Being the capital of Vietnam for more than a thousand years, including 57 years colonized by the French (from 1888 to 1945), Hanoi offers a limitless variety of places to see from old aged religious temples to historical landmarks. With so many unique sightseeing tours and great attractive sites available, it is really a challenge to decide what to see and what to do in Hanoi. Here is our choice for the best 5 places to see in Hanoi.


1. Presidential Palace


The Presidential Palace, where you can see Ho Chi Minh in his Mausoleum and his houses in the garden, ranks number one on our list of best places to see in Hanoi. No visit is complete without seeing the Presidential Palace, which is locating on the independent square.



Passed away in 1969, almost 6 years before the end of the war, President Ho Chi Minh wanted a simple cremation. However, a monumental marble edifice was constructed from materials gathered from all over Vietnam between 1973 and 1975. Since then visitors, mostly Vietnamese, are coming to see the embalmed body of their president lying in a clear glass case. Unlike Mao’s Mausoleum in China or Lenin’s in Russia, people in Vietnam really respect Ho Chi Minh as a greatly modest leader, the queue to his mausoleum usually snakes for several hundred meters.


The walking path from the mausoleum leads to the garden highlighted with French’s yellow buildings, it’s where you can see the Presidential Palace – the working office for current president, and Ho Chi Minh’s houses by the fish pond. The walking in this beautiful setting gives you a good look to his simple life, which explains pretty much of why he remains a big place in people’s heart.

  • All persons and property are subject to search.
  • Large bags, food (even unopened) and drinks (including water) are not allowed inside the mausoleum.
  • All weapons-like items are prohibited, including: knives or sharp objects (including tools), pepper spray and mace.
  • The mausoleum (where the body is kept) is closed on Monday and Friday, in September and October for preservation.
  • Rules regarding dress and behavior are strictly enforced by guards, long shirt/blouse is required (long enough to cover shoulders, legs), no shorts or miniskirts are allowed. Visitors must be silent, and walk in two lines. Hands must not be in pockets, nor arms crossed. Smoking, photography, and videotaping are not permitted anywhere inside the mausoleum.


2. Hanoi Hilton Prison


Locating near the French Quarter, this French built prison is more well-known as Hanoi Hilton, a nickname given to Hoa Lo Prison by American who were captured and kept here between 1964 and 1973.



The prison was built in 1896 by the French to imprison Vietnamese, particularly political prisoners uprising for independence, who were often subject to torture and execution. With the subhuman conditions, the prison is a symbol of colonialist exploitation and of the bitterness of the Vietnamese towards the French.


The prison was then used by North Vietnam to keep American pilots arrested between 1964 and 1973, famous American prisoner including John McCain and Pete Peterson – first American ambassador to Vietnam in 1997.


A visit to Hanoi Hilton, which now become a museum chronicling the use of the site by both the French and North Vietnam, is our 2nd in the 5 best places to see in Hanoi – which we believe that you’ll learn a lot about the wars.


3. Temple of Literature


This is one of the most popular tourist attractions, and the most revered temple complex in Hanoi. This tranquil and sprawling Temple of Literature consist of the Confucius worshipping place, and Vietnam’s first imperial school - which is now known as the country’s first university. The construction of those two places dates back to 1070, and 1076.



The temple is one of the few remnants of the 11th century, retaining a strong sense of harmony despite reconstruction and embellishment over the 9 hundred years. A visit to the Temple of Literature offers you a rich history and culture of the city, especially how the past affects the future.


4. Tran Quoc Pagoda


Locating on a charming island in the West Lake, this Buddhist pagoda offers you a peaceful view that you won’t get anywhere else in the city.



Tran Quoc Pagoda is considered as the oldest Buddist pagoda in the city, the construction of the pagoda was originally in 544 AD, thus giving the pagoda an age of more thang 1450 years. According to the city’s historians, the pagoda was named Khai Quoc, literally Nation Founding, and built on the shore of the Red River. The pagoda was then relocated to the current location - the Golden Fish island, following the river encroachment in 1615.


Most of the pagoda was restored in the 17th century. You’ll see many lotus flower statues in the pagoda, which symbolize purity of the mind, body and speech. In Vietnamese culture, the lotus flower also symbolizes enlightenment and achievement. With its harmonious architecture taking advantage of the watery landscape, Tran Quoc pagoda is truly a picturesque attraction. The sunset views from the temple grounds are renowned.


5. Museum of Ethology


The Museum of Ethnology is one of the largest and most renowned museums in Vietnam, it ranks high in our list of best places to see in Hanoi. This Hanoi icon is host to thousands objects related to 54 ethnic groups living in Vietnam, items on display vary from clothes, weapon, working tools, shaman masks, and old houses – which bought from ethnic people and rebuilt on the ground of the museum. This venue is appealing to guests of all ages, and is a great choice for families. It’s essential for those who are heading to the northeast or northwest of Hanoi.



I think the best part of the museum is its lovely green garden, where you’ll find well-crafted examples of 10 traditional houses in ethnic minority regions. Most of the houses on display was rebuilt in 1997 after the museum bought them from the owners. The most impressive of all is the delightful replica of a Giarai tomb, which is full of cheerful, rather well-endowed, fertility symbols carved from wood. You can’t miss the Bahnar communal house with its impossibly high roof and creaking bamboo floor, a stunning piece of work with nary a nail used in its construction. 


By Buffalo Joe