traditional Vietnamese style and is there as a backdrop, rather than a centerpiece.
Location: 5 Nguyen Quang Bich, Hoan Kiem
Opening hours: 8 am to 10:30 pm
Official website: http://www.tranquilbookscoffee.com/
Tourist sites nearby: Visit during your stroll around Hanoi’s delightful Old Quarter!
Lotte Center Observation Deck: Jaw-dropping views from 65 floors up
You can’t miss Hanoi’s Lotte Center. It is the third-highest building in the city and can be seen for miles around. It is also built in an ultra-modern style, closer to skyscrapers found in New York than to the other towers you’ll find in Hanoi.
The Lotte Center comprises modern apartments, a hotel, and offices. It’s usually visited for its shopping experience. For clothes and household items in both local and international brands, it’s hard to find a better place in Hanoi.
However, the building’s real asset can be found on the 65th floor. Up here, you’ll find an impressive observation deck called the Sky Walk offering absolutely stunning panoramic views of the city. It’s the greatest birds-eye vista you can find of Hanoi, and well worth the 10 USD entry fee.
Here, you can witness the changing architecture of an ever-evolving city. There’s also a restaurant cafe at the viewpoint, making it the perfect stop-off point for any shopping trip.
Location: 54 Lieu Giai, Cong Vi, Ba Dinh
Opening hours: 9 am to 11 pm
Official website: https://lottecenter.com.vn/vn/index.asp
Tourist sites nearby: The Lotte shopping center is perfect for spending your afternoon. If you’re more interested in the outdoors, Hanoi Zoo in Thu Le Park is located just 1.5 kilometers west.
Lenin Square: A reminder of the city’s past
Lenin Square houses a statue of Lenin and sits within the wider Lenin Park. It’s just a short walk from some of Hanoi’s busiest streets, but a world away from the hustle and bustle you’ll find outside. Hidden Hanoi at its finest! The statue itself is an interesting reminder of the city’s past, and a wonderful example of the old living alongside the new.
Visit the square either at dawn or dusk. It’s then when the park comes alive with local people running, walking, taking part in aerobics classes, or catching up with friends. Just after dark, you’ll likely see elderly men playing Chinese chess, drinking a beer, or simply taking in the atmosphere themselves. Catch Lenin Square at the right time and there’s a contemplative yet joyful vibe that’s not to be missed.
Location: 28A Dien Bien Phu, Dien Ban
Opening hours: Open 24 hours
Tourist sites nearby: The park is just a short walk from Hoa Lo Prison (where John McCain spent parts of his five and a half years as a POW), and the Imperial Citadel.
Binh Minh Jazz Club: An intimate music venue with an old-school vibe
Wondering what to do in Hanoi for a different kind of night out? Look no further than Binh Minh Jazz Club, an unexpected treasure even for non-jazz lovers. Found in Hanoi’s French Quarter, the vibe is common to the kind of jazz clubs one can find in London’s Soho or New Orleans. The club dates back over 20 years, opened by local saxophonist Quyen Van Minh. You’ll likely get the chance to see him in action, alongside local musicians and visitors from overseas.
Even if jazz isn’t your thing, the ambiance you’ll find at Binh Minh makes it well worth the trip. Cozy and intimate, it’s a great place to go and eat some fabulous local food and imbibe a cocktail or two. There’s no extra charge for the music, and you’ll soon wonder how such a venue can go undiscovered by the tourist market for so long!
Location: 1 Trang Tien, Hoan Kiem
Opening hours: Live music from 9 pm to 11:30pm; cafe from 8 am
Official website: https://minhjazzvietnam.com/
Tourist sites nearby: Visit after a stroll around the French Quarter, or Ho Guom Lake.
B-52 bomber plane remains: For the history buffs
Remnants from the American War can be found across Vietnam but there are few as sobering as this one. The remains of a B-52 bomber plane sits in Huu Tiep Lake, the very spot where it fell after being shot down in 1972. A ceasefire would follow a year later.
The lake is a walk away from Hanoi’s busiest streets in a residential area named Ngoc Ha. Everything else in the neighborhood continues as normal, and the modern houses close by are a sign that much of the area was rebuilt following the end of the war.
The B-52 wreckage is rarely visited by tourists for obvious reasons. But it’s an intriguing place to visit for anyone interested in history. The contrast between the violence of the past in a present-day peaceful area is a rare thing to witness anywhere in the world.
Location: Huu Tiep Lake, Ngo 55, Hoang Hoa Tham, Ngoc Ho, Ba Đình
Opening hours: Open 24 hours
Tourist sites nearby: The site is a short stroll from Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum.
We hope you enjoy your visit to Hanoi and make sure you seek out these hidden gems on your adventure! Check out our ultimate Vietnamese food guide too so you can find the best bites wherever you travel. And keep up to date with COVID-19 travel restrictions with our handy guide.