First Time In Hanoi: Ultimate Travel & Local Guide

Hanoi Survival Guide for First-time Comers

Rachel Tran
Rachel Tran | Published: November 1, 2019

Hanoi, the more than one-thousand-year-old capital of Vietnam, is the biggest political-cultural center of the country experiencing a lot of ups and downs in history. This place is a perfect combination of the ancient and poetic beauty of an old city with almost intact historical remains and the vibrant beauty of a developing city. Yearly, millions of tourists go sightseeing and explore Hanoi, where they can find both the vibrant relaxing places and peaceful feeling in the soul.

Hanoi is not only famous for plenty of worth-visiting destinations but it is also renowned for the hospitality of local people. Therefore, it will be by far more exciting when you schedule by yourself to discover the beauty of this place, immerse yourself in the lifestyle of people here to understand them and find the true beauty of this land. 

To make the best plan for a memorable trip, read this handy local guide for Hanoi first-timers so you can get useful tips and tricks for your first time in Hanoi.

How to Transfer from Noi Bai Airport to Hanoi Center? 

For the first time in Hanoi, you might meet difficulties in transportation. First of all, it is how to transfer from Noi Bai airport to Hanoi center. To keep your trip smoothly, read some ways below to choose the most suitable one for you.

1. Airport Shuttle Bus

The airport shuttle bus is an accompanied service of airline companies. At present, the three biggest airline companies in Vietnam including Vietnam Airlines, Jetstar Pacific and Vietjet Air all have this service. You can ask the air hostess to know where to catch the shuttle bus in the domestic terminal area.

However, you might have to wait until the bus is full before it departs and the shuttle bus will only stop at fixed bus stops. After that, you might have to book a taxi or walk on foot to your hotel if it is close. The service fee varies by airline companies and you can find this information on the airline’s website or ask the ticket selling agency directly.

2. Public Bus

There are some bus routes going from Noi Bai airport to the city center such as Bus No.7, Bus NB01, Bus NB02, Bus NB03, and Bus No.86. Honestly, it is not really suitable for tourists to go to Hanoi city center because of some disadvantages. 

First, like the airport shuttle bus, the public bus will only stop at fixed bus stations and it is often crowded with people so you might have to give seats to the elderly, pregnant women and young children and stand throughout the route. Second, it often takes a lot of time to go by public bus especially in rush hour. Moreover, if you fly at night, you can’t catch the public bus because it starts at 05:00 am and ends at 09:30 pm. 

However, this transportation is much cheaper than the others, from 7.000 VND to 35.000 VND per route. And the public bus is considered as a specialty of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City only, so it is still worth trying once. You can find detailed information about each bus station on each bus route on the website: http://timbuyt.vn. The last note for those who choose this transportation to get around Hanoi is to pay attention to personal belongings.

  • Bus No.7 

Price: 7.000 VND per turn

Route: From T2 international gate of Noi Bai airport to the bus station in Cau Giay street in front of the University of Transport and Communications 

  • Bus NB01 

Price: 9.000 VND per turn

Route: from T2 international gate of NoibBai airport to the bus station at Dao Tan street near Daewoo hotel 

  • Bus NB02 

Price: 9.000 VND per turn

Route: from T2 international gate of Noi Bai airport to Time City New urban zone

  • Bus NB03

Price: 9.000 VND per turn

Route: From T2 international gate of Noi Bai airport to Nuoc Ngam bus station

  • Bus No.86

Price: 30.000 VND per turn

Route: From T2 international gate of No Bai airport to Hanoi station

3. Taxi

Taxi is probably the most convenient means of transportation if your hotel is not on the big main streets in Hanoi, especially in case you fly at night. On the way to get out of the exit gate of the arrival area, you will receive immediately many invitations of the drivers at different prices. To avoid paying the taxi fee for more than common, pay attention to these notes. 

First, you should go by taxi of big taxi companies in Vietnam. Normally, outside of the taxi is the name and phone number to contact the company, which you can search on the Internet. It is safer and the levels of the fee are public on their website. The cost is different according to the distance and it commonly costs about 330.000 VND (15.5$) to get to the center of Hanoi. 

Now, there are some online taxi booking applications such as Grab, GoViet or Bee. You only need to download this App on the smartphone and use it to book a taxi, these apps will send you the name of the driver, license plate, the cost according to the distance but it is surely cheaper than the traditional taxi.

Getting around Hanoi 

There are a lot of historical attractions, famous restaurants, local traditional markets for tourists to discover for the first time in Hanoi.

