How do locals have fun? Where do they go? Where do they eat and drink? We’ve made an attempt to uncover it. Hanoi has plenty of attractions and activities but many of them are crowded with tourists. We went out to find the hidden gems.
Hanoi is the second largest city in Vietnam, after Saigon (HCMC), with almost 8 million people. The city is a popular destination with its rich history and cultural sites. It is also a popular base for people traveling Northern Vietnam due to its proximity to major tourist destination such as Halong Bay, Ninh Binh and Sapa.
You usually don’t find the locals in the Hanoi Hilton, Train Street, Obama Bun Cha or St. Joseph Cathedral. But you do see them strolling around Hoàn Kiếm Lake and Old Quarter in early mornings, playing games and doing exercises. Search out the local places as there you will find the kindest people in the world that will welcome you to share a meal or drink, beer or tea.
- Check out our Private Hanoi Food Tour with Ngat
The most local and authentic Vietnamese experience is being invited to a Vietnamese gathering or party. It doesn’t matter if it’s the 2 year old cousin’s birthday, wedding or just Sunday lunch, you’re bound to have fun. To sit on the floor in a circle enjoying local dishes neatly lined up in the middle. Cheering Hanoi Beer or Saigon Special. Or better yet, taking shots of homemade rice wine while shouting một, hai, ba, vô! Which is the Vietnamese equivalent of cheers.
The best dry chicken noodles are at Phở Hạnh. The place might not look like much from the outside but it’s always busy. Be prepared to wait in a queue for a table. Don’t let the greasy and unsanitary corridor discourage you. Once you get inside it won’t be any more sanitary but the food is excellent and very cheap.
Location: 65A Lãn Ông, Hàng Bồ, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội
Bia Hơi Hải Xồm
Where to locals love to drink? Bia Hơi Hải Xồm. They have several outlets throughout the city. This is where people go after work to have cheap beers and good food with their colleagues well into the night. Expect the beer to be served in glass with ice and all Vietnamese dishes.
Be prepare, it often get very loud with hundreds of people cheering at once.
Long Biên Market
If you think Hanoi is busy and chaotic, wait until you visit Long Biên market. It is busy, chaotic, dirty and smelly. But there is something very charming about it. The wholesale fruit market is where all the street vendors and restaurant owners go in the early morning to get fruits and vegetables for the day. Just don’t be in their way, as they are in a hurry to get the best deals! You can also find things such as meat, fish, spices and flowers but in less quantity.
The market starts as early as 01:00am and ends around 06:00am. You should try to be there no later than 03:00-04:00am to get the market craze. After you have enough of the high-energy market, you can witness the sunrise from the historic Long Biên bridge which was built by the French in 1902.
The city of Hanoi plans to close the market in coming years, so hurry before Vietnam’s busiest market closes.
Location: Số 189 Hồng Hà, Phúc xá, Ba Đình, Hà Nội. Close to the river edge next to the Long Bien Bridge and Yên Phụ Road
- Check out our post on Top 10 Markets in Saigon
Quảng Bá Flower Market
Quảng Bá market is a must visit place when in Hanoi for those passionate about flowers. The market is located near the expat area in Tây Hồ district. Flowers get shipped daily from all over Vietnam. Vendors will get there as early as 01:00am to set up and get the high selling spots to put up their stalls. You can get large bundles of freshly cut roses for as little as VNS 25,000.
The best time to visit Quảng Bá market is (very) early morning to witness the wholesale action, and to get a better price. It starts getting busy around 02:00am until 06:00am. It gets busy again in the afternoon but the prices will be higher than early morning and there will be less variety of flowers.
Location: 236 Âu Cơ, Quảng An, Tây Hồ, Hà Nội.
Đồng Xuân Market
Đồng Xuân Market is another chaotic Hanoi market. Located in the center of Hoàn Kiếm district, near Old Quarter, the 3 floor building hosts vendors selling clothes, fabrics, shoes, hardware, tools and souvenirs. And if you need luggage for all the extra stuff you bought, Đồng Xuân Market is the place to find it. Make sure to bargain!
Location: Đồng Xuân, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội.
Thăng Long Imperial Citadel
Hanoi is rich is history and there are countless historical sites throughout the city, but fewer of more importance than the Thăng Long Imperial Citadel, often called the Hanoi Citadel. The Lý Dynasty originally built the citadel in 10th century on a top of a Chinese fortress dating 300 years earlier. The area continued to be built up by later dynasties only to be destroyed by the French Colonialists in late 1800s and early 1900s.
When the Vietnamese army took over Hanoi, the Thăng Long Imperial Citadel became headquarters of the Ministry of Defense.
Excavation of the area didn’t begin until 21st century and continues until today. The UNESCO World Heritage Site citadel is now open to the public. It will cost VND 30,000 for entrance fee with no fee charged for 15 years old and younger.
Location: 19C Hoàng Diệu, Quán Thánh, Ba Đình, Hà Nội.
- Check out our post on Citadels of Vietnam
Cheering Beer Collection
The young people in Vietnam love beer clubs. For those of us that are a bit too old for the loud clubs, Cheering is an excellent bridge. They have a wide range of drinks and a great food menu. Cheering is located in the French Quarter close to the iconic Metropole Sofitel Hotel and the Opera House.
Location: 2 Lý Thường Kiệt, Phan Chu Trinh, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội