Must-Do in Hanoi: 8 Fascinating Experiences You Should Try Once

24 Jun, 2024 | Travel Blog

Discover the delights of Hanoi Train Street, Old Quarter nightclubs and more in our list of the best things to do in Hanoi.

Hanoi is Vietnam’s capital city, with a remarkable history, culture and age-old ruins. However, the other side of Hanoi also shows tourists its dynamic beauty and creativity. Here are 8 fun and unique experiences that take you to the Old Quarter and beyond. 

1. Discover Hanoi Train Street

Among the most striking and odd streets you will explore in any city in the world is the famous Train Street in Hanoi. Located in the Old Quarter, this narrow street has train tracks running down the middle of it. The French constructed these tracks in 1902 between Phung Hung Street and Le Duan Street. 

These are not unused tracks, despite being over a century old; trains pass through the street throughout the day and night. You can reach them most easily at the tracks’ intersections between Dien Bien Phu, Nguyen Khuyen, Tran Phu, Kham Thien, and Phuong Mai streets. 

At present, the homes and cafes that line Hanoi Train Street are just feet away from the tracks (inches, in some spots). It is hard to believe that people live safely this close to the tracks, but the locals are well-practiced in listening for the train and being off the tracks when it arrives.

As you are not a local, you may not catch the signs of an oncoming train as easily as the locals do. Be sure to pay attention to your environment while you are exploring so that you do not get caught off-guard by the train. Stay well back when it happens.

Although Train Street is always open to visitors, we recommend you visit at night so you can enjoy the light from the train as well as the colorful paper lanterns that hang over the street.

2. Try peculiar Hanoi street food 

Another must-do in Hanoi is to try the wide range of street foods available in popular markets and tourist areas. In fact, this is your opportunity to taste some foods that would probably be considered quite unusual where you come from.

While pho is the pretty “safe” option, another dish of Hanoi that challenges your pallet is 'bun dau mam tom'. It consists of a combination of rice vermicelli, tofu and (here comes the adventure) fermented shrimp paste sauce. The flavor profile of the shrimp paste sauce can be described as “umami.” It is pretty strong, but you will probably love it if you are fine after the first bite.

Another popular street food in Hanoi is fertilized duck egg. This is exactly what it sounds like—a cooked duck embryo in an egg. If cooked duck embryos are not your thing, you may be more intrigued by roasted silkworm pupae, which are eaten fried with fish sauce.

During the second lunar month of the calendar, another street food you can indulge in is the seasonal red jellyfish, which may be served with veggies, tofu, copra or shrimp paste. Its bold color and distinctive taste and flavor make it an unforgettable snack while exploring the streets of Hanoi.

3. Party at a nightclub in the Old Quarter 

For some late-night partying, head to the Old Quarter, where the nightclubs are packed with tourists and locals. Nightclubs in a lot of other parts of Hanoi can be a bit dead on weeknights, but the Old Quarter’s clubs are usually just as wild as they are on the weekends. 1900 Club Hanoi and The Opera Night Club are a couple of examples.

(Photos: 1900)

If you just want to relax with a drink after hitting the dance floor, there are a lot of bars and lounges also scattered throughout the Old Quarter, such as O2O Cocktail Bar, Factory 47 and the Binh Minh Jazz Club. 

4. Try Pho Cocktail inside one of the best pubs in the Old Quarter

Speaking of the bars and pubs of the Old Quarter, what should you try there? While there are countless exciting things you can order, we recommend a Pho Cocktail. 

This is the perfect item if you are not sure whether you are hankering for a savory meal or a boozy beverage. This distinctly Vietnamese cocktail is the genius invention of a bartender named Phan Tien Tiep, who entered it into the Diageo World Class cocktail competition in 2012.

The cocktail is a beverage, and not a soup. It does not contain meat or broth. But the drink is seasoned with the same spices that you find in pho dishes. These include cinnamon, cardamom and star anise. The other ingredients include gin, triple sec and lime juice for a fresh flavor. Sometimes, a bartender may also add a little fish sauce and Sriracha sauce. 

What’s nice is that there are not a whole lot of ingredients. So, if you fall in love with this drink on your trip, you can probably learn to replicate it at home. Still, there is nothing quite like having it in an actual bar in Hanoi.

5. Cross the road without panicking

Next in our list of things to do in Hanoi is a simple one: just learn to cross the road without panicking! If you have not yet been to Hanoi, this might sound like a weird one. But once you arrive, you will understand what it means. The traffic in Hanoi can be absolutely crazy.

The good news is that crossing the street in Hanoi isn’t much different from crossing it anywhere else in principle. You just need to wait for a good opening, and go for it. It just can be harder to find that opening. One tip is to keep in mind that motorbike riders are often more able to adjust for you than buses or cars. 

It is also smart to try and walk at a steady pace. If you abruptly speed up, slow down, or veer your course, you are more likely to throw drivers or other pedestrians off. 

Try watching the locals for a bit. See what techniques they use, and try to get a feel for the “flow” of pedestrians. Then, start following them across, and do what they do. 

6. Take a road trip to BaVi National Park

If you get tired of the crowds of Hanoi and want a break, take a jaunt to BaVi National Park, 30 miles to the west. Over 26,000 acres of tropical mountain rainforest await you, making this another of the best things to do in Hanoi. They are home to 2,181 species of plants, along with hundreds of different species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians.

(Photo: Ba Vi National Park) 

In addition to cloud forests, mountain peaks, and a diverse ecosystem, the park boasts beautiful temples such as Trung Temple, Thuong Temple and Ha Temple. The ruins of an overgrown French church also can be found in the rainforest here. And if you want to discover even more beautiful species of plants that would not otherwise thrive here, there is a large domed greenhouse near the entrance with around 1,200 types of cacti.

To reach Ba Vi National Park from Hanoi, take an hour-long drive by bus, taxi or motorbike.

7. Learn how to ride a motorbike on the street

A motorbike is one of the most convenient and flexible ways to get around to all the things to do in Hanoi and the surrounding area. There are some motorbike rental companies in the city that offer lessons, though many tourists simply opt to learn on their own. If you do, be sure to practice on the less crowded streets before you head out onto the super busy ones.

The traffic in the city will seem intimidating at first. But the more you watch it, the more you will start to see it is much slower and more orderly than it first appears. You can think of it almost like a river or a stream that you move slowly in, through and out of. 

A cheap motorbike rental for a day can cost anywhere from 100,000 VND to 300,000 VND, which is equivalent to around $4.3-13 USD. If you go for a more expensive and powerful motorbike, you can rent one for around 600,000 VND, or 26 USD. 

8. Discover hidden houses with unique architecture 

If you are passionate about architecture and history, you will love exploring the French Quarter. This neighborhood in Hanoi is famous for its 1930s and 1940s historical homes. These homes were designed by Vietnamese architects who studied at the prestigious École Supérieure de Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine. 

Exotic Voyages offers a Signature Experience tour that takes you through the hidden streets far enough from the Old Quarter's chaos. During the 2.5-hour tour, your guide, a renowned Canadian storyteller, will teach you about the histories and designs of the houses, giving you insights into a part of Hanoi that many travelers overlook. 

Discover All the Best Things to Do in Hanoi

While we have recommended quite a few exciting must-do in Hanoi activities in this post, the best Hanoi trip is one that is personalized. Contact Exotic Voyages for help designing your ultimate vacation in Hanoi.

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