Luckily, these attractions are quite close to each other and focus on some areas such as the Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem Lake, the West Lake and so on. Therefore, tourists can choose easily some types of transportation to go sightseeing in Hanoi in a convenient way.

1. Walking

First, which transportation you choose depends on what the distance from your hotel to the destinations is. Walking seems suitable for visitors staying at hotels near the Old Quarter or Hoan Hoan Kiem Lake. From the hotel, tourists can walk to visit thousand-year-old streets in the Old Quarter and go around Hoan Kiem Lake because two destinations are nearby together and the feature of the street in the Old Quarter is small and quite complex to drive a motorbike.

Besides, it seems more exciting to visit this area on foot than any other vehicle since each corner there contains historical value and the beauty of old Hanoi, which tourists are only able to feel when walking slowly to watch each street.

2. Cyclo

Cyclo is another worth-trying vehicle for tourists who want to visit the Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem Lake and surrounding streets. Cyclo is a popular vehicle in the French colonial period in Vietnam that can carry two people.

Today, it is used in tourism as a specialty of the city and visitors can easily hire a cyclo near the statue area of King Ly Thai To next to Hoan Kiem Lake to visit streets in the center of the city. The driver will drive slowly enough for you to watch the most beautiful streets in Hanoi. If you are lucky, you can meet a nice driver who will introduce the history of each street, each attraction, delicious restaurants, and fun destinations. The cost of hiring a cyclo is paid by the hour, about 100.000 VND (5$) per hour. 

3. Taxi

For a little farther distance, a taxi is such a safe and convenient option for tourists. There are some notes for visitors in the first time in Hanoi.

First, you had better take a taxi in some reputable taxi companies instead of taking any taxi that you meet on your way. You can call the switchboard of these companies to get a taxi sent to your location, check the price level on their website and all these taxis have meters to measure price according to the distance while the route is managed by the management center in the office.

Second, language is a considerable problem that you should pay attention to. There are not many drivers speaking and listening to English well so it is better to write down the address you want to go and give the driver. 

Some reputable taxi companies you can contact:

  • Mai Linh Taxi: +84 43 861 6161
  • Taxi CP: +84 43 826 2626
  • 52 Taxi: +84 43 852 5252
  • Hanoi Taxi: +84 43 853 5353

Normally, the taxi fee is between 40.000 VND and 60.000 VND to move from one destination to others in Hanoi. Besides the traditional taxi companies, there are two technological taxi companies in Hanoi now including Grab and Bee. You can use their applications (Grab and Bee) on your smartphone to book a taxi at a cheaper price than traditional taxi companies.

4. Motorbike (Xe om)

Traveling by motorbike is a cheap and convenient way of getting around Hanoi. Tourists can easily catch a motorbike near hotels or bus stations and the cost is cheaper than going by taxi at the same distance. However, a note for who first goes by motorbike is you ought to ask price in advance to decide whether to go or not.

Normally, it costs 10.000 VND per kilometre and cheaper in next kilometres. Another way to avoid being forced to pay high price is using an online motorbike booking app on your smartphone such as Grab, Goviet, Bee. On these apps, you can book a motorbike in some minutes, check the distance between destinations, the cost and there are usually coupon codes for the users.

5. Public bus

In Hanoi, people use public buses instead of a motorbike or car to go anywhere they want in the city because of its convenience. At the moment, there is always at least a bus route passing each tourism destination so it is possible for tourists to choose this transport to move. Except from taking a lot of time, traveling by public bus has many benefits. First, it is the safest and cheapest choice to go around Hanoi only about 7.000 VND ~ 9.000 VND per turn. Second, there are some bus routes that you will have chances to see many beautiful streets such as Bus no 9, 50, 14, 01, 02 and so on. To check which bus route passes your destination, you can use Google Map or a mobile App called timbuyut.vn to find the best bus route for your itinerary and how long the bus will arrive at the bus station.

The Weather in Hanoi 

Although Vietnam is a country in the tropical area, there are still four seasons in the North and the winter and the summer are even said to be more severe than other countries in Southeast Asia. 

In the spring (from January to March), it is cold and wet with high humidity in Hanoi. There often happens continuous rains lasting in some days even in a week. The rain in the spring is not heavy, just light but it is enough to make people feel much colder and it is not really suitable for tourists to visit Hanoi at this time. However, the spring is the period when there are important festivals in a year especially Lunar New Year.

Different from the spring, the weather in the Summer (from April to June) is very hot with sudden heavy rains in the afternoon. The heat of Hanoi in the summer is not similar to other countries, it is said to be like the feeling when our skin is burned under the fire. However, in this season, there are many types of tropical fruit.

It is said that the weather in Hanoi is nicest in the autumn (from July to September). It rarely rains at this time, the weather is cool and the humidity is not too low. Therefore, it is time tourists feel the most pleasant to visit Hanoi. The last one is the winter, the most severe season in a year. The temperature is about 10 – 19 degrees in the delta and under 10 degrees in the mountain area. It doesn’t rain in the winter but because of the northeast’s wind, it becomes really very cold.  

Best Time to Visit Hanoi

Each season in Hanoi has a unique beauty with characteristics, many specialties, and traditional festivals. The best time to visit Hanoi is said to be in the autumn when the weather is the most pleasant. So beautiful the fall in Hanoi is that it often comes into poems and music. In the fall, the temperature is only about 25 – 28 degrees, the weather is cool, and there is rarely rain at this time. 

On the streets, there are rows of milk flowers praised as one of the symbols of Hanoi’s autumn with a passionate aroma. There is a Mid-Autumn festival, a big festival of Vietnamese people, in which people decorate streets with colorful lanterns and many activities for children happen. 

Also, there are many Hanoi specialties in the autumn such as Com, a Vietnamese traditional dish made of sticky rice; Moon cake, a traditional cake in the Mid-Autumn festival; and guava, delicious tropical fruit and so on.

>> Check Out Our Day Trip to Discover an Elegant Hobby of Hanoians!

10 Things to Do in Hanoi for First-time Comers

1. Hire a Scooter to Get around West Lake

West Lake is the biggest lake and a super-beautiful destination in Hanoi. West Lake is not so noisy as Hoan Kiem Lake, another famous lake in Hanoi, but it makes a great impression on visitors by its peaceful and mysterious beauty. Its perimeter is 18 kilometers long and the acreage is approximately as large as Cau Giay district.

Around the lake are many ancient pagodas, French-style villas, pretty coffee shops, delicious restaurants and other exciting destinations for tourists to discover. Therefore, it is wonderful for travelers to hire a scooter to get around the lake and stop anywhere you want to take a view of the city. The hiring fee is about 50.000 per day not including fuel and it is easy to find a scooter hiring store near West Lake on the Internet.

2. Explore the Old Quarter

Hanoi Old Quarter is among the best places to visit in Hanoi for first-timers. In the past, the Old Quarter including 36 streets located near Hoan Kiem lake was the most bustling area in the old capital where each street only sold a kind of good corresponding to its name.

Nowadays, it is the most crowded area with many foreign visitors and full of stores, restaurants, and hotels. Although people have sold many other types of goods on the same streets, tourists still find here famous stores, restaurants with traditional specialties of Hanoi. If having chances to explore in the Old Quarter, you should come by to try some specialties such as Bun Cha Hang Quat, Cha Ca La Vong, Pho Bat Dan, Xoi Xeo Hang Bai, and so on.   

3. Visit and Shop at Hanoi Night Weekend Market

Hanoi night weekend market, stretching from Hang Dao street to Dong Xuan Market is an outdoor market appearing since Hanoi’s walking street around Hoan Kiem Lake was opened. It takes about 5 – 10 minutes to walk from Hoan Kiem Lake to the market. This market is only opened at night at about 7:00 pm till late from Friday to Sunday.

This place specializes in selling souvenirs, street foods, Vietnamese traditional food, and clothes where you can find pretty souvenirs to buy as presents. As it is always crowded here, pay attention to your belongings, and try to put the price down as much as possible because sellers always talk higher price than normal.

4. Walk around Hoan Kiem Lake

Hoan Kiem Lake is one of the famous symbols of Hanoi, where there are often big events, festivals happening, where people often choose to gather at the weekend. The perimeter of Hoan Kiem lake is only about 2,7 kilometers long so tourists can choose to walk around the lake to see the beauty of the scene here.

Around the lake are plenty of old trees and flower gardens; therefore’ the atmosphere is always fresh and cool. Besides, on the lake are Thap Rua, Ngoc Son temple and The Huc bridge, three famous historical destinations in Hanoi attracting many visitors yearly.

On normal days, this place is quite peaceful, suitable for relaxing since, at these streets around here are not stores, houses or apartments. Almost are government buildings, luxurious hotels, restaurants, a post office, a shopping mall, a square. At the weekend, the streets around Hoan Kiem lake also become a bustling walking street with exciting outdoor activities, featured street foods and so on.

5. Eat Hanoi Street Food

Eating Hanoi street food will be a fun culinary experience for tourists in the first time in Hanoi. When it comes to Hanoi street food, we must mention colorful delicious dishes such as deep-fried cake, honey grilled quail, fresh beers, grilled pork sausage, fruit beams and so on. These dishes are not seasonal dishes, visitors can find it easily anywhere in Hanoi at the affordable price, about 10.000VND ~35.000VND per dish.

6. Visit the Temple of Literature

The first university in Vietnam is the Temple of Literature, which was constructed in the Ly dynasty, in about the eleventh century. This construction is an outstanding representative of the architecture style in Vietnam in the feudal period with one-floor wooden houses, large gardens, low stone walls, lotus ponds. Although this place is surrounded by noisy and crowded streets at present, the atmosphere here is quite quiet due to the fact that the campus has many old trees.

After severe wars, the Temple of Literature is not intact as the beginning but still remains its ancient beauty. Nowadays, it is only opened for the purpose of tourism. The entrance fee is 30.000 VND a person to view all the Temple of Literature.

7. Watch a Water Puppet Show

Each culture in the world all has its significant unique festivals, attractions that nowhere to be found. And for Vietnam, the water puppetry is one of the most unique traditional art forms that still exist until now. For the first time in Hanoi, watching a water puppet show is a must-do thing for every tourist because it is really exciting and I am sure that it will live up to your expectations.

Like what it sounds “water puppet show”, it is a show in which the actors or actresses are puppets controlled by artists behind the stage, the stage is on the water. In each show, the Vietnamese fairy tales, folk tales, legends are performed smoothly and lively through puppets combined with the inspirational voice of the narrator. It will be an unforgettable memory for every tourist.

>> Join with Us at Behind the Scene of Water Puppet Show in Hanoi!

8. Enjoy Vietnamese Coffee (especially Egg Coffee in Hanoi)

Although coffee was not a drink originally coming from Vietnam, the locals have developed it in their own way to make Vietnamese coffee become special and mentioned as a unique coffee type in the world. Besides traditional coffee types, in Vietnam, people have created some strange coffees such as yogurt coffee, coffee smoothie, especially egg coffee which is really famous and popular with foreign guests. For the first time in Hanoi, tourists ought to try this special drink with delicious flavor. Its flavor is a combination of the greasy taste of whipped egg yolk, the sweet taste of condensed milk and the typical taste of the coffee to create a memorable experience.

Visitors can try the tastiest cups of egg coffee at some coffee shops in Old Quarter such as Giang Cafe (39 Nguyen Huu Huan, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi), Cafe Dinh (13 Dinh Tien Hoang, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi), Leu Coffee (1A Ta Hien, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi), etc at the price from 20.000 VND to 40.000 a cup.

9. Drink Beer at Bia Hoi Corner (Ta Hien)

Bia Hoi Corner from the beginning of Ta Hien Street to the intersection of Ta Hien Street and Luong Ngoc Quyen Street is the most vibrant area in Hanoi attracting a lot of tourists with a specialty, fresh beer. Coming here, tourists can not only drink delicious glasses of fresh beer, eat yummy street food, but also immerse themselves in a relaxing atmosphere here. 

10. Explore Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex and its Surroundings

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex includes Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, a stilt house, a fish pond, and the presidential palace. To commemorate the great merits of Uncle Ho, when he passed away in 1945, the Vietnamese proceeded to construct Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum near where Uncle Ho lived and worked in the last year in his life.

Around Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex, there are some renowned Hanoi tourist sites, including Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, Long Bien Bridge, and One Pillar Pagoda connecting together by super-beautiful streets with rows of old trees that are always green around the year. Nowadays, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex and its surroundings become a well-known historical destination near the city center attracting many travelers to come and give their respect to Uncle Ho.

Vietnamese Massage 

Vietnamese Massage or “Tam Quat” is a traditional Vietnamese massage technique to help stimulate blood circulation by clapping and punching on the treatment areas. It removes pain by impacting directly on painful parts of the body to help you relax. Although it seems rough to those who are unfamiliar, it is really soothing and relaxing. 

Nowadays, tourists can try Vietnamese massage service at any spas, but you can not find it on the service menu because the spas usually combine it with other massage techniques from other countries as China, Thailand, Japan to create different types of body massage like hot stone massage, cupping therapy, four-handed massage and so on. The price is also affordable about 100.000 VND ~ 200.000 VND according to the type of massage.

Visa on Arrival (VOA) 

Vietnam visa on arrival or Vietnam landing visa or Evisa is a type of visa that becomes popular with the foreign to enter Vietnam with the purpose of business or tourism because of its convenience. You needn’t send your passport to the Vietnamese Embassy in your country, no document needed, it is fast, reliable and easy to apply.

Besides, you will receive a visa stamp and visa sticker at the Vietnam international airport in Hanoi Capital, Da Nang City, Ho Chi Minh City. What you need to do is to fill in an online application form whose link you can find on the Vietnam embassy’s website. The fee is about 25$ ~ 95$ according to how long you apply to stay in Vietnam.

After about 7 working days, you will receive a visa approval letter to get a visa stamp and visa sticker at the airport. Below is the detailed reference link about how visa on arrival works:

Where to Try the Best Coffee in Hanoi?

Coffee became a familiar drink for Vietnamese people a long time ago. In Hanoi, you find it easily in coffee shops on any street with fun names and unique decorations. However, there are some recommended coffee shops where you can try the best coffee for the first time in Hanoi.

  • Giang Cafe: A coffee shop at 39 Nguyen Huu Huan street, Hoan Kiem district, is very famous for egg coffee with unforgettable delicious taste.
  • Cafe Pho Co: 11 Hang Gai street, Hang Bo ward, Hoan Kiem
  • Cafe Cho: 16 Ngo Cau Go, Hang Bac 
  • Song Sanh and Matca Gallery: 48 Ngoc Ha, Ba Dinh
  • Nola Cafe: 89 Ma May street, Hang Buom ward, Hoan Kiem
  • Bluebirds’ Nest: 13, 19 Dang Dung street, Quan Thanh ward, Ba Dinh
  • The Note Coffee Hanoi: 64 Luong Van Can street, Hang Trong ward, Hoan Kiem
  • Hanoi Social Club: 6 Ngo Hoi Vu street, Hang Bong ward, Hoan Kiem
  • Lifted Coffee & Brunch: 101 Hang Ga street, Hang Bo ward, Hoan Kiem

Travel to Vietnam during Tet Festival 

What is Tet? Tet or Lunar New Year is the most important holiday in Vietnam and some countries in Asia like China, which usually happens in about the end of January or the beginning of February. Traveling to Vietnam during Tet festival is not a good idea but also a worth-trying occasion for tourists who wants to find out the most ancient Vietnamese traditional festival.

In Tet holiday, Hanoi is quite quiet and peaceful. There is not as much transport as normal. Especially, if you visit Hanoi a week before Tet holiday, you will enjoy an eager atmosphere, see bustling flower markets, everyone happily buying something to decorate houses. There are some tips for who intends to come to Vietnam at that time.

  • Umbrella, coats, warm clothes are necessary things because the weather in Hanoi is cold, wet and a lot of rain not heavy but lasting long during Tet holiday.
  • Avoid three main days during Tet holiday because it is time for the Vietnamese from other countries to fly to Vietnam to gather with families so the plane is always crowded and the price will be higher. Besides, in three main days during Tet festival, almost all shops, restaurants, relaxing places are closed and they will usually open again after three main days.

Where to Find Vegetarian Foods in Hanoi 

Vegetarian foods are increasingly liked by people in Hanoi owing to the health benefits they bring. With that, more and more vegetarian restaurants in Hanoi were opened to meet the demand. If you are a vegetarian, don’t worry when visiting Hanoi, here I will suggest best vegetarian restaurants that you can try for the first time in Hanoi.

  • Uu Dam Restaurant: 34 Hang Bai, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
  • An Phuc Vegetarian Food: 11/131 Thai Ha, Dong Da, Hanoi
  • Loving Hut: 147B Au Co, Tay Ho, Hanoi
  • Buffet chay An Lac; 109 Tran Hung Dao, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
  • The Veg – Organic Vego&Tea: 18 Hang Chinh, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
  • Truc Lam Trai Restaurant: 39 Le Ngoc Han, Hanoi
  • Quan Chay Bo De: 65 Quan Su, Cua Nam, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
  • Tinh Thuc Quang – Vegetarian Buffet: 10 Nguyen Hong, Dong Da, Hanoi
  • Ha Thanh Vegetarian Restaurant: 116/166 Kim Ma, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
  • Aummee Vegetarian Restaurant: 26 Chau Long, Truc Bach, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
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